Mobility News

Does old tech limit workplace opportunities?

Pre-pandemic, according to research, almost four fifths of UK disabled workers whose job involved using or handling information thought that outdated technology limited work opportunities for people with disabilities.

And yet, the technology that should enable businesses to employ a person with a disability to use and handle information exists.

The research aimed to explore whether this technology was increasing employment opportunities for individuals and thus creating more workforce potential for UK organisations.

The results suggested that over four fifths of IT departments in UK businesses had a specific role and budget to support workforce diversification, while the majority of CIOs or IT department leads discussed facilitating disability inclusion through technology. However, there seemed to be a mismatch between the preparations that businesses made and what employees actually need.

Almost a quarter of disabled workers who use and handle information thought that the impact of new technology on employees with disabilities wasn’t considered ever, while around two fifths thought that it was considered sometimes. And yet, over three fifths of disabled workers who use and handle information felt that employers had been flexible in implementing technology that helps them do their job such as assistive tech or IT which allows for flexible working.

Nevertheless, over seventy per cent of disabled workers who use, and handle information felt that businesses are not set up with the right technology to enable them to work in their most suitable way – though the pandemic has made technology that enables more flexible and remote working more mainstream and changed many companies’ attitudes to presenteeism.

As flexible working is becoming more accepted and even encouraged, there is an opportunity to create a working environment and culture to enable a genuinely diverse workforce.

Wheelchair accessible vehicle safety features

Regardless of price or size, the thing that all wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) have in common are their main safety features.

Firstly, WAVs have special ramps or lifts to enable the wheelchair user to enter and exit the vehicle. Although they will all be extremely strong and sturdy, some will be automatic, and some will be manual depending on the make, model, and requirements of the user.

Ramps are obviously fairly self-explanatory, but the one thing to always consider is that when parking, enough space must be left between the vehicle and the one parked behind or to the side of it as there must be room for the ramp to be extended completely. This is not so important for vehicles with lifts, but they are likely to be a little more expensive up front.

A WAV will always have a wheelchair tie-down and occupant restraint system (WTORS) to ensure that the wheelchair and occupant are positioned safely once inside the vehicle.

The tie-downs allow the wheelchair itself to be secured and unable to fall or roll while the vehicle is in motion. Consisting of four or six belts, they are permanently attached to the vehicle and temporarily attached to the wheelchair for the journey, preferably attached from front to back, making sure that there are no twists.

The occupant restraint is fundamentally a more sophisticated seatbelt, but it usually consists of two parts – a shoulder belt and lap belt which connect together and are adjusted to fit the occupant tightly.

Getting the right safety features is important for all WAV users. By purchasing from an established, specialist supplier of used wheelchair accessible vehicles, customers should have the individual, expert attention they need to find the ideal vehicle most suitable for their requirements.

Buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle

Due to the range of choices available, though a bonus in itself, the purchase a wheelchair accessible vehicle may seem a little overwhelming.

Once you have decided to look, however, thinking through a few well areas and questions beforehand might help to make the process feel a little less daunting.

How to finance the vehicle is probably a good first thing to consider as there are a few options available. Just as with any other vehicle purchase, for accessible vehicles you should be firm about setting your budget and factor in that conversions and adaptations are likely to include costs on top of the initial cost of the vehicle.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be using the Motability scheme in which payments are made from an allowance or you may prefer to buy outright.

If you choose purchase outright, make sure you are clear about the warranty provided, what it covers and for how long. Always ask the dealer what warranties they give on the work they do.

If you’re buying a pre-fitted mobility vehicle, it’s possible that some alterations and tweaks may still be required. If you are aware of any additional work or adaptations that the vehicle requires or that you specifically want, it may be that the seller is able to carry them out. If not, though you may need to go elsewhere for that work to be completed, you’ll nevertheless be in a position to manage your budget accordingly.

If you’re purchasing a previously owned vehicle, you need to be aware of any underlying problems. Ask the seller if they’ve inspected the vehicle and its conversion components, what the inspection involved, and if they found any issues. A reputable supplier of used wheelchair accessible vehicles should offer excellent aftersales service. If they don’t, it may be worth looking elsewhere.

Don’t be afraid to have an honest and informative discussion with the dealer. Dedicated wheelchair accessible vehicle providers should offer outstanding customer service and specialist knowledge to ensure you get the vehicle you need.

The tech industry changed by assistive tech

The expanding assistive tech industry is expected to reach a value of around £21 billion by 2024.

It is thought that growth will be driven by the increasing number of orthopaedic and neurological disorders increasing the demand for mobility devices such as wheelchairs, canes, and crutches, so assistive tech companies are focusing on products with increasingly advanced features.

To help navigate everyday life, consumers are being offered more and more assistance through developments in technology and the assistive tech industry is developing some of the latest, most cutting-edge products, changing the industry outlook.

The increasing number of technological advancements in assistive tech means that the industry as a whole becomes more inclusive. As the consumer base extends and creates more accommodations, society in general has the opportunity to be more accommodating and inclusive for people with disabilities.

Inevitably however, the likely increased value of the assistive tech industry is liable to render the new tech more expensive which means the concomitant cost of the assistive products themselves could result in reduced accessibility to the products from the very people it is seeking to support.

Nevertheless, by expanding the applications of products within the tech industries the sector expands its advancements and developments overall, creating a continuing increase in new advances and applications and so on.  Inevitably if this leads to increased business and income into the industry, increased numbers of consumers may render prices more affordable through economies of scale and increased accessibility should result.

Improving accessibility for travellers

For people with disabilities, travelling and visiting destinations can often be inconvenient or inaccessible. However, ideas to improve accessibility for travellers put forward by experts in the travel industry and disability could help make a difference if they were commonly adopted.

Those who work in the travel industry can be a helpful resource themselves by finding out how other destinations train staff to help people with disabilities, or how hotels are recreating their public areas and spaces to improve accessibility. And the more they consider suggestions for helping people with both apparent and invisible disabilities, opportunities to improve accessibility will become more obvious.

Staff should be educated and trained in how to use available technology – for example, screens for captions that are wired with a hearing loop. This helps people who use hearing aids to listen to information or performances with greater clarity – but if staff are untrained in the technology, obviously, they can’t use it.

If a solution to an accessibility problem is suggested, test the usability of a solution with people who have lived experience of the issue being addressed. Real experience is a far more helpful resource than simply implementing an untested idea of what could or might help.

Always go beyond basic compliance. Simply ticking boxes to get them ticked is not genuine motivation to help people and improve situations. People should come first, and small things can make a big difference.

Making a business accessible is never going to be a finished process as such. Existing solutions can be refined and improved while new solutions will always present themselves. In terms of technology, it will always be changing so staying up to date is important.

Baggage handlers and porters should know to take care with mobility scooters and wheelchairs. Neither the cost of repair nor the inconvenience of being without an essential method of transport is easy for a traveller.

By actively looking for alternative solutions, opportunities to improve accessibility will make themselves apparent.

Innovate accessibility tech goes under the radar

Innovations in assistive technology have the potential to be transformative to the lives of people with disabilities and due to the unobtrusive nature of the technology, many of these innovations can go unnoticed.

Nowadays there is an increasing expectation that new technology should be inherently inclusive. For example, E-readers are now mainstream and they, or digital assistants, have replaced mechanical page-turners. Previously, technology was developed and then adapted to assist people with disabilities. In the future, technology will be assistive from conception as organisations automatically consider the different requirements of everyone.

Around 1 billion people – approximately 15% of the world’s population – live with some form of disability. Microsoft is providing assistive technology solutions in areas of learning, mental health, neurodiversity, vision, hearing and mobility. For example, accessibility tech has been integrated into Office 365 and Windows 10, contributing towards an inclusive workplace.

In fact, originally intended for disabled users, technology such as touch screens and voice-control is now considered to be mainstream. Colour-blind filters and read-aloud functionality can simply be turned on due to inclusive design features within programs. Likewise, eye-tracking technology enables anyone to control a computer using only their eyes and Microsoft Translator creates real-time captions to help people with hearing impairments.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning enables a photograph to be taken by a phone and pull text or descriptions from an image. This means that an app can recognise the colour of an item of clothing and say the colour out loud. In an education setting, smartphone speech-to-text functionality simplifies access arrangements for examinations more cheaply.

The future of accessibility tech is that of unobtrusive, inclusive design, and communication will be transformed more and more intrinsically as the power of technology is harnessed.

Choosing a WAV ramp or lift

Accessing a wheelchair accessible vehicle (WAV) requires a ramp or lift and as both options have their own benefits it’s a decision which requires considerable thought.

To install a wheelchair ramp, the vehicle must be modified. The floor is lowered which provides a lower angle of ascent so that there is more interior headroom available for the wheelchair user. However, the WAV must still allow enough ground clearance for the user’s usual routes and also allow for unavoidable obstacles such as speedbumps. It is sometimes assumed that a ramp is cheaper than a lift, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Whether to have a standard power-operated ramp or a spring-loaded manual ramp are other decisions to be made when installing a wheelchair ramp, as is location – either at the back of the van or side entry.  Storage options for ramps are either to fold up or to recede beneath the floor.

The general benefits of a ramp are its lightweight mass, its relatively low need for maintenance, its versatility and the fact that it can be installed in various types of vehicles, not just vans.

Heavier and bulkier than a ramp, wheelchair lifts are nevertheless popular because they offer more convenient exit and entry access points to the WAV than a ramp. Always powered, they are usually operated by using a wired or wireless control panel.

Lifts come in various types depending on whether they use electricity or hydraulics, how they’re operated and shaped, whether they swing out or fold up and how they are stored.

The size of a wheelchair lift means that it’s more demanding on the van and requires more maintenance and upkeep than a ramp. However, drive-from-wheelchair WAVs can have lifts that deploy automatically when the vehicle is unlocked thus removing the need to reverse down a slope.

Whether to buy a WAV with a lift or ramp is an important decision. A specialist wheelchair accessible vehicle supplier will have skill and experience necessary to help customers choose the best option for their needs and wishes.

Adaptive tech and travel

It’s estimated that 15% of the population worldwide has some aspect of disability so it makes sense that the more items are designed to improve access for disabled people to travel, the more the world becomes accessible.

In fact, inclusive tourism is a rapidly growing area of the industry and post-pandemic this is likely to continue so ski slopes, rapids, mountains and other unfamiliar terrains and territories are becoming accessible to wheelchair users thanks to new adaptive technology.

An all-terrain chair produced Ferriol-Matrat, made of welded steel tubing with a hydro-pneumatic shock absorber for comprises of a bucket seat, a central wide wheel and four bars for two guides which enable low force manoeuvrability. The front guide controls traction and direction while the rear guide handles balance.

However, though some adaptive technologies are becoming more commercially available (such as skiing feet), things like special, custom-designed protheses will often be designed by, and made for, specific individuals which inevitably comes at a considerable expense.

There are more easily available products for adventurers, such as hoists, belts or ergonomic, body balanced adaptive chairs which make activities like rafting, kayaking, sailing, bungee jumping, flying planes, skiing and paragliding more accessible and available, while some companies specialise in adventure experiences for travellers with disabilities.

Specially designed adaptations such as the FreeWheel clips to the front of a manual wheelchair lifting the casters from the ground and transforming it into a three-wheeler making terrain such as sand, snow and rough trails easier to traverse.

The WeWalk is a smart cane which incorporates a gyroscope, accelerometer, compass, directional vibration motors, microprocessor, touchpad, microphone, speaker and Bluetooth Low-Energy module. Objects at all heights, thanks to an ultrasonic sensor are accounted for and it can be fitted to any existing cane and customised it to the user’s habits.

Using AI enables the OrCam MyEYE to learn to recognise and distinguish between faces and interpret hand gestures as commands. When it recognises a face, the MyEye automatically tells the wearer who it is as names are assigned to faces, while pointing triggers it to identify an object.

Solutions developed for all using the principles of Universal Design, could have a quicker and bigger impact. Currently, many of these developments exist as standalone solutions which are often replicated repeatedly.

New 360-degree steering system to make EVs more manoeuvrable

Protean Electric have designed a new concept mobility pod incorporating a wheel, steering, and electric motor which allow the wheel to turn through 360 degrees, making cars much more manoeuvrable. Being able to move in any direction makes it possible to park or turn in tighter spaces.

The makers also claim that its in-wheel motors are more efficient because of fewer losses in the driveline and that they improve performance with rapid torque delivery and a 7% reduction in stopping distances, as well as improved ABS performance and stability.

The modules, designed to be compact, use a multi-link suspension design with a ‘spider’ movement. With this, the suspension operates similarly no matter which way the vehicle is travelling – leaving the vehicle’s body free to carry passengers or luggage. Shaped like small buses, Protean says the modules make vehicles more manoeuvrable in urban traffic or when navigating obstacles.

They are also fitted with a pneumatic ride height adjustment system that allows them to lower, similar to the systems used on buses to make access easier. However, Protean’s design offers stepless kerb-to-vehicle access, improving accessibility for those with restricted mobility or wheelchair users.

Protean’s CEO, KY Chan, says,

“Transport-as-a-service urban mobility is gaining momentum, and with it the need for a new class of urban transport vehicles. Whether shared or private, for passengers or goods deliveries, human-driven or autonomous, these new vehicles will require new technologies to be fit for purpose. The Protean360+ corner module was borne from our team’s innovative thinking about how to meet the requirements for these next-generation urban vehicles.”

Combining production-ready, cutting-edge technology, the Protean 360+ corner module certainly appears to offer unrivalled capabilities that significantly advance the effectiveness of the urban transport vehicle concept.

Improving accessibility through tech.

For people with disabilities, the fact that cities can be congested, fast-paced and full of obstacles makes them ever harder to navigate.

Making a significant case for city accessibility to start using smart solutions and assistive tech. is a 2017 survey which found that adults who have difficulties with mobility took 39% fewer trips than those without.

Despite the inevitable hold-ups caused by the pandemic, progress is ongoing. As stairs can be a significant hurdle for wheelchair users, Scewo, a young company has developed the Scewco Bro, a smartphone-controlled wheelchair which has rubber tracks that can climb, with stairs being just one of the range of terrains it can tackle.

MyoSwiss is a Zurich-based company which has developed, using a combination of textiles and robotics, an exomuscle suit that weighs less than 5kg. By using sensors at the knee and hip, it detects movements the user wants to make and supports accordingly. It is designed to add a layer of muscle, supporting movements and providing stability for people who can walk to some extent.

The WeWalk smart stick for visually-impaired and blind people has an ultrasonic sensor that detects obstacles above chest level and uses vibrations to warn the user. By pairing with a smartphone, it can also help navigation and has voice-assisted integration to Google Maps. Using the WeWalk app provides information regarding transit options, navigation to stops and timetables.

However, the unfortunate drawback of high-tech solutions that help making cities easier for people with disabilities to navigate is cost as this tech may well be prohibitively expensive for many people.