How to Regain Personal Mobility with an Adapted Car

Mobility-adapted car

Don't let mobility challenges slow you down.

One in five people will experience some type of disability in their lifetime. When your own or a loved one's personal mobility becomes a problem, the restrictions on your daily life can be overwhelming. Suddenly there are limits on where you can go, what you can do, and who you can visit.

Many people in this situation have decided to not let personal mobility limitations get in their way. While life may never be exactly as it was, there are solutions — mobility aids.

From wheelchairs to scooters, stair lifts to ramps, you may need a combination of mobility aids to get you back on track.

While each element is critical, many times the most important piece of the puzzle is an adapted motor vehicle. Special or adapted vehicles are designed to help people drive in spite of disabilities. The purchase or adaptation of a car or van may be the second largest financial investment next to purchasing a home. New wheelchair accessible vehicles can start at $45,000 and go up to $90,000. Hand controls start at approximately $900 and can go up to $15,000 or more. Wheelchair lifts range from $1,000 to $10,000.

Look ma, all hands!

One of the most common vehicle mobility devices is hand controls. Almost any car with an automatic transmission, power steering, and power brakes easily can be outfitted with mechanical hand controls that let the driver operate the gas and brake safely with just one hand. In most cases, a vehicle you already own can be set up with hand controls in less than one day.

Whatever the reason for decreased mobility, a doctor and a certified driving instructor (usually a physical therapist) must do the evaluation to determine if the patient possesses the skills to be a safe driver. Many financial sources such as the VA or Rehab departments require an evaluation by a trained physical therapist or occupational therapist before they will approve installation and payment of the equipment.

Swivel seats for easy in/out are vehicle-specific, so before you buy a new car, verify that the seats you want can be installed. Usually a seat can be installed in one day, although it might take several days to get the seat you need.

Equipment options for mobility

Installing hand controls, special seats, or other easy access systems in a vehicle can be just the first step. Usually a personal mobility device (PMD) must also be transported, ranging from simple manual wheelchairs that can collapse and fit in the trunk, to scooters and power wheelchairs that require the right vehicle and lift.

Cost is a factor. Insurance companies don't usually pay for lifts that transport the devices they have purchased. It is the user's responsibility to transport the wheelchair when needed. A disabled Veteran with benefits might have vehicle modifications covered by the Government. Almost everyone else must pay for the needed equipment out of pocket.