Volkswagen Group of America has a big mission: offering mobility solutions for people with disabilities. The Inclusive Mobility initiative is more than just a name; it’s a program that directly engages with disability groups in the early stages of designing vehicle technologies, user experience and mobility services.
The initiative, led by the Inclusive Mobility team at the Innovation and Engineering Center California (IECC) in Belmont, Calif., is an industry first. While there have been patents and designs developed within the automotive industry for years related to accessible mobility solutions, Volkswagen is the first original equipment automotive manufacturer to directly engage with groups that represent people with a range of disabilities early on in the design and development process of advanced vehicles.
The program began last year through outreach and collaboration with groups including the National Federation of the Blind, the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and the National Association of the Deaf.
“We are not just designing and then asking people to validate our ideas. We’re bringing people to the table to share their voice and input from the beginning,” said Shani Jayant, a principal user experience designer at the IECC. “We have to make sure we design things with an informed view.”
Jayant expressed the importance of engaging everyone from the beginning in order to make changes happen. “The team is small, but is really networking with other parts of the company. This isn’t just a couple of people working in a silo,” Jayant said. “We work closely with government affairs professionals, engineers in Germany, lawyers and others.”
Initial research efforts have included a series of expert and user interviews on disabilities related to mobility, vision, hearing and cognition. One of the first goals that the Inclusive Mobility team hopes to address is wheelchair securement. With the introduction of varying levels of autonomous technologies in future vehicles, there are new variables that need to be considered when designing this feature, including automatic securement.
“The biggest hurdle is ensuring we have all of the appropriate stakeholders at the table and coming up with best practices together. It’s possible, but no small feat. It’s an intensive process,” Jayant explained.
Helping design new solutions for those who are deaf, blind or face other mobility challenges will take time but is a top priority for the Inclusive Mobility team. Read more about the program and other upcoming projects at inclusivemobility.com.
Concept vehicle shown. Not available for sale. Specifications may change.