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Driver's Education For Students With Physical Disabilities.

Individuals with disabilities encounter many barriers, which hinder their mobility and force them to depend on others for transportation. In spite of American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, public transportation systems have been slow to implement mandated changes, such as conversion of vehicles. At the same time, paratransit divisions of public transportation have been overwhelmed and underfunded. Such factors foster dependence by limiting individuals with disabilities from participating in society and employment opportunities (Wehman et al., 1999). Fifty-nine percent of the 1,000 individuals with disabilities responding to a survey conducted by The International Center for the Disabled (ICD), stated that lack of accessible public transportation, cost of public transportation, or distance to public transportation limited their mobility, a finding supported by other studies (Crewe & Clarke, 1996; Haslegrave, 1991; Taylor, Kagay, & Leichenko, 1986). Such mobility limitations cause significant problems in the location and sustenance of competitive employment, engagement in leisure activities, and attempts to become self-sufficient (Galski, Ehle, & Williams, 1997; Haslegrave, 1991; Nemeth & Del Rogers, 1981). The social isolation of persons with disabilities has been well documented and supports the fact that limited transportation prevents entrance into the mainstream of society (Kokkonen, Saukkonen, Timonen, Serlo, & Kinnunen, 1991; Thomas, Bax, & Smyth, 1988). Considering the ramifications of dependence on public transportation systems with limited accessibility, the obvious solution is for persons with disabilities to have a driver's license whenever possible.
 Owning a car is the optimum means of transportation for the handicapped
 population.... Mobility is a crucial freedom for the disabled. It enables
 them to engage in meaningful vocations, to participate in community
 affairs, to seek cultural and recreational outlets, to broaden the scope of
 their outlook and generally enrich their lives. (Rhoads, 1981, p. 39)

In spite of the benefits of driving, fewer students with disabilities as compared to same-aged peers are able to get their licenses. For example, a recent study looking at social satisfaction in adolescents with and without disabilities found that 88% of typical teens had their licenses as compared to only 46% of students with disabilities (Vogtle, Kern, & McCauley, 2000).

While many studies have noted the importance of driving for persons with disabilities, few have addressed the public school system's role in teaching adolescents with physical disabilities how to drive. Likewise, the numerous studies documenting the benefits of inclusive education have failed to address the importance of incorporating driver education into the practice of inclusion. This study determined how adolescents with physical disabilities felt about taking driver's education as a regular class with their peers in high school.


Qualitative methods were used to explore the feelings of students with physical disabilities about the process of learning to drive, a topic that has not been previously studied. Semistructured interviews were used to obtain real-life data in order to enhance understanding about students' perceptions, beliefs, and preferences regarding driving and driver's education (Wilczenski et al., 1997). Triangulation of the data occurred through interviews with the Youth Director of the Lakeshore Foundation (LF), a nonprofit organization that provides opportunities for individuals with physical disabilities, and the occupational therapist (OT) from the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) who provides driving assessments and training for adolescents with physical disabilities. The questions in the interview were developed by the author and reviewed for content validity by a panel consisting of one classmate, two OT faculty, and the LF Youth Director who has a physical disability himself.


Eleven high school-aged students with physical disabilities were recruited to participate in the study (see Table 1). Two students had already taken driver's education in high school and were driving. The remainder of the students had not received their driver's licenses at the time the interviews were conducted. The majority of subjects were recruited through the LF after information about the study appeared in the organizational newsletter. Other students were recruited through the Spina Bifida Association of Alabama. Participants attended a variety of Birmingham-area high schools and were intended to represent high school-aged students with physical disabilities.
Demographic Information

Age of Student Sex of Student Disability Driving Status(a)

17 M Cerebral palsy Not licensed
17 F Cerebral palsy Not licensed
16 M Cerebral palsy Not licensed
16 F Right above- Licensed
 knee amputation
16 M Spina bifida Licensed
14 M Spina bifida Not licensed
14 M Spina bifida Not licensed
15 M Spina bifida Not licensed
15 F Spina bifida Not licensed
17 M Cerebral palsy Not licensed
18 M Spina bifida Not licensed

Age of Student Sex of Student Educational Level(a)

17 M High school
17 F High school
16 M High school
16 F Home schooled

16 M High school
14 M High school
14 M High school
15 M Junior high
15 F Junior high
17 M High school
18 M High school

Note. The order of participants in Table 1 is the order in which the
interviews were conducted.

(a) Represents driving status and educational level at the time the
interviews were conducted.

Interviews were conducted independently with nine subjects. The remaining two subjects had one parent present to assist with verbal communication. Time and location for interviews were chosen for the convenience of participants and their families and typically occurred in the students' homes. All of the subjects and their parents gave informed consent as required by the University of Alabama (UAB) Institutional Review Board.

Interviews were recorded to ensure the accuracy of information gathered. During the interviews, a technique referred to as "member checking" was used. Interview questions and student responses were rephrased and repeated to ensure comprehension and accuracy of questions and responses. Taped interviews were transcribed and the process of content analysis performed. This process consists of gathering data from interview transcripts and analyzing it to identify patterns from which themes are developed (Manning & Cullum-Swan, 1994). All themes were then examined by a peer reviewer to ensure agreement and complete data representation.


Seven major themes evolved through content analysis across the 11 interviews (see Figure 1). These themes are presented and discussed in the following paragraphs. All participants' names have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
Themes and Subthemes

Desire to be perceived as normal
Desire to be included
Meaning of driving to life
Effects of not being able to drive
Feelings about the driving process
 Feelings about learning to drive
 Preferred driving instructor
 Preferred location for driving training
 Feelings about additional students in the car
 Feelings about using adaptive equipment in front of other students
Parental feelings about inclusion and driver education
School support for driver education

Note: Themes and subthemes are listed in the order
presented in "Results."


One of the most visible themes exposed during the interviews was the desire to be like everyone else. All 11 participants expressed the desire to be seen as normal, which included not receiving pity or special treatment by their peers and the community at large. In the words of the students, "I don't like to be thought of as pitiful. So I've tried to become very independent, and hopefully I'm setting a good example for people." "Even though I might not be just like the person sitting next to me, I don't want to be treated differently because of that." "I want to be thought of by my friends and everybody else as `look, there goes that girl with her friends.' Not, `Oh look, that little girl in the wheelchair trying to catch up with her friends.'"

It was important to the students that they be seen as capable and able to engage in the same activities as "typical" students. As one student stated, "I feel I can do the same thing just a different way." Another student used examples from sports played with her friends to illustrate how she felt when others perceived her as incapable:
 A lot of my life I would always go outside to play with my friends and
 kickball and baseball and stuff ... and they'd always be like, "No, don't
 kick the ball. Let me kick the ball. Let me run for you." I'd be like, "I
 can run by myself." You know, I may run it in a different way, but I can
 still get to the base.


Students felt attending general education classes made them more like their peers and less "special." The following comment illustrates this point, "I would much rather be, um, special than have to go to a different school where everybody is special." Several students indicated being around typical peers made their differences less obvious. In addition, one student felt it would be impractical if he were not included in all the classes at school, asking, "Why go to the school when you can't take all the classes you want?"


All participants felt the ability to drive was beneficial. There were a variety of responses to the question, "How will being able to drive affect your life?" However, many answers focused on freedom and independence. The following remarks illustrate this theme: "It [driving] could make me more independent. I need as much independence as I could get. Um ... cause I know sometime in life people are not going to be around."
 Freedom! [italics added] It's horrible, especially at my age, when
 everybody else is driving, um, when you've still got to have your big
 brother take you around like you're some 2-year-old or something. Or you
 can't even find your own way to school. It's like you're in elementary
 school, like all over again.

The two students who were driving had similar feelings regarding the ability to drive: "Lots of freedom.... It's a neat feeling being in the car by yourself and not having a parent tell you exactly what to do." "I've got to be more independent, can go places that I want to, don't have to depend on my mom to bring me to Lakeshore."

Another frequent response to the question, "How will driving affect your life?" focused on peer relations:" [I will be able] to go places and do things with friends." "Now, my friends that don't drive ... I can take them places and we can do things together." "I can come to more practices and ... after school programs ... do other things with my friends."

Other students spoke of future family and employment goals that driving would help them accomplish: "[Driving] could help me a bunch ... with things I have to do, the jobs ... that I will probably take."
 I'm planning to have a lot [italics added] of kids, and I'm an animal
 person. So I'm going to have a house full of dogs and babies. I mean we've
 got to have trips to the doctor, the vet ... the grocery store ... and just
 stuff like that, so [I will] definitely need a car.


The students agreed that not being able to drive would limit them in a variety of ways. The inability to drive was mentioned as affecting the type and amount of activities in which they were able to participate, especially as they became older and gained more responsibility.

One student indicated he would feel like an imposition if he had to depend on his parents for transportation, "It'd be stressful on my parents.... They don't want to be carting me around everywhere for the rest of our lives." When another student who was driving was asked to speculate how not being able to drive would affect her life, she commented, "I don't think I would know as many people.... If you couldn't drive, then how would you get places? I think you wouldn't have as many friends." Interestingly, one student felt that not being able to drive would not worry him: "I probably wouldn't ... know how it would feel if I wasn't able to drive. I guess that would be all I knew ... so I guess I wouldn't worry about it."


Students had many feelings regarding the driving process. The following paragraphs discuss subthemes on this topic.

Feelings About Learning to Drive. The students had mixed feelings about learning to drive, possibly similar to concerns of their able-bodied peers. Several students were very excited about the prospect of driving and appeared to have no reservations. When presented with the question, "Are you nervous about learning to drive?" two students confidently responded, "Not at all" and "No, not really."

Most participants expressed concerns about learning to drive. One student admitted to being "a little nervous ... because, uh, you know, different ... situations could happen." Another student stated, "I'm terrified of driving.... I'll be dead in 3 days."

Preferred Driving Instructor. The students had strong feelings about who they wanted to teach them to drive. One female student felt that a female instructor with a disability would be more understanding of her special needs. Some students said they would feel more comfortable practicing driving with a trained professional such as the OT at the ADRS.

A few students felt their parents would make the best driving instructors as indicated by the following quote, "Um, that [having parent teach driving] might be good because ... they watched me grow up, and they know how I function.... They [parents] probably have the most patience out of probably anyone, not counting like another person with a disability."

Other students said they would feel comfortable learning from the high school driver's education teachers if they learned how to use the assistive driving equipment. When asked "Would you feel comfortable with the coaches at school teaching you how to drive?" one student responded, "Yeah, if they learned how to use them [hand controls]."

Preferred Location for Driving Training. The majority of students said they would prefer to take driver's education at school. Some students preferred school as the location for driver education because it was a familiar environment and would allow them to be with their friends as seen in the following comment:
 I wouldn't like ... coming up to ADRS, you wouldn't know anybody. But when
 you're at school, you would know friends, you would feel comfortable. I
 know when I was in high school and taking driver ed.... I got to pick my
 friends that I wanted to drive with me, and so that was comfortable. I
 didn't have to worry, "Oh what will they think if I do something wrong?"
 But if I came up here [to ADRS], and I didn't know anybody, I didn't even
 know my instructor, I would probably make more mistakes because I would be
 so nervous, you know timid. I wouldn't feel comfortable with it to tell you
 the truth.

Several students felt strongly about taking driver education at school because they did not want to be treated differently than their classmates. In response to the question, "How would you feel if you were unable to take driver education at school?" one student responded with, "I would not like it.... I would have had a fit ... because it sets me back from other people.... I just want to be like everybody else." Other students felt the same way: "I'm not really big on special ... qualification(s) for people with special disabilities. I'd rather ... take it just like ... the average guy." One student who took driver education at school felt so strongly about the issue that he offered to purchase the hand controls himself:
 I would kind of be upset 'cause ! would like to learn at school like
 everybody else, and you know I would do something to make them get the hand
 controls. If I had to buy them myself.... I would have, just so they would
 have some way I could do it at school.

Another student felt including students with disabilities in general education high school driver education class would break down attitudinal barriers and help nondisabled students view their classmates with physical disabilities as capable:
 I think that [including students with disabilities in driver ed.] would be
 good ... because ... a normal student seeing someone who needed hand
 controls ... could see that students [with disabilities] can still do
 everything that I can. Maybe a different way, but they can still
 participate in what we do. Because I know ... different things that I did
 in life people would always leave me out, because they thought I couldn't.
 So I think being exposed to someone who had a disability in driving would
 open up their minds to many things, not just driving.

In contrast, other students said they would take driver education at a place other than school, if it were necessary: "I'd rather take it at high school, but if I have to come here to ADRS to learn then that's okay too."

Feelings About Additional Students in the Car. In a typical high school driver's education class, an average of three students practice driving in the same car. Questions were included in the interview to determine the students' feelings about this. One student, already nervous about learning to drive, was opposed to having other students in the car for fear she would be distracted and endangering their lives as the following quote illustrates:
 No, I wouldn't want to put their lives in danger or anything. No, no, no,
 no, no! ... I don't even think I'd like my best friend in the car.... I'd
 just be too like nervous ... so I don't think I would do well with another
 person in the car besides the instructor because I'd probably get like

Some students felt comfortable with the idea of practicing driving while peers were in the car, especially if they were friends. One student felt that taking driver's education with nondisabled peers would give her an opportunity to show them that there is more than one way to accomplish tasks, "Um, it [driving with nondisabled peers] would show them ... there are other ways to do certain things."

Feelings About Using Adaptive Driving Equipment in Front of Other Students. The students were asked to describe their feelings about using adaptive driving equipment in front of peers. Several students indicated they felt comfortable doing so, as seen in one student's comment: "It wouldn't make me feel like I was any less of a driver because I had to have them [hand controls]." Another student, already driving with hand controls, said he would not have minded using adaptive equipment in front of other students, based on positive experiences with his own friends:
 It would not bother me. I would just teach him [another student] ... all
 the stuff ... that I do to drive.... I think he would enjoy it 'cause, I
 let my friends drive my truck all the time, and they like using the hand
 controls better than they do their feet.

Conversely, one student was fearful that the adaptive equipment would draw too much attention to her and cause her to be nervous:
 I would feel kind of, um, like I was being under, you know, the speculating
 eye. Everybody would want to zoom in on me to see how I was gonna do. I'd
 probably get like all frazzled because I knew that everybody was watching
 me ... you know, maybe anticipating my first crash.


The students were asked several questions regarding their parents' feelings about inclusion, driving, and driver's education. In two interviews, a parent was present to assist with verbal communication and gave direct input on these issues.

Although one student's mother was very supportive of inclusion and declared, "We know our rights," she made no attempt to have her son included in driver's education. The other mother expressed reservations as well. Even though her son underwent an evaluation at the ADRS with a trained professional, and she was told that "he did fine" and "to treat him as any other beginning driver," she questioned the results and was "shocked" that the driving evaluator did not recommend further professional driving training. She expressed the desire for additional driving training for her son, saying that she was not calm enough to help him herself. In this case, both mother and father decided to postpone their son's driving training, saying:
 Our plan is ... he is a student first, and not a driver first, and not a
 swimmer first. He's got an important exam coming up this week, and he's got
 a term paper due and several things. And he's got a big swim meet coming up
 in June. And after he gets back from that, we're going to take a vacation.
 And then we're going to really work on the driving. That's our goal.

Apparently, these were not the only parents who had reservations about their children driving. Several other students indicated at least one of their parents postponed or put stipulations on their driving. One student stated, "My mom's for it. My dad's not going to let me drive until I get into high school." Another student's father had similar conditions, "He [student's father] said that I had to take the written part and get my license first before I got in a car ... and graduate high school ... those were the goals."

Two students felt that although their parents were nervous about them driving, they were still supportive. Even though one mother was reluctant to let her daughter drive, she was supportive of the goal to drive and encouraged her to collect information on driver's education for students with disabilities. Another student, already driving, told how her parents initially tried to "baby her" and "not let her go" but became supportive when she began learning to drive, "My parents were very calm if I made a mistake.... They were there for [me], they were on my side."

Other students felt that their parents were supportive of them learning to drive. For example, when one student was upset because her friends cancelled an engagement at the last minute, her mother pointed out, "You know, you won't have to depend on them once you learn how to drive."


The students were asked to describe their experiences with driver's education and the role the school system played in the process of learning to drive. One of the most noticeable issues to arise was the school system's lack of responsibility in initiating the need for driver education. The general education high school driver's education class is comprised of two portions, a classroom segment followed by a driving portion in which several students and the instructor practice driving for several days to a week. Three of the seven students aged 16 or older had not taken the classroom or the driving portions of driver education. All three of these students said their school made no mention of them taking the class. One 18-year-old student said that no one at school ever mentioned driver education to him and told how one teacher responded when he asked her about the subject: "I asked my ... teacher, but, she gave me a booklet [learner's permit study guide] and then I ... had to take it upon my own initiative to ... take the test. So I haven't yet." The teacher never suggested he take driver's education at school, nor did she follow up to see if he had indeed taken the learner's permit test. Another student told how he and his family had to initiate the subject of driver's education at his school: "At the beginning of the year we went to the school and told the principal what I was going to need to take driver's ed. and he went and got the car fitted with hand controls on it."

When schools did bring up the subject of driver education, they often failed to mention any other option than going to the ADRS. This left several students under the impression that they had no other choice. One student, when asked if driver's education was available to students with disabilities, answered, "I think this is how my high school does it. We do the written part at school and then we do the driving part through ADRS." Another student expressed his discontent when told by his school he would take the driving portion of the class at the ADRS: "Well, I just wish that my school had the accommodations so I could be with my friends, but they said that they would probably most likely send me to ADRS."

An additional problem faced by students with disabilities was the delay in driving training that resulted from issues such as the school's failure to initiate the subject, schedule difficulties, and lack of the proper assistive driving technology. Only four of the seven students aged 16 or older had taken the classroom portion and only three had gone on to take the actual driving training aspect of the class. One high school senior stated he had not taken the classroom portion of driver education due to "a conflict of schedule." Another student had a similar response saying, "It's [driver's education] offered at my school, but ... there've been a lot of conflicts with my schedule where I haven't actually been able to get in there and actually do it."

The lack of assistive driving equipment created a delay for several students. One student was delayed 1 year in taking both portions of the class because his school did not have the necessary hand controls. The following quote illustrates another student's experience:
 They did not have the hand controls on there when we first started. They
 had to get them. So with my schedule being so busy I didn't take it 'til
 like the very last 4 days of school.... I took it during exams when nobody
 was at school.

Many of the students appeared apprehensive and questioned the ability of the coaches to teach driver education to students with physical disabilities. Some students reported being nervous around the coaches because they did not know them. Other students were concerned the coaches were inexperienced and would be insensitive dealing with students who had special needs. One student commented:
 I'd want to do that [driving portion] through ADRS because they're the most
 trained to deal with that kind of thing, and ... in my high school, they're
 just used to, um, teaching Joe Bob.... I don't really think they'd have the
 patience to deal with somebody that had to learn how to drive a different
 way from Joe Bob or whatever. They probably ... want it to be quick, easy,
 where they wouldn't have to pretty much do anything.

In a similar vein:
 Well, see, my coaches are not at all patient and understanding. They're one
 of those ... "Toughen up!" people.... I mean, "I have no pity for you."
 It's just ... I'm not real sure if I'd feel comfortable with them, since of
 course they haven't done it.

Several participants indicated they would take driver's education at school if the coaches learned how to teach students with physical disabilities.

One young man felt the coaches would be nervous teaching students with physical disabilities based on his previous conversations with them: "When we mentioned driver's ed. before they were all, 'Oh no. What we gonna do about that.... We'll have to figure out how we're going to do it and how we're going to ... get things set up for you.'"

The assumption of coaches' insensitivity and inexperience was not universal. Two students indicated they knew the coaches and felt they would be sensitive regarding adaptive driving equipment because of past experiences with other students.


After analyzing the results, three key issues became apparent. First was the students' strong desire to be perceived as normal and mentally and physically capable. These young people were influenced by their friends and considered it important to be like them and spend time with them. They made it clear that they wanted to be treated no differently than nondisabled students, including having the option to take driver education at school with their same-age peers.

Second, the students were emphatic about the meaning of driving to their lives. They believed driving would provide them with additional freedom, responsibility, and independence, allowing them to engage in more activities without parental assistance. Future benefits of driving included independent living, increased employment options, increased educational options, and the chance to pursue personal goals.

Finally, it was clear from interviews and discussion with other sources that students with physical disabilities in the Birmingham area are not consistently being included in driver education. Not only are they being denied access to driving training, but classroom preparation for driving as well. The students who did take driver education at school were delayed a minimum of 1 year behind their classmates and consequently took the class alone or with younger peers. Delays appeared to be due to schedule conflicts, lack of adaptive driving equipment, and the school systems' inexperience concerning adaptive driving. Several students with physical disabilities were referred outside of the school system for driver education because the schools did not have the equipment and the instructors were not prepared to teach special needs students. School liability issues were not mentioned in any interviews with school personnel, but this issue may present concerns as well.

In addition, the students recognized the instructors' inexperience and consequently had concerns about their ability to teach driver education to adolescents having physical disabilities. The students, however, did say they would feel comfortable taking driving training at school if the instructors were better prepared.

Many students with disabilities are now included in general education classes, a practice encouraged by ADA and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This does not appear to be the case in high school driver education classes. Driver's education may enable students with disabilities to engage in a more typical social life by increasing mobility, responsibility, and independence. In turn, social participation expands lifestyle options and potentially increases quality of life for adolescents with disabilities. Studies show that the social development of adolescents with disabilities is limited more by environmental factors than severity of disability and that the years immediately before high school graduation are critical in determining the degree of socialization achieved (Kokkonen et al., 1991).

The benefits resulting from the ability to drive are far-reaching, including future living options and increased employment opportunities. A study examining social outcomes of 59 young adults with physical disabilities found that 58% of the sample still lived with their parents in contrast to 35% of controls, and 88% were unmarried as compared to 40% of typical controls (Kokkonen et al., 1991). The mobility afforded by a driver's license may enable young people to perform activities of daily living more independently, thus assisting them with independent living. Employment statistics of individuals with disabilities show this population experiences at least twice as much unemployment as nondisabled individuals, even though more than three quarters of working-age individuals with disabilities say they would like to work (Kokkonen et al., 1991; Stoddard, Jans, Ripple, & Kraus, 1998; Wehman, 1997; Wehman et al., 1999). While the effect of transportation problems on employment is not known, driving training can potentially decrease unemployment by removing mobility barriers as well as attitudinal barriers, allowing others to view persons with disabilities as capable, productive members of society: "The client is no longer seen as a burden to society, because the ability to drive facilitates employment potential, thus contributing to self-support rather than dependence on funds from public agencies" (Cook & Semmler, 1990, p. 519).

Altering driver education to more easily include students with disabilities appears to be a legal requirement based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and IDEA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects students with disabilities in programs receiving federal funding, including public school systems, against discrimination on the basis of disability. In addition, IDEA requires that students with disabilities be provided a free appropriate education and related services and that they be educated with children who are not disabled to the maximum extent appropriate (Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program [ADAP], 1993).

Another important aspect of IDEA is the requirement to provide transition planning. Although a growing body of literature in both educational and rehabilitation fields has begun to focus on the need to provide transition services for students with disabilities throughout the school years to adulthood, driver education is often overlooked (Wehman, 1997):
 Getting to and from places in the community is a major aspect of transition
 from childhood ... to adulthood [and] independence. This is a goal that is
 all too often passed over by educators and left to family members or
 others. (Wehman, pp. 592-593)

In spite of legal parameters, public school systems appear to be ignoring the issue of driver education or dealing with it by referring students elsewhere. Reasons for referral outside the school system appear to be due to the lack of necessary adaptive driving equipment and inadequately trained driver education teachers. This in turn causes delays in driving training and leaves the students feeling unsure of the driving instructor's ability. Liability concerns and costs may be another issue.

The cost of not including students with disabilities in high school driver education may be substantial depending on the need for predriving assessments and out of school driving training. For example, facilities in California, Virginia, and Alabama charge between $200 and $500 for predriving evaluations and $88 to $125 for each driving training session (Drew, 1999). Only those students who are clients of vocational rehabilitation are receiving financial assistance with predriving assessments and driving training sessions. The cost of adaptive equipment must also be considered, with the majority of students requiring hand controls costing approximately $500.


The individualized education program (IEP), required since Public Law 94-142 was passed in 1975, is a legally binding document whose purpose, among other things, is to address needed transition services and a student's annual and short-term objectives. School systems must be responsible for the plan detailed on the IEP (Wehman, 1997). Including a plan to address driver education on the IEPs of students with physical disabilities will help schools establish a definitive course of action regarding the issue, ensuring that students with physical disabilities receive driving training. Students with milder disabilities should be included in regular driver's education. In contrast, the IEP of those students having severe physical disabilities or accompanying cognitive disabilities should indicate the need for a thorough predriving evaluation to determine driving potential. Due to the specialized nature of such assessments, school systems would need to refer these students to facilities trained to perform such evaluations prior to the student taking driver education. The severity and type of disability will in part determine which students are appropriate for high school driver education and which students will benefit from the specialized, intensive driving training offered through organizations such as the ADRS. The majority of students with mild to moderate physical disabilities require only hand controls, making them likely candidates for high school driver education.

In order to accommodate such students, school systems need to attain the necessary adaptive equipment and ensure that driving instructors are prepared to utilize it. Programs offered in many localities provide driver instructors with knowledge of a variety of disabilities and hands-on experience using adaptive equipment. In order to save money, several school systems could consolidate adaptive driving equipment and loan it out to the school that currently needs it. Looking to adaptive equipment companies or automobile dealerships to donate the necessary equipment is another option. An alternative would be to have parents who are financially able purchase the adaptive driving equipment their child will need so that it is available in time for driver education.

Parent education is needed to alter misconceptions about life options for children with physical disabilities: "Because professionals and family members often tell parents their children will never be able to develop skills for independent living ... parents often have low expectations" (Wehman, 1997, p. 590). Equipped with the proper information, parents can help the school systems better prepare their children for life in the mainstream of society. Programs are available to prepare parents for annual IEP meetings where issues like scheduling driver's education, the predriving assessment, and adaptive driving equipment should be discussed. Parents concerned about safety need to ensure the predriving evaluation is on their child's IEP.

Another issue raised in this study was student anxiety regarding driving instructors. This may be one factor in successful completion of driving training. Such anxiety may be lessened or eliminated by introducing students to driver education teachers prior to driving instruction.

Few studies exist that address the inclusion of students with disabilities in high school driver education. Further studies are needed to address the role of the school system in providing driver education to students with physical disabilities. This study included a small local sample. Larger samples across larger areas will be necessary to understand current practices regarding students with disabilities and driver education. In addition, studies are needed to further explore parents' feelings and their role as advocates for driving training.

Although a complicated issue, driver education for students who have physical disabilities is one of great importance. In order to fully prepare students for transition to work and independent living, schools need to address the transportation needs of students with disabilities. For students with disabilities such as paraplegia or amputation, this can and should include learning to drive in school at the same time as same-age peers. To support the concept of inclusive drivers' education, parents and school systems need to be proactive regarding the driving needs of students with disabilities by establishing policies and programs for this population's special needs.


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(*) To order books referenced in this journal, please call 24 hrs/365 days: 1-800-BOOKS-NOW (266-5766) or (732)-728-1040; or visit them on the Web at Children.htm. Use Visa, M/C, AMEX, or Discover, or send check or money order + $4.95 S&H ($2.50 each add'l item) to: Clicksmart, 400 Morris Avenue, Long Branch, NJ 07740; (732) 728-1040 or FAX (732) 728-7080.

TAMA MCGILL, Blind Rehabilitation Specialist; VA Medical Center, Birmingham, AL. LAURA K. VOGTLE, Associate Professor; Division of Occupational Therapy, University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Correspondence concerning this article should be directed to Tama McGill, 608 Heathernbrooke Road, Birmingham, AL 35242. E-mail:

Manuscript received February 2000; accepted October 2000.
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Publication:Exceptional Children
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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