Driving for People with Disabilities

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Adaptive Driver Training
Equipment Vendors/Installers
Hearing Impaired - Visor Alert
"Adaptive Driving for Persons with Physical Limitations" Brochure

For most people, driving a motor vehicle in the Northern Virginia and the greater Washington metropolitan area has become essential to the tasks of everyday living-commuting to work, running errands, or taking children to school for example-and synonymous with freedom, independence, and self-sufficiency. Driving in this vehicle-congested area is challenging enough for drivers without disabilities; for a person with a physical disability, driving to the local grocery store can be downright daunting. But it can be done. After rehabilitative assessment and evaluation, the driving needs of people with temporary or permanent disabilities can be accommodated through the use of adaptive vehicle equipment, safe driver training, or both.

Many persons with physical disabilities can safely drive using some of the considerable variety of adaptive devices available today. Some of these devices are often found in almost all vehicles and are used by people with and without physical disabilities.

For example, some of the commonly found adaptive aids are:

  • Automatic transmission - replaces the clutch and manual shift
  • Power steering - reduces physical effort to steer
  • Power brakes - reduce physical effort to brake
  • Left foot accelerator - eliminates left leg cross-over
  • Right hand turn signals - eliminate right hand cross-over
  • Foot pedal extensions - raise height of brake and accelerator pedals
  • Hand controls - operate horn, wipers, turn signals, dimmer switch; can also operate brake and accelerator
  • Steering devices - allow steering by spinner knobs, amputee ring, quad fork, or tri-pin, for example
  • Custom seating - creates balance, positioning, and stability
  • Lifts and ramps - permit access into and out of the vehicle

Adaptive aids compensate for the disability or inability to perform the needed function. For example, if a driver is missing a right leg, a left foot gas pedal allows him to drive with his left foot.

To begin on the road to adaptive driving, a person should first become familiar with the current state-of-the-art adaptive vehicle equipment and rehabilitative driver training. A good place to start is to review the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's brochure entitled "Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities" (www.nhtsa.dot.gov and select "Disability Information")

Secondly, a careful evaluation of a prospective driver's individual needs can determine the adaptations that can best meet those needs. Branch offices of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) maintain a list of vendors who provide sales and service of adaptive vehicle equipment, as well as advice on financial assistance and rehabilitative driver training. See page 3 for contact information.

Consumers should approach buying adaptive equipment the same way they approach buying a new car-by making competitive comparisons, reviewing the functional options, and seeing demonstrations. There are a variety of dealers and manufacturers of adaptive vehicle equipment from which to choose. Many have online catalogues that can provide useful descriptions, photos, and bench-mark prices, for example. Exploring these Web sites (at home, work, or area libraries) can provide prospective drivers with comprehensive information before they ever talk to a dealer. The final selection should be made the same way a new car is selected-after a competitive comparison, review of functional options, demonstration, test drive, and suitability determination to insure that the selected adaptive equipment safely meets the driver's needs.

Safe driver training is frequently provided in conjunction with a rehabilitation program and should be conducted by a qualified driver rehabilitation specialist. Training should include a clinical evaluation to determine the prospective driver's physical, visual/perceptual, and cognitive capabilities; if applicable, a wheelchair seating assessment should also be part of the evaluation. Actual driver training should use the adaptive aids determined necessary during the evaluation and should last long enough so that the future driver can get a driver's license.

Drivers with disabilities should also know that self-serve gas stations, as a reasonable accommodation, must pump gas for customers with disabilities who cannot pump gas, and they must charge the same as the self-serve price. If the gas station is self-pump only and operating remotely with only one attendant, the attendant is encouraged to pump the gas but not required to do so. The gas station must also make customers aware of how they can ask for assistance, such as by honking their horns.

The following list of local, state, and national resources includes adaptive vehicle equipment and adaptive driver training. They contain telephone numbers and Web site addresses.



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General Information

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
www.nhtsa.dot.gov (Select Disability Information.)
The brochure entitled "Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities" is an excellent overview of the subject.

University of Colorado Health Science Center
www.uchsc.edu/atp/library/fastfacts/adptdrv1.htm (If the link has been changed, go to www.uchsc.edu, then select search this site, and type in the above title in the search box.)

Fact sheet entitled "Adaptive Driving for Persons with Physical Limitations" is another excellent overview on the subject of adaptive driving, and can be found below.

National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association
This organization sponsors guidelines and a quality assurance program for the manufacture and installation of adaptive mobility equipment. Their Web site lists members, including manufacturers, installers, driver evaluators/trainers, government officials, etc.

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)
1-800-346-2742, TTY 301-459-5984
A clearinghouse of information related to disabilities. Provides a wide variety of information on disability related issues, organizations, products, etc. They can search ABLEDATA for product information for you if you do not have access to a computer.

Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS)
703-960-3411, 703-317-3501
Maintains a list of adaptive equipment vendors and can help drivers find financing for vehicles and equipment.

Virginia Assistive Technology System (VATS)
Voice/TTY 1-800-435-8490, Voice/TTY 804-662-9990
Provides information and resources for financing and purchasing vehicles and adaptive equipment


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Adaptive Driver Training

Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center
1-800-345-9972, TTY 1-800-811-7893
www.wwrc.net (Select Driver Education Services under Vocational Rehabilitation.)
This is a division of the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services, located in Fisherville, VA. They offer a comprehensive driving program for persons with disabilities.

National Rehabilitation Hospital
202-877-1620, 202-877-1000
Offers a driver training program for persons with disabilities. Training is provided through a regional network of outpatient centers located in Washington, DC and Maryland.

Riverside Rehabilitation Institute
www.riverside-online.com (Select Newport News, then Riverside Rehabilitation Institute, then Adaptive Driver Training Program.)
Conducts an accredited adaptive driver training program licensed by the State of Virginia. Located in Newport News.

Inova Rehabilitation Center at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital
703-664-7000, 703-664-7190
The Inova Rehabilitation Center provides driving assessment as a part of their outpatient program for persons recovering from brain injury. Successful assessment is followed by a behind-the-wheel evaluation.


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Equipment Vendors/Installers

An extensive on-line resource for locating products by brand or type. User friendly. Useful for identifying the manufacturers of various types of adaptive equipment, and for making price comparisons. Includes a description of each item. NARIC can make an ABLEDATA search for you if you do not have access to the internet. (See NARIC above.)

Accessible Vehicles
301-838-9700, 1-800-272-6640
Sales and rental of accessible vehicles, as well as installation of hand controls.

Area Access
703-573-2111, 1-800-333-AREA
A local vendor of various types of adaptive equipment.

The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists
www.driver-ed.org (Select Fact Sheets.)
Their Web site lists the type of adaptive equipment needed to accommodate various disabilities. The association supports driver education/training and transportation equipment modification for persons with disabilities.

BEDCO Mobility Inc
703-998-0178, 1-800-825-1440
Provides a complete line of adaptive vehicle equipment, custom made per vehicle.

Driving Aids Development Corporation
703-938-6435, 1-800-767-6435
A local vendor of hand controls.

Ironsides Mobility
301-279-5855, 1-888-267-7912
Provides a complete line of adaptive vehicle equipment as well as sales and rental of conversion vans.

The Van Stand
A local vendor of custom seats for vehicles.

Hearing Impaired - Visor Alert

Motorists who are deaf or hard of hearing can obtain a sun visor and wallet card (called Visor Alert) to facilitate communication with police and others. The card can be used to notify people that the bearer cannot hear, and thus can prevent a misunderstanding when a deaf person interacts with officials during a traffic stop, or at the scene of an accident or crime. Visor Alert cards can be obtained from:

Commonwealth of Virginia Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Voice/TTY 1-800-552-7917

Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons
703-352-9055, TTY 703-352-9056


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Reprinted with permission, University of Colorado Health Science Center, Fact Sheet

Adaptive Driving for Persons with Physical Limitations

Driver Rehabilitation Programs

According to the Association of Driver Educators for the Disabled, a driver rehabilitation program should have a qualified driver rehabilitation specialist, the appropriate vehicle(s), and equipment to provide comprehensive services in the following areas:

  • Clinical Evaluation - applicable testing in the area of physical functioning and visual/perceptual/cognitive screening. Where applicable, a wheelchair/seating assessment should be completed.
  • Driving Evaluation - shall include an on-the-road performance assessment of the client in an actual driving environment using equipment similar to the prescribed equipment.
  • Vehicle Modification/Prescription - all prescriptions shall be based on the client's demonstrated performance in an actual driving experience with equipment similar to that which is being prescribed. The prescription should include appropriate description and dimensions of the client's vehicle and mobility aid (wheelchair, scooter).
  • Driver Education - shall include sufficient practice and training to enable the client to operate a motor vehicle with the prescribed equipment at a level that meets the client's need for a driver's license.
  • Final Fitting - the client shall receive a final fitting and operational assessment in their modified vehicle.

Adaptive Driving Aids/Modifications

With the use of appropriate adaptive aids an individual with most types of physical disability can continue to drive safely. A variety of devices are available to meet the individual driver's needs and preferences. The following is a list of the more common modifications available. They should be tried in an actual driving situation before making a final decision. (For liability issues work with a certified adaptive driving specialist).

  • Automatic transmission - replaces clutch and manual shift
  • Power Steering - permits one-hand steering wheel operation
  • Power Brakes - needed for hand controls and other adaptive aids
  • Steering Devices - spinner knob, amputee ring, quad fork, tri pin, or custom device
  • Floor Mounted Steering - floor steering wheel for foot control
  • Modified Effort Steering - reduces strength needed to operate power steering or brake to accommodate low strength and/or endurance.
  • Left Foot Accelerator - eliminates left leg cross-over
  • Foot Pedal Extensions - raises height of brake and accelerator
  • Hand Controls - control operates brake/accelerator with single lever and activates secondary controls (horn, wipers, turn signals, etc.) * temporary or mounted hand controls are not recommended by Veterans Administration
  • Electric Gear Selector - permits left hand operation
  • Right Hand Turn Signal - permits right hand operation without cross-over
  • Remote Switches - reposition or build up secondary controls (horn, wipers, turn signals, etc.) to accommodate driver's specific disability
  • Seat Belts - shoulder and lap belt adjustments may be needed
  • Power Seats - eases access for transferring to a regular captains seat
  • Custom Seats - creates balance, positioning, and stability
  • Lifts and Ramps - permits access into and out of vehicle
  • Wheelchair/Scooter Lifts - assists in lifting wheelchairs and scooters in and out of vehicles
  • Wheelchair Carriers - permits carrying of wheelchair outside of vehicle

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Vehicle Selection

When choosing a vehicle for transportation there are several areas to consider. Your doctor, physical therapist or occupation therapist will have input and can help answer any questions, but a certified adaptive driving specialist can assist in making a vehicle selection with completion of the driver rehabilitation program.

Following are some areas to consider:

  • What are your transportation needs?
  • Do you need a car, truck, full-size van or mini-van?
  • Are you able to take public transportation?
  • What are your physical limitations that will effect your ability to access a vehicle or drive?
  • Will you be a driver or passenger?
  • Will you be able to handle the mental and physical stress of driving?
  • What is your ability to transfer into and out of the vehicle?
  • Will you require an assistive seat or lift to get into or out of the vehicle?
  • If you require a lift, what options do you prefer? Side door or rear door entrance/exit; electric; hydraulic; platform swing out or superarm, etc.?
  • Do you require a lowered floor or raised top and doors? What is your height, head to ground when sitting, and the length and width of your wheelchair or scooter?
  • Will you drive from a wheelchair or use a power seat?
  • Will you need special modifications to operate the vehicle?
  • What are the services & warranty programs on your vehicle of choice? What parts are covered, and where can emergency repair work be done if you are out of town?
  • What alternative funding sources are you eligible for (Veteran's Administration, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Developmental Disabilities Services, or Insurance - Health or Workman's Compensation)?
  • Have you checked with a qualified accountant to determine eligibility for tax credits for modifications?
  • Have you checked with the manufacturer for information on a rebate program to help pay for modifications?
  • Did you check with the dealer for a finance package?

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