How and When Will Autonomous Vehicles Benefit the Disability Community?
For many wheelchair users or other individuals with limited mobility, being able to drive seems like a dream that’s just out of reach. Sure, one can purchase add-ons, such as a ramp, removable seats, and a floor drop, but these features are expensive. But all is not lost. There is, in fact, a ripple forming in the automobile industry concerning autonomous vehicles and how they will eventually benefit the disability community. Let’s take a look:
28 Years in the Making
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990, just 28 years ago and, ever since, there have been a number of efforts to improve accessibility for individuals with disabilities in almost every aspect of life, including employment, education, and even the Internet. Now it’s the automobile industry’s turn, specifically with autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles first made headlines in 2015 when several states across the nation approved of testing autonomous vehicles on public roads. Since then, a number of autonomous vehicles have become available for purchase. While these cars which, by definition, lack the need for driver interference under normal road and weather conditions, are a fairly new invention, they would be of great use to the disability community. Autonomous vehicles are ranked by how much the driver would have to monitor the road – 0 means no automation (e.g., standard cars that most everyone drives today), and 5 means full automation, where the automated driving system can monitor under all roadway and environmental conditions that a human can otherwise monitor.
Fully autonomous vehicles lack a steering wheel and pedals, so the driver can relax on his/her morning commute. For those with limited mobility, there are currently options for acceleration and brake pedals on the steering wheel, controlled by the hands instead of feet, in standard cars. In autonomous vehicles, however, there is no need to reposition the pedals – because there aren’t any! The car drives for the operator. This would save the disabled driver at least some money because s/he wouldn’t need as many accessible features to be installed for proper operation.
When Can We Expect This?
Hopefully within the next few years, auto manufacturers will design and develop accessible autonomous vehicles. Recently, Toyota, G.M., and Ford each have either designed an autonomous vehicle or made statements about designing with accessibility in mind. However, actually coming out with an accessible autonomous vehicle is a challenge. Manufacturers have to consider standardizing these vehicles for everyone in the disability community, even wheelchair users, and that requires adding enough space for a wheelchair and integrating other features and technologies to make accessibility a reality. We are hopeful that these vehicles will be on the market soon, though we don’t have an exact timeline.
It’s important to note that accessible autonomous vehicles won’t solve all the problems concerning accessibility. This movement is diverse, as there is a whole array of issues to be resolved. They will, however, vastly improve independent living standards by providing another form of accessible transportation.
ILCNSCA is your go-to advocate for accessibility and independent living. We are always looking for new accessible technologies and how we can introduce them to our members. Keep up with our blog and our social media on Facebook so you can stay informed about everything happening in the disability community. If you are looking for help with anything regarding independent living, please don’t hesitate to contact ILCNSCA by phone at 978-741-0077, or visit our website at https://ilcnsca.org/.
This post was written by Sperling