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Self-Driving Vehicles Could be a Game-Changer for the Disabled

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According to the CDC, one out of every 5 adults in the United States copes with a disability—that's 53 million people. Of the different conditions, difficulty with mobility is the most common.

Imagine how self-driving vehicles would make life so much easier for men and women with disabilities. In addition, if people with mobility or vision impairment were afforded the independence of car-ownership, the benefits wouldn't be limited to the disabled.

"While public transport provides a partial solution to travel for people with disabilities, driverless cars could represent a huge step forward for accessibility and independence — and in the process rectify the imbalance of opportunity, wage, and education that those with disabilities face. This would be beneficial not only to individuals, but to the US economy as a whole, because it would decrease the rate of unemployment and the market failure caused by immobility of labor."  

Though automotive engineers are currently working on autonomous technology, most of the current prototypes are designed for non-disabled auto owners who could operate the auto if needed. Improved safety and a better driving experience seem to be the guiding principles. A report by The Rudman Foundation asserts:

"In order to benefit the disabled community to the maximum degree possible, solutions such as these will have to be designed and integrated 'as early as possible in the design and manufacturing process. If not, the disabled community may face clumsy, expensive, and inefficient solutions when fighting for back-end accessibility."

Google, a company that has been a pioneer in self-driving technology, is one of the organizations working to build an automobile that could be used by men and women with disabilities and even blindness.

Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, has been a Google autonomous technology consultant for several years. “I’ve been in the Google cars quite a bit in urban traffic and highway. The technology is incredibly capable. They drive like good drivers." h/

Many newer vehicles on the road today have elements of autonomous operation, but a completely self-driving auto is still a few years away. It remains to be seen whether the technology will be geared toward the disabled driver and how big of an an effect they will have for disabled individuals.

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