Volkswagen to Design Autonomous Vehicles for the Disabled

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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Self-driving cars promise great opportunities for the auto and tech industries. They offer a world of possibilities for the public. But no group potentially benefits more from autonomous technology than the disabled.

  • VW has launched an Inclusive Mobility Initiative to create cars to better accommodate the disabled
  • It will work with a number of disability advocacy organizations for help with design and engineering
  • The company hopes to establish industry standards for securing wheelchairs in vehicles
  • Autonomous vehicles will bring added freedom to the blind and elderly

Persons with disabilities have fewer options for individual mobility and many face challenges with access to even basic transportation. Autonomous vehicles could change all this, but only if they are designed to accommodate these users.

Volkswagen has taken the first steps towards developing such a future. The company announced that it launched the Inclusive Mobility Initiative, which seeks to include disability groups in its planning and design processes.

“Transportation is the key to full participation in society,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO, Volkswagen Group of America, in a statement. “And for individuals with disabilities today, the options can be limited. Volkswagen is known as the people’s car company, and as the technology allows, we want to design vehicles that are more accessible.”

Volkswagen ID ROOMZZ Showcar
Electric vehicles will make ideal candidates to be adapted for occupants of different needs. The flat-floor design and wide door openings are perfect for wheelchair bound passengers or anyone needing extra space to maneuver.

Reaching Out

VW cites a long list of disability advocacy organizations as its partners in the initiative, including the National Federation of the Blind, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), and the National Association of the Deaf, among others.

The carmaker hosted a roundtable discussion in Washington D.C. near its headquarters in December 2018. That session was focused on getting input in designing and planning automated, wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Discussion topics included accessible vehicle dimensions, vehicle and wheelchair safety standards, federal compliance requirements, and wheelchair securement within passenger vehicles.

A follow-up meeting was held this spring. Representatives from wheelchair manufacturers, the We Will Ride Coalition of national disability organizations, and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute attended.

Different Mobility Needs

VW says it will not only look at how to make future autonomous vehicles meet the needs of the disabled, but also accommodate the elderly, who may have different and changing mobility needs as they age. The carmaker is also interested in pursuing a global safety standard for securing wheelchairs in autonomous vehicles.

“There’s been a lot of talk about what autonomous vehicles will provide, but for that potential to be realized, automakers will need to involve the disability community directly in the design and functionality of these vehicles,” said Carol Tyson, government affairs liaison for DREDF. “That’s why we’re so encouraged to be working with the Volkswagen Group from the outset. For the first time, an automaker has brought people together to begin to address the myriad of design, technical, safety and equity challenges that will need to be overcome.”


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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