Getting an adapted vehicle is much more involved than an ordinary search for new wheels. It involves all that goes into a car purchase, plus.
While doctors may offer general ideas, they don’t necessarily know the best and latest adaptive equipment. Most people will need a driving specialist—a physical or occupational therapist with adapted-vehicle experience. The specialist can help determine specific needs and ensure that good driver training is in the mix.
Get evaluated for adapted driving
Ask your doctor to refer you to a qualified therapist. Or your chapter may have driving specialists on its referral list. Or you can start at the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED). Click on “membership directory.”
ADED recommends an evaluation for adapted driving. If you undergo driving rehabilitation, you will get a prescription for the vehicle modifications that best suit your needs. Prepare by previewing the association’s driving assessment.
Once you have been evaluated, you need to consider some questions:
- Should you adapt the vehicle you have or purchase a new or a used one?
- Which equipment provider will meet your needs?
- How can you finance your purchase?
- How do you choose among all the available adaptive products?
One prime information source is ABLEDATA, supported by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. ABLEDATA provides current product listings, manufacturer information, consumer guides, and fact sheets.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) posts a brochure that contains information on how to evaluate your needs, choose the right vehicle, select a qualified dealer, and more.
Disability Resources Monthly provides a regional resource directory and hundreds of useful links, including some funding sources.
Two other prime sources are:
- Infinitec explores “infinite potential through assistive technology.” (Click the “Live” tab for information on adaptive driving).
- The National Rehabilitation Information Center is a nationwide clearinghouse of research and databases.
How to find what you want
Your local medical equipment provider may work with vehicles or may refer you to a car dealer. Not all vans can be modified, so check with an accessibility expert before you agree to buy.
Disabled Dealer Magazine is published in regional editions, so the vehicle you want won’t be 2,000 miles away. The magazine and Web site list used accessible vehicles and other equipment, with pricing, photos, specifications, and contact information. The Web site also lists mobility equipment dealers nationwide and links to accessible van rental agencies for when you travel.
Get help paying for it: grants
Insurance won’t pay for vehicles or adaptations. What should you do?
- If driving is linked to your ability to keep or find employment, start with your state’s vocational rehabilitation agency.
- Investigate grants from local social-service organizations, foundations, or agencies such as Easter Seals or the Lions Club.
- Visit ABLEDATA’s Funding Resource Center.
- Most major automobile manufacturers offer some assistance for installing adaptive equipment, but only on new vehicles.
- Ask your Society chapter for information on other funding sources in your area.
If you are an eligible veteran, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers reimbursement and driver training through its hospital network. Contact your local VA office for details.
Get help paying for it: loans or tax exemptions
The Digital Federal Credit Union offers members of the American Association for People with Disabilities special Mobility Vehicle and Access loans. But check your local banks and finance agencies as well.
Ask a tax consultant about sales-tax exemptions on equipment purchases and whether any of your costs qualify for tax deduction as medical expenses. Should an adaptation qualify as a medical necessity, you can deduct your out-of-pocket cost from your federal taxes. To support the deduction (in the event of an audit), get a letter from your prescribing professional. You can get literature outlining the tax code for medical equipment from the Internal Revenue Service or calling 800-829-1040. (Publications 3966, 907, and 502 may be of greatest relevance.)
Used equipment may be your best option. But as with any used item, it’s buyer beware. Check used vehicles and adaptations carefully.
Take a used vehicle you’re considering to your own mechanic, not the dealer’s mechanic before you invest in modifying (or further modifying). Then have your adapted-driving specialist check it as well.
When buying a previously adapted vehicle, get quotes in advance on any further modifications you may require. You can find used equipment through many medical equipment providers, some auto dealers, classified ads in newspapers and online. Ask around!
Learn how to drive it
Now that you’ve bought your adapted vehicle, you need to learn how to drive it. To hire a professional driving instructor with experience teaching people with disabilities, try the following resources:
- Your state vocational rehabilitation agency
- Automaker mobility programs [see Resources box]
- Your physical or occupational therapist
- Your local adapted-vehicle modifier