InTrans / Oct 19, 2014

How do YOU drive?

Go! Magazine

Curb cut outposted on October 19, 2014

As part of the Driving with a Disability series, I am showcasing what it is like to drive as a person who uses a wheelchair. There are many disabilities in the world that hinder mobility. However, in this article, I am focusing on any given disability that causes a person to be in a wheelchair for the long-term.

This article attempts to answer one of the unspoken questions in western society—how do you drive with a disability?

Reasons for individuals that require a wheelchair can include cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, older individuals, diabetic patients, amputees, and much more. It is important to note that these individuals are constantly challenged by everyday activities. Even something as seemingly simple, such as stairs or stepping over a curb, can be a challenge for someone in a wheelchair.

Driving while in a wheelchair

Have you ever seen someone come out of the driver’s seat of a car in a wheelchair? I know that I have. One question that came into my mind was, “What test do they take to get a license?” Also, “What special devices are in the car that make it possible for them to drive,” and, “How much does that all cost?” So, I began to search for answers to some of my questions.

How does a person who uses a wheelchair get a driver’s license?

A person who uses a wheelchair is not prohibited from obtaining a driver’s license in the United States. In fact, the requirements are pretty similar. The person must be at least 16-years-old and pass the theory and practical tests. The only other requirement is that the disabled driver must own and operate a vehicle that accommodates to their individual needs. As you will see, these accommodations can be costly, which is an overall barrier for a person who uses a wheelchair.

What special devices are required?

How about we start with the first question: “What special devices are in the car that make it possible for a person who uses a wheelchair to drive?”

Some requirements include: an automatic transmission, a shifter that is easy to move, power steering, automatic windows, locks and seats, enough room for the wheelchair in the driver’s seat, hand grips inside the vehicle, and hand controls for the brakes and gas. These are just a few of the accommodations necessary for drivers who use a wheelchair.

How much does a wheelchair van conversion cost?

A van that must undergo a conversion to be handicap accessible can cost between $12,980 and $16,980.1 This is quite expensive, especially if you bought the van new in the first place and then had to convert it. Although this conversion is quite common, there is a percentage of persons who use a wheelchair that cannot afford to make this kind of purchase. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted in 1990, has made several modifications for people with a handicap requirement. For instance, Figure 1 shows curb cuts, which are now required on all sidewalks.

Curb cutThe ADA has also illegalized discrimination by employers, required public entities and accommodations to be handicap accessible, and required telecommunications to accommodate the disabled.

Awareness for ALL drivers

It is important for everyone to be knowledgeable and respectful towards persons with disabilities. Since the ADA was enacted, there has been continued movement towards adopting technologies to allow persons in wheelchairs to have more mobility. Once these new technologies are adopted, they will then become more affordable for people to use. This is the second article of a three-part series focusing on Driving with a Disability.

Read “What color is that traffic light?” to find out what the environment looks like through the eyes of a color blind individual. Also, look for the next article “Aging population and aging drivers: When is the limit?


  1. AMS Vans. “AMS Vans FAQ for Wheelchair Accessible Vans.” AMS Vans Inc. Accessed October 13, 2014. Available at

By Jackie Nester, Go! Staff Writer

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