The motoring advice, assessment and tuition service (Mats) the Donegal branch of the Irish Wheelchair Association offers is designed to give service users with disabilities more freedom and independence in their travels.
“Because of the rural nature of the county it is an essential life skill for everyone to be able to drive -- to socialise, to get to work, to get to training,” said Mary McGrenra, services coordinator for resource centres, Irish Wheelchair Association, Donegal.
Before Emma Doherty’s aunt encouraged her to pursue the course last year, the Redcastle woman had only been behind the wheel of a friend’s car once. Emma stands 4-foot, 1-inch, and needs a car that employs hand controls rather than pedals, like the adapted school of motoring car the association uses for their driving classes.
Emma admitted to panicking at first, but said course instructor Raymond McDaid’s assured teaching got her through those nerves.
“The first day, you’re in the deep end,” Emma said. That day Raymond had her drive around the roundabout on Bridgend, and in Buncrana, Derry and Letterkenny in later lessons. “It was brilliant,” she said.
Emma felt great accomplishment after passing the test. She kept the test date secret, in case it didn’t go well. But when she got the good news, “I was on the phone straight away.”
The Letterkenny Institute of Technology student is still trying for the Health Service Executive mobility transport grant she would put toward purchasing and adapting a car. In the meantime she relies on lifts from friends and the bus. “You don’t want to rely on someone every day,” Emma said.
She would encourage anyone to take the course. “Really, go for it,” she said.
The Donegal branch also have resource centres in six Donegal locations and assisted living services offices in Letterkenny. They also have accessible transport. For information call 074 9157393 or 087 7448184.
The branch holds their annual fund-raising angel campaign this month with the motto, “If you see an angel, be an angel, buy an angel.”