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Why electric cars are not powered up to the disabled community

Shane Morgan next to an electric car

Electric Cars seem to be polluting the mental health of disabled drivers after a number of concerns have been raised around their inaccessibility. 

Shae Morgan,33, from Edinburgh, lives with connective tissue disorder, limiting her mobility.

Wanting to play her part for the environment she decided to buy a fully electric Nissan Leaf, but due to the vehicle's compact design it was too small for her electric wheelchair.

Morgan [pictured above] told BBC News last month: "We can't fit my main power chair into the car right now.

"As a result, we're changing to a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, which will be available in January. It's going to be a petrol vehicle."

The most suitable car for Morgan, who is driven around by her husband, is the Berlingo, which runs on petrol, and comes with a £4,000 advanced payment on the Motability scheme run by Motability Operations, which gives disabled people money towards purchasing a new car.

But the electric version required a £10,000 advanced payment, which Morgan said was an “impossible task” living off disability benefits.

"I've had no option but to revert to petrol," Morgan explained.

"We can't be green in our travel choices and have a vehicle that suits our needs.

"It's a massive frustration not being able to practice what I preach."

As well as the steep price tag, there’s another boundary for disabled drivers opting for electric vehicles. 

There are thousands of charging points around the UK, but as Morgan explains, some of them are not in accessible places.

"Most of the chargers are up a kerb, making them inaccessible for a wheelchair. I can't reach them to push any buttons or scan our card to start or stop the charging."

The Scottish national charging network Charge Place Scotland is run by the Scottish government who have funded 2,700 charging points across the country since 2011.

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland said: "Ensuring electric charge points are accessible and user friendly for all is a core part of our approach to building out Scotland's charging infrastructure."

They went on to state that in future all of their public EV charge points would abide by British standards and "demonstrate appropriate measures will be taken to meet requirements and recommendations.”

The growing rise of electric cars has caused concern amongst the disabled community because they are not fully accessible.

Catherine Maris, head of innovation at Motability Foundations, is disappointed with how the new charging network is not plugged into making the system accessible.

"This is one of the biggest infrastructure shifts we've seen for generations," she said.

"So it should be an exciting opportunity to design inclusively and accessible from the start. But unfortunately, in many cases, that's not what we're seeing."

"A lot of the research that we've carried out to date has identified high kerbs, really heavy cables, inadequate spacing between bollards."

Julie Mcllroy in front of an electric car

Another driver being taken by a joy ride with electric cars is 38-year-old Julie Mcllroy who has cerebral palsy.

She paid a visit to her local Arnold Clark Innovation Centre in Glasgow to test out an electric vehicle.

Mcllroy told BBC Scotland: "The primary concern I have relates to the accessibility of charging stations.

"It forces me to consider whether the places I visit will allow me to charge it for several hours. Is that feasible in terms of accessibility?"

She added: "I need to examine the manual dexterity required to operate these charging stations."

Despite trying out an electric car, Mcllroy is still cautious about buying one.

"I am certainly planning to switch to electric. However, I anticipate that using the charging stations will present some challenges,” she added. 

Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, is aware of the challenges electric cars can bring to a disabled driver or passenger.

"This situation contradicts government promises of inclusive green energy transitions," he said. "Despite willingness to adopt EVs for environmental reasons, many feel left behind by an industry that hasn't prioritised inclusive design."

[ The first full-sized electric vehicle was created by Scottish Inventor Robert Anderson in 1832. ]

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