After a brain injury, you may find yourself in need of a vehicle with accessibility features not found on standard models. The accessibility features you need may change depending on whether you are a passenger or plan to be a driver.
If you are planning to drive again, please remember that you will have to go through an assessment in order to determine whether you are able to drive again or if you need to get re-certified. This can include multiple assessments, training and tests.
Common accessibility features for vehicles
If you have already received certification to drive again, the assessments will have determined which accessibility features you need, and you will have completed training sessions using adaptive equipment. If you are just beginning to explore the idea of returning to driving or you are going to be a passenger and need some vehicle modifications for mobility, there are some common accessibility features that make using a car, SUV or truck possible.
- Accelerating and braking tools
Accelerating and braking are essential for operating a vehicle, and you must be able to do both safely and competently in order to drive again. This can be challenging for people with weak right sides or weaker lower extremities (from the hip to your toes) or coordination issues. There are adaptive tools that can be installed on vehicles to assist with accelerating and braking, such as:
- Electric parking brakes that allow you to use the power brake through a switch
- Hand controls
- Left-foot pedals
- Pedal block that protects the pedals from accidental pressing due to conditions such as spasms
- Pedal extensions
- Park-brake extension levers that convert foot-operated parking brakes into hand-operated ones
- Quad hand control, designed for people with wrist and hand strength problems
- Servo controls, that are touch operated
- Electronic equipment
- Airbag control switches and deactivation shunts
- Gear selector extension lever, which provides more leverage for shifting gears in automatic cars
- Keyless ignition
- Powered gear selector, which allows the driver to use a toggle
- Quad control, which relocates accessory controls
- Remote wipers and additional controls
- Wheelchair lifts
A wheelchair lift allows you to enter and exit a vehicle with ease when you are in a wheelchair or have additional mobility challenges. There are two main types of wheelchair lifts: platform and rotary (swing). These two lifts come in a variety of operating mechanisms. When ordering or using a lift, it’s important to measure your wheelchair or scooter to make sure that it fits safely.
- Steering aids
You may need an augmented steering wheel to help with driving. There are several modifications that can be made, such as:
- Bringing the wheel closer
- Using foot operators to steer
- Decreasing the effort it takes to steer
- One-hand operation
- Adaptive seating
You may need different vehicle seating to use a vehicle safely and comfortably. Adaptive technology such as power bases, removable seat bases and electronic restraints are available and can be adjusted to suit your specific needs.
- Wheelchair carriers
If you are able to sit in a seat, but still need to bring your wheelchair or scooter with you, you can have a carrier installed. Types of carriers include automatic car-top carriers, bumper-mounted carriers, hitch-mounted carriers and pick-up truck carriers.
Converting an existing vehicle
Many adaptive technologies can be installed on existing vehicles. This will take time, require an assessment of your needs, and will need to be completed by an auto body and mobility professional that is certified and experienced in making these kinds of modifications. The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) has a map tool that can help you find accredited dealers/installers.
Please note: NMEDA’s services are only available in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Your rehabilitation specialists may be able to direct you to local resources, or you can check with your local brain injury association.
You may not be able to convert your existing vehicle if it is not large enough. For example, sedans are not able to be equipped with wheelchair lifts. An assessment of your needs and existing vehicle will confirm whether or not you need to purchase a new vehicle.
Purchasing an accessible vehicle
There are plenty of manufacturers to purchase an accessible vehicle from across Canada, but you should work with an expert in mobility and transportation to make sure that the vehicle you purchase is the appropriate choice for you.
Rebates and funding for accessible vehicles
Accessible vehicles are expensive. There are rebate programs and funding options to help make acquiring an accessible vehicle more affordable. First, you should check your insurance coverage: a portion of the conversion or vehicle purchase may be covered under your plan.
- Many vehicle manufacturers have mobility programs that provide reimbursements to help cover adaptation installations on their vehicles. Check with your current vehicle manufacturer, or the manufacturers you are considering for your new vehicle
- Here is some information on a rebate for specially-equipped vehicles for persons with disabilities from the Government of Canada
- There are eligible medical expenses you can claim on your tax return. Find out what medical conditions are eligible on the Government of Canada's website
- If you aren’t able to take public transportation due to mobility needs, you can qualify for a federal excise tax on gasoline you buy
- For individuals under the age of 19 in Ontario, the Easter Seal Society has a financial aid program that can help with purchasing a converted vehicle
- Veterans may be eligible for some funding through Veteran Affairs Canada depending on coverage and an assessment
- The National Organization for Vehicle Accessibility has a grant program that helps people who have almost all the money they need for a purchase or conversion