About 61 million American adults live with a disability that affects their ability to walk, see, hear or focus on the tasks at hand. Nearly 7% have difficulty doing errands on their own, while 3.7% find it hard to dress or bathe themselves. As an entrepreneur, you could change these people's lives for the better. If you know a thing or two about health care and enjoy helping others, consider offering disability transport services in your area.

Depending on your business goals, you may provide nonemergency medical transportation or general transportation services for those with special needs. Either way, make sure your vehicles are ADA compliant and carry medical supplies such as first-aid kits and assistive devices.

The Impact of Disability

According to the American Community Survey, 12.8% of Americans had a disability in 2016. As the population ages, this number increases. It's estimated that about 35% of people age 65 and older and 10.6% of people age 18 to 64 are living with disabilities. The employment gap between these people and those without disabilities is a staggering 40.7 percentage points.

Even a mild disability can affect one's quality of life. In 2016, individuals with disabilities had an average income of $22,047, which was much lower compared to what their healthy peers earned ($32,497). Therefore, they're more likely to experience financial hardship and give up the things they need, such as hearing aids, wheelchairs or assistive devices.

Their ability to move around and live independently is limited too. In fact, the number of lawsuits against businesses that failed to meet the accessibility requirements imposed by the Americans with Disabilities Act increased by 55% between 2013 and 2014. Elevators, for instance, are available in only 15% of New York subway stations, making it difficult for the disabled to get where they need to go, whether it's a store or the doctor's office. Starting a wheelchair transportation business could be your chance to help these people overcome the challenges they face in today's society.

Types of Disability Transport Services

Disability transport services are gaining popularity in the U.S. and overseas. Their role is to make life easier for people with special needs. Some companies provide nonemergency medical transportation services. Others offer transportation for personal activities, such as shopping, traveling, recreation and more.

Decide what services you want to provide. For example, you may hire drivers to transport clients to hospitals, private clinics and other medical facilities, or you can pick them up and assist them during their trips to other cities or states. Another option is starting a wheelchair transportation business so you can offer highly specialized services and build a loyal clientele.

Think about what you could do for your clients. Would you be able to offer safe transportation for bed-bound individuals? Do you plan to hire drivers who can offer assistance with grocery shopping, doctor appointments or traveling? Consider the following options when planning your business:

  • Assist your clients with simple things, such as putting on their coats or dining out.

  • Keep track of follow-up appointments on the client's behalf and offer discounts for regular trips to the clinic or hospital.

  • Offer companionship while the client is waiting for treatment to start.

  • Organize trips to museums, parks, festivals and other areas of interest for those with disabilities.

  • Provide wheelchairs during the trip at no extra charge.

Look for ADA-Compliant Vans

The nonemergency medical transportation industry, or NEMT, has specific rules and regulations. If you plan to drive the car yourself, you may need some kind of formal training, such as certifications in CPR, first aid and more. Your drivers should carry these certifications too. If they don't, you may provide training.

Before starting a wheelchair transportation business, make sure your vehicles are ADA compliant. Depending on your budget and objectives, you may purchase buses, minivans or full-size vans that meet the following requirements:

  • Feature a level-change mechanism or boarding device for wheelchair users

  • The lift should accommodate at least 600 pounds and be equipped with barriers

  • Gearshift interlock

  • 56-inch door-opening height

  • 30-inch-wide or larger wheelchair lifts

  • Handrails on both sides of the platforms on lifts

These are just a few of the many regulations imposed by the ADA. For a complete list, access the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. When choosing a vehicle, pay special attention to the slope and dimensions of ramps, the width of the wheelchair lift and the opening height of the van doors. Your vans may also be equipped with dialysis devices, oxygen tanks, first-aid kits, wheelchairs, assistive devices and other medical supplies.

Make a Business Plan

Next, put everything on paper and make a business plan. Conduct market research and collect data, define your selling proposition and highlight your competitive advantage. Be specific about your short-term and long-term goals, such as earning at least $100,000 in your first year of business. Calculate your startup costs and determine whether you want to reach out to investors, take out a loan or apply for a grant.

Be aware that wheelchair-accessible vans are quite expensive. Toyota Sienna wheelchair vans, for example, cost anywhere between $28,499 for a used model and at least $60,000 for a new one. If you're on a budget, you may contact the U.S. Small Business Administration to discuss your capital needs. The SBA runs several programs that connect lenders with entrepreneurs looking to secure financing.

Your business plan should also describe what services you will offer, your target audience and how you will reach out to clients. Make financial projections for the next five years or so and back up your statements with hard data, such as forecasted income and cash-flow statements. Cover the legal aspects as well — call your town, county, and state to figure out what licenses and permits are required for starting a wheelchair transportation business and how much they cost.

Next, take the steps needed to register your business and get a tax ID number. Your employer identification number can be obtained online from the IRS. If you're planning to run your business from home, you may use your personal address when registering the company with the state and local governments.

In general, NEMT businesses operate as limited liability companies, partnerships or sole proprietorships. Research these legal structures to determine which one is right for you. Think through the possibilities of the evolution of your business and its growth potential. For example, if you intend to expand your services across the state and beyond, it makes sense to register your business as an LLC rather than a sole proprietorship.

Each state has different requirements for NEMT companies. Ohio, for instance, may require operators to carry a commercial drivers' license and register their vehicles with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio’s Motor Carrier Division; you must also get a vendors' license and make sure your vehicles comply with the ADA's regulations.

Promoting Disability Transport Services

Once your business is up and running, it's important to promote it in the local community and online. Start by reaching out to hospitals and private clinics, dialysis centers, small nursing homes and residential facilities for seniors and people with special needs. At the same time, advertise your disability transport services in local newspapers and on the radio. Partner with insurance agencies and local organizations that offer assistance to the disabled.

Seniors will likely make up a large part of your target audience. About 70% of older adults use the internet regularly to communicate with their friends, book travel and transportation, buy products and catch up with the news. Therefore, it makes sense to build your online presence and engage your prospects over the internet.

Set up a website or blog and list your services. Be specific about your competitive advantage and what makes your business stand out. If you or your employees have any credentials, such as a medical degree, list them on your site. Create online advertising campaigns on Google and Facebook, list your business in local directories and share relevant content on social networks to increase your reach.