Guest Post: Getting into the drivers seat, car modification options for people with a physical disability

In the blog, WheelchairMommy.com, Priscilla writes about her day-to-day experiences as a happily married paraplegic mother with three young boys. Recently, she posted a video showing how she gets in the driver’s seat of her wheelchair van. She’s just one of the thousands of people with physical disabilities whose vehicle has adaptive equipment for driving, giving her a high level of freedom and independence. If your disability prohibits you from operating a standard vehicle, let’s see what it takes to drive around that! 

As America’s population of elderly and people with disabilities grows, so does the market for both new and used handicap vans and other vehicles (yes, there’s now a handicap accessible pick-up truck for drivers with disabilities who want to flash their own personal style!). The vehicle best for you depends on your disability and your physical strength. 

Modifications for Cars

Most standard automobiles can be equipped with hand controls, power lifts and special seating to help store your wheelchair or scooter and assist you into and out of the driver’s seat. Hand controls operate the gas and brake pedals and come in a variety of designs, including adaptive features for single-arm amputees, like an amputee ring for drivers with a prosthetic hook on the steering arm. A palm grip steering cuff provides support and control for a driver with a totally disabled hand and wrist. Other adaptive grip styles are available as well. Foot-controlled left-foot accelerator pedals do the trick for those who have limited or no use of their right leg.

The need for upper-body strength arises if you’re a wheelchair user who lives independently and prefers a standard car. A motorized turning seat in the driver’s position typically rotates over the doorsill, lowers toward the ground for transfer from your chair into the driver’s seat, and lifts you into the vehicle as it rotates into the optimum driving position. If you have a lightweight, transport wheelchair, you should be able to grab the wheelchair, fold it, and place it in the back seat behind you. You may require help getting a heavy wheelchair stored, and that’s why they make… 

Power lifts.  Like the other adaptive equipment mentioned here, power lifts come in a wide range of designs to accommodate most mobility chairs and scooters. Your folded wheelchair can ride outside the car or in the trunk, depending on the lift design. If you don’t think you have the strength to store your wheelchair and access the driver’s seat without assistance, set your sights on the most popular wheelchair accessible vehicle—the handicap minivan.

Wheelchair Minivans

The most popular wheelchair-accessible vehicle is the minivan, and minivans built by a number of auto manufacturers (Dodge, Honda, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Toyota and others) can be safely modified for easy access by wheelchairs, power chairs and mobility scooters. Full-size vans can be modified, too, and they work better for transporting more than one wheelchair user at the same time, making them useful to nursing homes and non-emergency medical transport companies. 

There are two options for minivan wheelchair access—rear-entry and side-entry ramps. For wheelchair users who want to drive, the side-entry ramp is the better choice, because it’s easier to access the driver’s seat from the side-entry, and you’ll have more room for passengers. You do have the option of driving from the factory-installed driver’s seat or your wheelchair, though driving while sitting in a wheelchair is not as safe. As you’d expect, both the conversion style and hand-controls configuration depend on your specific requirements. 

Your License to Drive

Of course, you’ll have to pass both a written test and driving test to get a license, but the procedure is somewhat different for people with disabilities. Find a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) in your area, perhaps through your local or state Department of Rehabilitation Services. A CDRS conducts your physical and cognitive evaluations and trains you in the use of your specific adaptive equipment. In most states, you’ll need certification from a CDRS to obtain both your learner’s permit and driver’s license, and the vehicle in which you take your driving test must be equipped with the specific adaptive equipment you require for driving. 

Since you’ve likely spent thousands of dollars on medical expenses, your biggest question now is how to finance your desire to drive. With some research and perseverance on your part, you can identify local, state and federal organizations and foundations that provide grant money to individuals with disabilities for adaptive equipment. Grant money doesn’t need to be paid back, and you can combine a number of small grants to cover a portion or all the cost.

If gaining your ability to drive is worth the effort, get started now! The best way to determine the adaptive equipment required to put you in the driver’s seat is to work with a mobility consultant at an online handicap vehicle dealership or a local dealer. Happy driving!

Susan Hawkins is a writer for AMSVans.com, which sells new and used wheelchair vans nationwide with a guaranteed low price on all newly converted AMS-brand wheelchair van models. We sell and convert wheelchair-accessible vans at prices often thousands of dollars lower than the competition. AMSvans.com also accepts trades, rents and buys vans at competitive prices. Find adaptive mobility equipment solutions as well as more than 150 handicap vans for sale online at http://www.amsvans.com.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Guest Post: Getting into the drivers seat, car modification options for people with a physical disability

  1. There are several hand control types, so you can choose the one that suits your requirements the most. Whether you simply cannot use one hand, or have a wider paralysis, an experienced accessible vehicles manufacturer should be able to find a solution that is intuitive and comfortable. Don’t get discouraged, find the option that suits you the most.

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