FT EV charger user in wheelchair

Charging bays aren’t designed for wheelchair users

Lack of charger accessibility is proving to be a major barrier to adoption of electric vehicles for a significant number of drivers, according to research by RiDC (Research Institute for Disabled Consumers).

An online survey of RiDC’s pan-disability consumer panel found that only 25% of non-EV drivers would agree to consider getting an EV vehicle now, compared to 61% if charging was made more accessible.

The survey had 702 respondents from RiDC’s pan-disability consumer panel, including a large number of older people and those living with a physical impairment that affects their mobility or dexterity, such as arthritis, muscle disease, impaired motor control, recovery from a stroke or needing to use a wheelchair, crutches or other walking aid.

The research explored various aspects of the charging process, such as removing the charge cable from the car, opening the charge flap/inserting the cable and plugging in the car point, all of which presented barriers to disabled and older drivers.

It found:

  • 54% of respondents felt that lifting the charge cable from the boot and having to then close it would either be difficult or very difficult to do;
  • 41% of respondents felt that manoeuvring the cable to the charge point would be difficult or very difficult to do;
  • 66% of respondents felt that space or trip hazards/ barriers around the car and charger would either be difficult or very difficult to navigate.

Mike Jones, a wheelchair user, was one of the respondents. He said: “I wanted an electric car as I am keen to do my bit to protect the environment, and it suits me as I mainly do small journeys. I have been disappointed, though, with the lack of public charge points near where I live and when I do get to one, they are often placed far from the other amenities at services which I need to also use.

“The charging bays aren’t designed for wheelchair users and there is usually not much space to manoeuvre. Living in a council-owned bungalow it wasn’t possible for me to install a charging point at home, so I end up having to drive to my father’s house to charge there, which isn’t ideal.”

Respondents to the survey also highlighted connection points being far too high for a wheelchair user and concerns about being able to manage to connect a heavy cable.

The research offered a range of solutions put forward by participants including a built-in retractable cable in the car or charge unit, ensuring the position of the charge flap is accessible and ensuring clear wheelchair access from the car to charge point.

The survey was commissioned by Urban Foresight, which has recognised the urgent need for accessible EV charging infrastructure, and product design partners Duku

Clare Pennington, project manager at Urban Foresight explained: “We are focused on understanding the challenges that EV charging currently creates for a large section of our communities. We’re not only looking to highlight these challenges at a local and national level but are actively working towards developing solutions.”

Andrew Aylesbury from Duku commented: “When looking at the EV charging process, it is clear there are challenges to overcome to enable everyone to access EV charging infrastructure. Universal design will always consider inclusivity, and at Duku we are excited to be involved in working to find solutions to the issues highlighted in the research completed by RIDC.”

Gordon McCullough, CEO at RiDC, said: “This research highlights how a lack of user involvement in design has created unnecessary challenges for disabled and older people. There are 14 million disabled people in the UK and with an ageing population, the number of people with additional needs will only increase.

“Unfortunately, products continue to be put out to market that do not account for the different ways that we all need use and access them. As the suggestions from our panel show – there are always solutions that could enable a much wider customer base. Many challenges can be solved by consulting with the people who are facing them, and using creative and innovative thinking.”

At the beginning of 2020, the first fully accessible electric charging point in the UK was unveiled, Just 0.003% of charging locations in the UK that have been designed to be accessible to disabled drivers.

In the same year, RiDC undertook research on behalf of Motability into electric cars and their charging infrastructure, which showed that there was a clear lack of consideration of disabled motorists as users or potential users of electric vehicles.

McCullough added: “This latest survey shows that there is clear demand, but with UK sales of new petrol and diesel cars due to end by 2030, more work is needed to ensure that the electric vehicle infrastructure is fit for purpose for all our population.”