Car Modification for Persons with Disabilities: What You Need to Know

Car Modification for Persons with Disabilities: What You Need to Know

November 11, 2018

Living with a disability, or becoming disabled, doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to drive. Even though mobility and transportation are somewhat challenging for people with disabilities (PWDs), technology is quickly delivering solutions that can ease the everyday lives of PWDs.

Thanks to adaptive driving and assistive technology, people with disabilities can confidently and safely drive themselves to any destination. The best part is that any vehicle, whether it’s a car, van, or truck, can be modified to suit your unique needs and preferences. All you need is a proper evaluation before the vehicle is modified.

Assistive technology leverages carefully-installed driving aids and devices to make driving for people with disabilities as simple as possible. Read on to learn more!

Who Benefits from Assistive Technology?

Assistive technology (AT) is any equipment, device, or software that allows people to work around different challenges to complete a specific task. AT can be applied in various areas of life to address different problems in learning, development, writing, work, and more. Patients and older people can also benefit from AT.

Here, we’ll focus on how AT can help people living with disabilities drive safely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) regulates the manufacture of AT devices for driving and modified vehicles used by people with disabilities. According to the NHTSA, a new vehicle that’s modified can cost about $20,000 to $80,000.

These devices and aids are designed to provide people with disabilities freedom and independence. They help with moving in and out of the car, driving, and accessing different features within the vehicle. However, since every person with a disability has unique needs, evaluating a person’s cognitive and physical abilities is vital before picking the right AT aids.

Car Modification and Its Benefits

As noted before, a car must undergo modifications for a person with disabilities to operate it effectively. The person must also undergo an evaluation to understand what modifications must be made to the vehicle.

Besides the evaluation, you need to get an adapted driver’s license. You’re required to reveal your disability when applying for a driver’s license.

What Is Car Modification? 

Regarding driving with a disability, car modification is basically optimizing a car to meet a new set of requirements different from those it was initially designed to meet.  Modifications are intended to provide a transportation option for individuals with disabilities.

The modifications can be as simple as extending the pedals to more complex changes like automating seats and adding ramps. Keep in mind that car modifications for people with disabilities are usually unique. Whatever your requirements, there are devices and aids available to support your special driving needs.

Benefits of Car Modifications

These modifications are essential, and here are the benefits they offer:

Provide an Alternative Option for Transport
People with disabilities mostly depend on wheelchairs to move around. While the government is doing everything to ensure public transportation meets the needs of disabled persons, there are still issues that are difficult to resolve. For example, public transit and train schedules may not be friendly.

Also, taxi services, such as Uber and Lyft, are classified as technology companies; thus, they’re not obligated to meet the needs of people with disabilities. However, they’re doing so through other initiatives. For example, Uber offers UberAccess and UberAssist to help passengers with disabilities.

With car modifications, disabled people can enjoy rides on their own terms without worrying about schedules and accessibility. Modified vehicles are ideal alternatives to wheelchairs since they are fast, but you’ll still need your wheelchair or crutches to access buildings.

Offer Freedom
In some cases, disabled people just want their freedom. They don’t want to burden other people to drive or move them around. With car modifications, they can drive themselves whenever they want to, enhancing their ability to live by their design.

Ensure Optimal Control
The essential element of car modifications is to ensure people with disabilities have optimal control while driving. Every aid or device is added while ensuring seamless accessibility and ease of use. That’s why physical evaluation is crucial prior to making any car modification.

With careful placement, the modifications ensure disabled people can drive just as well as those without disabilities can.

Types of Assistive Modifications for Cars

It’s vital to know that assistive modifications are usually recommended by driving rehabilitation specialists. As such, it’s rare to find two similar modified cars owned by two different people. Here are some of the adaptive equipment and car accessories that you may encounter in modified vehicles.

Hand Controls
These controls allow for the effortless operation of the car if the driver is unable to use the foot pedals. For example, you can have buttons and levers for applying brakes instead of pedals. There are also buttons for indicators, horns, lights, and wipers. There are also detachable controls that can be installed depending on the varying needs of the driver.

Steering Devices
These are basically the devices for steering the car, and they come in different options and designs, including knobs, tri-pins, cuffs, palm grips, V-grips, quad forks, amputee rings, and floor-mounted steering. Your choice will depend on the extent of your inability to use your hands. A column extension can also be used to move the steering wheel closer to the driver for those with shorter hands.

Seat Modifications
Regarding seat modifications, changes are made depending on the driver’s ability to enter or exit the vehicle. You can install power seat attachments to help with adjusting the seat position. This lets you rotate, lower, or remove the seat. It can also have the provision for entering the vehicle.

There are also vehicle transfer seats that let you move from the wheelchair to the car seat easily. Seats can be customized to ensure stability, balance, and optimal positioning.

Foot Pedal Extenders
Gas and brake pedal extenders help to provide shorter people an effortless reach to pedals. This makes it easy for them to operate the pedals without struggling. As a result, these additions increase comfort in the driving experience.

Automatic Doors
Doors can be set to open and close automatically with a single button. The driver usually has a remote control for easy operation. This prevents them from struggling with the door whenever they want to enter the vehicle. Additionally, the vehicle can have a dropped floor or a raised roof to accommodate drivers using mobility devices.

Adaptive Ignition Controls
Modified cars for people with disabilities can also have relocated ignition and engine start controls to ensure optimal accessibility. The controls are usually isolated and protected to prevent accidental use. Button ignition controls and remote start systems are preferred for disabled people.

Wheelchair Lifts and Ramps
Lifts allow you to hoist and store your empty wheelchair in your vehicle without any assistance. On the other hand, ramps help enter or exit the vehicle using the wheelchair. While in the car, your wheelchair or scooter is secured with tie-downs to prevent rolling while in a moving car.

Left-Foot Accelerators
If you have a missing or shorter right leg, you’ll have a left-foot pedal to prevent crossovers. Usually, the pedal will be on both sides of the brake, and modifications are done for acceleration and braking systems.

Best Cars for Mobility Disabilities

When it comes to buying a vehicle for disabled people, it’s vital to go for an option that will require fewer modifications. The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) provides guidance on selecting the right vehicle.

You can also work with a certified adaptive driving specialist to assist you in determining the right vehicle to buy. These professionals will ensure that the vehicle you select can be modified to suit your adaptive equipment needs. Your choice depends on several factors, such as the following:

  • Your specific physical limitations
  • Special modifications you’ll need
  • Your height
  • Your ability to get in and out of the car
  • Whether you’ll need a lift, a ramp, or an adapted seat

    You’ll need training on how to drive your desired vehicle after the modifications have been made. The rehabilitation specialist and the equipment installer will provide information on every added driving aid and device. They can also assess the vehicle you already own to determine whether it qualifies for modifications.

You can reach out to the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) to find a qualified equipment dealer. If you want a rehabilitation specialist, the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists (ADED) can help.

With that in mind, here are some of the car models that are ideal for people with disabilities:

Volkswagen Golf
If you want a simple hatchback vehicle, the Volkswagen Golf makes a compelling option. It has adjustable seats, allowing you to set a comfortable seating position. With a spacious boot, it’s easier to load your wheelchair and other cargo.

The 2020 models let you complete several actions remotely, including starting the engine, locking and unlocking doors, and flashing the lights. It has driver assistance features, such as rear traffic alert, front assist, and a blind-spot monitor to help you drive confidently.

Hyundai Sonata
This is a midsize model, and its low-ride height makes it easily accessible for disabled people. The car features supportive seats with a comfortable driving position. It comes with a smart system, which one can use to call for help in case of an emergency.

Hyundai Sonata can be modified easily to use different adaptive devices and aids. Even though it’s a sedan, the Sonata is an exception that can easily meet the unique needs of disabled people.

Honda Odyssey
The Honda Odyssey is an ideal vehicle if you want a wheelchair van with different conversion options. It supports both side and rear entries, allowing you to customize the design to suit your unique needs. The van has plenty of space, and it makes a great alternative to SUVs.

It has wide-opening doors that accommodate wheelchairs, and the floor is somewhat low to allow easy use with ramps. You can also easily install “Step & Roll” front seats on this van to ensure accessibility and convenience.

Jeep Renegade
If you’re looking for an SUV, then the Jeep Renegade makes a compelling option for people with disabilities. It can easily be customized to meet your specific needs. The rear seats are easily foldable to create room for storing your wheelchair, while heated exterior mirrors clear fog for optimal visibility.

It has heated seats to keep you warm, and it has a backup camera for viewing your parking spot, which is ideal for people who can’t move their necks.

Kia Soul
The Kia Soul also makes a great SUV with a roomy cabin for a comfortable experience. Touch-screen operation helps control the infotainment system easily, while wireless charging lets you charge your phone without any physical connections.

The 2021 model supports Remote Start for effortless ignition, and it has an in-vehicle notification center to alert you about anything. The car also supports voice commands through Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, letting you control certain aspects of the vehicle using your voice.

Final Thoughts

Living with a disability comes with its fair share of challenges and limitations, particularly when you want to move around. Paying someone to drive you around can be costly, while using wheelchairs can be relatively slow.

Thanks to technology, you can easily modify any vehicle to allow people with disabilities to drive themselves anywhere they want. First, you need to take the time to find the right car for your adaptive devices. A good vehicle has extra-wide doors, adjustable foot pedals, large door handles, oversize knobs, and support handles.

Usually, a rehabilitation specialist will help you find the right car depending on your unique case. Modified vehicles are generally customized to suit your particular needs, including vision, coordination, muscle strength, and decision-making abilities.

Whatever your case, take the time to work with a specialist to help you fit your car with the right adaptive devices and financing options. Safety and comfort are vital elements when selecting a vehicle and driving aids.


James Tinsley

James is the Founder of FitMyCar and a total car nerd. At 5’11”, and with calves as wide as he is tall, he could be the most weirdly proportioned CEO in the world to ever write an auto blog.

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