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Wednesday, September 14, 2016
‘Look Ma, No Feet!’ A Lesson in Mechanical Hand Controls
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Sept 14, 2016
When my physiatrist diagnosed my MS “foot drop,” she wrote a prescription for vehicle hand controls. I was both elated and terrified. Could I drive long distances again? Arrive pain-free, able to do a short hike? Could I regain the freedom of knowing I would not have to cancel an outing because I couldn’t drive there? After many months of increasing limitations, I was giddy at the prospect of less pain and more freedom. BUT … What if I couldn’t do it? Maybe I would never get the hang of it … or worse, what if I got in an accident? I kept thinking about the time my grandmother hit the gas instead of the brakes and took out my uncle’s front porch! I checked in with my State Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) caseworker (look into yours if you haven’t). DVR, along with the National MS Society, covered the nearly $3,000 for the lesson, certification, and installation because I use my car for work. They assessed my vehicle and my abilities and recommended “mechanical” hand controls. These can be turned off and on so that others can drive the car. A lever is attached by cables to the gas and brake pedals. The lever, or handle, really, goes to the right or left of the steering wheel. Usually matched to a person’s non-dominant hand. To accelerate, pull down. Lightly. To stop, push it forward. A steering knob is placed on the steering wheel so that the car can be turned with just one hand. It makes for some great U-turns, but do not be tempted to go crazy with doughnuts. Steering knobs, otherwise known as Brodie knobs, or “suicide” knobs, are quite popular with teenage boys. If you have one of those (a teenage boy) make sure you remove the knob before he borrows the car.
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