Electric vehicles are the future for everyone – except the disabled

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In a Super Bowl ad earlier this year, GM announced that its Electric Vehicles are designed for everyone. Ad closed picture of a single armed surfer emphasizes its point. But sometimes later it the surfer was replaced with a workable counterpart, without explanation of the switch. As a wheelchair user, I was wondering if people like me would be left out of the EV revolution?

There is no doubt that electric cars are one of the pillars of our future, but they do not currently exist in the market for people with disabilities. Retrofitting these vehicles on ramps seems almost impossible due to the architecture. And the only one EV on the horizon which can only be made available in 2023 – and even then it is unclear whether it will be marketed to disabled drivers.

I don’t drive because treating a brain tumor caused swelling that affected my cranial nerves, damaging my balance, motor skills, and causing my eyes to bounce. I owned a Dodge minivan with a modified ramp so others could carry me in my electric wheelchair when I had to travel long distances or on hard terrain. For people with an active life, these vans are a necessity. I was lucky because I had financial support to buy one, but for many people with disabilities living on Social Security or low-wage jobs, this option is unreasonable. And the price tag only goes up with new technology.

But price is not an issue at this point. Most electric vehicles use the so-called “Skateboard architecture,” which includes a battery, an electric transmission, and an electrical architecture under the vehicle floor. This makes the EV more difficult to reach for the physically challenged – if only by a small amount – because the floor is placed above the battery. With an unused consumer base of 61 million for disabled drivers with nearly $ 500 million in disposable income, this extra inch or two could be the reason for not getting a permit or owning a car.

Los Angeles-based disability advocate and author Kelly Dawson has limited mobility due to a stroke that mostly affects her legs. He can’t bend over to fill his tires with air because he can’t crouch and balance at the same time. But even as an outpatient driver, he’s worried about the challenges EVs might pose for him.

“I feel like I may have a harder time getting into the driver’s seat if the battery raises the floor height,” he said. “With my current fuel-powered car, I can step in or slide in, but an electric car might have tighter (potentially dangerous) compression.”

Dawson points out that “when cars were first introduced to the public in the early 20th century, people with disabilities were by no means part of public life – they were actively excluded from it. The biggest difference to this car innovation chapter is that it comes 30 years after the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act]. “

Where this barrier for the disabled is focused, there is a possible modification of the vehicle. Dropping the floor of a 10 to 14-inch gas-powered vehicle would typically cost $ 25,000 to $ 35,000, and can be paid in part with the help of the state government or the Department of Veterinary Medicine. About 20,000 of these conversions are done annually, according to tutor Sam Abuelsamid, a leading e-mobility analyst. However, vehicle modification companies like MobilityWorks and BraunabilityWhile it can add handbrake devices, it cannot convert electric vehicles to a ramp due to the location of the battery.

Abuelsamid said Braunability offers a variant of the Chrysler Pacifica expansion hybrid with drop-down ramp access at the rear, but there are no such fully electric minivans today. Some of the larger electric cars will appear later this year at Ford Network traffic and Brightdrop EV600 GM, but they are given priority to commercial fleets. The first real incoming electric car is the VW ID Buzz in 2023.

Kevin Frayne worked at GM for 34 years before joining Braunability as its quasi-futurist. He recently spoke on behalf of the U.S. Admissions Council at the Department of Transportation Equity Forum. And he works closely with companies to consult on models. He said this task is difficult. “It’s not insurmountable, but companies need to start working with us now,” Frayne said.

“In this case, everything has to do with geometry and triangles,” he said. For example, Frayne has to think about the height of the roof, because the ADA requires that door openings be 56 inches high, which makes it a problematic crushing when the floor rises. If he has two inches to fit a very thin ramp between the floor and the battery, he has to design a plan for an ADA-authorized slope ratio that is one inch increment for every four inches — although Frayne and others think it should be 1: 6. even automatic fastening systems to secure the wheelchair inside the vehicle.

But conversion is not the only potential barrier for the disabled community. A four-year study through Zap-Map and Motability in the UK found that a third of disabled drivers had difficulty finding a charging station they could use. Only 2,200 people participated in the study, and 176 of them considered themselves disabled, but this may have something to do with the fact that people with disabilities are so low in terms of income and accessibility.

According to this study, one reason for access to charging stations is the heavy weight of the charging cables. Like cell phone and laptop batteries, high-power charges also generate a lot of heat in the cable, which is why they are usually insulated and cooled by liquid cooling. This makes them heavier and harder to control. Adding to the difficulty is that the charging connectors must be precisely aligned to slide in.

Other things include the force required to connect the cables to the EV, the lack of curbs to get to the charging station, and the parking spaces bundled too close together. Hopefully, as electric vehicles become more affordable and popular, charging station operators will abandon the current parallel arrangement to support disabled drivers as well as vehicles towing trucks, buses and trailers.

In 2014, the Ministry of Energy published a report with measurements and images describing the layout of the charging stations. While it would be easy to install charging stations in old or unused parking spaces, by law, each lot must have four accessible spaces, and one in six must be a van. Dan Caesar as EV expert Fully loaded says: “It seems that disabled drivers and passengers are currently somewhat retaliatory to the emerging electric vehicle / charging sector.”

I asked Henry Claypool, a technology policy consultant for the American Association of People with Disabilities, about the barriers to EV batteries in the floor of a vehicle. He was optimistic and recalled how Volkswagen arranged a meeting with several stakeholders in 2019 to discuss the construction of a dedicated vehicle for a wheelchair. Participatory mobility initiative.

“At the end of this meeting, a few VW engineers came down to the parking garage to look at my aftermarket modified van,” Claypool said. Limit. “They watched the kneeling and ramp system and didn’t seem bothered creating something like an electric vehicle with a battery on the floor. They looked really committed. “

Claypool said Toyota is another company whose accessibility has really progressed. “It’s exciting to see them unveiling an unobstructed AV at the Tokyo Paralympics in Japan,” he said. “And the thing is, when one OEM does this successfully, everyone follows.”

What is frustrating, however, is how people with disabilities are used to selling products while being left out of design decisions. The disabled community does not want to drive cars that burn gas, while everyone else is pulling around in zero-emission vehicles. Automakers should not put off the concerns of disabled communities because if we are not involved at the grassroots level, it will be more complex and more expensive for everyone to move forward.

“People with disabilities are without a doubt the most innovative cohort of Americans,” Dawson says. “Not only should we be behind the wheel of electric cars, but we should also call shots of building them.”

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