Autonomous vehicles, digital wayfinding systems and other technologies will play a key role in making transport more accessible for people with disabilities, according to plans in the UK Government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy.
Produced by the Department for Transport (DfT), the strategy sets out the Government’s goal to create an equal access transport system by 2030. Responses to a public consultation in 2017 on a draft ‘Accessibility Action Plan’ were used to help develop the strategy.
The potential of technology as an enabler is highlighted throughout the strategy, and the topic is explored in Chapter 9 – The Future of Inclusive Transport – in more depth, beginning with a quote from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC): “Technology has huge potential to make transport much easier for disabled people and bring advantages to some people who will never otherwise get the benefits of the private car.”
However, the strategy also stresses the need for future transport policy not to “repeat the mistakes of the past”, highlighting the risk of technological advancements excluding those users that it aims to help: “Without active engagement and consideration of [older and disabled people’s] needs, innovations can risk accidently ‘designing out’ sections of society who might benefit most.”
These design omissions could include vehicles that are too small for larger electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters, or which lack “detailed consideration of the audio visual requirements of those with sight loss or hearing impairments”.
Autonomous vehicles are cited several times as a potentially useful method of transport for people with disabilities. Although specific details are not mentioned, the strategy claims that “connected and autonomous vehicles … have the potential to change the way disabled people travel.”
The strategy also flags up Wayfindr, a project to help developers create digital navigation systems that use audio beacons to assist visually impaired passengers on transport networks. The project was trialled at several London tube stations in 2016 and was funded by a Transport Technology Research and Innovation Grant from DfT (Read e-Access Bulletin’s previous coverage of Wayfindr).
Two apps to assist people with dementia when travelling are also highlighted in the strategy. The first helps to guide people from their home to the hospital department they are travelling to. The second app, still in prototype, is a journey planner and navigation aid that supplies users with routes to avoid stressful environments, such as particularly busy locations. Image recognition technology is also being trialled in this second app, as a way of letting users know they are following the correct route. Both apps have been funded through a project funded by DfT and the Welsh Government, and led by by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales.
Looking to the future, the Government states that it is “committed to going a great deal further” than just the accessibility measures covered in the strategy, and will “set a clear direction to the transport technology sector on the importance of inclusive design.” This will include working directly with older people and people with disabilities, and “challenging technology developers and designers on the extent to which they have considered the needs of disabled and older people in the design of a product or service.”
Read the Inclusive Transport Strategy at GOV.UK (only available in PDF, accessible formats can be requested).