If you’re able-bodied, you’ve probably never thought about how you get into a car. But should you lose your mobility, you may have to learn an entirely new method. That’s the point behind the Toyota Canada Motor Skills Clinic, located in Providence Healthcare, a Toronto rehabilitation facility that helps those who have experienced strokes, amputations, surgery, or require geriatric-related assistance.

Believed to be the only one of its kind in Canada, the clinic opened in 2006 thanks to a $300,000 donation from the automaker. It’s used exclusively for patients at the facility, who can learn to get in and out of the Toyota Camry parked in the centre, and deal with a variety of surfaces they’ll encounter on roads and sidewalks. Patients aren’t taught how to drive, but how to get around.

Prior to the clinic, they were taken outdoors in mild weather, or coached using beds and chairs to simulate a vehicle, which wasn’t the best solution.

“Some patients have cognitive issues, and they need the visual to understand it,” says physiotherapist Julia Filinski. “It’s hard to simulate a door, a handle, the gap between the seat and the doorframe.”

Save for a patch of artificial grass, everything is real and full-size: curbs, interlocking bricks, gravel, a cobbled path, and asphalt with road markings, along with a programmable traffic signal, and lighting that can be dimmed to simulate night time.

The seemingly minor variances in the surfaces can be major obstacles for patients, who may need to learn how to manoeuvre a wheelchair or walker over them. “With little bumps in the road, you or I take it for granted, but to a patient, that’s a really scary thing,” Filinski says.

Before the clinic was installed, many patients were too self-conscious about learning outside on the sidewalks around the centre, or were hampered by weather. Without the training, some can run a serious risk of becoming housebound.

That wasn’t an issue for Maurice Woods, but getting in and out of his vehicle was. The retired RCMP officer, who lost his left leg to complications from diabetes, will still be able to drive, but not before learning how to get into his truck when he’s fitted with a prosthetic leg.

“It’s just me, the dog and the truck,” he says. “Going into a car, you’ve got to stand and turn, and you don’t have a lot to hold onto. You’ve got to know where to grab and push. Instead of going in with my left leg and sitting down, I have to turn my butt around and then swing in.”

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