Assistive Technology in Cars and Taking My Driver’s Test

As a teenager, it is a rite of passage to get your driver’s license. The day of your driver’s test is a mixture of nervousness and excitement. While those emotions still apply, there is an added layer of stress for those who use assistive devices.

Assistive Devices for Operating a Vehicle

Assistive devices for operating a vehicle can look like hand controls, a steering wheel knob, glasses, or even an extra seat cushion. While there are laws that prevent test administrators from denying you a license because of disability accommodations, questions are still asked.

international symbol of access on asphalt
Photo by Jakub Pabis on

In early May of 2022, I went in for my driver’s test. I had waited a year longer than most teenagers to get my license (because who needs to pay for driver’s insurance in lockdown?) I started my driving practice at 15 and I used foot pedals, but I slowly transitioned to hand controls. I prefer hand controls and it is what I used during my test. I also use a steering wheel knob, mostly because my family’s wheelchair-accessible van is heavier than normal cars and steering with one hand isn’t easy. Finding the right assistive devices for me took time but the process was worth it because I have found a great setup.

Taking My Driver’s Test

Before my test, the driver’s license center notified me that I had to park in the test lot. I had parked in an accessible spot, and my mom, who is a wheelchair user, had to go back out to move the van. Unfortunately, the test lot didn’t have an accessible spot. It was quite risky to lower the van ramp and hope that someone would see it before they pulled in next to me. Thankfully, the test administrator was educated and did not question my accommodations and I ended up passing my test!

Now, not every person gets a great test administrator. Here are some common things test administrators might say about disability accommodations and here is how to respond.

Are those accommodations legal?

As long as the device doesn’t hinder your ability to drive, you are good.

Why are you driving if you have a disability?

There is no reason why test administrators should ask this. People with disabilities can drive, though some choose not to for safety reasons.

Do you have special training for hand controls?

There is absolutely no requirement to have special training for hand controls. You learn to use hand controls just like you would learn with foot pedals! The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act are both great legal resources for driving, license tests and public transportation.

Remember, as long as you feel comfortable driving, there is no reason why you cannot get a driver’s permit or take the test.

About Riley Hurt: Riley lives in Salem, Oregon, and uses a Stretto Power Wheelchair for mobility. Riley is enrolled in college, pursuing electrical and computer engineering. She hopes to make her future field more inclusive for people with disabilities. Click here to learn more about Riley.

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