The United Nations considers mobility as a foundational human right. For decades, vehicles have shaped how people move around. Now, they form part of the foundation of modern human society.
However, not everyone has access to these transportation options. People with disabilities can find it challenging to enter a conventional car or drive toward their destination. As we begin the switch to electric vehicles, we must ensure that we take into account inclusivity.
The Push for Electric Vehicles
For decades, fossil fuel-powered vehicles were considered the only option for motorized mobility. Gasoline and diesel are energy-dense, meaning they can fuel cars without excessive weight or space requirements. Until recently, battery packs could not provide enough power without substantially increasing vehicle weight or taking too much space.
Technological advancements now allow electric cars to proliferate. These vehicles do not require fuels, such as gasoline or diesel, to operate. A charging session is enough for the car to start working. Moreover, electric vehicles do not use an internal combustion engine, eliminating most noise and vibration while driving.
Switching to electric vehicles also results in lower carbon emissions. This feat is a boon to many countries pushing for substantial renewable energy. On a global scale, decarbonizing the transport sector is crucial in preventing the current climate crisis from escalating.
The push for a more stable climate has convinced many governments to hasten the transition to electric vehicles. The UK has promised to ban gasoline cars by 2030, while California will start the ban in 2035. Even car companies now recognize the need to shift, with GM promising to stick with electric-car production in 2035.
These efforts are admirable. However, they are not enough if we don’t include inclusivity in the picture. Conventional cars are difficult enough to use. With the ongoing shift to battery-powered vehicles, now is the best time to advocate for disability inclusion in the transport sector.
Many manufacturers of battery-powered vehicles are using the same design principles they used for conventional automobiles. Unfortunately, this means that many design elements that hamper inclusivity remain while new barriers emerge.
For instance, many electric vehicles are adopting skateboard architecture for car design. This strategy places the battery pack under the car floor, reducing the available space inside the machine. The design forces manufacturers to raise the vehicle floor, making it harder for people with physical disabilities to enter the car.
Another stumbling point for inclusivity is the charging process. Many electric vehicles need to be plugged at a charging station regularly. The procedure involves inserting an electric cable into the charging port.
Unlike charging your smartphone, charging your car requires physical mobility. The charging cable is thick and padded with insulators to convey high amounts of electricity. People with disabilities might be unable to carry the weight or be vulnerable to tripping hazards while maneuvering the cable.
Moreover, some people are unable to drive on their own. They might find it tricky to pay attention or react fast enough on the road. As a result, many may have anxiety about getting behind the wheel. Treatments such as exposure therapy may help address these conditions. But while these problems prevail, driving will remain inaccessible to them.
Additionally, electric vehicles have higher upfront costs. For people with disabilities or mental health conditions, an electric car might seem like another unnecessary expense. They already spend so much on physical checkups and therapy. If these vehicles are more expensive than other modes of transportation, this mobility option may not be an option at all.
Self-driving cars automate many aspects of the driving process. These vehicles have sensor systems and artificial intelligence programs that capacitate them to respond to the environment. A fully automated car can allow people to travel without using any driving controls.
These vehicles can enable more people with disabilities to consider riding cars. These machines remove the burden of driving while maintaining safety. In addition, self-driving cars can adjust according to how nearby vehicles behave, implementing safety at the community level.
However, self-driving cars are not a panacea. Unfortunately, many prototypes continue to adopt the same design principles that made conventional cars inaccessible to people with disabilities. Self-driving cars may remain exclusive if people with disabilities can’t enter or exit the vehicles without assistance.
Providing vehicle conversion services is another solution for addressing accessibility. Several companies like MobilityWorks provide conversion services by modifying existing vehicles. Customers can request these companies to lower the floor of an electric vehicle and install other accessibility features.
However, vehicle conversion services are inherently limited by the original design. Some features, such as a ramp, need support from the original manufacturer. Conversion services are also expensive, with costs reaching $35,000 for lowering the floor of a single car.
The sustainable solution is to ensure that manufacturers incorporate PWD-friendly designs from the start. Nevertheless, conversion services are currently fulfilling an essential role in making cars more accessible.
As the electric vehicle industry matures for the next few years, the prices of their cards are expected to drop. Nevertheless, the costs of owning electric vehicles may exclude people with disabilities. Government programs can help shoulder many of these costs, incentivizing more people to switch to these cleaner cars.
The Motability Scheme is the hallmark program of the UK in enabling vehicle ownership for people with disabilities. Qualified individuals can enjoy a brand-new car every three years, with most costs handled by the government.
The list of electric vehicles covered by the Motability Scheme continues to grow throughout the years. The program also emphasizes accessibility features, such as automatic gearboxes and increased boot space.
Electric vehicles are undoubtedly the next step in the evolution of the transport sector. They are part of the solutions we need for a more sustainable world, as they drastically lower our carbon footprint.
That sustainability does not need to come at the cost of accessibility. Through proper planning and inclusivity measures, we can ensure a just and equitable transition to electric vehicles.