Americans love their wheels. Whether it’s a leisurely drive through a beautiful countryside, hitting the highway for a quick get-away or simply going to work, people look forward to the freedom of mobility. Many individuals with disabilities, however, require varying types of vehicle adaptions to enjoy that sense of freedom. Unfortunately, they often face prohibitive costs when it comes to purchasing the proper equipment for their transportation needs.
The good news is that funding assistance to purchase new adaptive vehicles or to retrofit existing vehicles is becoming increasingly available. Through these programs, people with disabilities have access to rebates and incentives for new vehicles adapted for their specific needs. In some cases, assistance is available for adaptive equipment installed through upfitters – vehicle modifiers or adaptive equipment installers – who will ensure vehicles are adjusted to suit individual needs and are compliant with federal and state guidelines. Adaptations can include driving devices and equipment, hoists and carriers, seat modifications and power seats, ramps and running boards and other necessary equipment.
Whether you prefer vans or sedans, trucks, SUVs or crossovers, there are a variety of government programs and automaker rebates, as well as private and association-based funds, that can make adaptive mobility equipment more accessible and affordable.
- Medicaid: Medicaid is a jointly administered federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with limited income and resources. Medicaid benefits differ by each state, but Medicaid usually offers benefits not normally covered by Medicare. Most state Medicaid agencies do not have an exclusive list of covered medical equipment. Instead, any medical equipment, including newer technologies, is approved on a case-by-case basis when a request for funding is presented through a prior approval process. After being placed on a Medicaid Waiver list, Medicaid may pay for adaptive equipment. A list of Medicaid state offices is available at http://www.medicaid.gov/
- Medicare: Medicare is a federal program, but Medicare health plans are offered through private companies that contract with Medicare to provide Part A and Part B benefits to people enrolled in Medicare. Part A is hospital insurance, while Part B covers doctors and outpatient services, and some medical devices based on medical necessity. In some instances Medicare will pay for adaptive equipment following a specialty evaluation performed by a qualified practitioner. For more information, call 1-800-633-4227.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI eligibility and payment amounts are based on income and other resources. SSI offers a Plan to Achieve Self-Support program, or PASS, which helps those with disabilities pay for items or services needed to achieve a specific employment goal – to ultimately return to work. For more information, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityresearch/wi/pass.htm.
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS): Often sales-tax exemptions on equipment purchases and other out-of-pocket costs can qualify for tax deductions as medical expenses. If an adaptation qualifies as a medical necessity, it can be deducted from federal taxes. Contact a tax adviser or get literature from the IRS that outlines the tax code for medical equipment by calling 1-800-829-1040 and asking for publications with extensions 3966, 907 and 502.
- Some State Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc Rehab) Agencies may be able to assist with the costs associated with purchasing an adaptive vehicle (or adding adaptive equipment to an existing one) if the vehicle is necessary in order for a person to get to and from work. For more information, contact your state’s department of vocational rehabilitation.
- Many nonprofit organizations offer programs that provide assistance paying for adaptive vehicles or vehicle modifications, especially if the vehicle is necessary in order to meet an individual’s work-related transportation needs. These programs include Pennsylvania’s “Ways to Work” program and Otsego County, NY’s “Wheels to Work” program. To learn more, visit Disability.gov or read the fact sheet, “Car Ownership Programs for Low-Income Earners”.
- State Assistive Technology Loan Programs may also be able to provide assistance to help pay for modifications to your vehicle. Contact your state’s program for more information.
- Your local Center for Independent Living (CIL) can provide additional information on programs that may be available in your state.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a grant enabling veterans and service members to purchase a new or used automobile to accommodate certain disabilities that resulted from an injury or disease incurred or aggravated during active military service. There are two components of the grant, each requiring a separate form, but some veterans could be eligible for both:
- An automobile grant is paid directly to the seller of the automobile for up to $11,000 and is available once in the service member’s lifetime. Veterans who qualify for the automobile grant may also qualify for the adaptive equipment grant.
- An adaptive equipment grant includes, but is not limited to, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats and special equipment necessary to assist the eligible person into and out of the vehicle. The adaptive equipment grant may be paid more than once, and it may be paid to either the seller or the veteran.
For more information on this program, call 1-800-827-1000 or read the VA’s “Automobile and Special Adaptive Equipment Grants” fact sheet.
Automakers Rebate Programs
A number of automobile makers are stepping up to provide persons with disabilities a wide range of rebates and incentive programs. Many of these programs cover not only new and leased vehicles, but also third-party adaptive equipment installation. Below is an overview of some programs from auto manufacturers offering rebates or reimbursements for people who require adaptive equipment.
- Daimler Chrysler Corporation: buy or lease any new 2010, 2011 or 2012 Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram or Fiat vehicle from a participating dealership or FIAT studio, and Chrysler will provide cash reimbursement to help reduce the cost of installing the adaptive driver or passenger equipment on the vehicle. Leased vehicles must be leased for a minimum of 12 months to be eligible.
- Ford Motor Company: the Ford Mobility Motoring adaptive equipment reimbursement offers up to $1,000, or up to $200 for alert hearing devices, lumbar support or running boards and is available on any new Ford or Lincoln vehicle purchased or leased from a U.S. Ford or Lincoln dealer during the program period. Maximum reimbursement per vehicle is $1,000. Major structural vehicle modifications to accommodate the installation of wheelchair lift or ramp must be completed by a Ford Authorized Qualified Vehicle Modifier to be eligible for reimbursement.
- General Motors Corporation: through the GM Mobility Reimbursement Program, new vehicle purchasers/lessees who install eligible adaptive mobility equipment on their new Chevrolet, Buick or GMC vehicles can receive up to a $1,000 reimbursement for the cost of the equipment. Also, you can get two extra years of standard OnStar® service at no additional cost on all 2011–2013 Chevrolet, Buick and GMC vehicles equipped with OnStar.
- Volkswagen: Volkswagen will provide up to $1,000 toward the purchase and installation of lift equipment, carriers, hand controls, pedal extensions or other assistance equipment on any eligible model of new and unused Volkswagen models.
- Audi: Audi offers $1,500 in assistance for hand controls or other approved assistance devices to anyone who purchases or leases a new Audi or CPO Audi vehicle. Contact an adaptive equipment retailer of your choice for information concerning the purchase and installation of such equipment. All payments will be made directly to the Audi owner approximately four weeks after submission to Audi.
- Toyota: the Toyota Mobility Assistance Program provides cash reimbursement of up to $1,000 of the cost of any aftermarket adaptive equipment or conversion, for drivers and/or passengers, when installed on any eligible purchased or leased new Toyota vehicle within 12 months of vehicle purchase or lease. The cash reimbursement will be provided for the exact cost to purchase and install qualifying adaptive driving or passenger equipment for transporting persons with physical disabilities. The program also applies to purchasers of the Toyota Factory Installed Auto Access Seat, where the full $1,000 cash reimbursement will be paid directly to you. Only vehicles sold or leased and delivered to a retail customer by an authorized Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. Inc. dealer are eligible under this program.
And the list goes on…
In addition to those above, there are myriad funding opportunities available through trade organizations, nonprofit entities and other private sources. The most comprehensive listing of these entities can be found at The Mobility Resource handicap van financial aid directory (The Mobility Resource does not sponsor or endorse any organizations exclusively). Search for assistance by state by visiting http://www.themobilityresource.com/financial-aid/financial-aid-map-portal.
For anyone who enjoys the freedom of mobility and requires vehicle modifications or adaptive products, seeking out the appropriate funding opportunities for your individual needs might take a little time, but it could pay off in years of comfortable mobility.
Chris Miller is the director of interactive marketing for The Mobility Resource. Born with a mild case of muscular dystrophy, he is an advocate for disability rights and mobility freedom. His team has worked closely with several government agencies, non-profits and associations to make it easier for people with physical disabilities to acquire mobility freedom. A graduate of The University of Akron, he holds a bachelor of arts in public relations and organizational communication.
Chris will be attending the National Forum on Disability Issues with his team on September 28 and will serve as a member of the media panel. During this event, teams from both presidential campaigns will discuss their plans for issues surrounding the disability community. Do you have a question for a candidate? Please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.