Caroline Rule works as an occupational therapist and a driving consultant for people with disabilities such as a spinal cord injury and amputations. After assessing their remaining functionality and how best they can use it, she recommends driving adaptations that would enable them to be behind the steering wheel safely and independently, as well as how they will get their wheelchairs in and out of the car. She then refers them to the relevant companies that can build the adaptations and in an ongoing way, she works with these companies to brainstorm even more effective solutions. Where a person has had a stroke or head injury, they undergo a physical and cognitive assessment and then team up with a driving instructor to do an on-road driving test to assess whether it will be safe for the person to drive. Rule also helps manage the Driving Ambitions driving school, owned by the QuadPara association. They have two adapted vehicles that they use to teach people with disabilities to drive.
Please share with us what your job entails.
I love the interactions with people that come with doing a detailed interview to understand the person’s driving history as well as their driving needs. I also assess people’s functionality. This contact with people is the fun part. My job also involves report writing, keeping records and administration up to date, as well as a huge amount of background research in keeping up to date with what vehicles and adaptations are out there and what new developments are unfolding within the driving world. I also focus on fine-tuning our assessment methods and tools to make sure that they are accurate and relevant. As an occupational therapist, my job is to assist people to become independent in all areas of their lives, particularly in relation to daily activities involved with living. Driving is an extremely important part of daily living and without the ability to get around it becomes very difficult for people to get to work, particularly if they have mobility impairment such as being in a wheelchair. So, I strongly believe that having a driver’s licence helps make a person with a disability more employable!
How did you come to know about this type of work?
My parents told me about the profession and I also heard about it from my vocational guidance teacher.
Have you always wanted to become an occupational therapist?
Initially, I thought I would like to become a teacher. However, my guidance teacher’s wife was an occupational therapist. After spending some time with her, I realised that this was the career for me. Our class visited the institution where she worked and on the bus on the way home everyone else was talking about her patients as ‘those poor people’. That was when I realised that helping people is in my blood.
What subjects did you choose at school to qualify for your job?
Maths, science and biology.
What do you like most about your job?
Helping someone rebuild their life and regain their independence after all that has been shattered by a disease or disability. Even if I can just be one of the puzzle pieces as they get their lives back together, it is such a privilege for me to help them take that next step. On a daily basis, when I get a person out of their wheelchair and into our adapted car and explore with them how they can drive again — and I see the sparkle come back into their eyes — that is just the best.
Which institutions offer training in occupational therapy?
The universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Western Cape, Free State and Durban-Westville.
What are your other areas of interest?
Sport for people with disabilities, particularly wheelchair rugby.