A while back we posted on the Help A Quad Out Facebook page that a new vehicle modification with adaptive equipment can cost from $20,000 to $80,000. A staggering amount. There are grant programs and state and federal programs that work to help overcome this barrier; programs such as Vocational Rehabilitation, and grants like the ones awarded by various injury organizations, such as National Spinal Cord Injury Association. While these programs can aid in the expense of the conversion and adaptive equipment, no program aids in the purchase of the vehicle itself, and many place restrictions that can limit the purchasing power a person with a disability has. For instance, Vocational Rehabilitation puts a strict stipulation that any vehicle being converted through use of their program’s funds 1) can’t be older than three years and 2) has no more than 8,000 miles.
Of course, these vehicle restrictions are only applied if the individual with a disability makes use of the program’s funding . Choosing to pay for any conversion yourself allows the individual the ability to purchase any vehicle they want, but that also leaves them the burden of paying for the modification and adaptive equipment. At the prices I mentioned above, paying for the cost of modification alone makes purchasing a reliable vehicle a barrier that for many is insurmountable.
So what is it about a modification with adaptive equipment that makes it so expensive?
First and foremost is that this purchase of this modification and equipment has to begin with a specialist, a Certified Driving Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS). This specialists spends a great deal of time working with the person with a disability to perform a comprehensive evaluation that assesses the individual’s physical abilities and the adaptive equipment that is suited to their needs. These evaluations go into great detail, measuring the individuals abilities, flexibility, range of motion, reaction time, judgement and decision making skills, and uses that information to determine their ability to drive with adaptive equipment.
The CDRS then works with the individual to determine their safety needs, as both a driver and a passenger. This part of the evaluation also looks into types of seating options that are suitable and the person’s ability to enter and exit the vehicle on their own. This can be as simple as choosing a gravity lift to as in depth as key-less remote entry and special door opening controls installed in the vehicle. Things that we often take for granted as natural parts of our safety in a vehicle, like seat belts, are things that this specialist has to pay close attention to. Harnesses and seat belt attachments are something that has to be designed and fit around not only the individual with the disability but also their adaptive equipment, like a wheelchair.
Next, all that adaptive equipment has to be put into the vehicle, and that takes a qualified dealer and specially trained staff. Before all that fun driving equipment and push-button controls can be installed, the vehicle itself undergoes a major overhaul–floors are dropped as low as ten additional inches, seats are removed, relocated, or redesigned for adaptive use, like putting the passenger and driver seats on wheels for easy removal and installing locking systems in the floor for securing the chairs when in use. These dealers take on a heavy burden of ensuring safety and quality when altering the chassis of the vehicle. Even a half-inch mistake in the lowering of a van’s floor can affect the individual’s use of the equipment in drastic ways. The staff of these mobility dealers undergo constant training to ensure their skills and knowledge of auto-adaptive equipment are up-to-date and follow safety regulations.
Panama City, FL, has its own qualified mobility dealer, Team Adaptive, Inc. This company works with BraunAbility for a vehicle’s conversion; that part entails the lowering of the van floor, the relocation and redesign of the seats. The company then works with the local CDRS to purchase and install the proper adaptive equipment. These modifications are not a one-size fits all; every piece of adaptive equipment is chosen specifically for the individual and then carefully calibrated for their ability to use.
Lastly, the person with the disability has to undergo training with the CDRS to learn how to use all that adaptive equipment. For the basic equipment, such as the wheelchair ramp, this training simply takes an afternoon. But for those with driving equipment, the individual has hundreds of hours of training and practice driving that has to be completed, as well as a driver’s test, before they can hit the open road with their new mobility independence. And that’s where that last bit of expense comes in, paying for all those hours of lessons.
I should mention, while there are a lot of organizations and programs that provide financial assistance for the cost of conversion (I’ve mentioned a couple at the beginning of the post), the amount of financial assistance that they provide for this cost is determined on a case by case basis, and an individual applying for this help is not guaranteed that they will get it. This is a long process of applying, determination, and applying some more. Oftentimes, the individual will have to get help in pieces and parts from many organizations and that can still leave them with some personal cost in order to have a vehicle modified with all the adaptive equipment they need. Sites like GoFundMe are a great way to help raise those additional funds. Check out the Help a Quad Out GoFundMe at www.gofundme.com/HelpAQuadOut. There are thousands of personal fundraisers of people just like Tan trying to raise money for their mobility independence. No donation is too small.