2018 Recap: Kickoff Discussion in Washington D.C.

Last December, we brought together disability groups, policy makers, academic researchers and Volkswagen designers & engineers to collaborate around wheelchair-accessible mobility solutions.

Capitol building in Washington D.C.

April 30, 2019
Contributed by: Shani Jayant

In December 2018, we hosted a roundtable discussion in Washington D.C.—in collaboration with We Will Ride Coalition (WWR)—on the future of wheelchair-accessible vehicles within mobility service fleets.

Over the course of two days, 40 attendees from around the country participated in the discussions. There were presentations from We Will Ride Coalition (WWR), the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), the U.S. Access Board, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), Volkswagen Group of America, and visiting engineers from Volkswagen Group in Germany.

The goal of the Inclusive Mobility forum was to identify the challenges and opportunities for Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles (WAVs) from a customer, industry, and legislative perspective. From there, we wanted to determine the path forward for automated wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Discussion topics included accessible vehicle dimensions, vehicle and wheelchair safety standards, federal compliance requirements, and wheelchair securement within passenger vehicles.

Finding common ground

We anticipate that the era of emerging technologies—including autonomous and electric vehicles—will pave the way for new forms of mobility. But, it will also pose new challenges. To reimagine how people get around, we are embracing a new paradigm, where we collaborate with disability organizations and experts in order to achieve greater outcomes. Coming up with the right technical solutions is only part of the puzzle.

As part of the Inclusive Mobility initiative, we aim to explore how emerging technologies and new forms of collaboration can better serve: 1) people with a broad range of disabilities, whose needs are often an afterthought in many existing mobility solutions, and 2) older adults, who will have different mobility needs as they age.

At this workshop, we wanted to establish a base understanding around autonomous WAVs, and to start cultivating the relationships that will enable ongoing collaboration over the next years. As those in the car industry know, it takes years to design and manufacture a new vehicle platform. The sooner we start identifying and solving problems, the sooner accessible vehicles can be on the road.

Overall, we learned so much from the diversity of perspectives, and we are energized by how much everyone was invested in making the Inclusive Mobility program a reality. People were engaged and passionate about working together in the future, and contributed many concrete next steps. We also focused on tangible learnings that we could bring back to Volkswagen Group’s engineering and design teams.

Working towards an accessible future

We truly value our collaboration with the We Will Ride Coalition, as these challenges cannot—and should not—be solved solely by car manufacturers. Rather, it should be a joint effort involving community members, experts, and the end customers who are ultimately using these vehicles and services. We concluded the workshop with the sense that we were all working toward a common goal.

Following the discussions, we realized that we had much to learn about wheelchair securement. This will be the focus of our next roundtable discussion in April 2019, to be held in Washington D.C.

Photo by Jorge Alcala

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