Equal access to private cars for people with disabilities

Equal access to private cars for people with disabilities

2013. 03. 20.

German MEP Dieter-L. Koch pointed out in his opening speech: "Everybody wants to grow old gracefully – nobody wants to get old and be dependent on others. Mobility is a symbol of independence and freedom. Mobility has become a fundamental value for our citizens. With age comes not only wisdom but also limitations in agility, reactions, ability to correctly estimate distances and speed. In order to keep drivers and pedestrians safe, we need specific research and development activities on the industry level as well as adequate legal conditions."

Johan ten Geuzendam, Head of Unit for Rights of Persons with Disabilities at DG Justice, European Commission, wondered whether the car industry sufficiently realises the potential of 'one design for all'.

Matthias Heil from Business Innovation, Daimler's lab for innovative business models, expert for accessibility-related innovations and responsible for the international 'Ex-Factory Driving Aids' portfolio, presented several examples of the new cutting-edge technologies in car production to fulfil the needs of people with disabilities. "With the individually-manufactured Mercedes-Benz B-Class showcased at this event, we take into account the needs of people with disabilities and special requirements due to age. Not only the individual production of special products for people with disabilities shows Daimler's social commitment but also the barrier-free More Mobility Centres in Germany where specially-trained sales people advise and assist disabled customers. Mercedes-Benz also represents its special products at the REHACARE exhibition", explained Mr Heil.

In his speech, Hungarian MEP Ádám Kósa, Chairman of the European Parliament's Disability Intergroup, pointed out that new approaches are needed in this area too. He referred to the good example of Suzuki in Hungary, where disabled drivers with limited purchase power can receive state subsidies to buy new cars with bigger boots for wheelchairs or can receive increased financial contributions for the necessary modifications in the car after purchasing it. However, as Kósa noted, a much more cost-effective and innovative approach should be applied here at European level in terms of standardisation. "Based on past experiences, it is only a question of time before all newly-introduced innovations and solutions in the car industry will be available for cheaper cars and consumers with lower budgets. However, today we saw a very innovative European carmaker definitely leading the way in the luxury category and I am happy to contribute to gearing up this process", said Kósa.

Ima Placencia Porrero, Deputy Head of Unit for Rights of Persons with Disabilities at DG Justice, European Commission, said: "Improving accessibility of cars is improving their usability."

Gabriella Berki, Professor Assistant at the University of Szeged as an independent project leader of an interdisciplinary study carried out on the individual mobility of people living with physical impairment, pointed out in her presentation: "Providing people with special needs with equal access to private cars is not only a legally-pressing issue, but a path to deeper social integration and economic prosperity."

Herman Janssens from the Flemish Catholic Organisation of People with Disabilities (KVG) and on behalf of the European Disability Forum, highlighted the importance of international standards. "The accessibility of cars for persons with disabilities is both a necessity considering the ageing society and a right under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Persons with disabilities have the same vision as other persons to independent and spontaneous travel opportunities, not the least as a means of social inclusion. Accessible cars are thus central to promoting the accessibility of transport in general, even though certain obstacles remain", said the expert who himself is a wheelchair user.

German MEP Werner Kuhn said in his closing remarks: "The results of the study highlight that new technical developments in the field of car manufacturing have to take the needs of disabled people and their access to mobility into account. The automotive industry should have a large interest in considering these needs as an economic advantage. It should be a win-win situation for both with a huge improvement in equal access for persons with disabilities as well as for elderly people."

After the workshop, Daimler showed the audience a B-class 200 CDI equipped with several products from the comprehensive portfolio of the Mercedes-Benz 'Ex-Factory Driving Aids': steering wheel knob left, hand control unit 'Multima II', relocation accelerator pedal left, electric relocation combination levers turning on lights and cruise control, right turning seat 'Turny Evo' co-drivers side.