AV companies are understandably focused on trying to perfect their technology to address trust issues among the general public, but meanwhile, they're working on designs for those who could benefit most from mobility technology — the elderly and people with disabilities.
Why it matters: AVs will need to have accessible control panels, chassis modifications that accommodate wheelchairs, and advanced human-machine communication technology, not only to realize industry promises around mobility access, but also to be ADA-compliant once they begin to operate as commercial transportation services.
Where it stands: Automakers are focused on rolling out technology that will assuage concerns about safety and will build enthusiasm around the driverless experience. If the general public never warms up to AVs, they won't be available for anyone at all.
- Yes, but: Given that the auto industry is in the midst of radical transformation, disability advocates such as the National Federation of the Blind, the American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Council on Independent Living, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the United Spinal Association and others are working with automakers to push for designs that address the diversity of disability needs, as today's AV prototypes could set a standard for decades to come.
What we're watching: While auto shows have yet to showcase accessibility tech, there is reason to believe the industry is making progress:
- General Motors, Ford, Nuro, NVIDIA, Uber, Waymo, Daimler and Zoox have submitted voluntary safety self-assessments to DOT/NHTSA that have described accommodations for riders who are blind, deaf or hard of hearing.
- DOT's AV 3.0 regulatory guidance repeatedly refers to accessible vehicle design, an indication that they’ll be monitoring that as commercial services launch.
- Toyota, Renault, and VW have announced concept cars that could be wheelchair accessible.
Henry Claypool is a policy expert affiliated with UCSF and the AAPD, where he works on disability advocacy to automakers, and a former director of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office on Disability.