Accessibility & Aesthetics

Okay so admittedly this is not one of the deeper topics on the blog but one that always gets me and other users with disabilities. Ever since my injury I have taken a lot more interest into how accessible items or other various things for people with disabilities are designed. Rather, lack there-of.  Now I know function is the primary goal of any product but couldn’t any thought go into it so that the product in question does not announce the user’s disability to the world?

AM General's Prototype Van

Not the prettiest creation...

It seems to me that whoever has a design say in a product for people with disabilities seems to neglect the fact that “we” do not necessarily want to broadcast it to the world. For example, the back of my power chair is laden with various electrical boxes, wires, cables and a mix of zip ties seemingly holding everything together. Not to mention that everything is exposed either but couldn’t some modicum of thought gone into designing a cover for the back? Instead, other users and myself are left with the disabled user’s equivalent of the various solutions found at the There I Fixed It – Fail Blog/ .

It all might seem a bit harsh considering I do get around okay but just when this topic had gone to the back of my mind, I stumble across this AM General to Produce Wheelchair Accessible Transit Vehicle . Very subtle indeed. Thankfully, someone in a similar position as I set out to fix this school-bus meets taxi meets box on wheels design disaster. Enter one Marc Buoniconti, former linebacker for The Citadel of South Carolina. In 1985 Buoniconti was injured in a football game and left as a quadriplegic. Not one to give up he started The Buoniconti Fund which acts as the fundraising portion of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. He has also been instrumental in this purpose built and OEM-backed vehicle, the VPG Autos’ MV-1.

Although the looks are not the MV-1’s strong suit, it does address my gripe with the design attitude that people with disabilities do not care about appearance. There is not much you can do to hide the fact that a vehicle’s primary purpose is to transport wheelchair users and take into mind a low price point. But the MV-1 seems to be able to do that with parts and design cues from a Honda Element. I’m sure for those that are reading this blog know that a rather basic van conversion can easily run North of the $60,000 mark, so it is nice to see that the current prospective price is $39,950 as well. For that, you get a vehicle that was intended with the purpose of wheelchair transportation in mind rather than a hacked up aftermarket and often pricy van conversion.  As Buoniconti says, “aftermarket means afterthought.”

The sales numbers speak for themself as the first year of production has been entirely sold out which bodes well for the vehicle’s future as a mode of private and public transportation. It certainly shows that manufacturers could indeed offer an official package for commercial grade vans such as the Ford Transit and Dodge Sprinter vans. Hopefully VPG Autos does well enough on this first attempt to work on the vehicle’s looks in future iterations. That said, I hope to highlight other unique products and solutions in the future that are not your typical find and offer a different view on design.

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