Charging Needs to be Accessible. For Everyone.

by Eric Cohen

Most people driving EVs approach charging stations and never think about much more than how long it’s going to take to charge their vehicle.

Imagine, however, living your life in a wheelchair, wanting to charge your EV, and encountering a picture like this one: How exactly would you get to the charger? What would you do?

Meet D’Arcee Neal, who is on a mission: Make EV charging accessible. (“And while you’re at it, make the whole world accessible. From the simplest of tasks to those that are most complicated.”) WiTricity sat down with D’Arcee to learn more about life’s everyday struggles, and what’s needed to make EVs accessible for all.

WiTricity: Who is D’Arcee Neal?

D’Arcee: I’ve lived in Washington, D.C. for the past 13 years and recently relocated to Ohio as a PhD candidate in English and Disabilities Studies. I’m also currently a finalist for the Fulbright Competition, for which I will move to Copenhagen this summer.  While in D.C., I worked at NASA, the Department of Labor, and for a non-profit organization. I was born with cerebral palsy so have lived my life in a wheelchair, but it doesn’t define who I am. Growing up in a rural North Carolina community, I quickly realized that able-bodied people have no idea how something as simple as moving on your own time and space can radically change your life.

WiTricity: Can you give me an example?

D’Arcee: Sure. I found it pretty common back in 2015 that Uber drivers would leave me high and dry after accepting my pick-up request but would keep on driving once they saw me – they didn’t want to hassle with the wheelchair. Through my connections with 275,000 people in 79 countries, the CCO of Uber heard my story. He flew me to California to meet face to face and learn more.

WiTricity: I understand your trip back from visiting Uber had an interesting ending.

D’Arcee: It certainly did. On my return trip, I was left on the plane when no wheelchair arrived and had to crawl off with no assistance. This was not the first time this has happened and probably won’t be the last, but ultimately, it was a clear definition of “ableism,” where everyone thinks their time is more valuable than mine. Look around and you’ll see how pervasive this has become throughout our society.

WiTricity: What led you to driving a car?

D’Arcee: After 25 years of public transit and being left on the side of the road, I finally woke up and decided to take a driver test. I lived in Washington, D.C. for 13 years and never needed a car. But, when I moved to Ohio, I quickly realized that the public transportation was woefully inadequate. Once I got my driver’s license, I actually decided on an electric vehicle due to the amount of hassle at gas stations, being a chair user, and as is evident right now, the price. However, what I didn’t realize was the problem of inaccessibility of EV chargers.

WiTricity: I understand one of your first long-distance trips was from Ohio to Washington, D.C. How was that?

D’Arcee: Frustrating. Maddening. Disappointing. And painful. There was not ONE accessible charger throughout the 400-mile trip. When I could find a charger, the only way to get to it was by crawling on my hands and knees over sharp gravel to the charger, untangling the cord, plugging in, and then reversing the process. As a result of this trip, I keep asking the charger companies, “How do we craft a future that takes basic mobility, in varied forms, into consideration?”

WiTricity: What about wireless charging?

D’Arcee: Omigosh, that would be glorious. It would immediately solve all my problems. But not just mine. It would help every disabled driver who is being ignored by ChargePoint, EVGo, Electrify America, and even the carmakers, like BMW. Don’t get me wrong. I love my BMW, whom I call Simon. But, if I was given the opportunity to purchase another car that had wireless charging, I’d trade in my BMW in a heartbeat (sorry Simon). If I could upgrade him to have wireless charging, even better!

WiTricity: With the recent passage of the infrastructure bill and money being made available for EV charging, what’s your message to legislators?

D’Arcee: The future is electric. And it should be accessible. The U.S. claims that it’s a nation that thinks about the future and moves in its intent that’s meant to be inclusive. But, this intention needs to be put into policy that’s reflective, not just stated. Policy has real impact in the real world. Don’t just mandate more chargers. Mandate accessible chargers. Include wireless charging in your policies so that drivers simply need to park and charge. The time I’d save, and the pain I wouldn’t have to go through is real. Twenty-six percent (26%) of our adult population has some type of disability. And nearly 14% have a serious mobility issue. That’s 36 MILLION PEOPLE!

Most people think about a car as providing the ability to go somewhere – for fun, work, groceries, etc. But it’s so much more. It’s the inherent ability to move from Point A to Point B – and not on someone else’s time. People without a disability realize this when they break a leg and suddenly have to figure out how they’re going through the world, but wheelchair users, and disabled folk,s do this everyday.

WiTricity: Every car manufacturer is promising an EV world by 2035. What do you say to them to make it easier for you?

D’Arcee: Why are you ignoring an entire segment of the population? Make cars that work for everyone. Create a car that has no age limit. You’re putting money into autonomous cars that will allow people to use them until they die. But no matter how autonomous they are, I’ll still need to get out of the car to charge it. Wireless charging is the answer to so many prayers.

Thank you, D’Arcee. We look forward to working with you to making charging accessible to everyone.