audio version (opens in a new tab)
As a follow-up to last week’s
webinar summary about assistive technology,
today I am focusing on am emerging transportation technology: autonomous vehicles. It is possible that autonomous vehicles might not progress to a point where I could drive as an individual who is blind. However, I am excited about the clear impact such technology could provide for people with other disabilities. On August 17, 2021, the
conducted a webinar entitled
Accessible Autonomous Vehicles (AVs).
The link above provides the webinar recording and presentation materials. In this blog post, I will summarize what I learned.
The presentation was by one person, a representive of the
Autonomous vehicles can provide greater access to transportation. However, people with disabilities need to be able to use and enter autonomous vehicles for those vehicles to be useful to them. The webinar summarized a variety of other presentations from March and April of this year on the topic of autonomous vehicles.
Those recordings can be accessed on
the U.S. Access Board’s Autonomous Vehicles web page
“Forum Session Recordings and Presentation Materials”
Link. Vehicle standard guidelines for accessibility were published by the Access Bboard in 1991. Bus and van standards were updated in 2016. Ramps are necessary for wheelchair users to enter and exit vehicles. Gradual slope can be useful for people using mobility devices to enter vehicles. Autonomous vehicle accessibility was then discussed in detail.
Autonomous Vehicle Accessibility
Using a lift or ramp depends on vehicle height for entry. Wheelchair users need to be able to enter the vehicle, go to a wheelchair space and exit at destination. Wheelchair spaces, under ADA vehicle standards, must be 30 inches wide by 48 inches long. A robotics research company has an automatic lift system which detects if the ground is clear when the lift is lowered. People also have the ability with that system to communicate with the vehicle by voice. Another research entity focuses on accessible transportation. Turning space for wheelchairs can be more challenging at the front of a bus. People who were blind indicated difficulty finding vacant seats and fare box. The presenter said that improving accessibility a little can have a large impact. The Access Board representative also said that difficulty accessing fare boxes could disappear in the future because of a focus on digital payments. Studies focusing on people with disabilities were then focused on.
Studies: Feedback from People with Disabilities
In a research study, some individuals with disabilities were able to ride in an autonomous vehicle for evaluation. Some participants suggested that people could talk to the vehicle similar to communication with a virtual assistant device at home. Others recommended ability to access a call center when communication with a live operator is necessary. Vehicle use and design are both crucial. Someone from an organization representing the blind said physical buttons and knobs can be more accessible than touch screens. An individual representing the deaf community suggested the ability to use sign languages or gestures as an alternative to giving spoken commands to a vehicle. In summary: information provided by autonomous vehicles should be given in a variety of ways to accommodate as many disability types as possible. I will now focus on the question-and-answer period.
In response to a question, the presenter said ADA vehicle requirements from 1991 apply to the evolving area of autonomous vehicles. The U.S> Access Board is not currently developing autonomous vehicle standards. It was recommended that accessibility be considered at beginning of design. The issue of driver needed in a vehicle may need to be addressed in the future. Someone asked if any research has been done about guide dog use on autonomous vehicles. The presenter said he was not aware of specific research in this area, but service dog users need to be accommodated. The U.S. Access Board is not currently conducting forums on this issue. Bottom line: I view autonomous vehicles as an exciting area of development which can improve transportation options for some people with disabilities.
Question for Readers
As someone with a disability, what excites you most about autonomous vehicles and why? I will return with another article.