Saturday, August 28, 2010

Driving school for disabled people opens in Bahrain

From Gulf Daily News:

A driving school for the disabled has been re-launched by the Bahrain Mobility International (BMI) in Isa Town. The school was started by BMI in the 1980s and then taken on by the Labour and Social Development Ministry. But it has now returned to the organisation, which is also able to provide support and other services to the disabled.

"Many of our members and other disabled (people) submitted their applications for lessons but were waiting for a long time," BMI president and driving school manager Adel Sultan told the GDN.

"There are 140 people on the waiting list, about 110 are disabled and 30 have problems with their backs, or are obese, or have something that prevents them from using manual gear.

"We have divided them into two categories and are giving the service free to the disabled and charging BD5 for an hour's lesson for the others."

The running costs of BMI's driving school are financed by the Social Development Ministry, but it needs extra funding and partners to support its programme.

Additional funding is needed to purchase more suitable cars and pay for their maintenance, as well as to pay the salaries of another three driving instructors. The monthly salary of each instructor is BD300 basic, plus overtime.

Mr Sultan said the ministry had provided the school with only three cars, which were very old, and only one driving instructor.

"The cars are very old, they are 1996, 1998 and 2000 models and so when the learners go for the test in a new car at the directorate, they are not familiar with it and get scared," he explained.

"Another problem is that we have only one trainer. We have hired another one at our own cost, but we need to hire two others and we need to pay their salaries."

Mr Sultan said driving was an important skill for the disabled because it opened the door to many opportunities.

"Especially for the disabled, being able to drive is life-changing," he said.

"I can go wherever I want, to the hospital, help my family and take my children to school.

"As a disabled person you don't always want to rely on people and being able to drive you feel like, Thank God, I'm free."

One of the learner drivers at the school, Fatima Abdulla Yousif, aged 20, had waited three years to start her lessons.

Ms Yousif has a hearing impairment and is now taking lessons at the school with a special instructor who can communicate with her.

"I want to get my licence so I can be free to go wherever I want and be like other people my age," she told the GDN.

"I want to get some work but it's difficult to find a job without having transport.

"Now I am learning how to drive and I am very happy, I feel born again and I want to start a new life."

Twelve disabled learner drivers have passed their tests since the school was launched in June.

A committee between BMI and the Roads Traffic Directorate has been established to facilitate the disabled in taking their tests.

Each learner driver has to take 22 hours of lessons to qualify for the test.

If they fail the test they are given an additional six hours of lessons.

If they fail again they can take another four hours, but if they don't pass the third time, then they have to go back on the waiting list.

BMI is currently able to provide lessons to 10 learner drivers a day, but if it acquires the funds to hire three more instructors, it hopes to complete the waiting list by the end of the year.

Driving lessons for the disabled are conducted at the BMI's premises in Isa Town from 7am to 2pm on weekdays. For the semi-disabled, who are not classed as disabled, lessons are conducted from 3pm to 5pm.

The cars are equipped with foot pedals and hand-controls for those unable to use their feet.

To apply for lessons learners should go to the BMI in Isa Town to complete an application form and present their disability card.

Only those with a card can benefit from the service free of charge.

Mr Sultan said BMI wanted to help the disabled beyond passing their tests and was hoping to partner with companies, associations or individuals to make it easier for them to buy cars and purchase the hand-control, which costs BD200.

"Having the school means we can help them with other needs such as finding a job, but the problem is that many disabled don't have a car for the job, we hope someone will come forward and support us," he said.

"Even a small donation can help us."

All of BMI's services are provided to the disabled free of charge and include physiotherapy, wheelchair repair workshop, as well as training in IT and English and help in finding a job.

"At BMI we really understand the disabled from our own experience and are looking after their needs," added Mr Sultan.

"We want to remove their self-barriers and make their lives easier because it is another life as a disabled person."