DOT Inclusive Design Challenge


The U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao created the Inclusive Design Challenge in 2020. The Inclusive Design Challenge focused on innovative design solutions to enable people with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities to use automated vehicles to access jobs, healthcare, and other critical destinations. The Inclusive Design Challenge is a part of a larger set of departmental initiatives on accessibility, announced at the Access and Mobility for All Summit. The Challenge intends to seek solutions to improve passenger vehicle accessibility, encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations, incentivize development of new designs and technologies, and tap into the creativity and knowledge of the disability community, researchers, advocates, and entrepreneurs.

Watch the features of the ON-BOARD VR GLASSES less than two minutes.


Team Orange consists mainly of a group of Syracuse University Master students majoring in design that are led by Professor Don Carr, and three bio-engineering students under the direction of Professor Pun To Yung. The team also includes three experts in the disability field, Jurgan Babirad, Connor McGough, and Peyton Sefick.


With each passing day, the future of autonomous vehicles becomes more of a realistic proposition due to various factors such as IoT, GPS, Blockchain, Uber, Smart Cities, Biometric UI/UX, and the general notion that society we’re less focused on personal car ownership. As an alternative, scheduling access to personalized environments that adapt to our transportation needs we can be explored in many shapes and forms. Therefore, the notion that we focus on the immediate needs of a wide array of users supports the overarching goals of inclusive design. When considering the impending future of semi-autonomous vehicles, it has been suggested there will come a time when it’s not viable for individuals to drive a vehicle without some level of assistive technology to insure the safety of the occupant and others in transit. So as we begin this transition, our goal will be to focus on the key areas of design opportunity that can be incorporated into multiple modes of transportation.

Given the DOT competition is primarily focused on the moment when an individual with a disability enters, interacts, rides with, and departs from a vehicle, we’ll focus on three key areas. First, the immediate connection to the user as the ‘first layer’ of interface. This has historically been seating, however in future scenarios we’ll view this layer including wearable technologies and various forms of UI solutions as an extension of the individual. Second, we view the entry or portal through which the wheelchair or personal mobility device enters the vehicle as being key to achieving a truly inclusive design solution. This should accommodate as broad a selection of mobility devices as possible and in doing so results in a new industry standard. Third, we are looking to form a stronger connection between the first layer of interface and the surrounding environment. This would include explorations into how the vehicle interior will function as a mobile hub so that in-person communication vs. remote are more closely aligned.


In order to address the future of transportation from an inclusive design perspective, it’s critical to first gain a broad understanding of various forms of disability. Given that a large percentage of the population lives with some form of disability, inclusive design represents a critical challenge for all forms of personal and public transportation. To address this challenge, our design seeks to accommodate both power and manual wheelchair users in order to effectively address their mobility needs. As a user-centered design strategy, we began by focusing on the needs of a 12-year old boy and his family based here in Syracuse, New York. They have a daughter with full mobility and a son ‘Leo’ with cerebral palsy. Leo is a power wheelchair user and the strength and coordination of his upper extremities are limited. In addition, he communicates through a touch screen based interface called LAMP Words that runs on a smart pad that’s mounted to his wheelchair (Figure 1). The family currently own a modified minivan with a ramp that deploys from the side doorway allowing Leo to back his wheelchair into the vehicle and ride facing in a ‘side-facing’ orientation.

Figure 1 (LEO currently used iPad interface)

Watch the features of the ON-BOARD VR GLASSES less than two minutes.

Prototyping and Testing

The main function of a traditional car is to bring users from place A to place B. My job is to explore how automated cars can expand their functions and evolve into a new way of travel with the help of autonomous driving technology. I believe the automated car is not only a car, it can be a magical office space or a personal hub, or even a mobile chat room. First, the automated vehicle should provide the user multiple ways of interaction, it means more accessible for the broader population. My solution is On-Board VR Glasses, you can wear it to control the vehicle and wheelchair by gesture control system or eye-tracking. In addition, On-Board VR Glasses also has potential to convert the normal vehicle into a personal hub where users can conduct many things they never would imagine before, like remote work conference, private movie theater, and mobile game center, etc. I believe On-Board VR Glasses can provides multiple application scenarios for different people with different needs.

Figure 2

An on-board VR glasses (Figure 2) are equipped with eye-tracking, head-tracking and gesture control. Current forms of Eye-tracking technology are becoming easier to use and the technology has become more mature.

Figure 3

These headsets will be located adjacent to each seating location and will automatically activate once they are removed for use. VR and mixed reality have the potential to totally transform the on-board travel experience. From an inclusive design perspective, there could be multiple ways to interact based on user preference. Even individuals with paralysis from the neck down could navigate the interface by moving their eyes or focusing their gaze on a fixed point to make a selection (Figure 3). VR also allows the user to perform multiple tasks while joining-in remotely prior to arrival at a destination (Figure 4). By making full use of VR, the vehicle operates as a mobile hub within an intelligent city.

Figure 4

360-DEGREE VIDEO: Journey To the Destination

We’ve all experienced the routine of taking daily trips to a set destination. With VR and mixed reality, these everyday experiences can be transformed into dream-like adventures to a far-away destination in which the ordinary becomes extraordinary. In the following 360-degree video I create a scene once appeared in my dream.

This is a 360-Video. Using mouse or finger to change the perspective.

Promising Future

For the past few decades we can see the wheelchair, vehicle, interactive system has not changed much, each area is seperated and independt, and people who engage with these parts doesn’t have a great experience sometime. What we want to do is that redesign these area and connect them together so we can build a more inclusive and more connective system. Our solution for this is redesign the whole system so people with disabilities can more easily to entering , to fixing, to interacting with the vehicle.