If you have a disability, driving may feel like a daunting task. But it’s important to keep in mind that you are not alone. After all there are more than 25 million people living in the United States with a travel limiting disability. But manufacturers today are taking great steps to become more accessible and more inclusive so that drivers of all types can use and enjoy their vehicles. Here’s how you can find the perfect car for you that is equipped with any equipment you may need.
Here’s how to find the perfect car if you have a health condition or disability.
Can I drive with a disability?
You can absolutely drive with a disability, and this right is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. A Department of Motor Vehicles cannot deny a driver's license based solely on a person’s disability. Drivers may need to make modifications to their vehicles to make their car safe and they must alert the state of their disability, but if you have a health condition or impairment you are still legally able to drive. You should always get the ok from your doctor beforehand though to ensure your health and safety.
If you are driving with a disability for the first time, it’s important to safely determine what you will need help with and what facets of driving may pose an issue. Taking a driving class will help ensure you have the tools that you need to drive safely. You will need to take practice and take your test with a modified vehicle and your DMV may need time to secure the correct car. Getting some experience behind the wheel of a converted vehicle will help you feel more confident in your driving and also help you determine what type of vehicle and modifications you will require.
What adaptive equipment does my new car need?
Buying a new car that is specifically designed for you may cost you a significant amount of money. But it is hard to beat the technology that today’s new cars offer. Many car manufacturers have teams that can meet with you, assess your needs, and help get you into a car that is safe for you to drive. These experts will assess the following:
- Judgment and decision making skills
- Processing skills
- Muscle Strength
- Coordination and reaction
- Medical history
- Ability to get in and out of the vehicle
- Ability to operate the vehicle with adaptive equipment
- Safety habits
- Stress management
By assessing all of these factors they can help you determine which adaptive equipment makes sense for you. They will then help you determine what type of vehicle will work best for you: a car, SUV, van, or truck. Vans usually allow for the most amount of modifications and will be a great option for many people. New cars may feature the following adaptive features:
- Seat belt adjustments
- Safety bars
- Safety straps
- Swivel seats
- Hand controls
- Wheelchair lifts
- Wheelchair securements
- And more
When dealerships determine what modifications to make to the car, they will install them so that your car is complete and ready to go when you pick it up.
Another advantage of buying a new car is that it is equipped with the latest technology. Not only will this technology keep you safe while you are driving, but it can even help monitor your health. Mazda is working on their Co-Pilot technology which monitors your health and will take over driving if your health declines rapidly. It will pull you over safely to the side of the road if you suddenly suffer an incapacitating crisis such as a seizure, heart attack, or stroke.
The price tag on a new van with advanced accessibility features can be quite high. For example, a new, full size wheelchair accessible van will run you north of $120,000. There are grants, loans, and funding that can help you pay for these vehicles, but it will still cost you a pretty penny. For many people, modifying a car that they already have will make more sense financially and be a more practical option.
How do you modify a car for a disabled person?
If you are looking to modify a car to drive with your disability, it can be a more affordable option. Your vehicle will need to qualify as an adaptable vehicle, so do some research beforehand to determine if your car can be modified to accommodate your needs. The same modifications listed above for new cars can be made to existing vehicles, so long as the vehicle is capable of medications. If you are not buying a new car you should still consult with an occupational therapist to determine what modifications you should make to your vehicle. They can do an assessment of your health and skills and determine the best features you should add to your car. They can also recommend a reputable installer for these modifications.
Having your car modified is still not cheap. Modifications can easily cost over $80,000 depending on what you need to have installed.
How can I pay for modifications?
If you need to have modifications made to your vehicle to make it accessible and safe to drive, there are grants that can help you pay for the added expenses. In most cases your medical insurance will not cover the expenses associated with modifying your vehicle. Your car insurance will also not help cover the cost of modifications. It will be up to you to apply for grants that can help you make the modifications necessary.
US State Grants
Your state will most likely offer some grants to help pay for vehicle modifications. They are usually funded by state veterans associations and accessibility advocate groups.
US Federal Grants
You may be eligible for a federal grant for your vehicle modification as well. If you are a veteran, the Veterans Administration offers tax free funds of $22,355 for former service members in need. If you are on Medicare Part B you may have up to 80% of necessary medical equipment covered.
You may also be able to apply to private organizations for a grant that will help cover your expenses. There are many organizations out there that can help you with funding, but it is recommended that you reach out to them directly to ensure that you qualify and that you apply correctly. Some grants may require that you reside in certain states or have certain qualifying health issues. If you do qualify for a grant, be sure to get the amount they will fund in writing before you buy your new vehicle or make modifications. Certain grants will stipulate that the money may only be used for modifications and not for the purchase of a new car. Here are some of the grants that are available nationwide.
- The Alynn Family Foundation
- Brighter Tomorrow Grant
- Bryon Riesch Paralysis Foundation
- Center On Technology And Disability
- Joni And Friends
- Joseph S. Bruno Charitable Foundation
- Kya’s Krusade
- The Malone Family Foundation
- Muscular Dystrophy Association
- National Organization For Vehicle Accessibility
- RESNA Catalyst Project
- Special Kids Fund
- Spinal Cord Opportunities For Rehabilitation Endowment
- The Reeve Foundation
- Vocational Rehabilitation
There are also loans available to help you buy a new car or modify your existing car. These mobility vehicle loans can help you borrow additional money that will allow for not only a new car, but a new car with the proper accessibility modifications. Bank of America and IMS are just two of several banks that provide loans for modifications.
That’s what you need to know about buying a car with a disability.
Driving with a disability can feel daunting at first, but there are many pieces of accessibility equipment that can make driving safe, comfortable, and enjoyable. But it’s incredibly important to make sure that you have an assessment from an occupational therapist to determine the safest way for you to drive. They will have the resources to guide you through getting the proper equipment and can even help point you in the direction of grants and loans to help you pay for it all.
Carmakers are working hard to get autonomous driving cars on the road. They have long hailed this technology as an equalizer that will allow people of all abilities to get around safely. While this will hopefully happen in the future, people with disabilities will have to depend on the equipment available to them now to get around safely.
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