The fear of electric vehicles (EVs) is beginning to ebb. Sales increased by 40% in 2022, proving their growing popularity. There is still a long way to go before they replace their petrol and diesel competitors for good. But we are certainly heading that way quickly.

EVs are set to become a mainstream mode of transportation. To achieve this goal, they need to be accessible to all drivers. For example, are there practical and affordable options for wheelchair users? Or are there barriers that will hinder widespread adoption?

Everyone should be able to transition to a smoother and greener driving experience. Is this something manufacturers are working towards? Have they achieved this already? To find out, let’s explore the current and potential design opportunities for wheelchair accessibility.

The potential of EVs for inclusive transport

Could EVs be the right choice for someone with a disability? The answer is a resounding yes for many. But why is this the case? Because they are not built with the restrictions of physical components. Without an engine in the way, the floor can be flatter, and there are fewer obstacles in the interior. This potentially can make the space more wheelchair-friendly.

Also, the standard safety measures in electric cars are usually better. You’ll find a wide range of features, depending on the model or brand. Automatic braking, advanced driver assistance systems, and blind spot monitoring are all worth noting. These can build the confidence of drivers with disabilities and empower them to get on the roads.

Below are some other ways EVs can facilitate inclusive transport.

  • easier operation (no gear changes, for example)

  • lower running costs make them accessible for those who can’t work

  • no struggling to navigate petrol stations and pay points

  • can be modified easier than traditional vehicles

  • less noise pollution supports those with conditions like sensory overload or tinnitus

The potential is there. But research shows the needs of wheelchair users are not being sufficiently considered. This means these advantages are not enough to support a shift to electrification. A more user-centric and collaborative design approach is needed first.

Considerations for inclusive EV design

Accessibility should be a fundamental value for vehicle manufacturers. So much of our lives depend on their products. One way to encourage this is to create universal design guidelines. Sharing these around the industry would make it easier for others to follow.

Keep in mind not everyone will have the same needs. Some drivers may require a professional to tailor their EVs. Either for mobility levels, specific equipment, or budget.

But here are some general adaptations that would be a common requirement for drivers.

  • belts and tie-downs to keep the wheelchair in position

  • larger space to accommodate equipment

  • a lift or ramp that can be automated if required

  • wider door openings

  • an adjustable or removable seat

Progress is being made. These things are no longer an impossible goal. But areas of the EV experience are being overlooked by carmakers and stakeholders. Possibly because they do not have a full understanding of the challenges for themselves.

Here are some important considerations that will bridge the gap in accessibility for good.

1. Improving charging infrastructure

There are many reasons why a wheelchair user may find it difficult to install an EV charger at home. Firstly, they have a significant upfront cost of between £500 and £1000 each. Also, the homeowner may not find a location that is easily accessible. They could struggle with the physical demands without someone at home to assist them.

Poor charging infrastructure can be a barrier for lots of different people to EV adoption
The end of the car can be seen next to a charging station. There is an uneven and small footpath between them. The thick cable is tangled up in the way.

But when you have additional needs, public charging infrastructure can’t always be relied upon either. There isn’t always equipment near accessible parking spaces. The placement and height are typically designed for non-wheelchair users, which can make them useless. Also, some people may struggle to access the apps that tell them about available spaces.

Here are some things that can be done to tackle these challenges.

  • reserve charging stations for blue badge holders

  • make sure the signage is visible

  • position the stations away from footpaths or other obstacles

  • make the charging cables light-weight

  • larger parking spaces to accommodate for WAVs and manoeuvring

2. Balancing functionality and aesthetic

We aren’t shallow when we talk about aesthetics. The way a vehicle looks has a huge impact on its success and the user’s wellbeing. An attractive car will have more market appeal. The adoption rate will increase. Higher demand encourages carmakers to innovate and develop further. Wheelchair-accessible EVs will only get better and better.

The benefits don’t stop there. A good-looking design creates a sense of normalcy. An EV that sticks out like a sore thumb may encourage social stigma or stereotyping. The driver could feel isolated, different, or self-conscious. They would likely avoid the roads after this.

What can we do to prevent this from happening?

  • work on a design that’s small enough to fit in a garage

  • use sleek colours on the exterior

  • engaging marketing to help reshape public perceptions

  • craft each EV with high-quality materials

  • don’t design the wheelchair equipment and adjustments to stand out

3. Encouraging collaboration

When it comes to inclusivity, there shouldn’t be any guesswork. You need first-hand knowledge of what’s important. The only way to get this is a deep understanding of the driver. They should be at the heart of each decision made for a truly user-centric design.

Real collaboration means getting lots of different perspectives in a trusting environment where everyone can bring their full selves to the conversation
A woman in a wheelchair is sitting at a desk taking notes. She is talking with a man who is perched on the desk. They are deep in conversation.

There are risks if you don’t consult with wheelchair users. Carmakers may exclude a feature that would’ve been crucial to adoption. The solutions offered might not be effective or practical. And shortcomings won’t be identified before the production process is done.

To avoid this, here are some actions that should be taken.

  • influential companies can partner with accessibility advocates

  • always have a person with a disability testing the end product

  • include wheelchair users’ feedback in every step of the process

  • carmakers should work with vehicle modification specialists

  • use things like surveys, interviews, and reports to find pain points

4. Applying safety measures

Transportation needs to be reliable, boost confidence, and be safe. But safety should be given even more thought in the production of an accessible EV. Unique needs, physical limitations, and the potential for vulnerabilities cannot be overlooked in the design process.

Anyone on the road should feel calm and comfortable. Safety measures achieve this by making the driver feel secure.
Two men are looking over a car in uniforms. One is sitting in the driver's seat with a laptop and the other is standing outside with tools in his hands. They are fixing it.

Also, people with disabilities could have concerns that other drivers don’t. If they are alone in an emergency situation, they won’t be able to act fast. Their short-range anxiety is increased because many public facilities aren’t accessible. Anyone on the road should feel calm and comfortable. Safety measures achieve this by making the driver feel secure.

Below are just a few examples of what can be done.

  • a roadside service exclusive to wheelchair-accessible EVs for break-downs

  • options for lifts or ramps depending on the size of the vehicle

  • cushions and rests for the body to prevent soreness or injury

  • features like large buttons, intuitive controls, and voice activation for usability

  • researching cordless and portable chargers that won’t get in the way

5. Implementing innovative technology

Technology creates an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. Screen reading software in the workplace helps people process documents. Assistive robotic limbs let gamers enjoy their passions as anyone else would. And innovations allow wheelchair users to navigate the roads, and their EVs, with ease.

We have a long way to go until everyone gets a self-driving car. While EVs are not this accommodating yet, it is a hope for the future.
A woman sitting in the driving seat of her car. She is pressing the "automatic start" button in front of her.

We have a long way to go until everyone gets a self-driving car. While EVs are not this accommodating yet, it is a hope for the future. Even without fully autonomous vehicles, technology pushes us towards wider inclusive transport. Implementing new ideas and developments will lead to bright solutions.

Let’s look at how machines can be optimised in EVs.

  • assistive technologies like joysticks and touchscreens

  • hand controls for braking and accelerating

  • chargers for electric wheelchairs for efficient and longer trips

  • intelligent battery management to reduce the stress of getting stranded

  • build EVs with a voice assistant to help the driver understand the features

6. Providing training

An inclusive design is only successful if the driver understands it. There are several reasons why they might not. An older user might find the technology we mentioned above confusing or impossible to work with. For others, this experience could be their first time driving because of previous inaccessibility. Support, education, and training are pivotal.

A woman is in the driver's seat of a car. She is leaning out of the open window. A man is standing on the other side of the door, smiling proudly. He has a clipboard with some of the traffic signs in his hand. The two are high-fiving.
An inclusive design is only successful if the driver understands it

Training helps the driver to get to grips with their new vehicle. But it does more than that. It gives them the tools to optimise their experience. They won’t just brave a trip to the shop, they’ll be empowered to organise a road trip. It will help them determine whether they’re ready for the change and reduce the likelihood of accidents too. Education like this is a no-brainer.

Here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.

  • car dealerships could provide a free training day when someone buys a car

  • build an interactive or VR platform where the driver can get used to the controls

  • encourage a community for wheelchair users to share experiences and advice

  • start workshops and driving courses designed for users with additional needs

  • provide a manual that bares all learning, visual, and other impediments in mind

Companies worth watching

It’s fair to say wheelchair accessibility and EVs don’t yet go hand in hand. But some companies have been looking at changing this. Some are working towards revolutionary solutions. Others have already achieved something incredible. Either way, here are some of the businesses designing inclusive transport for all.


If there’s a company you should know about, it’s Brotherwood. These industry leaders created the UK’s first electric wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV). Their latest model, the Vauxhall Vivaro e-Life, promises to deliver even more comfort and space to the driver.

Here are some of its most notable features.

  • flat and level floor conversion

  • regenerative braking

  • powerful climate control

  • a ’whisper quiet’ electric drivetrain

  • an air suspension that filters out unevenness in the road surface

Brotherwood are industry leaders creating the UK’s first electric wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV).
The sleek black EV looks like a van and has enough space for a wheelchair. The back of the car opens up and a ramp can be seen at the bottom.

It is a great option for a family with a non-wheelchair driver or someone who doesn’t solely rely on one. The quietness of the drive and the spacious interior make travelling socially in groups or with family more enjoyable. This is something many of us take for granted.

Volta Mobility

This company is a powerful team-up of Elap and Tripod Mobility. As expected, this collaboration brought about innovative solutions. They’ve designed a range of vehicle conversions with their joint experience and knowledge. Each product has a lowered floor to allow for a smoother ride and more space. Let’s look at one, the Peugeot e-Traveller.

Below are some of the other impressive features:

  • LED lights installed on the ramp for better visibility

  • back and head protection for the wheelchair user

  • original design and upholstery is maintained after conversion

  • a swivel seat either in the front or middle row

  • PSA Group approval for the safety of the vehicles

A sleek black Peugeot e-Traveller, which is a vehicle converted for wheelchair accessibility. It is charging from a port beside it.
Volta have designed a range of vehicle conversions with Elap and Tripod Mobility’s joint experience and knowledge [Photo: Peugeot]

Again, this product doesn’t yet bring wheelchair users as much independence and freedom as we hope electric WAVs will one day. But it shows thought-leaders are working on these challenges. This is an undeniably good sign for the future of accessibility.


This company does not produce EVs. A UK-based charity, Motability enables people with disabilities to lease new cars. They can do this through their disability benefits. The scheme even allows drivers to choose from a range of different electric cars now too.

Why is this a company people need to know about?

  • the cost of a home charge point is covered

  • you receive a new electric car every three years

  • leasing is more affordable and less-commitment

  • the WAV Grant Programme provides financial assistance for a car or adaptations

  • home delivery of any adapted vehicle that isn’t a car

Supporting and spreading awareness about companies like these are key. Motability, for instance, works with car manufacturers, stakeholders, and the government. They have the expertise to send influential figures in the right direction and make effective decisions.

Next steps

If these strategies continue and develop, will EVs become accessible? Only time will tell. The shift is inevitable. One day, they might be the only transportation we know. But before they become a global standard, everyone should get to enjoy their benefits and success.

Working towards customisable and adaptable designs is the best way forward. The points above share the values of collaboration, innovation, and human-first approaches. When we place importance on these things, the chance of reaching our goals increases tenfold.