Driving with a Disability

If you live with a disability in Canada like I do, the ability to drive your own car plays a crucial role in maintaining your autonomy and freedom. Making informed choices about adaptive technologies and modifications is key to enhancing the driving experience. Additionally, you'll have to navigate the challenges of accessible parking facilities (that may not always be accommodating as they should be) and the unfortunate reality of encountering people who disregard their importance. Nevertheless, the challenges are undoubtedly outweighed by the freedom and independence driving provides!

The process of adapting my car

If you choose to use the funding you're entitle to every five years, you'll need to be patient! Even if my condition and the type of adaptations I've used haven't changed in 22 years, I still need to be assessed by an occupational therapist on my abilities and needs. To save the months and months of waiting for this first appointment, I went with a private ergonomic evaluation. This private ergo cost me $1,000 CAD ($721 USD) and I only had to wait one month.

I then had to ask for two quotes from different installers, because the Ministère des Transports will cover the lower amount. With the complexity of new cars' electronic components, it was more complicated and took longer before we received the quotes. The ergo then sends the quotes to the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) with its report for approval. And then, it's another 10 weeks of waiting.

Lastly, the chosen installer must order the equipment selected for the adaptation. Once these parts are ready, the appointment to proceed with the car adaptation is made. Following the adaptation, there's a SAAQ inspection and a final ergo evaluation to confirm that everything meets the customer's needs.

Once everything was completed, my boyfriend was delighted to be reunited with his designated driver! Yes, we drive the same car!

Geneviève with her newly adapted Volkswagen GTI

Vehicle adaptations

There are several types of adaptions to suit your needs and your vehicle.

Volkswagen GTI with adapted hand controls

Manual controls allow you to operate the gas and brakes with one hand using a lever close to the steering wheel. This also comes with a spinner knob, since only one hand is available to operate the steering wheel. There are also options for quadriplegics who still have movement and strength in their arms.

Relocations and extensions bring the most important functions such as headlights, turn signals, windshield washers & wipers, and the horn, within easy reach. Electronic buttons can be placed on the hand control or the spinner knob.

There are driver's seat systems that lower and swivel, and platforms that facilitate transfers. A winch can also be installed to effortlessly lift the wheelchair into the vehicle. You would need to choose a vehicle that can accommodate this configuration, such as a minivan.

Geneviève driving her adapted Volkswagen GTI

Here are some more possible adaptations:

  • Lowered floors and raised roofs
  • Door and ramp options
  • Low-effort driving options
  • Floor anchors and belts

Reserved parking

As a wheelchair user who drives her car independently, my biggest stress when I go places is finding a parking lot that will give me the space I need to transfer. Accessible parking spaces are wider to allow us to open our door fully to transfer into our wheelchairs. For those who have a ramp or hoist system, this gives them the space they need. Those accessible parking spaces are closer to buildings to avoid wheelchair users being hit by cars, since people who use wheelchairs are less visible to other drivers. In the winter, it also means we don't get stuck in the snow.

We see far too many people with disabled parking stickers getting out of their cars with no apparent handicap, which doesn't help raise awareness of our cause. What's more, all you have to do is send a request to the SAAQ with proof of physical incapacity in order to obtain a sticker valid for five years at a cost of $15. Then, the SAAQ simply sends a letter when the sticker has expired, but does not ask for it to be returned. Imagine the number of invalid stickers still in use!

It's also important for accessible parking spaces to be painted blue, because otherwise handicap signs are no longer visible under parked vehicles. There also needs to be a sign in front of the parking space because in winter, snow and ice can hide the paint on the ground.

Geneviève with her handicap parking placard

Note that in Quebec City, you can park for three hours free of charge in parking meter spaces with the placard. The placard is also recognized in several other countries, so I bring it with me when I travel!

About the author

Geneviève Hallé

Geneviève Hallé is a T5 complete paraplegic since a snowboarding accident in 2001. She was competing in the half-pipe at the US Open when she had a crash while attempting a McTwist. Since then, she has become a full-time self-employed graphic designer, operating under the name Metamorfic. Geneviève is also a photographer, a paint artist, and an occasional public speaker. She has initiated an adaptive online training program known as Bewheeling and partnered with friends and Adaptavie to establish an adaptive paddleboarding club in Quebec City. In addition, Geneviève serves as an ambassador for Sunrise Medical, where she advocates for those in similar situations. For more information about her, visit genevievehalle.ca, and to keep up with her latest work, follow her at Instagram at @gecreation.

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Date: 11/28/2023 12:00:00 AM


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