Getting a feel for the wheel

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For most American teenagers, driving a car has become a rite of passage, but for Andre Jackson that passage almost didn't happen.

That’s because Jackson is legally blind.

But thanks to a partnership with MasterDrive in Englewood, Jackson and 30 of his classmates at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton got a chance to test their driving skills on May 2 in a customized driving class.

Before getting behind the wheel, students were required to attend an hour-long class, familiarizing them with the functions of the car, the course and general safety.

“What we do is, essentially, give these kids an experience they may otherwise never get,” said Spencer Pace, a driving instructor with the nationally franchised driving school. “And that’s the chance to drive a real car.”

Under the careful eye of trained driving instructors, the low-vision and blind students were verbally coached through a series of driving obstacles, including a slalom course and skid recovery.

“Oh man, this is great,” Jackson said with a big toothy grin. “Now I can go pick up my date.”

Pace explained that while the students were unable to see, they were very much able to feel subtle changes in the car’s movement.

“For example, they pick up on things like how the car’s weight shifts from side to side during the slalom course,” he said. “So we build their confidence with a series of basic skills before taking them out to the skid pad.”

The vehicles, facility and coaching staff were provided by MasterDrive at no cost to CCB.

“At the Colorado Center for the Blind, our students participate in a wide variety of activities,” said Brent Batron, director of youth programs. “We push our students so they’ll believe they can work and live full lives.”

“Driving is something that most of us in our society take for granted,” said Mark Stolberg, Master Drive’s senior vice president of training. “Driving is not only a visual experience, as the blind drivers will discover.”