For many, cars are their primary mode of transportation. Whether you are a driver or a passenger, being unable to access your vehicle can be a huge hit to your independence. Examples of issues that may prevent someone from driving easily or at all include having difficulty grasping and manipulating a traditional steering wheel, being unable to use the right foot on the gas/brake pedals; need for more trunk support than a traditional car seat provides or difficulties transferring into a car seat. As a passenger, being unable to transfer and to sit in the car are two possible roadblocks for using personal transportation versus an accessible ride service.
Whether you are a teenager learning to drive for the first time or a seasoned driver hoping to stay or get back behind the wheel, there are many options to adapting a vehicle to make it more accessible.
A great first start to this process is seeking out an Occupational Therapist or Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS) that can assess your fit to drive. Vision, cognition and neuromotor control are some of the areas that will be assessed and the tests administered will give an indication if you are ready to hop behind the wheel in a regular car with no modifications, undergo training and assessment for appropriate vehicle adaptations or if remediation efforts such as additional therapies or other practice needs to be implemented first.
To locate a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist or mobility equipment dealer in the United States, The Association for Driver Specialists website (ADED.net) is a great resource.
Insurance does not often provide coverage for these items but some programs like Workman’s Comp, Vocational Rehabilitation or the VA may. Some car manufacturers offer Manufacturer Rebate Programs if you buy or lease a new car from them which will provide money to fund vehicle modifications to that car. Additionally, you may find small grants to be available through disease or injury-specific organizations and associations.
Below is a list of examples of different modifications and adaptations that can be made to your vehicle. Check out On the Road Again Part 2 for more details about the equipment.
Tie downs and locking mechanisms to ride in or drive from wheelchair
Hand controls to operate the gas/break
Swivel seats for transferring into/out of car
Parking brake extension
Turn signal crossover
Left foot accelerator
Electronic driving aids
**The Adaptive Driving Alliance provides a list of consumer resources to assist you in your mobility product decisions.
***Bonus! Take a listen to the Rehabilitation Reimagined Episode 6 with Lea Bertoni, OTR/L, CDRS from Driving to Independence to learn more about working with a Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist!
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