If you live with a disability (like roughly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., according to the CDC), finding reliable transportation and the right insurance can be a hassle. Fortunately, technological advances have opened the door for many people with disabilities to safely drive a car, and there are more and more options for those who need alternative transportation. Read on to find out how to customize your car to accommodate a disability, what kind of auto insurance you may need and how to access transportation if you're unable to drive.
Getting Vehicle Modifications and Assistive Technology
For some drivers with disabilities, outfitting a vehicle with assistive technology is a vital step toward mobility. Car modifications can be relatively minor or very extensive. By shopping around and investigating funding resources, you can find the best price.
Modifying a Vehicle: Average Costs
Vehicle modification costs vary widely. A simple addition like a pedal extender may cost less than $100, while a comprehensive conversion can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. A new vehicle with adapted technology can cost between $20,000 and $80,000, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
According to David Hubbard, CEO of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), here are some typical cost estimates for common vehicle modifications:
Emergency brake extension
For drivers with paralysis, spinal cord injuries or other conditions that make reaching for a brake difficult or impossible
For people of short stature or people who have lost limbs
Assistive devices to improve steering dexterity for drivers who have lost fingers or an arm
Manual wheelchair ramp
Removable ramp to guide a wheelchair into a van, pickup truck, or up short inclines like a curb or porch
Left foot accelerator
For drivers with missing limbs or paralysis
Mechanical hand control
For drivers with missing limbs or paralysis
A power-operated platform to lift a wheelchair or scooter into a van
Helps a person transfer from a wheelchair to the driver's seat
- Raised roof/door opening for wheelchair-accessible van $4,000-6,000
Reduced effort brakes or steering
Reduces the effort needed to brake or steer effectively
Automatic wheelchair ramp and lowered floor conversion with removable seats
A more comprehensive conversion package to make a vehicle wheelchair-accessible
In addition to price, it's important to have the work done by a professional. NMEDA is an excellent resource to find assistive modifications and special vehicles for drivers with disabilities. Working with NMEDA or another organization with vehicle conversion standards also helps ensure the parts will be installed correctly. Ask about the technicians' training and experience before allowing them to work on your car. If possible, find a shop that will also perform services to repair and maintain assistive technology once it's installed.
Where to Get Financial Help
Whether you're planning to modify a vehicle you own or purchase a new vehicle with assistive technology, you may need financial assistance. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations that can help finance the modifications you need:
Veterans can contact their local Department of Veterans Affairs for guidance and assistance. Ask about insurance providers that offer discounts for veterans, and request an application for adaptive equipment for your vehicle.
This Social Security Administration program helps people with disabilities save money to buy the equipment they need to return to work.
Assistive devices and technology may qualify for a tax deduction. Bring any receipts and a note from your doctor to your next appointment with your accountant.
Several auto manufacturers offer a rebate toward the cost of modifications for drivers with disabilities. Buick, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Honda, and many others offer reimbursement, often for up to $1,000.
Your state's branch can help find aid for transportation you need to get to work.
Finding the Right Car Insurance Coverage
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher rates to licensed drivers solely because they have a disability. But if you require vehicle modifications to drive safely, you may need additional insurance coverage. Find out how a disability may affect your coverage and what to look for when shopping for auto insurance.
How a Medical Condition or Disability Can Affect Your Auto Insurance Coverage
In most cases, a disability should have little to no bearing on a driver's insurance application, according to Michael Barry, Vice President of Media Relations at the Insurance Information Institute (III). The insurer is just "looking to see if they're a licensed driver, as opposed to a licensed disabled driver," he explains. Unless the driver's disability is listed on his or her license, it may not enter into the conversation at all unless the driver chooses to disclose it.
There are two situations in which your disability may factor in to your insurance premium:
If your disability is likely to impact your ability to drive safely
Medical conditions like epilepsy, heart conditions or uncontrolled diabetes may make you a higher risk in the eyes of an insurance provider. In these cases, you may be asked to provide information about your last episode and periodic medical evaluations from your doctor to the DMV. p>
NHTSA has issued Driver Fitness Medical Guidelines to advise state DMV offices on how to evaluate drivers with disabilities or medical conditions. Ultimately, each state sets its own guidelines, but most will assess a variety of conditions and disabilities, including:
Vision problems (visual acuity of 20/200 or less and/or limited field of vision of 20 degrees or less)
Physical impairments (loss or paralysis of a limb; inability to walk, need for a wheelchair)
Medical conditions (Class II or Class IV heart condition, dementia, sleep apnea, uncontrolled diabetes and seizures).
Temporary medical conditions (injury, for example)
Depending on the nature of your disability, you may be given a restricted license. For example, if your vision is barely at legal standard, you may be restricted to driving only in the daytime. Or if you're unable to use your right arm, you may be restricted to driving a car with automatic transmission.
It's important to disclose your disability to both the DMV and your insurer. If you don't disclose a disability that leads to an accident, you could risk having your policy dropped by your insurer. In some cases, the insurer may even accuse you of committing fraud by misrepresenting yourself in your application for coverage. "I could see a situation where a driver who lied on an application and got into an accident based on this misrepresentation may have their policy canceled," says Barry. "But what would be a more likely scenario is when the policy came up for renewal, the auto insurer would choose not to renew with that motorist."
It's important to note the difference between cancellation and nonrenewal of a policy. Barry explains that an insurance company may only cancel a policy if the policyholder fails to pay premiums, commits fraud or has his or her license revoked or suspended. Nonrenewal, on the other hand, can be due to a driver's risky behavior or simply because the company has decided to write fewer policies in a certain geographic area. An insurance company must give notice and provide a reason before dropping a policy.
If your car has been modified with expensive technologies
It's likely you'll pay a higher premium for collision and comprehensive insurance on a car that has been modified with expensive adaptive technologies. "The auto insurer is looking at what it's going to cost to repair this vehicle in the case of a collision, a flood or if a tree hits it," Barry explains. So the higher cost reflects a higher cost to replace your vehicle if there is a problem.
Generally, modifications to accommodate your disability shouldn't impact your liability rates. However, some insurance companies associate car modifications with street racing and therefore do charge more for liability coverage, according to Disabled World. There isn't currently a legal distinction between these modifications and those that accommodate disabilities, so auto insurers are not obligated to treat them differently. Be sure to explain the rationale for your modifications to your insurer.
Additional Car Insurance Coverage You May Need
If you've invested in modifications to your vehicle or need to carry expensive equipment such as a wheelchair, you may need additional insurance to ensure that these items are covered. Additional coverage may include:
Special protection for costly modifications to a vehicle.
Coverage for equipment like wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs (that are not part of the vehicle). An auto insurance company may offer coverage for these and other forms of medical equipment, or your health insurance plan may cover it.
It's important to disclose modifications to your vehicle to your insurance company and have any new adaptive technology properly installed by a professional. Failing to do so may affect your rates and renewal.
Know Your Rights: How to Prevent Discrimination
Although the ADA prohibits automobile insurance companies from charging a higher premium or denying coverage purely on the basis of disability, some drivers may still face discrimination. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to prove.
"The auto insurer is not under an obligation to issue a policy to somebody," says Barry. The insurance company can refuse to issue a policy for any number of reasons, including reckless driving behavior or other factors that make a driver high-risk. Still, if a driver with a disability has a clean driving record and is denied by multiple insurers, it's a red flag.
Other warning signs for discrimination could include pressure to sign up for unwanted or unnecessary coverage or unwarranted comments about a disability or medical condition. An insurance company may legally underwrite your application based on risks incurred by having a particular disability, but may not institute a blanket policy to hike rates for drivers with disabilities.
If you suspect discrimination, you can take one or more of the following steps:
File an ADA Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
File a complaint with your state's Insurance Commissioner. You can find out who to contact in your state by looking at Map of NAIC States & Jurisdictions on the National Association of Insurance Commissioners website.
If you suspect the problem lies with a particular agent or office in an otherwise reputable insurance company, you can report your experience to the company's corporate office.
In the meantime, says Barry, a driver should not have to go uninsured. As a last resort, drivers can turn to their state's assigned risk pool. This is typically a resource for people with multiple accidents, DUI charges or other risk factors that have edged them out of the private insurance market. It's usually more expensive, but can serve as a stopgap until you can find less expensive coverage.
Transportation Assistance for People with Disabilities
For those people who are unable to drive because of their disability, there are a growing number of transportation options available.
Often quite affordable and widely available, even in some suburban areas, public transportation like buses, trains and subways may be an option. Check out the ADA's requirements concerning bus stop passenger loading areas and accessible pathways between bus shelters and the vehicle.
Door-to-Door Transport Services
Depending on where you live, you may find transportation services, like Paratransit, specifically for people with disabilities.
According to the ADA, taxis can't discriminate against individuals with disabilities by refusing to give them a ride. But you'll likely need to call ahead to ensure you get a taxi that can accommodate any equipment you may need to bring with you, like a wheelchair.
Driving services like Uber can also make a huge difference for people with disabilities since they can request pick-up from their home when they need it, rather than being at the whim of a bus or train schedule. In recent years, Uber has also launched UberACCESS and UberASSIST in cities across the country. These services offer rides from drivers who are trained in accessibility needs and can accommodate wheelchairs. Another program, UberWAV, features trained drivers who have a wheelchair ramp or hydraulic lift on their vehicles.
License in Question? Try a Driver Rehabilitation Program
If you have recently been disabled or diagnosed with a medical condition that puts into question your ability to drive safely, you may want to consider a driver rehabilitation program. These programs evaluate a person's physical and mental ability to drive safely. The loss of a limb, an Alzheimer's diagnosis or a spinal injury, for example, may be a reason to seek out a driver rehabilitation program.
The evaluation is commonly performed by an occupational therapist who will offer recommendations based on an assessment of the driver's capabilities. Following the evaluation, a therapist may recommend that a driver no longer drive, take a training course or continue to operate a car with no further intervention.
The occupational therapist's goal is to help people attain and maintain as much independence as possible, while also being safe. If the driver and therapist agree that the driver should no longer hold a license, the therapist should be able to help the driver develop a plan to keep the driver as mobile as possible. The therapist's findings are just recommendations, and are not reported to the DMV without the driver's written consent. Drivers, however, must report any medical condition that could impede their ability to drive safely.
If you've recently been diagnosed with a medical condition, or have a referral from your doctor, your health insurance may cover the cost of a driver rehabilitation program. Your doctor may also be able to recommend a driver rehabilitation program or you can find one through The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
Resources for People with Disabilities
Use the ADED search tool to find a Driver Rehabilitation Specialist who specializes in working with students.
Look up your state's options to loan or purchase a car, some of which are specifically for students. Seniors and veterans may also find helpful resources here.
The Disabled Student Services (DSS) office at your college can be a good resource to learn about mobility services in your area.
This organization provides grants to fund vehicle modifications to individuals with disabilities in need of financial assistance less than $5,000.00.
The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers local defensive driving course for seniors. Drivers who successfully complete a defensive driving course may be eligible for insurance premium discounts.
The AARP provides driver safety resources and a list of defensive driving courses for seniors.
The AOTA provides resources specific to older drivers who may need assistance to continue driving safely.
The NCST works with seniors to increase their transportation options so they can live independently in their homes.
Among other services, this organization directs veterans to accessibility and mobility resources.
The USAA works with Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to provide affordable car insurance.
The AFI specializes in insurance for active duty, retired and honorably discharged members of the military.