Almost any car can be modified, but the types of vehicles and modifications appropriate for each driver are based completely on individual needs and preferences.
Assessments are extremely important to ensure personal safety, and it can’t be stressed enough how unique each person’s needs are; five people with the same disability will require five different modifications, and possibly even five different vehicles. What’s more, a proper evaluation will save you a lot of money you might have wasted on the wrong equipment. Protect yourself and others by taking all the right steps.
Helpful Resource: Adapting Motor Vehicles for People with Disabilities. This is an online brochure detailing the process of selecting and installing assistive devices for drivers with disabilities.
Typical Modifications Prescribed by Driving Rehabilitation Specialists
We usually don’t think of an automatic transmission as an adaptive device, but adaptive devices were often first created as conveniences for the general public! An automatic transmission eliminates the need for a clutch and manual shift.
Power steering is another winner! It has aided nearly everyone, but especially those with a weak upper body, some of whom use hand-controls.
Stability management systems offer a device that helps control the rebound energy in vehicle suspensions, so drivers and passengers won’t get jostled around and your vehicle retains stability. The device can prevent road bumps, wind from passing trucks, rollovers, and other accidents caused by vehicle instability.
A siren detector electronically detects the high decibel sound waves of an ambulance or fire truck for a driver who is hearing-impaired.
Bioptics is a system with a telescope attached to prescription eyeglasses. This system enables a driver with low-vision to drive by glancing intermittently through special lenses.
Consumers who have successfully worn Bioptic telescopic lenses include individuals with the macular disease from macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, albinism, Stargardt’s disease, Optic Atrophy, myopic degeneration, nystagmus, macular holes, PXE, and many other eye conditions that affect central vision.
Steering Knobs are employed for positive, one-hand control, adjustable to one’s ability.
Drivers with no grip or diminished wrist stability can use tri-pins, a three-pronged grip for the wheel.
A steering cuff offers complete support and control for a driver with a totally disabled hand and wrist.
A palm grip, v-grip or quad fork is used with some quadriplegics for steering. It is placed at any position on the wheel according to the prescription and driver’s personal comfort.
An amputee ring accommodates drivers with a prosthetic hook on their steering arms. (The prosthesis should have soft surface pinchers.)
Modified-effort steering reduces the strength needed to operate power steering or brakes for someone with low strength or endurance.
Floor-mounted steering is a floor steering wheel for foot control.
Other Adaptive Devices
A raised roof or dropped floor makes room to accommodate a driver seated in a mobility device.
A left-foot accelerator eliminates left leg cross-over.
A pedal extender raises the height of the brake and accelerator, so the driver can control them with his/her hands, instead of feet.
A push/pull lever works like a pedal extender, but can also control the horn, windshield wipers, turn signals, and other features.
A steering column extension moves the steering wheel closer to the driver.
A joy-stick system is another single-handed device to control a vehicle.
Left-handed gear selection is done with an electric gear changer.
Using a right-hand turn signal allows right-hand operation without cross-over.
Remote switches reposition or build up the secondary controls (horn, wipers, and turn signals).
Tie-downs secure a wheelchair or scooter in place, so it won’t roll while the car is moving; there are several types.
To ease transferring from a wheelchair into a bucket seat, power seats can be employed. A power seat can be customized for balance, positioning, and stability.
Many drivers use transfer boards to transfer into and out of the car.
Seats can be customized for balance, positioning, and stability.
A wheelchair or scooter lift also can be installed for entering or exiting a vehicle. Some lifts are designed to lift the driver and mobility device together, while others only lift the mobility device for storage. They are narrow enough to fit into a trunk, along with the mobility device. Lifts may eliminate the need to have a van.
A ramp may be needed. They come in a variety of styles. Most fold up into the vehicle.
Automatic locks and window controls make life easier; most new vehicles have these features.
A wheelchair carrier mounted on the roof or back of a vehicle is used for storage and doesn’t require a large vehicle.
A quad key-holder or turner or turner can be a life-saver for drivers lacking fine motor control.
Below are questions to consider when selecting a vehicle. They are provided by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). A certified adaptive driving specialist can best assist you with the completion of a driver rehabilitation program.
The specialist helps determine whether you need a car, truck, full-sized van, or a mini-van.
What are your physical limitations? What will affect your ability to access and drive a vehicle?
Are you concerned with the mental or physical stress related to driving?
What is your ability to transfer into and out of a vehicle?
Will you require an adapted seat or lift to get in and out?
If you require a lift, what options do you prefer? A side- or rear-door entrance/exit, electric or hydraulic, platform swing-out, or super-arm?
Will you need a lowered floor or raised top and doors?
What is your height or will you transfer to a power seat?
Will you need special modifications, such as hand-controls, to operate your vehicle?
What are the services and warranty programs on your vehicle of choice? What parts are covered, and where can emergency repair work be done if you’re out of town?
Are you eligible for funding sources through the Veteran’s Administration, your state’s division of vocational rehabilitation, developmental disabilities services, worker’s compensation, or health insurance?
Many private insurance companies cover driver rehabilitation programs too, and some driver’s insurance covers vehicle modification.
Have you checked with a qualified accountant to determine eligibility for tax credits for modifications?
Have you checked with the vehicle manufacturer for rebate programs to help pay for modifications? Chrysler, Ford and General Motors all have reimbursement programs for vehicle-modification costs, and there are probably others. (See the Adaptive Equipment and Vehicle Dealers section.) You can get reimbursed for purchasing and modifying a vehicle for your disability.
Mobility Equipment Dealers
Search here for dealers that provide alterations and modifications for vehicles. You can also find rentals and sales of previously modified vehicles here.
Assistive Technology Makes Cars Accessible for People with Disabilities
This article provides an overview of AT for driving. It includes some history of modifying cars, types of assistive technology, the cars/vans that are commonly modified, and discounts available through dealers.