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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the U.S. population ages, the number of people with travel-limiting disabilities is projected to increase dramatically, which could drive up demand for accessible autonomous vehicles.

The big picture: Retirement communities are expecting an influx of new residents, many of whom are likely to be non-drivers and require transportation to maintain their independence. The demand for AVs, if they're accessible, could explode.

By the numbers:

  • Between 2010 and 2014, the U.S. wheelchair-using population increased by 50.4% to 5.5 million, and is projected to hit 12.4 million by 2022.
  • Demand for wheelchair-accessible vehicles is growing 10.75% per year.

Context: Retirement communities have significant populations of non-drivers, and are naturally geofenced areas.

  • The closed-circuit design, predictable traffic patterns, and low-speed limits of retirement communities could make them ideal for deploying AVs — even sooner than they may be deployed on public roads.

Yes, but: Providing senior citizens with reliable, effective service will depend on vehicle accessibility — and retirement communities will need not only wheelchair-accessible vehicles, but potentially vehicles that can accommodate more than one wheelchair.

What we're watching: Two players in the AV space are already eyeing the retirement community opportunity:

Henry Claypool is a policy expert affiliated with UCSF and AAPD, and a former director of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office on Disability.

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