Complete Guide to Driving With a Disability

Smiling female driver seated in car driving with Satellite Accelerator hand controls from Total Ability

Whether you are born with a disability/condition or acquire one later.  Here you will find a complete guide to driving with a disability. It will take the stress out of getting behind the wheel with a disability and gain (or regain) your independence.

The complete guide to driving with a disability is for:

1. People who have a disability and are learning to drive for the first time
2. People who have acquired a disability and are getting back to driving
3. People who already drive with a disability and want to upgrade their vehicle modifications

The complete guide to driving with a disability covers:

1. The licence rules in your State
2. Contacting specialist OTs and driving instructors
3. Getting assessed
4. Test driving the equipment
5. The DTOT report
6. Driving lessons and doing the driving test
7. Ordering your modifications

There are so many benefits to being able to drive. Apart from the obvious gaining of independence, it also gives you increased opportunity to work and participate in the community. It gives you freedom to be more impulsive and less planned, reducing the need to coordinate transport with others.

If you are a participant of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) there is a specific process to follow. Our comprehensive NDIS – specific article can help with more information.

The Process

1 – The Licence Rules in Your State

Disability can be such a broad term, and in every situation, it is quite individual. Checking with your State’s licencing rules for driving with a disability can give you added information.

How disability is categorised, what the motoring authority’s process is in relation to medical reports, testing and exemptions varies in each State.  Check your State’s licencing rules here.

For drivers with existing conditions on their licence, and want to upgrade their hand controls, it is important to check what the exact wording is. This may vary State by State and conditions may be broad or very specific.

The motoring authority in your State will have detailed information on your file regarding your conditions. This will give you a clear idea of whether changing specialised driving equipment will require the need for a new driving test or not.

For example, if your condition states that ‘the controls must be operated by the hands’ – it is very different to specific conditions saying that you ‘must utilise a push/pull hand control system’.

In the latter example, upgrading to electronic hand controls such as our Satellite Accelerator may require driving lessons and taking a driving test again.

A Driver Trained Occupational Therapist (DTOT) or Specialised Driving Instructor (SDI) will be able to confirm your requirement for a driving test based on the wording of your licence conditions.

2 – Contacting Specialist OTs and Driving Instructors

Before going to the expense of buying a car, the first thing to do is contact a DTOT or SDI.

Usually a DTOT will be able to refer you to an SDI. However, you may not have contact details for a DTOT to start with. In this situation it is wise to contact your local SDI who will be able to refer you to a DTOT that he/she regularly work with.

Here at Total Ability, over the years, we have developed a comprehensive national list of Specialised Driving Instructors. Whether you are interested in Total Ability equipment or not. Feel free to contact us if you aren’t able to locate a nearby SDI. If we can help, we’ll happily do so.

3 – Getting Assessed

Once you’re in touch with a DTOT, you will have a phone conversation. This will give the DTOT more information on your driving goals, level of disability and to determine if they are the right DTOT for you.

You will then work out an opportunity to get assessed medically and/or cognitively (if applicable). This is to assess your capability to drive and to determine your body’s physical strengths and weaknesses with various possible driving equipment.

The DTOT will also discuss with you some options available to consider. These options can be viewed through online pictures and videos, brochures and their own fitted equipment in their vehicles if they have any.

After this initial assessment, the DTOT will organise with you to test the equipment options. This involves coordinating a day(s) and time that the SDI, DTOT and yourself can be available.

Note that if you have never driven before, at a minimum you will need to get your Learner’s Permit. This will enable you to test drive the equipment. You may also need doctor’s clearance to be able to try out the equipment if you are still in hospital or a health facility.

4 – Test Driving the Equipment

Trying out a variety of equipment options is the best way to practically determine the best type of equipment for your current capabilities and for possible changes in the future. This is where being in touch with a DTOT is very useful. If you have never driven before, they will be able to educate you on the variety of equipment options available.

If you already drive with specialised driving equipment, you may not know about changes in equipment options. You may be set in your thinking to continue with the same equipment/suppliers.

The DTOT and SDI can show you other options that can be more ergonomic and/or technologically advanced to benefit your needs longer term. Our website has a huge range of driving equipment and accessories to look at. The product videos give you a good overview of each product’s main features.

5 – The DTOT Report

Once the appropriate equipment has been finalised, and this can take a few trials, the DTOT will obtain quotes from the relevant suppliers to attach to their report. In some cases more than one quote is required. For high level modifications it may not be possible to obtain multiple quotes as the solution may be very customised. This is particularly important for NDIS participants.

If the equipment is to be fitted to an existing car or you intend to buy a used car. It’s important to note the NDIS requirements when modifying a used car.

The next step is to lodge the application (where applicable) with relevant funding bodies such as NDIS, iCareVeterans Affairs or Australian Defence Force as well as CoS. And then we wait… for approval.

If you are privately funding the purchase, the process can be much quicker with less processes to navigate.

6 – Driving Lessons and Doing the Driving Test

When you need a revised driving test, you may need to have driving lessons and then pass the driving test. This must be done before you can order and fit the new equipment to your vehicle. This is relevant for new drivers or existing drivers who want to upgrade their equipment which will impact on their licence conditions.

For NDIS and other funding bodies, the cost of these lessons may be covered.

7 – Ordering your Modifications

Once the funds are approved, the process of getting your car modified can begin. You may have to coordinate the purchase of your new/used car so that it is available when the equipment is ready to be installed.

Communication between the car dealer, the supplier/installer and the funding body may be required at this stage. If the purchase was made by a funding body your DTOT will still be involved through this process.

Depending on the complexity of modifications required, it can take from one week to many months to have the vehicle modified. Keep in mind longer waiting lists may apply for high level modifications on vans. This is due to the specialised nature of the work to be done and the limited availability of specialist installers.

Once you have navigated all these steps, it’s now time to drive and be free!

For any further questions regarding the process of getting behind the wheel with a disability, please give us a call on 1300 858 410 or send us an email at

Recommended additional reading:

Total Ability’s “Driving with help from the NDIS” guide

UPDATE: NDIS requirements when modifying a used car

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