With the emergence of innovative technologies, individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to enjoy driving themselves in comfort and safety. For some individuals, hand controls may make safe operation possible, or others may simply require swivel seats to make entering a vehicle more convenient. No matter your disability, there’s a good chance that adaptive equipment is available to allow you to enjoy the freedom of driving yourself. If you’re not sure where to begin when purchasing or modifying a vehicle to accommodate your disability, this step-by-step guide can help.
The 5 Steps of Modifying a Vehicle for Disabilities
- Evaluate Your Needs
- Check Into Cost-Saving Programs
- Choosing a Vehicle to Modify
- Choosing a Qualified Dealer to Complete Modifications
- Training on Using Your Modified Vehicle
Step #1 – Evaluate Your Needs
The first step is to evaluate your unique needs. What specific adaptive equipment will be needed for your medical condition? This step may involve working with a rehabilitation specialist who will not only consider your current needs but future equipment needs. An evaluation of your needs will include:
- Reaction times and coordination
- Decision making and judgment abilities
- Flexibility, range of motion, and muscle strength
- Your ability to drive using adaptive equipment
After an evaluation, you’ll be provided with a report that gives you specific driving restrictions, requirements, and recommendations. You’ll also be provided with a list of modifications or vehicle requirements.
Step #2 – Check Into Cost-Saving Programs
In many cases, modifying a vehicle to accommodate a disability can be prohibitively expensive. While the addition of simple adaptive equipment may cost less than $1,000, modifying a new vehicle with extensive adaptive equipment can cost between $20,000 and $80,000, depending on your unique needs. Cost savings programs are available that may help you pay for the cost of vehicle modifications. Contact the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation in your state. Consider looking for nonprofits that may help with these costs. Check into rebates available from major vehicle manufacturers.
Step #3 – Choosing a Vehicle to Modify
If you need to purchase a new vehicle to modify, it’s important to make sure the vehicle you choose can be modified to meet your unique needs. It’s best to consult with a driver rehabilitation specialist to ensure you make the right decision. A few questions that can be used to help you choose a vehicle include:
- Is there enough space in the vehicle to accommodate other passengers, such as family members, after modifications?
- Is there enough cargo capacity to handle the adaptive equipment you’ll need?
- Do you have enough parking space at your home and your workplace for the vehicle?
- Are additional options needed for you to operate the vehicle safely?
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When buying a new vehicle, look for a vehicle that fits your body. Ensure it’s a comfortable vehicle for you. Ensure you have good visibility in all directions. Ask about available features that can accommodate drivers dealing with disabilities, such as:
- Large print for gauges on the dashboard
- Ignition mounted on the dashboard
- Extra-wide or high doors
- Large handles on the inside of the doors
- Support handles that can help with entry and exit of the vehicle
- Self-adjusters that allow you to move your driver’s seat in all directions
- Adjustable foot pedals
Step #4 – Choosing a Qualified Dealer to Complete Modifications
Choosing a qualified, experienced dealer to handle vehicle modifications is important. When consideration mobility equipment dealers, take time to learn about their experience and credentials. Ask for references and find out how they operate. It’s important to choose a dealer who is registered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Find out about the type of warranty the dealer provides if they’ll provide you with ongoing maintenance, and how long it will take to complete the modifications.
Step #5 – Training on Using Your Modified Vehicle
Once adaptive equipment has been installed in your vehicle, you’ll need training on how to use that equipment safely. While off-road instruction and literature are great, you need on-the-road training as well. It’s also a good idea to have a friend or family member take part in the training, so someone else can drive the vehicle if there’s an emergency.
Step #6 – Keeping Up with Routine Maintenance
To make sure you keep adaptive equipment and your vehicle safe, routine maintenance is essential. Make sure you keep up with the maintenance required to comply with the terms of your warranties. Basic maintenance tasks include:
- Changing the oil regularly as recommended by the vehicle’s owner’s manual
- Checking engine coolant, power steering fluid, and brake fluid when the oil is changed
- Checking tire pressure monthly
- Cleaning windows and headlights
- Having the vehicle checked out on a service lift yearly
- Checking brake lights, parking lights, headlights, turn signals, and reverse lights regularly
It is possible for you to enjoy the freedom of driving, even if you’re dealing with disabilities. Follow these steps and work with experienced professionals to modify your vehicle appropriately. If your disability also requires home modifications, call us today at (610) 518-2221, and we’ll be happy to determine what type of modifications can best meet your needs.
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