More Possible Than You Think: Flying With Disabilities

If you are interested in learning to pilot a plane but have disabilities such as an amputated limb or a sight or hearing impairment, you might think that your pilot dream is limited to just that -- a dream. That might not be the case, though. Technology is making it easier for more people to pilot small planes successfully and safely. While there are still limits, it's worth it to investigate whether or not your disability is really standing in the way of your aviation goals.

Severity of Disability

Of most importance is the severity of the disability. Someone who had a few toes amputated is in a different situation, obviously, than someone who has had an entire leg amputated. The quality of the materials and equipment used to help with the disability also play a role. Again, using amputation and prosthetics as an example, someone with a secure forearm prosthesis may be better able to fly than someone with a foot prosthetic that does not stay on well.  

Even those with more severe forms of disability are finding fewer barriers to flying. Modifications and additions to plane controls can help those with mobility disabilities successfully pilot a plane. Deaf pilots have their own certification from the Federal Aviation Administration, with restrictions limited to not flying planes where radio communication is essential. The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians notes that there is now software -- a virtual co-pilot -- that blind people can use to fly a plane. The co-pilot program uses voice commands to help the human pilot get through takeoff, flight, landing, and taxiing. While the use of the co-pilot program is limited, it may allow more blind people to make short trips at the control of a small plane.


Anyone trying to get a pilot's license has to undergo testing, both medical and in-flight, and that situation is enhanced for anyone with a disability. In fact, testing may take a lot longer as the tester needs to see how well the pilot can reach and control the plane's equipment, and how well the person reacts to stimuli. If you're testing to become a pilot, you may have to make more takeoffs and landings to show that you can consistently pilot the plane safely.

Needing Practice

If your disability happened after you had been flying for a while, you must practice flying again. Do not rely on past skills to make you fully ready for the test -- they won't. You might experience changes in depth perception, changes in how you grip the controls, and changes in your reaction time that all affect how well you could do on an aviation test.

You need to find a school that will work with you to get your skills back up and get you flying again. Contact aviation schools in your area for additional info about classes for those with disabilities.