Minis have long been heavily customizable vehicles from the factory. With the new all-electric Cooper SE, Mini is extending that customization past just color and wheel options, to offer accessibility for drivers with disabilities. From the factory, Mini will offer modifications to allow people with disabilities, especially wheelchair users, to have the freedom of driving on their own.
“For me, diversity means allowing everyone to share in the hallmark Mini driving experience. And this applies equally to the electrified Mini, of course. Our goal at Mini is to give everyone equal access to such important innovations,” said Stefanie Wurst, Head of Mini.
The modified controls for the Mini Cooper SE can be customized to fit the driver's needs. However, the two main factory modifications available are an accelerator ring and a brake lever. The former is a wireless ring mounted to the inner circle of the steering wheel and is controlled by hand pressure, which is what provides acceleration. The hand brake lever is mounted below and to the right of the steering wheel. It acts exactly like the normal brake pedal in the Cooper SE, using regenerative braking first and then the friction brakes. There's also "reduced throttle characteristics" when parking, as slow speeds can be tricky for hand control users.
Interestingly, Mini made sure that any modified electric Cooper SE could also be driven by other people, without disabilities. For instance, if one spouse has a disability and the other doesn't, both can drive the car without issue. While using the aforementioned modified controls, a pedal box cover can come down and block the pedals from being used unintentionally. However, for drivers without disabilities, the pedal box cover can be removed, allowing the pedals to once again be used as usual. Even the accelerator ring can easily be removed, as it's wireless.
To help create such modifications for the Cooper SE, Mini turned to Tina Schmidt-Kiendl, who's been a BMW Driving Academy instructor since 2003. Schmidt-Kiendl lost the ability to walk after an operation and has since launched a driver safety training course for people in wheelchairs. She was able to provide invaluable insight into creating modifications and controls so that disabled drivers can safely and confidently operate the electric Mini.
Being entirely electric, the Mini Cooper SE has an advantage over internal combustion engine cars when it comes to creating modified controls. “The design of the MINI Cooper SE is very accessible as it is. With the dual recuperation, you have full control for instant acceleration and braking,” Schmidt-Kiendl said.
The biggest issue with a Mini Cooper SE for people with disabilities isn't with the car itself but with the infrastructure. In many parts of the world, charging ports aren't wheelchair accessible and their cables are mounted too high. Even Munich, as big of a city as it is, seemed to lack the accessibility required for wheelchair users, according to both Schmidt-Kiendl and Wurst. However, many European cities are adopting charging station accessibility for people with disabilities.
For all customers with disabilities who buy a modified Cooper SE, Mini is also offering a driver and safety course at the "BMW and Mini Driving Experience Center," in Maisach, just outside of Munich. There drivers can practice braking and avoidance maneuvers, as well as dynamic driving. Mini says it wants drivers with disabilities to not only be safe and confident behind the wheel but also have the same level of fun as every other Mini driver.
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