Disabled Passengers Were Promised Autonomous Vehicles – They’re Still Waiting

  • It turns out that designing autonomous vehicles for disabled passengers is an immense challenge
    People with disabilities stand to benefit the most from self-driving cars, but developers are not making accessibility enough of a priority,” said the author and deafblind disability justice lawyer. “Waiting until a product is ‘finished’ to start thinking about accessibility is like completing construction of a skyscraper and then tearing part of it down to install an elevator.”

Over 25 million Americans have disabilities that make traveling outside the home difficult. Historically, car companies have provided little relief, producing vehicles that are either inaccessible or cost thousands of dollars to retrofit for a driver with disabilities. Autonomous vehicles (AVs) present a tantalizing solution to millions of frustrated people. But the industry’s well-publicized struggles, as well as the broken promises of tech companies in the past, are forcing many in the disabled community to wonder whether AVs are the salvation they’ve been waiting for.

The skepticism among the disabled toward tech companies is warranted. Uber and Lyft initially claimed that their ride-hail fleets would be a boon for disabled customers, but wheelchair-accessible vehicles are largely absent from both companies’ platforms. And over the past decade, the ride-hailing industry has routinely resisted efforts by regulators to force them to deploy more accessible vehicles.