Driving with a Disability: What You Should Know

This summer, I received my driving permit. The next step was for me to learn how to drive so I take a driving test and get my license. This is not as easy as it sounds. My learning to drive involves expenses that non-disabled 16-year-olds don’t have to think about. Here’s what I’ve learned about driving with a disability.

Adaptive Vehicles or Modified Equipment

The first issue was figuring out whether I needed an adaptive vehicle to meet my needs. While I can move, walk, and even jump (somewhat), this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy or safe for me to drive a standard car. I have weakness in various muscle groups throughout my body, so I may need to drive a vehicle that’s customized for me.

Adaptive Driving School and Driving with a Disability

close up of car steering wheel
Photo by Abdulvahap Demir on Pexels.com

To figure out what I might need, my mom set up an evaluation for me at an adaptive driving school. I learned a lot! For example, I learned that this is a big deal. I thought that I’d be in and out of the building in a few minutes. I ended up being there for hours!

Before doing any testing, we talked to my evaluator about my medical history and what I am physically able to do. Afterward, I took multiple tests. The first one reminded me of the test you do to get your permit, where you’re asked multiple questions about the rules and regulations, but it was on a simpler level.

Taking Many Tests and Adaptive Equipment

I passed all the tests, and finally, it was time to test drive with the hand controls my evaluator recommended. We went to a large and empty parking lot where I tested out multiple types of hand controls in different positions. After an hour of testing out all the options, I found that the knob attached to the bottom of the steering wheel worked the best for me, while the back-and-forth system was the easiest and most comfortable way for me to brake and accelerate.

Maddie discovers there is much to learn when driving with a disability

Then, my evaluator showed me what controls she recommended we’d try based on our previous discussion of my medical history. She also tested my peripheral vision. This was hard because she told me to tell her when I could no longer see the pen while not looking at the pen. The second set of tests were all on a computer which looked really old. I had to look at the shape of signs and figure out what they meant based on their shape. Then I sat in front of another computer that flashed a car or truck in a position, and I had to remember which direction and type of vehicle it flashed.

The Rules When Driving with a Disability

To take my driving test, I need at least 40 hours of practice driving an adapted vehicle. I am going to start by taking 15 hours of driving lessons from the adaptive driving school and do the rest with my parents. Some people need all 40 hours to be with the driving school. It depends on the person’s disability and what they need to learn. I was relieved that I only needed 15 hours, because the lessons are expensive.

Unfortunately, health insurance does not cover them since they don’t see them as “medically necessary.” Apparently, some states pay for this, but it’s almost impossible to get state money where I live. The cost of the adaptive driving lessons is nothing compared to the cost of getting a vehicle that I can drive.

We now need to figure out whether to modify the car my family already owns or buy a whole new car to fit my needs. It’s a big decision, so I have decided to take some time to think about the options. Honestly, having to go through all these extra steps and pay all this extra money just because I want to be independent…it’s kind of tiring. But I try not to focus on that and instead just focus on my excitement about being able to drive by myself someday soon, but for now, I’ll just help my parents avoid crashing into the wall.

About Maddie Kasten: Maddie is a Q Roll Model for Quantum Rehab. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and enjoys participating in adaptive sports, playing video games and watching anime. Click here to learn more about Maddie.


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