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Non-profit helps young students with disabilities get driver’s licenses

<i>WBZ</i><br/>There's a non-profit north of Boston that's helping students of all abilities get their driver's licenses in Massachusetts.
Willingham, James
There's a non-profit north of Boston that's helping students of all abilities get their driver's licenses in Massachusetts.

By Penny Kmitt

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    LAWRENCE, Massachusetts (WBZ) — There’s a non-profit north of Boston that’s helping students of all abilities get their driver’s licenses in Massachusetts.

The Northeast Independent Living Program (NILP) in Lawrence provides services to people with disabilities who want to live independently.

“We’re just really out there to try to help consumers live independent lives. It can be as small as tying their shoes or as big as getting their license,” said NILP’s Youth Services Program Manager Steven Michelson.

NILP is hosting a Massachusetts Driver’s Manual Training Program during February vacation. From Tuesday to Friday, students will learn the driver’s manual in a way that is fun, engaging, and caters to all different learning styles.

The courses are accessible in person and via Zoom.

“We’ve gone through the entire manual, broke it down into PowerPoints. We’re able to break it down, easy to read fonts, fun exercises throughout the week. We cover one to two chapters. We give multiple opportunities for breaks,” Michelson told WBZ-TV.

Nineteen-year-old Adi Chunduru has autism and took the course last year. Despite working with NILP for years he believes this was the group’s most beneficial program.

“I would say driving was the thing, the barrier, that they’ve helped me overcome. I think it did what it set up to do. Their goal is to help people with disabilities get to where they want to be,” he explained.

The program also includes a special driving simulator, something Chunduru especially enjoyed.

“We would practice things like using our blinkers, how do you accelerate, and how do you brake. I think it helped my confidence,” he said.

Chunduru said it was an “incredible feeling” to get his driver’s license.

NILP’s driver’s manual training is not a certified driver’s education course, but rather a supplemental learning group.

The program also allows people to connect to one another and make new friends.

“Something that I think goes undervalued is the socialization aspect of classes like this,” Michelson said. “Exchanging phone numbers, Snapchat, whatever they do these days, it opens up avenues for students when they can connect like that.”

Enhancing socialization and transportation skills are steps toward NILP’s goal of providing the tools for all people to live independently.

“We want them to take the wheel, we want them to be the ones to navigate their independence,” said Michelson. “We want students to be the ones to take hold of the future.”

The driver’s manual training is only open to students ages 14-to-22, but NILP’s other programs are open to all people who identify with a disability.

“It could be somebody that has ADHD, or somebody on the autism spectrum, or somebody with a physical disability. We’re not saying no to anybody,” explained Michelson.

For those who missed registration for February vacation’s Massachusetts Driver’s Manual Training Program, the courses are also being offered during April vacation.

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