The Future of Self Driving Cars for People with Disabilities

We are officially in an era of self-driving cars. If you think we’re not there yet, think about all of the driver-assist controls that are available in a vehicle. Cars have back-up assist cameras, break-assists with cameras that will see traffic or a pedestrian and break to avoid an accident, lights that automatically switch to bright when there are no streetlights, steering-assist to drive the car for you.

In fact, all of these features I mentioned are a part of the 6 levels of vehicle automation. The levels go from 0-5, with 5 being a fully autonomous vehicle. 

Nonetheless, these updates were made to vehicles out of corporate competition to create the next big thing. Big things make headlines. Everyone wants to report about the latest BMW that could be the first car on U.S. roads with Level 3 automation – the point by which you can really begin to call a vehicle, self-driving. It’s good PR. It’s sexy to talk about, and people want to brag about being the first to purchase one for their pleasure.

What seems to elude the reporting sphere is discussing how these automated features, while cool and sexy, are also beneficial to the minority segment of the population – people with disabilities. It’s exciting to brag about reading a book or settling kids down in the backseat, while your automated vehicle takes you to Grandma’s house safely. However, let’s also think about how the person with a vision impairment or who is totally blind can now join the millions of drivers on the road for the first time, without having to rely on someone else. People with cerebral palsy can currently drive, but the vehicles may need numerous modifications, especially when it comes to the steering wheel. A level 4 or 5 automated vehicle could be the kind of vehicle that will allow someone with cerebral palsy to drive off the dealership lot with a new car, as opposed to paying for after-purchase modifications.

The level of independence self-driving and fully autonomous vehicles can bring to people’s lives is, literally, life-changing. Yet, that part of the story has been overlooked for years.

Not this time. The Disability News Report is reporting on the story with a discussion with Dr. Rory Cooper, one of the lead researchers from the University of Pittsburgh who is responsible for studying how self-driving cars can be more accessible. This topic is exciting to talk about, and we, at the Disability News Report, don’t believe the conversation becomes less exciting or important by including an accessibility aspect to it. As you watch the interview, you will hear about accessibility issues being researched and considered, accessibility considerations for driving in the rain and snow, what’s it like to ride in an autonomous vehicle, and some of the biggest challenges and benefits of an autonomous vehicle.


–  Jennifer O. Price

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