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Driving with a disability: The challenges and cost of getting an adapted driver's license

Picture of Samuel Ray
Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.
Posted at 12:55 PM, Nov 07, 2021

TUCSON, ARIZ. (KGUN) — Getting a driver’s license is a big deal for teens and for one Andrada High School junior in Vail it’s become of his biggest challenges. Ally Roets and her 16-year-old son Sam Ray work together to get things done to get him ready for the future.

Sam says his dream is to get his drone operator’s license by graduation, a skill he hopes will help him soar in the future. Aside from daily school, he spends afternoons at Pima County JTED. Sam is enrolled in an educational program to help him gain skills to successfully enter the workforce after graduation. The teen also has another item on his checklist, he wants to drive.

"It’s really important to independence," Ray said.

Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.
Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.

Muscular dystrophy has Sam bound to a wheelchair, but it won’t stop him from reaching his goals. Sam has already passed the written exam for his adaptive driver’s license, but when it came to the actual driving test, he hit a roadblock in the process.

“He wants to earn a living he wants to be a productive tax-paying citizen. I want to raise awareness for the process that you have to go through that people with physical disabilities have to go through to get their license,” Roets said.

"We already have to go through different steps for a lot of different things,” Ray said.

KGUN 9 did some digging on driving schools across the state and it turns out the fees for adaptable driving lessons can range anywhere from $155 to $200 per hour.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Department of Transportation requires at least 30 hours of lessons making the process more complicated for the family due to Sam’s special needs.

“I anticipate 45 to 60 hours maybe,” Roets said.

Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.
Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.

For Sam, the cost is anywhere between $5,000 and $12,000 depending on the school and number of hours needed and it’s a payment the family can’t afford. It’s also a cost you don’t see with regular driving school. Those fees are typically around $2,000 or less for 30 hours of instruction behind the wheel.

"We should level the playing field as much as we can especially for those who want to help themselves,” Roets said.

Roets tried to get financial help from “Vocational Rehabilitation”, a program run by the Arizona Department of Economic Security to cover the driving lessons and other fees for the disabled. However, after filing paperwork and appeals Sam’s case was denied.

"I know there are others like him in this position,” Roets said.

The Vail Unified School District and lawmakers joined forces and sent a letter to Michael Wiseheart, the director of DES, asking him to reconsider.

The school district released a statement to KGUN 9 that says:

“The Vail School District has been partnering with Ally to advocate on Sam’s behalf and working directly with senator David Gowan and representative Gail Griffin to find a solution.”

Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.
Samuel Ray, 16, has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, but he's still set on getting his driver's license.

“If we need to change legislation or raise awareness then do it. I know that’s what we need to do so that individuals with disabilities can get out there and have a life,” Roets said.

KGUN 9 also contacted DES about its approval process for the vocational rehabilitation program and received the following response:

“VR can support adaptive driver’s training if the approved and agreed upon employment goal requires driving as part of the individuals desired position, and if the individual's disability prevents them from using public or other transportation options”

Now the wait is on to see if Sam will get the training needed to hit the road with confidence and pride.

"Everybody wants to see their child grow up and prosper and do well and have a good job and that’s all I want for Sam,” Roets said.

For ADOT's Driving Schools List, click here.

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