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Accessible transit: transportation for people with disabilities in the 1990s.

Accessible TRANSIT Transportation for People with Disabilities in the 1990s

Personal Transportation: A Challenge to the Rehabilitation Community

Over the past 10 years, there have been significant changes in the technology available to assist people with disabilities in becoming more independent through driving. The sophistication of this technology is creating a number of problems that must be addressed in the 1990s. This feature will review developments in the field and indicate some of the issues that must be addressed in the next decade.


There has been a decrease in the number of companies manufacturing products at the low and medium level of technology but an increase in the number of different driving systems available for people with severe disabilities. This decrease has occurred because of the risks associated with manufacturing and distributing these products. First, the manufacturers are dealing with products that can be classified as "orphan products." This means that the potential product market is quite small and may require that the product be sold at a high unit price in order to recover development and production costs. Second, the product liability exposure associated with providing these products to persons with disabilities is significant. Even the most reputable companies may be paying as much as ten to twelve percent of gross income for insurance and these insurance policies may include a thirty-day notice of cancellation.

There have been some inroads with the automotive industry in this period. Both Ford and General Motors have been involved in hardware development. Unfortunately, these efforts proved to be unrewarding to them primarily because of a lack of profitability and the potential of liability exposure. There are no current hardware development activities underway involving the automotive industry. To their credit, they have established a number of new programs to assist persons with disabilities. These programs include an information hotline and up to $500 to offset the cost of adaptive equipment installed on a Chrysler Motors product; and GMAC finance packaging of vehicle and modifications, and information through its dealers network by General Motors. It is not anticipated that there will be any hardware-oriented activities by the automotive industry in the future.


It has only been since the mid-1970s that vans have been widely used for personal transportation, thus allowing people to drive from their wheelchairs. This has created many challenges to the adaptive equipment industry, including proper driver positioning, wheelchair occupant protection, entry/exist systems, and control systems.

The advent of mini-vans in the 1980s has created further challenges to the industry in that many consumers wish to drive the smaller vans, but space available for entry and accommodation of a wheelchair in the driver position is extremely limited. The relatively low market potential in this area has again caused delays in the development of new technology to address these problems.

Even for those who are able to drive a sedan, the reduction in size of vehicles has reduced the number of choices available. The Society of Automotive Engineers is developing a computer program that is designed to assist consumers in making appropriate vehicle selections based on the space available for wheelchair storage behind the front seat and in the trunk.


Not only are the manufacturers exposed through product liability, but several others involved in the field of personal transportation for disabled persons have liability concerns.

Evaluators are responsible for the safety of the client during the evaluation, determining the driving abilities of the client, and in making an appropriate determination of adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications.

Rehabilitation Services Agencies are responsible for providing for an appropriate evaluation and training and assuring that appropriate adaptive equipment and vehicle modifications are provided to the client.

Vehicle Modifiers are responsible for the proper installation of equipment and vehicle modifications. They must also provide for protection of the client's vehicle while in their possession and must provide warranties.

Driver Licensing Agencies are responsible for granting driving privileges to persons with disabilities and determining the appropriate driving restrictions.

Motor Vehicle Agencies in states that have vehicle inspections programs are responsible for ensuring that modified vehicles are in compliance with their regulations.

Clients must also be made aware of their responsibilities for properly maintaining their vehicles and equipment, as well as their responsibility for their driving behavior.


Today, there are two national organizations that are active in establishing performance standards on adaptive driving equipment. These organizations are the Veterans Administration (VA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). The Veterans Administration has developed performance criteria on products, it does approve products where the manufacturer demonstrates through independent testing that the product meets the VA performance criteria. Many states will not purchase products that are not on the VA list of approved products.

In 1984, the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) established a Standards Committee on adaptive driving equipment. This Committee includes broad representation and is working to establish performance standards and installation criteria on products in this field. Like the VA standards, it is anticipated that the states will utilize these standards and recommended practices in a similar manner.

Approximately 20 states have developed criteria for the installation of adaptive driving equipment and vehicle modification. These guidelines are providing greater protection for the client and the funding agency and are having a significant impact on equipment suppliers and modifiers. Upon review of these guidlines, it is found that they vary greatly from state-to-state and can make it extremely difficult for businesses providing services in more than one state.

Driver Assessment and Training

Over the past 10 years, there has been an increase in the use of technology in the driver assessment and training process. This process is normally being performed in a rehabilitation center/hospital setting, and the assessment procedures utilized vary from purely subjective measures to a combination of subjective and non-subjective measures. Although there have been new quantitative instruments developed, minimal success has been achieved in implementing a standardized approach to driver assessment and training.

Technology is playing a mjor role in allowing people with higher levels of disabilities to drive. However, as the level of disability increases, the solutions become more complex. In selecting an appropriate center/hospital for assessments and training, attention must be given to the education and experience of its staff and the assessment and training equipment available at the facility.

The Future

As we move into the 1990s, a number of critical issues will need to be addressed if we are to continue making advancements in the area of personal transportation for disabled people. The issues that will continue to have the most significant impact will be those that have liability implications. In order to effectively meet the challenge of liability, significant efforts need to be directed toward: 1) establishing a standardized procedure for assessment and training; 2) encouraging greater participation by all parties in the assessment and training process; 3) developing new assessment and training procedures for clients with cognitive deficits; and, 4) developing additional state and national performance standards for adaptive equipment, equipment installation, and vehicle modification.

In the area of information and equipment, efforts should be directed toward: 1) funding a national information resource on driving for persons with disabilities; and, 2) studying the funding issues related to the purchase of adaptive driving equipment, vehicles, and insurance.

The third area of concern is that of training and certification. The issues that need to be addressed include: 1) training and certification of professionals conducting assessment and training; 2) training for motor vehicle licensing and vehicle inspection personnel; 3) identifying and re-examining persons with disabilities; and, 4) developing a certification process to classify assessment facilities according to the level of driver assessments they are able to perform.

Advances in technology in personal transportation are yielding new opportunities for disabled people. However, these advances have brought with them the need for greater participation by rehabilitation professionals in the assessment and training process. The rehabilitation community must take an active role in addressing the major issues of the 1990s.
COPYRIGHT 1989 National Rehabilitation Association
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Article Details
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Author:Shipp, Michael
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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