Driving A Car Disabled Is Trickier Than You Think

Being disabled in South Africa can be a pricey business. We investigate vehicle adaption and popular vehicles suitable for disabilities.
Melissa Cohen
2017-07-23
Being disabled comes with many difficulties - driving being one of them. Vehicle adaptation has become the solution to providing a sense of independence. This does however come at a price. Many people who would qualify for a restricted license, would never have the opportunity of being the proud owner of a vehicle due to the sheer expense that comes with it. 
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Who Qualifies?

Rolling Rehab aims to provide assistance to disabled people who want to get behind the wheel. This organisation is able to link the customer to all the relevant people in order to get a vehicle that is suitable for their particular needs. According to Rolling Rehab's founder, Caroline Rule, each person has their own needs that need to be considered and catered for. This means that each case is dealt with individually. The person then undergoes various assessments in order to determine what vehicle adaptations would be best suited to them. As long as you have some mobility in the arms and shoulders and are able to see, this should allow qualification. Even deaf people are allowed to drive, however they are advised to undergo extra training to ensure that their visual awareness is on point.

Where To Start?

Many of the vehicles are imported from overseas and are then adapted to the clients disability.
"In the UK, there is a company called Motability and every person who qualifies for their disability allowance, is allowed to use a portion of that allowance for car adaptation," explains Rule.
This means that once the government has approved the application, the vehicle will be fully paid for by the government.  This makes being a disable driver in the UK a whole lot easier. Once the owner has had the vehicle for five years, the vehicle will then be replaced with a newer model. South Africa then imports these vehicles in as second hand and they are made available to the public. After receiving a license, the disabled person is then able to purchase a vehicle with the relevant adaptations.

What To Look For When Buying A Car

It all depends on the type of disability. Rule mentions the importance of the width of the door. A wider door would lead to easier access in and out of the vehicle. Especially if there is a wheelchair involved. The height of the vehicle is also another crucial point to look for.
"Most wheelchairs are 50cm in height. It is slightly easier to get in to a car if the car is higher than the wheelchair rather than it being lower. It all depends on the individual and what their particular needs are," adds Rule. 
The transfer, which refers to the way the individual gets in and out of the vehicle, needs to be taken in to consideration. If the individual has strong arms then transfer issues would not be a problem.
"It could depend on the strength of their transfers.  If you have a strong transfer then they might be happy to get a higher car. However if they don't have a strong transfer then they will be looking for a car that is exactly the same height as the wheelchair and that would depend  on what wheelchair they have." 

So What Would Be The Best Choice?

According to a survey conducted in the Rolling Inspiration Magazine, the Mercedes C-Class came out as the most popular vehicle. The reasons for this was because the vehicle has a wider door for accessibility. It is also a bit higher than a wheelchair so it is easy for a person to maneuver themselves in and out. Other popular options included the Honda Jazz, Ford Transporter and the VW Polo.

What Are Some Of The Challenges?

  • If you already had a license and then became disabled, you will have to redo your license. It is important to alert your insurance company as well. This will affect your cover if you are in an accident.
  • You can't get vehicle finance without a license. The person can however get a motivational letter written to the bank. Most banks accept this, depending on the financial status of the customer.
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But Isn't It Expensive? 

It can be a pretty pricey venture, however there are some options to choose from in order to ensure that you save a little cash.
"Six years ago the quote for just a joystick controller was R400 000 and then they still had to lower the floor. In the end it would have cost about R1 million for the vehicle conversion," says Rule. 
This is just an example as to just how pricey a vehicle and its adaptation can be.

Nicky's Drive

Nicky's Drive is an organisation that aims to provide sponsored vehicles to people with disabilities who can't afford it. This is a non-profit business that wants to provide the independence that disabled people are so desperately yearning for.

The Rebate

If you are a tax-payer and are disabled, you are able to claim back your tax.
"Anybody who needs an adapted vehicle, qualifies for a rebate on the import duties. So if the car is imported, the government has given a rebate for people with disabilities. The government will give them 15% back so they will be saving," exclaims Rule. 

Vehicle Finance

This is an option and most banks are happy to provide this finance if there is surety that the person will be able to pay their installments on a regular basis.

The 6 Step Process- From Chair To Car

  1. Get your learners license.
  2. Find a driving school that is able to use the right adaptive car.
  3. Get your restricted drivers license.
  4. Determine your needs when it comes to adapting your vehicle. 
  5. Find their desired car. 
  6. Send it to the company for adaption. 
For a further guide on vehicle adaptations and disabled driving schools, check this out.
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