Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

Oregon Developmentally Disabled Drivers

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

In the State of Oregon, skills training of developmentally disabled adults is facilitated by a brokerage system. Customers may receive training in many different areas of functioning, including living skills, navigating around their local areas, and public transportation. What they may not receive is any kind of assistance towards getting driver’s licenses.

As a provider of training services to developmentally disabled adults, I operate on the idea that anyone with any kind of disability should have the right and the reasonable accommodation to participate in whatever aspect of life is available to everyone else. As a person with disabilities myself, I am aware that even with reasonable accommodation, there are many things I just can’t do.

I have found, in my life, that the only way to truly rule those things out, is to try them in a safe and supported environment. Thinking that I can’t is a sure way to not try.

Look at how we idolize people who overcome physical disabilities to do things like sports. I was recently touched to watch a documentary called Emmanuel’s Gift, a story about a man in Ghana who overcomes physical challenges to fight for the rights of disabled people in his country. It is a touching and inspiring story, and I don’t wish to detract from its message.

However, I think that our society is not so readily touched, as they should be, by the more average stories out there. What about the every day disabled person who reaches a little farther than his or her family, friends, and communities think they should be able to do in terms of just daily living. Why is it that we only get misty over disabled athletes?

To me, a person who was thought to not be able to hold down a job who proves everyone wrong is every bit as much of a hero as Emmanuel. It’s the every day things that we disabled people do against the odds that really shine.

Such an everyday thing is driving a car. We make accommadations for all sorts of people to be able to drive cars. Deaf, little people, amputees, paraplegics, illiterate, and many other kinds of people can get driver’s licenses. Developmentally disabled people can too, provided they can wade through the manual, take a written test, and pass a drivers test.

For many things, developmentally disabled clients need training. I find it incongruent that there is funding to teach them to use the buses but not to learn how to pass the written examination for a license to drive. Personally, it’s so expensive to drive these days, I’m not sure why anyone wants to, but as long as the rest of us do, I think that anyone who can meet the requirements should be allowed to.

I know what some readers of this article will think, “I’m afraid of having developmentally disabled clients driving on your roads.”

The other day, on the freeway, I saw a woman knitting while she drove in congested traffic. I’ve seen it all when it comes to stupid things people do while driving. Maybe we should all just abandon our vehicles.

What I know for sure is that I’ve had clients that I think probably should not drive, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to find out for certain. That’s because I am also completely convinced that some of them can not only drive, but can be better drivers than a lot of the people we never even think should be denied the right. I’m not advocating for every developmentally disabled audlt to be given a drivers license. I’m just asking for fairness that if I can teach one living skill, I can teach another.

Currently, I am not allowed to help a client read and study the Oregon Drivers Manual. Most of my clients can read. Most can recognize and read traffic signs and the categories of them. Most can recognize categories, as in the difference between the yellow warnings and the black-and-white speed signs. They know shapes and colors. What many can’t do is comprehend the language of the drivers manual. I know a few people who aren’t developmentally disabled that have the same trouble.

One category of services that are offered clients are known as Activities of Daily Living (ADL). One of the supports involve cognition supports. Another ADL activity is mobility. Both of these apply to getting a drivers license. Now, I’m not saying that I think that learning to drive should fall under the ADL type of support. I think it is more of a living skill. I’m just trying to illustrate and argue against the idea that helping a customer make sense of the drivers manual is in the same category as tutoring for a school subject. This has been the rationale when my customers have asked for this help and the brokerage personel have turned it down.

I also want to say that I am not blaming the brokerages. These interpretations come from higher up and the brokerages are just implementing what they have been told. I view this more seriously than that.

I believe that this constitues discrimination as defined by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as described in Section 202. It states:

Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

It is discrimination, first by the Department of Motor Vehicles, who provides accommodation for many disabilites to take the written examination, but not for developmentally disabled adults. It is also discrimination by the Oregon Department of Human Services in their oversight of programs for developmentally disabled adults to not allow private contractors to provide cognitive support in understanding and learning the drivers manual.

I call on decision makers who define what skills can be taught to developmentally disabled adults to allow customers to receive support in reading and studying the drivers manual. I also call on the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles to investigate ways to test developmentally disabled adults for compehension of the information in the drivers manual that don’t require them to answer confusingly worded questions.

It’s time that we recognized that many of the limitations we see in people with developmental disabilities have been imposed on them by a society that is not willing to explore their full potential. What that potential is can never be discovered as long as we assume they can’t do it.

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11 Responses to “Oregon Developmentally Disabled Drivers”

  1. Barbara Goode said:

    I also am a care provider who has had a few customers that actually requested to have help studying and comprehending the Oregon Driver’s Manual. It was really disappointing to them to find that the brokerage would not cover it. One of the customers really wasn’t sure that they could physically drive, but wanted to get their permit and explore the possibility. The other customer had driving as a lifelong dream……Now thinking it a shattered dream , being that they viewed my help as their last chance at it . I was so sorry that I could not help them under their brokerage contract. :<

  2. David McDonald said:

    It seems to me that the brokerages are becoming more geared toward denying people the services THEY believe they need. This flies in the face of why they were started in the first place.

    As providers, I think it’s our job to speak up when we see this happening. It’s other people’s job as well, but will they do it?

    From 2001 to 2004 $29,000,000 was saved and returned to the State’s General Fund through these brokerages. Who kinows where the money was spent, but it sure wasn’t reinvested into the Developmental Disabilities budget.

  3. Rex Goode said:


    Thanks for your comment. That does seem to be the focus of the brokerages. In fact, we are asked to honor our customer’s self-determination rights, but the brokerages don’t seem to operate under the same obligation. I try not to be parental with my customers, but the brokerages sometimes are very parental, not only to the customers, but to we providers.


  4. Hunter McCall said:

    Since when is “the state won’t give me money for it” the same as “the state is preventing me from accessing it?” Talk about being parental. The state isn’t your daddy and I think it sends a terrible message to all stakeholders in the disabilities community to act as though state money is the solution to all ills. Just because someone has a disability doesn’t mean he or she can’t take some responsibility for meeting his or her goals regardless of what the state chooses to fund.

    If you’re so incensed that folks can’t use taxpayer dollars to pay someone to help them learn the driver’s manual, maybe you should volunteer some of your time to help those folks accomplish that goal.

  5. Rex Goode said:

    I’m only asking for some consistency in policy. They pay me to teach a lot of similar things. Someone somewhere has decided that learning the driver’s manual constitutes tutoring like you would get in college.

    As for volunteering, I do plenty of that. However, I earn my living mentoring and teaching skills to developmentally disabled adults. When I do volunteer work, I do it in areas where I’m competent but does not represent a conflict of interest with my paid work. Working for free for clients with whom I have a professional relationship is unethical. It represents a dual relationship. Any social worker knows that.

  6. Hunter McCall said:


    I appreciate your response and your willingness to post my remarks in a moderated forum. Even more I appreciate your elucidation of where your professional boundaries lie. I had no issue whatsoever with your original post. I thought it was well thought out and reasonable. It was the saber-rattling that sprung forth in the comments section that put a bee in my bonnet. I think disabilities entitlement programs are a worthy and useful use of tax dollars but I do get tired of one-note polemicists like Mr. McDonald pretending that government money is the solution to every problem and those entities charged as custodians of those dollars are all part of an evil cabal whose life purpose is to deny people with disabilities of services for the pure joy of watching them suffer. I know a whole lot of dedicated people in the disabilities community in Oregon and I’m yet to meet one member of the secret Let’s Screw Over the People with Disabilities club that is the bread and butter of Mr. McDonald’s tireless and useless faux-advocacy. I know incompetent people and deeply gifted people, people who think money is a solution and people who think it can harm more than it helps, but I have yet to meet the diabolical money-grubbing soul sucker who spends his time counting the pieces of gold he’s earned from gleefully stomping on the rights of people with disabilities. It’s a straw man argument that adds nothing to the complex challenges of serving an increasingly diverse and increasingly self-directed population. Thank you for providing a forum for these important discussion.


  7. Rex Goode said:


    “No problem” about posting your comments. I’m happy to get any comments in the early stages of this site, and I’ve never been one to stifle disagreements. They make things interesting. I’m trying to decide about your strong language about Mr. McDonald. I usually prefer that people disagree with substance rather than make things personal.

    I see your point and it seems like some history between two people I don’t know. I have been troubled by a lot of the interpretation of policies by local brokerages, especially when they take the same state rules and apply them so differently.

    That becomes a sore point with my customers, who see me doing things with their friends that I tell them I can’t do with them. I think the brokerages sometimes forget that our customers often know each other.

    Another example of this is that one brokerage in the Portland area will not allow contractors to take customers to the Oregon Coast for inclusion activities and others will. When my customers at the brokerage who won’t hear from customers at brokerages who will, it’s very hard to explain.

  8. Alethea said:

    Rex, I find your position very interesting….and in a way concerning.

    As a parent of a developmentally disabled 18 year old boy (also diagnosed FAS and autistic) whose understanding of his environment (according to school testing) is around 4th grade level, I face the driving question. He wants to get a license and wants to start saving for a small truck.

    Frankly, I am terrified for him to get a license and ever drive without close supervision. You wouldn’t put the average 9-year-old behind the wheel of a vehicle on the highway, but he wants to drive.

    I got him the manual after his 18th birthday in May–and he’s been reading it for about 4 months now. He occasionally asks questions about the reasons for a certain thing, or is in deep thought about something he read in the book.

    The problem is, he may be able to pass the test one day. He may be able to steer a vehicle down the road one day. I have raised him from birth and have watched be the classic FAS “Oops child” who thinks of what SHOULD have been done–after the fact. If, at the moment he is in a crisis situation on the road and he forgets what was in the book, he or someone else could be badly injured or killed.

    I want him to go as far as he possibly can go in life–have every opportunity to do all he can do–but at some point I am thinking I have to say it’s not worth the risk of losing him or hurting/God forbid killing someone else.

    At what point do you just say “I’m sorry but the risk is too great, so that’s not a good idea?” At what point should a young adult be encouraged to accept that not driving will be a limitation that he might not ever like, but it’s one that is necessary for his survival?

  9. Stephen Rex Goode, BSW said:

    Alethea, I do understand your concerns. I am disabled but also the father of a disabled son. Though his disability isn’t developmental, it still has an effect on him being able to drive. He has had a permit and I’ve taken him driving. His disability does get in the way sometimes and there are some things he’ll have to learn to do to adjust, but I fully expect that he can learn to drive as competently as anyone else. As a parent, I know it is very hard to turn a disabled adult child loose behind something as potential dangerous as a wheel and in a very hazardous system like traffic. Though no one is perfect, I think most license examiners put on enough stress to see how a driver reacts. To your point, I also recognize that due to the nature of FAS, skills learned today don’t always equal skills possessed tomorrow.

    Under our current system including the Constitution of the United States, unless you have a custodial relationship with your son, the choice will be his whether to pursue a driver’s license and the state will probably not brook any interference.

    I had a customer with a driver’s license and a mountain of citations for reckless driving and mistakes. The state eventually figured it out and took it away. He’s not likely to get it back. I doubt that’s much comfort to you, since some of those errors could have hurt or killed someone. The system isn’t perfect, but I still stand by the idea that disabled people have the right to pursue every skill until they ultimately know that they can’t do that thing and must settle for an accommodation.

    You did a good thing by getting him the manual. The next step is to pass the test, which may not ever happen, but is worth a try. There will need to be lots and lots of practice. I wouldn’t think of it as interfering if you declined to be the one to help him practice. I think it very hard for some parents to teach their children to drive. Better done by a professional. Get him to earn the money for lessons himself. A good professional instructor will let you and him know when/if he’s ready to take the test. That may be the end of it.

    If he goes through all of that and passes, chances are he deserves the license. Then comes the biggest hurdle of all. Affording to drive.

  10. Alethea said:

    As for brokerage service inequalities…you’d think that should be something that those with oversight balanced. But, as the case manager informed me yesterday–the brokerages are not the same. AND you can switch if you don’t like the one you are with.

    If that is true, why don’t people switch to one who provides the services they want?

  11. Stephen Rex Goode, BSW said:

    Alethea, thanks. All of the brokerages claim they are only following the rules. It is definitely frustrating to see the widely varying interpretations between brokerages and even individual personal agents. The problem with switching is that it takes time. It is also that it is one thing to not like the agent or brokerage you are with, but quite another to know which agent or brokerage is going to think more like you prefer. In your case, as a parent, you can help with that kind of research. You or your son have the right to call other brokerages and ask what their point of view is on a question. They can give you a general answer as to their interpretation of the state’s rules. They probably won’t make a commitment to do things the way you want.

    I had a customer who didn’t like his brokerage’s interpretation of the rules, so he called a couple of resource directors at other brokerages and arranged a meeting. He pointedly asked if he would be allowed to do such and such. He found one that said he could and switched to them. I think it works a lot better if your son is able to advocate for himself, but should work if he wants you to do it.

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