• Wed. Sep 21st, 2022

Resources for people with disabilities

ByElla E. Kidwell

Aug 8, 2022
  • Car modifications and resources can enable people with disabilities to drive.
  • Modified elevators, pedals and speed controls are common modifications.
  • Insurance premiums for modified vehicles may be higher due to the potential cost of replacing components.
  • There are several options available to help cover the cost of automatic changes.

Twenty-five million Americans live with mobility-limiting disabilities. Fortunately, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that these drivers can maintain their vehicular independence. The only condition is that they are able to drive their vehicle safely with reasonable accommodation. These accommodations may include:

  • Wheelchair lifts and ramps
  • Manual controls
  • Modified steering wheels
  • Raised roofs

These adaptations are available all over the country, but they can sometimes be quite expensive. Fortunately, there are a growing number of programs to cover the cost of disability-related modifications, which can reach $80,000 in some cases.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues to issue new rules to ensure safety and the availability of specific adaptations.

Here’s a closer look at the types of modifications drivers with disabilities can add to their vehicles, additional requirements these adaptations might bring, and financing options to pay for the upgrades.

Types of Accessibility Changes

Each accessibility feature serves a dual purpose. First, it must allow the user to get in and out of the driver’s seat and operate the systems necessary to control the vehicle. Second, the addition must ensure that the driver can use the modifications without compromising their safety and that of their passengers.

Here’s an overview of the accessibility modifications available for disabled drivers and how each balances access, functionality and safety.

Elevators

People with limited mobility often consider a wheelchair lift. These systems come in two varieties.

A guy lifts a busy wheelchair into a truck or van. Battery-powered lift platforms usually handle both the chair and the person. These have rails and straps to secure the wheels while lifting. These rigs require a pickup truck, full-size SUV, or other type of wheelchair-friendly vehicle.

The other type of platform or lift system is designed to transport unoccupied chairs. These can fit in a pickup truck bed or in the back of a standard size SUV or sedan. They are ideal for people with the ability to get in or out of the car through a door. The purpose of these lifts is to transport the chair without forcing the user to fold it up and put it away each time he enters the car.

Lifts can be manual or automatic – with manual options or battery backup in the event of a power outage. Such backup systems may be required by law in some states.

Direction and control

There are several steering options suitable for disabled drivers. For example, some vehicles have a steering ball. This device is a rotating orb the size of a hand that allows drivers to control the direction with one hand. There are also upgraded power steering options that don’t require as much force as factory-installed power steering.

Other modifications, such as steering via a wheel or joystick are also possible, depending on specific needs and abilities.

Pedals

Changes to the pedals allow users to brake and accelerate without using their right foot. For example, a driver can use hand controls instead of traditional pedals. There are different designs for these stop-and-go controls. Most require you to press a lever to brake. You can get horizontal or vertical controls that accelerate when you pull, turn, or flip the lever.

Other modifications could include power brakes, pedal extensions or left foot pedals.

Shift

Most vehicles with accessibility modifications have automatic transmissions so the driver doesn’t have to worry about using a shifter and clutch. However, there are several options for people with a manual transmission. One is to have a standard manual shifter with a manually operated clutch. Thanks to this feature, the driver can change gears without his feet.

Other modifications may include paddle shifters. These speed controls are behind the steering wheel. There are usually two paddles, one for upshifting and one for downshifting, and the driver can operate them without letting go of the steering wheel.

Wheelchair accessibility

Platform lifts can help with vehicle accessibility, but you can also opt for a ramp. The advantage of a ramp is that there are fewer mechanical components. Ramps can automatically or manually extend from the side or rear of a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

There are a few varieties to consider. The ramps in the floor retract under the base of the car, so they are a good option if the vehicle has non-wheelchair passengers who need easy access. Folding ramps have joints and fold up into the car. They can retract and extend more quickly, but they obstruct the vehicle so that other passengers have difficulty accessing it.

Automotive Modification Standards and Warranties

It is important to ensure that the technicians performing the modification meet safety requirements and do not void the vehicle warranty. ADA law allows drivers to make reasonable modifications that allow them to drive, but warranty providers may have different rules or requirements to ensure modifications and technicians meet standards. You can also contact a user car warranty provider or opt for an extended warranty if you plan to modify a used vehicle.

Special insurance policies

The ADA makes it illegal for insurers to charge drivers more for insurance based solely on their disability. However, modified vehicles can be more expensive to insure depending on component replacement costs and other factors.

Here’s what you need to know about insurance policies for modified vehicles.

ADA Requirements

For underwriting purposes, persons with disabilities should be treated like other drivers. The insurer will consider age, driving history and other factors when determining coverage and premiums. The only requirement is that the driver can drive the vehicle safely after obtaining the necessary modifications.

Unique circumstances

The changes create unique circumstances where drivers may have to pay more for insurance despite ADA protections. why is this the case? The ADA does not require insurers to make premiums cheaper for disabled drivers. This is an important concept because insurance premiums could still be quite high for modified vehicles.

The increased rates are not due to the driver’s disability. Instead, they are due to the increased value of the vehicle and its modifications. If the car is totaled, the insurer will have to pay a full replacement cost, and this additional expense will be reflected in the premium.

You can sign up for a training course to learn how to use your new commands safely. Like any safe driving course, this could help reduce your premiums. In some states, you may have a restricted license depending on your need for specialized equipment.

Insure another driver

You can list additional drivers and vehicles with your modified vehicle. Other drivers using the modified car may need additional training or a special license to drive cars with specific modifications, such as manual controls. These rules vary by state.

Resources and Grants for Modifications

Modifications for disabled drivers can be expensive, with some additions costing up to $80,000. However, there are several options to cover the cost of these changes. In addition to federal subsidies, drivers can often find state-level programs that cover part of the cost of accessibility updates. Medical insurers and private organizations can also help pay for modifications. Here is an overview of these different sources of funding.

United States State Grants

Most government grants and financial aid for vehicle modifications come from state-level grants. These options vary by location, but generally include state veterans organizations and disability and accessibility agencies or councils.

U.S. Federal Grants

Some federal agencies may offer support to people looking to cover the cost of a loan. The Veterans Administration offers tax-free funds of $22,355 to veterans who need modified vehicles.

Medicare may cover certain types of vehicle modifications, such as a wheelchair lift, hand controls, or special safety equipment in the car. Medicare Part B covers 80% of necessary medical equipment, which may include some vehicle adaptations.

Finally, you may be eligible for a tax deduction for the cost of your modification.

Private grants

Charities and private organizations can also help with the cost of modifications. In some cases, these charities may be able to help you apply for grants or funding from other sources if they cannot offer you financial assistance themselves.

Booming Accessible Technology in Transportation

Several new advances could make transportation even more accessible to drivers with disabilities in the future.

Automakers and tech companies are scrambling to develop self-driving vehicles. The development of these systems could allow anyone to enjoy personalized transportation without having to worry about having the physical ability to drive.

Buying cars online is a breakthrough that currently helps disabled drivers. You may be able to find used vehicles or factory-built modified models that already have the necessary conversions. You can order them online and use a car transport company for delivery. The internet is also a good place to compare auto loan rates, which can help you pay for vehicle costs not covered by government subsidies, insurance, or programs.