Is the DMV Discriminating Against Disabled Applicants?

Imagine having to get a doctor’s note to get your drivers license. Puts rather a damper on preparing for the big day when you can finally, finally, drive a car by yourself instead of having to bum rides from friends and family, doesn’t it? Worse yet, how would you feel if when you got to the DMV, in addition to having to pass the written and on-the-road tests, you also had to pass (and personally pay for) an assessment test conducted by an occupational therapist who would determine if you were fit to drive? How would you feel if you had to go through this every year?

For some would-be drivers in North Carolina, these are not hypothetical situations. Disability Rights North Carolina is suing on behalf of six individuals who claim they have been discriminated against while seeking their licenses by officials subjecting them to differential treatment on the grounds of stereotypes about their disabilities.

Katherine McCrory, Pam Dickens, Steven Chambers and Logan Wilson all encountered problems with trying to obtain or renew their licenses, including mandates for expensive assessments on an annual basis to determine their continued fitness to drive. Rebecca Kay was ordered to install adaptive technology in her car even though she neither needed nor wanted it, while when Natasha Wright went into the DMV to change her address, they slapped restrictions on her license forbidding her from driving more than 25 miles away from home.

As in other states, North Carolina has a mechanism for protecting drivers and the public through a program that assesses drivers deemed to be potentially unsafe. Typically, this is determined by requests from family members or doctors, and tends to affect already licensed drivers who may be losing their abilities to navigate the road safely as a result of dementia or other age-related issues. In North Carolina, this system appears to be being abused to unfairly profile disabled applicants and drivers solely on the basis of their disabilities, with DMV employees deciding on an individual and haphazard basis when they think someone should be required to provide proof of fitness.

The plaintiffs in this case have impairments like cerebral palsy, which comes in varying degrees of severity but can be very stable, with patients experiencing no significant changes in their condition over the course of decades. DMV employees are ill-informed about the specific nature of common impairments like CP, and their lack of knowledge is costing disabled drivers.

Differential treatment of this nature could potentially be considered a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both of which forbid this kind of discriminatory profiling. Furthermore, this isn’t just a civil rights issue, but a fundamental human rights one. By denying disabled people their licenses, either directly or through the creation of so many barriers that they cannot functionally complete the application process, the DMV is also limiting mobility. Disabled people often experience social isolation, and rely on vehicles to access medical appointments, see friends, shop for groceries and engage in other activities. Without the benefit of a car, they could be forced to rely more heavily on assistance they don’t actually need, and in some cases could be forced into residential care, which in itself is a violation of Olmstead versus L.C., an important case that mandated the right to live in the community when at all feasible.

If DRNC is successful in its pursuit of the case, it will help disabled North Carolinians get back on the road — and it would send a message to other states that discriminating against disabled drivers is illegal, and will not be tolerated.

Photo credit: Gerardo Lazzari.


Lynn C.
Lynn C3 years ago


Shanti S.
S S3 years ago

Thank you.

Martha Ferris
Martha F3 years ago

Determination of qualification needs to be done on a case by case basis. Unfortunately the law is based on a diagnosis instead of individual capabilities.

Alorha Breaw
Alorha Breaw3 years ago

(dang, sorry..) Instead of focusing on who can & can't get around freely, live as fully as possible in this world of hustle & bustle, how do we create a way for everyone to get around as efficiently, safely & is it too much to dream for a way as pleasantly as possible?

Alorha Breaw
Alorha Breaw3 years ago

(oops cont) previously took for granted & didn't understand just how much so. Even so, by far & away, the most dangerous drivers I've experienced while riding or walking, are those who, for what ever reason, decide they rule the road and those who have completely forgotten they are operating a very large, fantastic, extremely powerful machine. Every time I have been hit by a car (fortunately without too much lasting damage!) it was ALWAYS by a driver who by all the usual standards would be considered 'normal' but forgot that they were behind the wheel of a machine and /or for what ever reason, ignored traffic lights & laws. As a pedestrian it is my duty & responsibility to know & follow the laws & one I accept with absolute caution & awareness.. the pedestrians, bikers, state boarders, ect. that don't follow the common sense & courteous guidelines anger me as much as the drivers. And if you think the rudest drivers who are either unaware or think its fun to spray a pedestrian with as much puddle water as possible are teenagers, you are sadly mistaken.. arriving to an appointment or walking to /from the groc. store coated in dirt & mud is such a common occurance that I now try to carry a change of clothes with me - and I live in a neighborhood where the majority of people are incredibly wonderful!
And don't forget, it wasn't that long ago that, even here, jokes about women drivers were disgustingly ubiquitous.
Bottom line: instead of focu

Alorha Breaw
Alorha Breaw3 years ago

(cont.)The larger & much more real issue is that here in the USA, for the most part, our public transit system quite literally SUCKS!
Don is fortunate. He has a family member to assist pretty much when & how ever he needs & desires. That excellent situation is far from the reality for the vast majority of highly competent & amazing disabled individuals I've had the privilege of knowing & working with.
He also commented that his mother didn't speak to him for two yrs after he & a judge (not her doctor?!?) took away her license. When I read that, quite honestly I wondered if in the same situation, whether or not I would even be speaking to him now, but I also know the extent of a mother's love & capacity to forgive ;) He stated the very real benefit of her being alive & others safe as his (imo, quite worthy) motivation but there is a huge difference in 'being alive' and actually living!
For the most part, and I admit 'generally' speaking, the individuals I have known who were born with a disability and are fortunate enough to have the capacity to drive tend to view that luxury with great responsibility & caution.. for themselves, for other drivers, and for their fellow disabled population, and I have experienced with much more compassion &respect toward pedestrians such as myself. For those with a newly acquired or developing disability, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to acknowledge & forfeit a freedom they previously

Alorha Breaw
Alorha Breaw3 years ago

Yes, the DMV is discriminating, and I wish the best of luck to the DNCR with this important case.
And yes, I also agree that driving is a privilege but the way our society has structured & prioritized, driving has equally become (with the exception of a fortunate few) very much a necessity... one that is frequently abused, but none the less very real.
I also agree 100% with Sheila that the decision belongs with an individual and their doctor, not an uneducated, no matter how well intentioned office worker. To force someone who does not need adaptive equipment, to buy & install it profits & benefits whom exactly???
I have never, nor will ever drive due to my limited vision.. it's the smart thing, and the right thing. But as a, dare I say 'professional passenger & responsible pedestrian' there are many drivers I wish to goddess were not!
I also face & deal with (hopefully as gracefully as possible) daily discrimination & ignorance that is sadly reflected & expressed in some of the below comments. You have no idea how often, after I quietly ask what a menu, sign or zillion other forms may say, the respondent, at best suddenly starts shouting the requested information, and at worst but very frequently, starts to treat me as an absolute imbecile. I may not be a genius but my IQ rests quite comfortably in the healthy range, thank you very much.

Sheila M.
Sheila M3 years ago

I too am disabled and if anyone but my Doctor made those kinds of decisions I would be very angry. It is wrong and against the ADA. I have a number of congenital problems as well as post polio. I used to swim an hour a day in the warm therapy pool for the polio for years. I found my self haveing problems and discovered I had cancer. After over 4 months duriing which I was told I woulld probebly not survive I managed to go home. Sadly because I had gone so long with out swimming my polio had really crippled me. While I had developed severe Degenerative joint diease (arthritis) I was unable to do more then Range of motion with resistance because when you reach a certain point with post polio any excerise such as swimming or any type of arobics does muscle damage. I was in severe pain and lived alone with care givers coming in the morning to clean house and assist me. My Doctor put me on pain medication so I could continue to live alone and remain indapendent. My Doctor said I could drive to the local grocery store (about 1 mile from my house) during the day only if I had not taken pain medication in the last 4 hours. I thought I knew better and drove to see my Daughter, Son in-law and grandkids about 30 miles away. I soon realized I was in a lot of pain but had made a promise to my Doctor not to drive on pain meds. I made it home safe however the next time I saw my doctor he told me I was no longer going to be able to drive. He said my polio had progressed to the point it was n

Dianne Turner
Dianne Turner3 years ago


Don Swanz
Don Swanz3 years ago

ELIZABETH N, NANCY C, JESSICA L & others: Who is to say that one (1) person is handicapped/disabled over another? Surly not sone nip-com-poop working at the DMV? I have two (2) artificial shoulders and one (1) artificial knee and hopefully in the near future an artificial hip. Where does that put me?

I couple of years back I had a "wondering eye" that I had dealt with for a considerable length of time. It finally got so bad that I told my wife that it scared the crap out of me and that I could no longer drive safely. My bride did all of the driving until I had eye surgery. She still does all of the driving and I kind of like it.

Individuals do not usually report themselves because from our early teens, driving is in our blood. We simply can not do with out it. Family members have to step up and take the responsibility to ensure the older family members are fit and able to drive. Don and WE CAN! :-))