Today's Advocate

September 2008

Article by Deborah Botti

Why aren't you in the driver's seat?

Matthew Meltzer of Wappingers Falls credits millions of pounds of patience and tons of repetition with his ability to teach just about anybody how to drive.

“I have a brake on my side and the fastest left hand known to man,” he says.

As the owner of Meltzer's Driver Training Center, he's logged some two million miles in 34 years with more than 8,000 students, thousands of whom have had a disability. He's only had to tell the caregivers of about five students that the students would be unable to safely drive.

“I actually believe people with disabilities are less of a risk on the road,” he says. “When people with a physical concern or learning difference learn a skill, they typically do it the same way for life.”

He compares this to a typical new driver who learns how to drive and then three weeks later is doing things his or her own way.

“But I'm not teaching a disability,” he stresses. “I'm teaching Jane or John Doe how to drive. If I am not wearing my glasses, I can't see. So what's the difference between that and a person who needs a wheelchair to get around? Why shouldn't they have the same access to a car?”

He prefers the term “differently abled,” eliminating the “dis" or Physically Challenged".

The one requirement is that a student have a learner permit. And if they're having difficulty passing the exam, he even has a tutor on staff. Some of his students come to him with a Driver's License for Driver Evaluation or Driver Rehabilitation.

His approach to driving - and people - was molded by his father, who started teaching people how to drive in 1928.

“People would call my dad and say, 'Gee, my husband had a stroke. Can you teach him how to drive again?' He never said no. He'd get whatever equipment (Matt calls these Adaptive Driving Aids) and was willing and able to do it.

“I'll get calls, 'My son has this disability. Can you teach him to drive?' First, I'll say yes, and then - if I never heard of it - I'll go look up the disability,” Meltzer says.

There are scores of disabilities, he says, from Asperger's Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, visual impairments, sensory integration disorder, paraplegia, hemiplegia, and amputations, to name just a few. Sometimes gross motor skills are involved. Sometimes it is comprehension and observations that have to be honed.

“My technique varies tremendously,” he says.

But patience is paramount. When a typical teen pulls into an intersection too quickly, dad might yell, “What the heck did you do that for?” Meltzer has to say, “Well, now, lets try that again,” while trying to figure out what prompted that improper maneuver.

He never intended to follow so closely in his father's footsteps or taillights. After earning his Bachelors Degree in business administration from Marist College, he asked the world what was out there for him. His father's illness helped steer him into the driver's (make that the passenger's) seat. And more than three decades later, he still keeps a tight grip on the business.

He does all the training himself and the sessions are one-on-one throughout Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Sullivan and Rockland counties, as well as Greene, Putnam, Westchester, all of NYC even out on Long Island. And, yes, he has even had clients from Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

“I pick up 95 percent of my clients,” he says.

The “Meltzer Mobile” is equipped with hand and foot controls for the physically challenged. And while it is cost prohibitive for him to equip his vehicles with all of the high-tech gizmos available - like joystick controls or armrest sensors that control the van when the arm moves - he has the knowledge to discuss what's available and/or necessary. He can then instruct drivers on their own modified vehicles.

He's president of the Northeast chapter of ADED, which used to stand for the Association of Driver Educators of the Disabled. Today, although the letters don't match the acronym, its called the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists. He attends regular meetings and classes to help keep current. For more information, visit or call Matt at 845-297-3966.