Meeting the Needs of the Moblity Challenged
Mobility is something we rely on every day. Whether it’s the capability of our own two feet, our access to public transportation, or our physical and mental ability to operate a vehicle, mobility allows us freedom and independence. But, it’s something many of us probably take for granted. The usual methods don’t actually work for everyone. As we leap into the next generation of transportation technology, we have a unique opportunity to think differently about design. We can create solutions that allow everyone to get from A to B with ease.
In this episode of the Women Driving the Future series, Ed Bernardon interviews Ann Frye, Director, Ann Frye Ltd and Campbell McKee, President of the European Mobility Group. Frye is an expert and consultant in the area of mobility for people with disabilities, as well as accessibility and transportation. She has worked globally with governments and other transportation organizations to help make transportation available and accessible to everyone. The European Mobility Group is a nonprofit organization that helps adapt existing vehicles so that they can be operated by people with disabilities.
Today, we’ll talk about how these two are working to create a future where people with disabilities, and their passengers, have better access to mobility. They’ll share why universal design is an important step towards leveling accessibility, and why it’s important for designers and engineers to understand the breadth of, and have empathy for, the users of the options and solutions that they create.
Questions autonomous vehciles & those with mobility disabilities:
- What variety of things do you have to address for the people you help? (3:45)
- How are you accommodating those who are transportation challenged? (6:40)
- What are the typical challenges you face when you work with governments or transportation agencies? (8:31)
- What opportunities do you see now that we’re at the cusp of being able to add autonomy, and the possibility of redesign, to vehicles? (18:48)
- What concerns do you have when it comes to autonomous vehicles? (21:30)
Learn about transportation for the Mobility Challenged:
- The quality that designers must possess in order to create the right mobility options for those with disabilities (0:48)
- The specificity of needs that must be met to make transportation possible for everyone (4:58)
- Why some people might not initially be comfortable with this level of technology (13:04)
- An example of accidentally clever vehicle design that made things more comfortable for everyone (26:25)
- Why the test group for new design needs to be diverse (31:46)
Connect With Campbell McKee:
Connect With Ann Frye:
Connect with Ed Bernardon:
Ed Bernardon: For most of us, going to the store for groceries or driving across town to get a haircut is something we don’t think too much about. We grab our purse or wallet, try to remember where we left the car keys, then get in, buckle up, start the engine, and we’re off! We have independence and many choices of transportation. Those of us who can simply hop into any car, bus, or train might take mobility for granted. But for many people, getting around isn’t so simple. Transportation comes with a unique set of challenges especially for those with physical or mental health conditions.
The way vehicles are designed must be adapted for all of us to enjoy the pleasures of mobility independence. And unfortunately, one solution doesn’t fit everyone. As new transportation technology evolves such as autonomous vehicles , micro mobility and everything between, an opportunity exists to better serve the transportation needs of a wider range of people regardless of their capabilities to drive in the traditional sense.
But to do this requires that designers have empathy from the very beginning of the design process so their designs accommodate a wide variety of users. You could think of this as design from a universal perspective. Since many aspects of mobility are undergoing dramatic change, we have a chance to relook at how we make transportation available to people regardless of their physical or mental challenges. But to do this we need to apply a universal design approach, an approach that potentially can satisfy a wide variety of needs , especially the needs of those that are mobility challenged.
Welcome to the Future Car Podcast. I’m your host, Ed Bernardon, VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industry Software and today, we’re going to take a look at how future car technology can help in transportation for those that, shall we say, are transportation challenged. So, it might be somebody with a disability or the elderly. We have two experts in the field with us today. First, we have Campbell McKee. He’s the president of the European Mobility Group – that’s a nonprofit organization, and what they do is adapt cars that people have, so that people with disabilities and their passengers together can have better access to transportation. Welcome, Campbell.
Campbell McKee: Good to be with you, Ed.
Ed Bernardon: And we also have Ann Frye with us. Ann Frye is an expert and consultant in the area of mobility for people with disabilities, as well as accessibility or transportation. She has worked globally with governments and other transportation organizations to make sure that transportation is available and accessible for all of us, regardless if you have disabilities or not. Welcome, Ann, to the Future Car Podcast.
Ann Frye: Thank you.
Ed Bernardon: When people think of someone that has a disability, at least, with respect to driving, they do think about lifts and maybe special controls and that kind of thing. But a disability isn’t easily defined; there’s a wide range of what that really means. To start off the interview, I used the word “transportation challenged.” When you talk about the people that you help, what’s the variety of things that you have to address?
Ann Frye: It’s a huge range. Certainly, if you’re looking at public transport, increasingly, we’re understanding that people with mental health conditions, people with conditions such as autism, a growing number of people with dementia have just as a big set of issues as those who have walking difficulty, hearing impairment, or loss of vision. So, it’s right across the spectrum. And similar things apply to the private car as well. It’s not just about physically adapting a vehicle; it’s also about making vehicles usable by people with a whole range of challenges.
Ed Bernardon: Could be both mental or physical, or a combination even.
Ann Frye: Absolutely, yes.
Ed Bernardon: That would pose a lot of challenges, even with today’s vehicles, in the solution you had to provide because, obviously, one solution doesn’t fit everyone.
Ann Frye: No. That’s right. It’s very much a personalized industry. I mean, there are developments which apply to some types of disability, but each individual still needs a one-to-one assessment, really, to work out what’s going to work for them.
Campbell McKee: Yes, and without going into the wheelchair sector, too much, in our country, UK alone, there are approximately 1,000 wheelchair models on the market, most of which are suitable for use within public transport but they’re not all dimensionally identical.
Ed Bernardon: I actually heard on the news, case where someone had a very specialized wheelchair; they were on a flight across the United States and the airline lost the wheelchair. It was actually to the point where they almost couldn’t get off the airplane because they needed very, very special equipment for their particular disability. This level of customization – does it go down to the individual level? Or is there a set of different types of devices that are typically used? How can you profitably create and produce what you need at such low volumes?
Ann Frye: That is a huge challenge. And while there are types of technology, like joystick steering, that can apply to a lot of people, each individual among those may have the use of one of his five fingers, slight movement in a wrist – so, each one has to be personalized. So, the cost is enormous when you get to that level of disability. For those with a lower level of disability, paraplegic people, for example, the standard equipment, and it’s much cheaper and easier to get mobile. But the more you’re affected, the harder it gets.
Ed Bernardon: Maybe you could give us some examples of the different types of things that are typically done. Well, what is the state of the art in the industry right now as to how you can accommodate those that are transportation challenged?
Ann Frye: If I just give you one example, Ed, we have a colleague who has lost all four limbs to meningitis as a student. She is driving very safely, very successfully but with a very, very high tech range of switches she can control with her head, with anything that you can remove from what you would normally use your four limbs for; it’s pretty much now possible to put those into head switches, into voice control, just to make it possible to do everything that needs doing. And of course, the kind of advances in the last 20-30 years in standard vehicle design, like powered windows, power steering have made it much much easier for a lot of people with disabilities to get mobile because before those were standard, you had to pay a whole pile of extra money just to get the basics that we all now expect.
Ed Bernardon: If you think about autonomous technology, I’ve seen and read, certainly within the last year or two, that autonomous technology is even being applied at, say, the wheelchair level. Is that something that any of your members get involved in?
Campbell McKee: There’s a degree of it but it’s the early stages of development in that side of the industry. And when we look at the UK alone, again, we’re talking about 1 million wheelchair users; some of them, temporary; some of them, permanently. So, it will take a generation to work on a new technology of that type though. And by generation, I mean, maybe a dozen years or more.
Ed Bernardon: On the regulation side, I would imagine that there’s a lot of challenges to get the awareness that’s required. Because obviously, if there is a great level of customization required to accommodate people that need some help with transportation, it is going to cost money. What are the typical challenges you face when you work with governments or transportation agencies?
Ann Frye: I think, at the moment, the huge issue is that government and regulation is not keeping up with technology. You know, clever new ideas and designs come along but they don’t meet the current regulations because they hadn’t been thought of at the time the regulations were made. So, there’s always a game of catch-up, and certainly, here in Europe, we have some countries that still have a law that means you cannot drive your vehicle from a wheelchair. We have many countries that restrict the codes that get put on your driving license to say you can only drive with this particular adaptation with which you passed your driving test, wherein five years time, there may be something much better that’s completely new but it doesn’t fit within that scope. So, we do badly need means to encourage regulation but still keep people safe. And I think that’s the big issue at the moment.
Ed Bernardon:How do you educate the regulators so that they can make better decisions?
Ann Frye: I think it’s very much a matter of engaging the legislators with the manufacturers. So, in every country, certainly in this country, the adaptation guys will ask people from our Department of Transport to come over and see new development to understand what it means, who it’s for, what the safety checks are. So, you just need a constant dialogue to make sure that it keeps up the pace of technology.
Campbell McKee: The manufacturing level, industrial level, there has to be close cooperation between the primary originally equipment vehicle manufacturers, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagens, and so on, with what we then call the second stage manufacturers, which is the converters. Now, the converters then have a duty not to interfere or diminish the standards of the vehicle approvals already gained by the original equipment manufacturer.
Ed Bernardon: Another thing that seems to be occurring in the autonomous vehicle world is there’s always the private car, there’s the little shuttle bus, and then you go to the other extreme and you start to see things like scooters; you could almost envision similar evolution if you take a motorized wheelchair or possibly, say, maybe you make it a little bit bigger and you operate it on the road, or maybe it can hold two people instead of just one, and eventually put a roof over it or a little luggage compartment be it autonomous or not; is it a wheelchair? Is that a transportation device? Especially if it’s autonomous and doesn’t require any special controls; you talk to it and how do you see this multi-mode transportation world of the future where it’s not just cars, and it’s not just a wheelchair or whatever it might be that takes you around within your home or in a building. How do you think this multimode transportation world might impact those with disabilities?
Ann Frye: I think it holds a lot of opportunity, particularly, for younger people with disabilities who want independence; they want choice. At the same time, it has an element of threat for older people with disabilities for whom the last 30 years have been achieving accessible public transport. And as we lose that in favor of Mobility as a Service, and door to door on-demand service, and so on, there’s a risk that some people at the top end of the age spectrum will be left behind. So, I think, the jury’s out on whether it’s going to be universally good news for people, for example, with low vision or not enough vision to drive.
Ed Bernardon: One would think though that if you’re bringing in, say, autonomous technology, that it wouldn’t really be seen as a threat but almost as, I don’t know, an advantage, a luxury, or certainly something that could help you. Why do you think that the more elderly might see technology like this as a threat?
Ann Frye: It’s a number of things. I think, in part it’s because almost entirely what’s available now in the “Mobility as a Service” end of things, you have to book it online. And we still have in US as well as in Europe, a lot of people, older people who are not IT savvy; they don’t like doing things online; they certainly don’t trust financial transactions online – so, they’re anxious about that. One of the main reasons why a lot of older people with disabilities go out and travel is because they want company. So, sending one vehicle to your door doesn’t really meet their needs. But what it does mean is that what they’re used to – which is now the bus or the metro system, which is fully accessible if they’re wheelchair users and so on – is not going to be there anymore because it’s been overtaken by this much more personalized service. So, I think it is a generational thing. We need to understand the reasons why older people – not exclusively, of course, but many of them – travel for different reasons and with different expectations of what they feel comfortable with.
Ed Bernardon: You have this great product that could help someone; the product’s great but the way in which you have to order it or get it is contrary to the way, say, that some elderly might want to work. It’s almost like you’ve solved the hard part but now what you thought was going to be easy ends up being the hard part. And that goes beyond just transportation, I would imagine. Do you think that means that a generation may never be able to take advantage of some of the advances that are going to happen in transportation?
Ann Frye: I think that’s quite possible. I mean, there’s a lot being done to areas like Scandinavia to try and empower and enable older citizens to understand how things work. But there are some who are just – the internet, smartphones, all of these things are not just beyond their understanding but beyond what they want to do. So, I do think that we have potentially a lost generation but my other concern is that, actually, it isn’t just a single generational thing because I think every generation as it gets to a certain age becomes out of touch with technology; there’s a point at which all of us feel comfortable with the phone that we’ve got, and we don’t want the new model. So, I think rolling forward we will always have an issue with the older oldest, if you like, not keeping up with the way that technology is going. So, I think we’re going to continue to need the human element, and that’s the thing above all that if you talk to older people about what they want in terms of mobility and travel, they want somebody to talk to; they don’t want automated systems; they don’t want driverless trains or driverless anything; they want somebody they can see, preferably somebody in uniform, and somebody they can trust. And it’s going to take a lot of work to move us through that phase.
Ed Bernardon: And it could be, though, that it depends how autonomous technology is deployed, If you look at it, at replacing the driver, then that need won’t be fulfilled; on the other hand, if you look at it as saying, “Well, we’re going to keep the driver in this autonomous vehicle but now that driver is no longer a driver; they’re going to spend the entire time interacting with their passengers or helping people on and off the vehicle or whatever it might be In that way, autonomous technology would have a positive bend to it.
Ann Frye: That’s exactly what happens. For example, one of our light rail metro systems in London was introduced some years back with no drivers – didn’t need drivers – and nobody wanted to travel on it, everybody was frightened. So, they now have somebody who goes through the train, wearing a uniform; he’s not driving the train; he’s not doing anything but interacting with passengers, and that works well. So, you’re absolutely right there, Ed.
[ Campbell McKee: So, there’s trust and visibility are important in there. That certainly applies within what I would call the public transport sector. For those of us who wish to jump into a car and go for the open road with a different set of parameters, a different set of issues to look into, can we trust the EVs on the road in front of us? Can we trust the other drivers to adapt?
Ed Bernardon: That’s a great question. And when will that trust be built up is probably going to happen gradually over time. We’re not just going to wake up one day, and suddenly all the autonomous vehicles are working perfectly. While, if you want to call it, this evolution towards autonomy occurs, it provides an opportunity to actually evolve at how we look at accommodating those that are transportation challenged. Where now you have to take a vehicle that was designed for someone without disabilities and accommodate it so that someone with disabilities can actually drive or even get in and out of it. Now, you can redesign from the ground up, certainly, electric drive has eliminated the internal combustion engine, the space that it would take, the channel that goes to the middle of the car to the back, the rear-wheel-drive wheels. So, what opportunities do you see now that we’re at the cusp here of being able to not only add autonomy but actually redesigned vehicles from probably the inside out?
Ann Frye: But the idea of designing for the passenger, for the traveler, and not for the engineer, is very slowly beginning to be understood in the transportation world. I mean, an example that I use sometimes is the metro system in Barcelona where the ticket machine used to be so complicated that they had to employ people to stand next to it to explain where you put your money and where the ticket came out. And then they thought, “Let’s ask blind people to redesign the ticket machine.” And they did that, and now it’s completely intuitive for everybody. So, they no longer have to employ anyone to stand next to it. And whether you’re a tourist, a visitor, whether you speak Spanish, whether you don’t; you can interact straight away with that machine. So, there’s a lot of opportunity there for intuitive design, universal design, starting from the ground up, and forgetting that the engineers told you, “The wheels have to be so far off the ground,” and all the rest of it.
Campbell McKee: Our principle is if you get it right for disabled people, it will benefit just about everyone else. I’ve seen examples of that within accessible buses, for example, with wheelchair access not being used by families with maybe babies and strollers.
Ed Bernardon: Well, I loved the term you used: universal design. And your example in Barcelona of the ticket machine that was designed by blind people. But in the end, it was a great design for everyone. And this idea of autonomous electric vehicle, ideally, with reduced volume for batteries. Now, you have this nice flat floor, wide open, that you could design it so that both people with disabilities and everyone else in their family could enjoy that space optimally because the design is more open; you can go in a lot of different directions, like you’re mentioning the direction the seats face, special equipment, or whatever it might be.
Ann Frye: Yeah, absolutely. I think you gave us an example when we last spoke out of, you know, sitting around the table eating pizza while you’re driving along the road. There’s all sorts of possibilities there.
Ed Bernardon: What concerns do you have when it comes to autonomous vehicles? Because at first glance, you would think, “Oh, autonomous vehicles – that’s going to solve all our problems.” When it comes to people with disabilities, the elderly, or whatever it might be. Assuming, of course, that the technology works, what do you think the biggest problems you’d really need to solve in order to make sure that these vehicles of the future are going to be designed and built so that they’re good for everyone?
Campbell McKee: Consistency of design, I think, at an early stage, or framework design would be highly valuable rather than having “A Tesla doing this, a Google doing that.” We saw that people could understand, it’s going to be accessible for me provided my wheelchair, for example, is within certain defined limits, dimensionally. The second thing I’d be concerned about for disabled people: if they are deemed to be in control of the vehicle – and we’re talking about level three, level four – if they have to adapt quickly to an emergency situation, what is their speed? How can they get into it? We’re going to have that with all drivers in these situations. If they’re relaxed too much from what they’re doing, and I’m not alert enough to a sudden requirement to take control of the vehicle directly.
Ann Frye: And of course, if you’re talking about people with low vision, people with dementia, and these are areas where there’s quite a lot of excitement about the potential for autonomous vehicles, they’re never going to be able to take control. So, you need some sort of failsafe system that enables that vehicle to be safe, whatever happens.
Ed Bernardon: It’s almost like you have two different sides of the equation here that have to come to a meeting point somewhere. Your level of disability may have, it might not be constant, it’s certainly going to be different from individual to individual, and let’s say it does deteriorate or improve over time. At the same time, you have this new vehicle technology, has great promise, and it’s going to be autonomous. But it’s not quite autonomous now, so maybe it’s semi autonomous, and what about its interface? Both sides of the equation are changing, which unlike now, where, “Well, the vehicle side, for the most part, is somewhat stable.” It’s going to make for some interesting cases, especially for the regulators, of how you determine if a particular wheel is appropriate for a particular individual.
Campbell McKee: I couldn’t agree more. I think the other concern I would have is the speed with which governments think AV is going to come in; it’s a little bit headlong when we start to look at the sort of issues we’re raising, which we’re only scratching the surface of some of them. It strikes me there hasn’t really been much of a dialogue on this sector on this purpose. Maybe that’s something that Siemens would like to sponsor more of a conference on?
Ed Bernardon: Well, why do you think there isn’t dialogue on this? I mean, the opportunities there, it seems that regulators, if you put it in front of them, might be interested in looking into it further. Do you sense there’s a little bit of a reluctance or just a lack of awareness?
Campbell McKee: Lack of awareness.
Ann Frye: I think that there is also a concern that as soon as you’ve regulated something, it is deemed to be safe. And maybe our state of knowledge is not quite advanced enough for them to want to take that risk. Governments are generally risk averse, so once you’ve said that this is the law and this is what you’ve got to do, you need to be pretty sure that you’ve got that right. And in such a fast changing, uncertain, technological world, I think most governments, even their technology experts within government, are holding back waiting to see which way it goes and waiting for industry to lead.
Ed Bernardon: That’s a great point too because in order for a car now to be safe, it’s put through crash testing, and very specific types of crash testing. Now, that’s typically for a car with four seats facing forward, or whatever the number of seats might be. And if you do something as simple as turn the seat around and have it rearward facing, it changes the safety equation completely, and trying to keep someone safe in that situation is somewhat different than when it’s forward facing. And now, suddenly, and this is just from a crash standpoint, you start to put someone in a vehicle that could be facing in most any direction, and it’s not a conventional seat, who knows what it might be; I would imagine coming up with what the proper regulations are is not an easy thing to do. And maybe that’s part of the reluctance to dive into it because as soon as you go there, it seems like it could be quite a challenge to put that 100% safety stamp onto a new vehicle.
Ann Frye: I think that’s absolutely right. And I think that is one of the big concerns. And because there are so many variations in people’s ability, people’s needs, the type of wheelchair they’re sitting in, their physical strength – all of these things mean that in a generalizing in the kind of way that regulators need to is, at this stage, I think, pretty difficult.
Ed Bernardon: I want to go back to the topic of universal design here for a second. We were talking earlier about having flat floors in a vehicle and how that might allow you to accommodate a larger variety of people with different capabilities, let’s put it that way, and a great example of that you’ve highlighted in the past is the London cab. I’ve been in the London cab from time to time and I remember the first time I went, I think it’s a newer version where you get in the back; it’s open; it’s a flat floor; I brought my suitcase in with me, just rolled it right in and sat down, and I said, “Wow! This is really nice.” It actually is almost like jumping into a little room. I think that’s a great example of universal design that really makes transportation better for everyone.
Ann Frye: Well, as a Londoner, I love the London cab, of course. But I think you’re right, anyone traveling with bags, with suitcases, it’s great to just get in easily, sit comfortably, you can sit talking to the people opposite – that’s almost an accident of history. I wish I could say it was really a clever design. But for years, the London taxi has been required to make a complete U-turn within 22 feet. So, the whole steering geometry meant that it had a high flat floor. And that then gave us the opportunity to say, “Okay, well at least the floor is flat. Let’s see what we can do to make it easier to get into, and then to move about inside it.” So, those sort of requirements have come gradually from the accident that we happen to have that requirement in London from God knows when since they stopped being horsedrawn, which is a while back now.
Ed Bernardon: So, it’s an example of unintentional universal design.
Ann Frye: The starting point was unintentional. When we very first started saying, “Okay, if you’re a wheelchair user, you can’t get on a bus -” we’re going back 40 years now – “You can’t get on a bus, you can’t get on the train,” was the starting point. And what people with disabilities in the UK said then, “Well, let’s start with a taxi because we need to get door to door.” And then it occurred to us that actually we had the makings of an accessible design with the London taxi as it was then. So, that design has gradually evolved over the last 30 years. For many years now, every London taxi has been required to be accessible, and we’re still working on making that space bigger, making it more flexible.
Ed Bernardon: Personally, I love the London taxi myself. I think if they would move the driver to the left side of the taxi, where it belongs, you probably could sell a few of those in the United States.
Ann Frye: We’ve tried. Believe me, we’ve tried.
Campbell McKee: The other key things of the London cab, and the 20,000 of them, is you hail it in the streets. If you’re a wheelchair user or someone with special mobility needs, you are guaranteed that that vehicle will be fully accessible for you. So, when you start to talk about Uber taxis of the future AV vehicles, if they’re going to be used as taxis properly hailed in the street by anyone, they should be fully accessible from the beginning as a fundamental design.
Ed Bernardon: And it sounds like they need to be hail-able in the traditional way.
Campbell McKee: Absolutely. And therefore, they have to be fully accessible.
Ann Frye: Yeah, if your goal is equality for everybody, regardless of disability, you can only make that work with 100% of the vehicles, which is what we’ve done in London. In other parts of the country where you wouldn’t dream of standing in the street waving your arms about, you’d always go online or you’d phone for a cab, then as long as you’ve got a proportion of cabs which are accessible, you can make it work. But for spontaneity and city travel, where people just want to jump in a cab now, you’ve got to have every vehicle designed to that universal standard.
Ed Bernardon: Is there anything that you might want to talk about that I haven’t touched on? Something that you think would be very exciting for our listeners to hear?
Ann Frye: No, I think if you’re not aware of the principles of universal design, I hate to say it, but it is an American invention, University of North Carolina.
Ed Bernardon: Now, why did you say you hate to hear?
Campbell McKee: We’re very competitive here.
Ann Frye: Absolutely. But I have to say universal design is a brilliant, brilliant concept. It’s seven very simple principles. So, Google it, have a look at it. And that, I think, will inform your guys who are designing and brainstorming. If you start with the principles of easy to use, intuitive, things like that, then you’re on the right page to begin with.
Ed Bernardon: I think that’s a great idea. And it seems that another element is as you’re trying to make it intuitive, easy to use, is to engage with the people or the variety of people or customers that you’re designing the product for.
Campbell McKee: Absolutely. And a key element in our good manufacturers and designers is empathy.
Ann Frye: But you also need to engage with the right people with disabilities. Just a story from way back, again with a London cab, when they were testing a new design, they went to a local wheelchair user and said, “Can you come around and test it?” And she said, “Yeah, it’s great. Love it.” And when I went out later with a group of people, and it was way too small; we couldn’t get anyone into it, and we said, “Let’s have a look at this lady who advised you.” And she was probably the smallest person in a small wheelchair that they could have found. So, you need to have a representative cross section, you need to be sure that people are objective. But you’re right, engaging right at the beginning, there have been way too many designs where the designer, the architect, has completed and said, “Now look what I’ve done, isn’t it wonderful?” No, it isn’t; I can’t get through the door.
Ed Bernardon: It sounds like something they should start teaching in universities, not to mention that companies like ours should look at how can we adapt engineering tools so that they’re better suited for universal design?
Ann Frye: I would say so. And it appalls me that you can still qualify as an engineer, or an architect, without ever having studied disability or accessibility, and without any knowledge of those principles.
Ed Bernardon: Sometimes, I think, with engineers, like you said, if an engineer is designing a product for other engineers, he’s very well suited to know what the features of that product should be. And sometimes it’s easier just to get the product out of the door, rather than take a step back, maybe take a little bit longer to get it out of the door but when you do get it out, it is the right product. And that involves engaging with people that are not engineers, that are not like you. And if you’re starting to work with people with disabilities, then that difference is even greater. And it becomes even more important to truly understand: close your eyes and try and order a ticket off of this machine, can you do it?
Ann Frye: Yeah, exactly. I’ve had architects walk around the airports they’ve just redesigned, and told them to go and find the check-in desk, and they can’t because architects love pale gray writing on slightly darker gray background. And it’s only when you give them what we call sim-specs which simulate different vision loss conditions, they realize that they’ve designed a completely unusable environment. And yet, by that time, millions have been spent and it’s all too difficult.
Ed Bernardon: Well, I think you’re right. If there’s ever a time in the world of design and engineering that you want to become sensitive to who your customers are, certainly the customers that we’ve been talking about today, now is the time, not only because it’s necessary whenever you do design, but it’s especially necessary when the doors open up, that design can go in so many different directions when it comes to designing, especially the interior of vehicles.
Ann Frye: And I think it’s important just to remember too that this isn’t just a social issue. This is a huge economic issue when you look at the demographics and the massive population of older people coming through in all our countries. If you don’t give them mobility, they don’t just disappear; they fall as a huge cost in terms of welfare, medical things, home care. So, even without thinking about quality of life, there’s a massive economic penalty for not getting mobility right.
Ann Frye: There’s massive disposable income among the retired generation and the one coming up. So, it’s a win-win if we get it right.
Ed Bernardon: First, for you, Campbell, on the vehicle side, then I will turn to you, Ann, on the regulation side. So, imagine, Campbell, that you have a direct line, I don’t know, say, to the CEO of Volkswagen, or maybe General Motors, or whoever you want, a CEO of the entire automotive industry, and you could have one wish, what would you ask them to do to help you with how you’re trying to help people with disabilities? What would your one wish be to the, let’s call it, the CEO of all automotive industry in the world?
Campbell McKee: Come and spend some time with us, and we’ll take you through the range of solutions we’re trying to adapt to. Give us more information of how we can adapt your vehicles into things that we can customize. But thirdly, take onboard the messages for your next generation to have a far better framework that we can all walk through that’s going to be better for everyone.
Ed Bernardon: And Ann, you have a new prime minister; you’re going to get the chance to talk to him and he’s going to listen to everything you say, what would be your request to him to make transportation in the UK better for everyone?
Ann Frye: I would say, look at what’s already been achieved, and don’t throw it away. Don’t let it slide into neglect because the regulations have been around for a long time. And back to our earlier discussion, we’ve got a whole new generation of engineers, transportation professionals, who don’t understand why things have been designed the way they have. So, we risk things sliding backwards. So, I would ask our Prime Minister when he’s next got a few minutes, just to focus on, again, empathy and starting from the ground up with people’s needs.
Ed Bernardon: Well, thank you very much for being on the Future Car Podcast.
Ann Frye – Guest, Director, Ann Frye Ltd
Ann is an international specialist on the mobility needs of people with disabilities. She works with Governments and transport providers in the UK and internationally on mobility options for people with physical, sensory, cognitive, and mental health issues. Her work covers all modes of public transport, the pedestrian environment and personal mobility options. Ann has focused on accessibility for over 30 years; until 2006 she headed work in the UK Department for Transport to develop laws, policies and technical standards. She has also led work on accessibility for the US Transportation Research Board, the International Transport Forum, and the European Commission.
Campbell McKee – Guest, President of The European Mobility Group
Campbell is a specialist in the needs of people with a disability, to provide them with the opportunity for independent mobility in their own vehicles or collective and public transport. He is currently President of the European Mobility Group (EMG), a trade body representing over 50 European companies which specialise in adapting and converting private cars for disabled people as drivers or passengers. Campbell’s career since the mid-1980s has been at VP and CEO level of companies which manufacture equipment for the safe travel of wheelchair users in public and private transport, across all modes. He has worked on relevant ISO standards committees, US TRB committees, and marketed products and ideas internationally.
Ed Bernardon – Host, Vice President Strategic Automotive Initiatives Siemens
Responsibilities include strategic planning and business development in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles in urban and racing environments, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership which includes development of cross divisional projects. Previously, he was a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software which was acquired by Siemens in 2011. Prior to that, he directed the Automation and Design Technology Group at MIT Draper Laboratory.
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The Future Car Podcast
The tech-driven disruption of the auto industry cuts across domains, from silicon and software to sensors and AI to smart traffic management and mobility services. Get the chip- to city-scale story in regular interviews with technologists at Siemens and beyond.