Ford initiates programme to better design vehicles for people with disabilities

Americas, January 6 2012

Ford has initiated a programme to study visual impairment issues that come with an ageing society and the use of digital tools to better design vehicles for people with visual disabilities.

Ford logoThe World Health Organisation reports that 285 million people worldwide with visual disabilities. Of these, about 65 per cent are aged 50 and over. And, with a rapidly ageing population in Europe including Ireland, the number of blind people is expected to grow. With age, the ability to see fine details deteriorates, as does the ability to see in the dark. This means many drivers can struggle to read the instrument cluster while driving, unless they have bifocal or varifocal glasses. Other eye conditions, such as glaucoma, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are also prevalent among those 50 and older.

“Visual disabilities is a natural part of ageing and affects many millions of people around the world,” said Angelika Engel, ergonomics attribute specialist at Ford of Europe.

“But because it is such a gradual process, it can often go unnoticed for many years.

We tend to subconsciously look around the problem until it reaches a point where it is so severe that it can no longer be ignored. Even conditions like AMD and glaucoma can come on very slowly,” Ms Engel added.

Now Ford has joined forces with a team of experts from the University of Cambridge’s Engineering Design Centre in the UK. Together they have developed a Vision Impairment Simulator to enable designers and engineers to gain a better understanding of the effects of a wide variety of visual disabilities.

“It allows you to simulate visual disabilities on any image. You load in an image, select a visual impairment and it lets you see the image as someone with that impairment would see it,” said Sam Waller, who developed the software.

“You can then load in other designs and instantly compare the effects, or you can change the impairment and see how the design stands up to different problems.

“Even in the case of age-related macular degeneration, where the loss of central vision moves around with the eye, the software simulates this effect by allowing the user to move the ‘blind-spot’ around to see its effect on different parts of the image,” Waller added.

Ford is using the software to study and optimise the design of its instrument displays, to ensure they can be safely and comfortably read by as many drivers as possible. The software has also been used to improve the design of mobile phones and for teaching inclusive design at several universities.

Ford has also undertaken other projects in ‘inclusive design’ in an effort to improve the wellbeing of drivers. Since 1994, the company’s engineers have used a ‘Third Age Suit’ to help them better understand difficulties faced by older drivers. The suit restricts mobility and lessens the sense of touch. It also includes goggles that simulate cataracts.

“Certainly, some people have visual problems that prevent them from passing a driver’s test in their country. There are many people with visual disabilities that still can drive and we want to make it as safe and easy as possible for them as long as their sight is also being regularly checked by an optician,” Engel said.


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