Marilyn Di Stefano shares her fellowship experience...

17 Dec 2018

In support of the NEW Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship to increase expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the automotive sector and allied industries

Marilyn Di Stefano is a Churchill Fellow


What was your Churchill Fellowship topic?

The Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship to investigate driver rehabilitation for people with disabilities, including vehicle technologies to support independence. I travelled to the UK, Sweden, Italy, USA and Japan.


What motivated you to apply for a Churchill Fellowship?

Many Australians who have disabilities struggle to maintain driving independence required for community access. New vehicle technologies and rehabilitation strategies may offer improvements but must be evaluated prior to application. Advances in driver rehabilitation in Australia are currently hampered by geographical distance from expert international colleagues, lack of a dedicated professional network and very limited access to devices applying new technologies.


How did the Churchill Fellowship benefit you and your work in the automotive and/or allied industries?

The fellowship tour enabled exposure to experiences not currently readily available in Australia such as:

  • dedicated mobility clinics employing full time specialist professionals
  • mobility device producers that supply “high technology” adaptations to support independent driving for people with a wide range of physical limitations
  • centres that routinely assess “drive from wheelchair” drivers and use “joystick” or lever primary vehicle controls
  • universities that use sophisticated simulators to conduct research about driving with disabilities
  • effective vehicle modification prescription processes guided by newly developed European guidelines for this purpose
  • attendance at the only international annual conference held in the USA dedicated to professionals who work in the driving with a disability service area, and (associated with the conference)
  • participation in a specialist two-day workshop to learn about prescribing vehicle modifications for people with disabilities.


What major achievements or milestones have you reached since going on your Fellowship?

Findings from my Fellowship contributed to improving Australian disability related driver assessment and vehicle modification prescription processes. The new knowledge I gained has:  

  • informed the content of two international textbook chapters for occupational therapists related to driver rehabilitation
  • influenced development of a draft set of Australian occupational therapy vehicle modification prescription guidelines (research related to this is about to be published in an international journal)
  • informed a research project investigating the disabled driver consumer experience of using vehicles with modifications, (research related to this is also about to be published in an international journal)
  • been presented at forums held for (a) Victorian driver assessment occupational therapists and (b) staff working in the vehicle and road user policy area at VicRoads, and as oral presentations at Australian road safety and occupational therapy professional conferences.

Other outcomes of my Fellowship included the review of specialist vehicle modification prescription training for occupational therapists to reflect world’s best practice.


What are you doing now and what’s next for you?

I have taken on a Senior Policy Officer role in the Licensing Mobility and Active Transport team in VicRoads. This role contributes to driver licensing and road safety outcomes for both the state and national driving population. For example, this role has enabled me to

  • lead the update of the VicRoads Occupational Therapy Driver Assessor guidelines which include content related to effective application of vehicle modifications
  • contribute to the 2017- 2018 Transport Accident Commission review of vehicle modification processes for clients
  • support the work of VicRoads in relation to understanding the human factors and other impacts of Autonomous Vehicle technologies for human users including those with disabilities, and
  • contribute to national activities, e.g. Austroads project related to understanding the impacts of autonomous vehicle features on requirements for driver training and assessment.


More about Marilyn Di Stefano

Marilyn DiStefano spent her early career in occupational therapy, human factors/ergonomics and driver assessment practice before undertaking her PhD as an NHMRC Research scholar. Her thesis addressed on-road assessment of cognitively impaired drivers and was completed in the Human Factors and Ergonomics department at La Trobe University. After working for many years as an academic and road safety consultant, she successfully applied for a Churchill Fellowship which enabled extension and consolidation of knowledge and skills related to driver rehabilitation for people with disabilities, including vehicle technologies to support independence. Marilyn works with VicRoads (Victoria's Roads Corporation) and is enjoying undertaking research, developing evidence-based road safety policy and programs and contributing to projects which impact on both the state and national driving populations. 

Read Marilyn’s Fellowship Report


Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship

In 2019 the new Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowship will be offered annually for projects that aim to increase industry expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the automotive sector and allied industries in Australia. Fellowship Applications open on 1 February 2019 and close 30 April 2019.

Find out more about the Auto Skills Australia Churchill Fellowships.

Find out more about how to apply for a Churchill Fellowship.







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