Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wheelchair user advocates for reform of how disabled drivers get their license in Mississippi

From The Dispatch in Columbus, Miss.:

From the time Tiffany Hamlin (pictured) decided to get her Mississippi driver's license, it took her six years to complete the process.

Confined to a wheelchair, Hamlin, 24, had some special obstacles to overcome.

"I have spina bifida. ... I have no sensation from the knees down," Hamlin explained Friday, during the Mississippi Political Science Association's annual conference, hosted this weekend at Mississippi University for Women.

Hamlin, a Mississippi State University master's degree candidate, hopes her recent experiences and research will help reform the process for disabled drivers to get their license.

"My hope is that this paper will help the state realize that this policy needs to change because it is very discriminatory," Hamlin said.

Disabled driver's license candidates have to fill out a medical form, which has to be signed by a physician, who agrees the person is capable of operating a motor vehicle.

"The questions in the medical form do not apply to every disability," Hamlin said, noting the questions range from what types of surgeries the candidate has had to medications, pulse rate and blood pressure.

Once the medical form is approved by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the candidate is scheduled for a hearing and interviewed by hearing officers "who are not medical professionals," Hamlin said.

Next, candidates are put to the test through a simulator; then candidate is able to take the driver's test, using, if needed, a vehicle already equipped with hand controls from MSU's T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability.

Hamlin got her hand controls through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. For her vehicle to be approved, the state requires it have less than 70,000 miles, be less than five years old and have the stamp of approval from a mechanic, through some exceptions are made for older vehicles in good condition.

Purchasing a car which met those strict standards was part of the reason it took Hamlin so long to get her license, which she received in April. The actual process took longer than a year-and-a-half.

Hamlin suggests MDOT simplify the process and create a liaison department to review and change the process, as well as

"A lot of people end up quitting in the middle of it," Hamlin said.

She, at times felt like quitting, too.