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What Does Inclusive Mobility Look Like?

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Feb. 24, 2021—Today’s vehicles are being outfitted with their own WiFi, entertainment systems, and more, but what is being done to make the actual vehicles more accessible to those who are mobility-challenged? 

A recent webinar hosted by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education featured panelists from the private and public mobility sector detailing exactly what their organizations are doing to serve a population that they fear, has been left out of the conversation. 

Repairers—listen up—it’s only a matter of time before these innovations to vehicle design are sitting squarely on your shop floor.  

Kent Keyser, a public policy fellow at the United Spinal Association said in the United States, 25.5 million people reduce their day-to-day travel because of a disability. 

“Imagine what an affordable, adoptional, manageable transportation system could do for those people.” 


Challenges for Wheelchair Users

There are many obstacles wheelchair users must face when traveling, Keyser said. From boarding the vehicle to putting on a seat belt, everything requires teamwork. 

But one of the biggest hindrances to transportation for wheelchair users is timing, said Keyser. Paratransit, a transportation service for individuals with disabilities, requires a ride be scheduled 24 hours in advance. 

“Sometimes things happen and you need to get somewhere quickly,” Keyser said. “But unless it’s a medical emergency…you’re out of luck.” 

May Mobility, a privately owned autonomous transportation company, is working right now with other public entities to offer wheelchair users independent travel, said Tara Lanigan, head of policy and advocacy at May Mobility.  

Currently, May Mobility is operating the longest public autonomous, fixed route in Michigan, spanning just over three miles long with 20 stops. Lanigan said there are wheelchair accessible vehicles deployed at each site. 


Vehicle Designs for Inclusive Mobility 

Kathy Klinich, associate director at the University of  Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, described two different systems that are currently being developed to aid wheelchair users in their daily driving tasks. 

The first is a Universal Docking Interface Geometry that secures a wheelchair aboard a vehicle using metal clamps, or anchors. The anchors, which have to be outfitted on buses and personal vehicles beforehand, safely hold the chair in place. 

“I’m six foot two, 200 pounds, and my chair weighs 250 pounds,” Keyser said during the presentation. “You don’t want me banging around.” 

The UDIG will give wheelchair users more independence by allowing them to board various vehicles themselves, free of assistance from bus drivers or at-home aids. 

The second innovation presented by Klinich is a seat belt donning system that allows wheelchair users to fasten themselves in. The system involves a separate fixture which houses the seat belt and buckle that can swing around, making it more accessible than the standard seat belt placement. 


Big Picture

Klinich said if there is enough support behind the UDIG system, it could be outfitted for other forms of travel, not just by car. 

“On airplanes it would be so great,” she said of the UDIG, “So chair users could sit in their own chair during a flight.” 

Keyser took it a step further when he said, “If the securement could secure a wheelchair, why couldn’t it secure a delivery bot or a package?” 

By making travel more accessible, Keyser said everyone stands to benefit, not just wheelchair users. 

He used the example of loading ramps which do help wheelchair users, but he pointed out that they also help travelers with luggage, parents with strollers, and delivery workers. 

“How do we ensure people who are currently being underserved are served now, so the people who can benefit the most from new technologies aren’t left behind?” posed Klinich. 


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