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Getting Back in the Driver's Seat Following Amputation

An amputation is certainly a life-changing experience, but it does not have to mean the end of an independent lifestyle.

Rehabilitation, prosthetics and adaptive automotive equipment such as wheelchair-accessible vehicles are outlets that help you to safely maintain independence while living a mobile lifestyle. Recovering from an amputation can be a long and trying process; however, once your wound has healed, you have the ability to adapt to your new life without losing autonomy.

The Equipment

Wheelchair-accessible or hand-controlled vehicles can provide you with a sense of freedom following a physically and emotionally taxing procedure. Many mobility vehicle manufacturers enable you to drive the van from your wheelchair. Mobility vehicles can help you maintain your independence and the ability to drive your kids to soccer games or go to the movies with friends without depending on someone else.

Wheelchair lifts and ramps offer an innovative solution to personal mobility. Most lifts and ramps remain out of sight and out of the way until needed, offering easy access, a clear side view and maximum interior space for passengers. Adaptive automotive equipment such as wheelchair-accessible vehicles, lifts and ramps help you get back to your old lifestyle.

The Process

Educating yourself following an amputation is most important on your journey back behind the wheel. Because of the lengthy rehabilitation process, use this time to begin learning about your mobility options. It's important to find a qualified mobility equipment specialist to help explain the process of selecting a vehicle, as well as guide you in making a decision about which vehicle and what equipment is right for you. These experts can also recommend worthwhile reading materials, which will help in your search for a vehicle well suited for your needs.

Once you've met with your mobility equipment specialist, contact a certified driver rehabilitation specialist (CDRS) who will help you to drive independently. They will perform physical, visual, and cognitive evaluations to ascertain your ability to drive and ultimately provide a prescription that lists the precise equipment needed. They can also provide in-clinic evaluations, on-road evaluations and training, equipment recommendations and offer information about a local and dependable mobility equipment dealer. To locate a CDRS, visit www.driver-ed.org.

The People

Mobility equipment dealers are there to act as your local mobility experts and can work with you to decide which vehicle will best suit your needs. These dealers can take the time to discuss your lifestyle and present you with several options based on your particular needs. A local dealer provides the advantage of talking to an experienced advisor who understands your needs, whether it's a conversion vehicle or hand controls. In addition to providing local service and support, they can act as a resource to help explain government funding opportunities and transportation issues that may arise because of a disability.

The mobility dealer works with you to find a vehicle that fits your lifestyle best and helps you to get started on the road to independence. They are ready to assist and evaluate your mobility needs based on your specific situation and how your needs will change over time. Provide your qualified mobility expert with the issues your family faces and what accommodations you may need; they will then take these factors into account to recommend a specialized option that is best suited to you.

Unlike automotive dealers, mobility dealers work solely with mobility equipment — matching the right solution with the right person. The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) is a terrific starting point as you begin your search for the right equipment for you. One resource the organization offers is the Quality Assurance Program, the only nationally recognized accreditation program in the mobility industry. You can learn more about QAP and find your nearest dealer at www.nmeda.org.

Looking Forward

An amputation does not have to mean the end of your automotive freedom. Your rehabilitation team will work with you to decide when you are ready to begin looking for, buying and driving a mobility vehicle.

Remember that there are professionals dedicated to expanding opportunities for you to drive and will work with you on your quest to get back behind the wheel following the procedure. We understand the importance of a mobile lifestyle, which is why we continue to create adaptive automotive equipment that can help you safely maintain your autonomy and lifestyle.

This online exclusive is a companion story to "Life After Amputation," written by physical therapist Amber Fitzsimmons, published in Mobility Management's 2011 Consumer Edition.

This article originally appeared in the Consumer Edition April 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Nick Gutwein is president of BraunAbility, manufacturer of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and other adaptive automotive products.

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