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EV charge point issues for wheelchair users

By Maxine Ashford | February 27, 2024

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With more than 2.4 million Blue Badge holders in the UK surely this issue needs immediate attention across the board

EV charge point issues for wheelchair users

It’s all systems go as we power towards an electrified future, but certain infrastructure oversights could strip thousands of drivers of their independence.

That’s because wheelchair users seem to have been overlooked by certain charge providers when designing their forecourts and while some have a bay for disabled drivers, the majority of these charge points are still impossible to use.

For many, there is not enough space between the bays to get a wheelchair out of the car, there are raised kerbs or gravel surrounds and, in addition, the cables are often positioned too high and are far heavier than a traditional fuel pump.

At original filling stations, there is always plenty of room to get in and out of a car and there is generally someone on hand if anyone needs some assistance. Plus, there is the issue of safety as many of the charging banks are tucked away at the back of a dark, dingy car park and, with no overhead canopy, they offer no protection from the elements

These may seem like minor concerns for any able-bodied driver, but wheelchair-users need to be given full consideration when designing these facilities and, at the moment, there is no legislation that forces charge providers to do this.

The issue has been highlighted by The Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who was born with spina bifida and is wheelchair dependant. The 11-time Paralympian gold medallist now sits in the House of Lords and is a committed campaigner and advocate for disabled people.

Image courtesy of the House of Lords

She said: “I was thinking about changing my car about 18 months ago as I thought it would be the right thing to do with pure diesel and petrol-powered models coming to an end.

“I live in Stockton and drive about 30,000 miles a year so started looking at the EV charging stations up and down the country. It wasn’t an exhausted search but I soon realised I couldn’t use the majority of them. For starters, many are on a raised base and surrounded by gravel. I wouldn’t be able to reach up to the height of them even if my wheelchair could get there. The chargers are also much heavier which would be another issue for many.

“It takes me a good couple of minutes to get out of my car - I need to take the frame off the front seat and then put the wheels on. It is really important that I am able to open the door fully because I need that space for my frame and to be able to turn the chair around, so if a car is parked too close to me, I could damage their vehicle or not be able to get out at all.

“It is then the same getting back in. There is also an issue for me about safety - how well lit the places are and if anyone else is around. At a petrol station there are always staff and the area generally has good lighting. If anyone pulled my chair away from me, I am really stuck.

“While most people will help if they see you struggling, they can’t be expected to hang around while the vehicle gets a charge.

“These companies spend a lot of money putting in these charging stations and don’t seem to take these matters into account.”

And the 54-year-old mum-of-one is worried there are no strict Government guidelines to make the infrastructure wheelchair accessible. She said: “I wrote to the Government and asked what’s happening and they basically said it’s up to the installation companies. It’s not like these companies are deliberately messing with people’s lives – I just don’t think we are part of the thought process. If the industry goes fully electric without the proper facilities, then I will have to stop driving.”

Armed with these concerns, we contacted a number of established providers to discuss the issue. These included Pod Point and Gridserve, along with a start-up company called Calm Charging.

Pod Point’s James McKemey, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, said: “We recognise the need for the charging industry to do more to improve the accessibility of EV charging infrastructure in order to create a charging network that is more inclusive. Together with organisations such as Motability and Designability, Pod Point was a member of the “PAS1899 Accessible Charging” (a new standard aimed at supporting the building of an inclusive EV charging infrastructure in the UK) Steering Group.

“PAS1899 takes into account challenges such as space to move around the car to the charge point, height and/or weight of the charging socket/cable, height of the charger screen and functionality to support those with visual impairments, position of the charge point in relation to nearby facilities and poor weather coverings (so as not to leave drivers exposed to the elements for extended periods of time), dropped kerbs, and wheelchair accessible bays.”

And a spokesman for Gridserve added: “Gridserve aims to provide a great charging experience for everyone and ‘access for all’ is at the heart of our design philosophy. At our Electric Forecourts, we provide facilities that welcome all visitors, considering access for wheelchair users, those with ambulant needs and visual impairments, among others. 

“These include but are not limited to accessible charging, access ramps, lifts, accessible washrooms and braille signage. The design of our latest Electric Hubs includes accessible extra wide bays with chevrons to ensure space on all sides of the vehicle. We strive to continuously learn and improve, where we can. We welcome feedback and engagement with all customers.”

However, the Electric Forecourts with their state-of-the-art facilities are few and far between at the moment and while there are guidelines for new developers setting up charging stations, these are only recommendations so are not enforced.

But new start-up company, Calm Charging are aiming to ensure they get it right from the off. We put co-founder Mal Hay in touch with Tanni so they could work together from the outset and he said: “The whole charging industry needs to change its mindset on this issue. There should be absolutely no distinction between ‘standard’ and ‘accessible’ EV charging bays. Every single public charger should be fully accessible and easy to use for ALL drivers.

Calm Charging co-founder Mal Hay

“EV drivers must be assured that when they arrive at an EV charger, they will be able to use it. Until that’s the case, how can they have the confidence to make the switch to electric?

“It’s not acceptable for any group of drivers to effectively be denied access to a charger because not enough thought has been given to how they will be able to use it.

“As an industry we must do everything we can to consider drivers and passengers of all abilities when planning our sites in order to ensure the enjoyment and benefits of electric motoring are truly equitable.” 

And Tanni concluded: “It’s not as if we are refusing to switch to an electric vehicle. We are just being so restricted by the physical challenges.”

Moving forward Calm Charging and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson will continue with their collaboration and plan to take their findings forward, hoping to get the Government to put some proper legislation in place that will make EV charging completely accessible to all drivers.

But, for now, there are infrastructure concerns that need addressing up and down the country. Failing that, thousands of disabled drivers may lose the vital independence car ownership brings to their lives. And with more than 2.4 million Blue Badge holders in the UK surely this issue needs immediate attention across the board.

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