Self-driving cars could be a boon for Americans with disabilities

You might not be thinking about autonomous driving the right way. For some enthusiasts, it represents a potentially joyless future, perhaps offset by convenience and improved safety. For a large number of people – many who don't currently drive – autonomous vehicles are an opportunity for equal access to transportation, a principle of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It's a way for a blind person to get to work, or for a disabled veteran to make it to a important medical appointment. If done right, the quantifiable benefits of self-driving cars for the 57 million Americans disabilities could be enormous, according to a new white paper.

The Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) finds that by removing the sorts of mobility obstacles that driverless cars resolve, it would allow 2 million more people with disabilities to get to work. Every year, autonomous vehicles could save $19 billion in health care costs from missed appointments. But, the paper argues, the developers of the technology and the surrounding policy need to pay more attention to the needs of the disabled and elderly. Furthermore, disability advocates need to organize, and learn more about the autonomous mobility technology.

The paper explicitly recommends that legislation should not require a licensed driver in Level 4 and 5 autonomous vehicles. Governments large and small should develop pilot programs for autonomous vehicles to specifically serve to foster independence and mobility for people with disabilities. Manufacturers should gather input from the disability community and deploy technology as early as possible to benefit underserved communities. Finally, the paper recommends the disability community create a coalition that can interact and respond to the industry and legislators "with a singular voice." Only by addressing their needs from early on can we ensure their inclusion in an autonomous future.

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