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Thursday, March 05, 2009

New Technology Helps Disabled Drivers

How to Find Out if You Qualify For Adaptive Devices

For people with disabilities, new technology continues to broaden opportunities to drive vehicles with adaptive devices. But taking advantage of these opportunities, however, can often be time consuming and frustrating.

A new vehicle modified with adaptive equipment can cost from $20,000 to $80,000. Because the costs associated with modifying a vehicle vary so widely, it pays to investigate public and private opportunities for financial assistance.

Whether you are modifying a vehicle you own or purchasing a new vehicle with adaptive equipment, there are programs that help pay part or all of the cost of the modification. It depends on the cause and nature of the disability. To learn more, contact your state’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation or other agency that offers vocational services, and, if you’re a United States veteran of war, the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, you may want to look into the following:

• Grant programs that help pay for adaptive devices are available from many nonprofit associations that advocate for individuals with disabilities. Your private health insurance or workers’ compensation may cover expenses for adaptive devices and vehicle modification. Ask your insurance carrier if you’re covered.

• Many vehicle manufacturers offer rebate or reimbursement plans for modified vehicles. If you are ready to buy, find out if there is such a dealer near you.

• If you have a doctor’s prescription for an adaptive device, some states will waive the sales tax on the device.

• You may qualify for savings on your federal income tax return. Ask your accountant if the cost of your adaptive devices will make you eligible for a medical deduction.

Licensing Essentials

All states require a driver to have earned a valid learner’s permit or driver’s license. It is against the law to be denied the opportunity to apply for a permit or license because of a disability. But, based on your use of adaptive devices, you may be eligible for a restricted license.

Evaluate Your Needs

Comprehensive evaluations performed by driver rehabilitation specialists will identify the adaptive equipment most suited to your needs. Besides including vision screening, a complete evaluation assesses:

• Muscle strength, range of motion, and flexibility

• Coordination and reaction time

• Judgment and decision-making abilities

• Skill at driving with adaptive equipment

After completing an evaluation, you will receive a report containing recommendations on driving requirements or restrictions, and a list of specific recommended vehicle modifications.

Locating a Qualified Evaluator

Contact a local rehabilitation center or call the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists in your area to find a qualified evaluator to best assess your needs. The Association maintains a nationwide database of certified driver rehabilitation specialists. Your insurance company may pay for the evaluation. You may want to find out beforehand if you need a physician’s prescription or other documentation to receive benefits.

Preparing for an Evaluation

Ask your doctor to make sure you are physically and psychologically prepared to drive. Being evaluated too soon after an injury or other trauma may saddle you with adaptive equipment you will not need in the future. Bring any equipment you normally use, e.g., a walker or neck brace, to your evaluation. If you are planning to modify your wheelchair or obtain a new one, make sure you inform your evaluator.

Evaluating Passengers with Disabilities

Evaluators are also good sources of information on compatibility and transportation safety issues for passengers with disabilities. They determine the type of seating required and the person’s ability to get in and out of the vehicle. They can advise you on which modified vehicle to buy, and recommend the right wheelchair lift or other equipment for your vehicle. If your child needs a special type of safety seat, evaluators make sure the seat secures your child properly. They also instruct you on how to correctly install the seat in your vehicle.

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