Physiotherapist Julia Filinski and Maurice Woods
Physiotherapist Julia Filinski and Maurice Woods. Click image to enlarge

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Toyota Canada Motor Skills Clinic

Toronto, Ontario – For many people, driving represents freedom of mobility. But for patients at Toronto’s Providence Healthcare, a rehabilitation hospital for those with lower limb amputations, strokes, orthopedic surgery or geriatric-related mobility issues, a Toyota Camry that’s drained of fuel and never turns a wheel is a critical step in teaching patients how to get around.

The Camry sits in the centre of the Toyota Canada Motor Skills Clinic. The large room contains a variety of surfaces which are, except for some artificial grass, all real and full-size: sidewalks with curbs and wheelchair cut-outs, interlocking bricks, cobbled concrete, two sizes of gravel, asphalt with road markings, and a programmable traffic light. The room can also be dimmed and lit to simulate night-time streets. Opened in 2006 through a $300,000 donation from Toyota Canada, the clinic is believed to be the only one of its type in the country, and is popular with physiotherapists and patients alike, who use it as one of the many tools in the rehabilitation process.

The donated Camry, inside the clinic
The donated Camry, inside the clinic
The donated Camry, inside the clinic (top); A variety of surfaces – different sized gravel, and interlocking bring – help patients learn how to get around in unfamiliar places. Click image to enlarge

“We’d been working (on it) about 18 months before the opening,” said Sandy Di Felice, Toyota Canada’s director of external affairs. “When our engineers were working on a series of innovations around ease of mobility, it was around the same time that Providence came to us and said this is the type of facility we need, and the skills we’d like to teach. The fit was absolutely natural.” The donation covered the cost to build the clinic and its maintenance for the first year; the Camry was an extra gift when the clinic was finished.

If you’re able-bodied, you’ve probably never even thought about how you get into a car. But those who have lost limbs, had artificial joints installed, or who have lost their mobility due to age not only have to think about it, but usually have to learn a whole new method. And while most people don’t think about sidewalk or road surfaces, such variations as gravel or interlocking bricks can be stressful enough for some people with limited mobility that they can actually run the risk of becoming housebound.

“Before we had this space, we would take patients outside to coach them on getting in and out of a car,” said Beth Johnson, Providence Healthcare’s director of communications. “In the dead of winter, or even in summer with the heat, it can be a challenge – the production of having to get dressed, find the car, bring it around. To have an enclosed space has made a huge difference. We had a patient, a stroke victim, who said that without this confidence from learning, they might not go for lunch or for a coffee with a friend. It can trigger a whole chain of events that can change their whole lifestyle.”

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