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Driving With a Disability: Things to Know

John M
Getting on the road and driving a car is certainly possible for those with a disability, but there are several things to take into account. Here are some key things to be aware of.
A fairly common misconception is that people with disabilities are unable to drive motor vehicles. Fortunately this misguided generalisation is one that is dying out, thanks in part to improvements in technology which allow people with various disabilities to get on the road and also to thanks to better general understanding of disabilities as a whole.

Disability Defined

The words 'disabled' and 'disability' are quite vague and essentially they are 'umbrella terms'. There are many ways in which an individual may be considered to have a disability.
In essence, a disability is when an individual has a mental or physical condition which limits their ability to move or impairs their senses (such as vision, ability to hear etc.)
For example, an individual who has sustained a serious spinal cord injury resulting in paralysis would be considered as disabled. People with serious visual impairments would also qualify as having a disability, as would those who are hard of hearing or individuals with certain cognitive conditions.

Can Someone With a Disability Drive a Car?

In many cases, the answer is yes, but it depends on the type of disability, the physical and mental capabilities of individual and the available technology.
This useful guide by SCI Progress offers details about driving following a spinal cord injury, but a lot of the information applies for other disabilities as well.

Which Disabilities Don't Allow for Driving

Individuals with serious visual impairments will be unable to drive - this of course includes those who are registered blind. Other conditions such as those which can cause unconsciousness without warning will typically prevent the person from being able to drive.

Which Disabilities Do Allow for Driving?

Each case is different and will be considered individually, but generally speaking, people with paralysis can drive motor vehicles as can those with hearing impairments, including individuals who are registered as deaf. In the USA, driving restrictions in relation to visual ability vary from state to state.

Informing Relevant Authorities

Whether an individual is disabled and wants to learn to drive or they already have a licence and want to continue driving after becoming disabled, it's important that they contact the relevant authorities about their situation.
In the USA this would be the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and in the UK it's the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

Driving Tests

Those who are looking to drive for the first time will need to take driving lessons just like everyone else, although many centres now offer special lessons for individuals with disabilities.
For those who already have a licence, a driving assessment test will often need to be required to ensure that they are able to continue driving.

Vehicle Modifications

There are many ways in which a car can be modified to allow an individual with a disability to drive and once again, a lot will depend on the level and type of disability in question.
Some common modifications include:
  • Hand controls (for accelerating and braking)
  • Clutch modifications
  • Steering wheel aids
  • Custom seating
  • Special seatbelts 

Increased Sense of Independence

For many people, having a disability may impact what they can do on a day-to-day basis.
But we now live in a world which is much more conscious of accessibility for all and one particular advancement in recent years is the increased opportunity for many disabled people to get on the road and be more independent as a result.