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Report: Self-Driving Cars Could Improve Lives of People with Disabilities

Self-driving cars still are in their testing phase but one day could improve the lives of people with disabilities. (Don DeBold/Flickr)
Self-driving cars still are in their testing phase but one day could improve the lives of people with disabilities. (Don DeBold/Flickr)
January 26, 2017

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state lawmakers are in the beginning stages of developing regulations for self-driving cars, but they're already being asked to keep people with disabilities in mind.

A research paper commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America's Future Energy explored the ways autonomous cars could improve the lives of people with disabilities, including through employment opportunities and health care.

Nearly 6 million people with disabilities have difficulty finding transportation, and Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, says this population needs to be part of the discussion.

"What we're trying to say to these companies is, like, 'Hey, the technology is there, and you're going to continue to refine it and develop it and make it better,” says Ruderman. "As you do that, consider people with disabilities because they can really not only benefit but society can benefit. They are the largest, untapped resource that we have in our country.'"

Ruderman adds that as many as 70 percent of people with disabilities in the U.S. are unemployed.

Self-driving cars aren't yet a reality for consumers, although many car manufacturers and technology companies are investing in them. Google currently is testing a self-driving car in Kirkland, Washington.

The study showed autonomous cars could not only improve accessibility to employment opportunities but save on health care costs, too. The analysis found more than 11 million medical appointments are missed every year because of inadequate transportation.

That amounts to about $19 billion in wasted healthcare costs because an individual with a disability did not have access to non-emergency transportation. Kristina Kopic contributed to the study, she says people who live in rural areas could benefit most.

"We think that especially in rural areas that don't already have access to public transportation, self-driving technologies would be a boon because you would really be allowing people curb-to-curb transportation."

Even para-transit, a product of the American Disabilities Act, can be exclusionary because it doesn't provide family members without disabilities to travel together, she adds, self-driving cars could become an inclusive form of transportation with enough consideration from manufacturers and government.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA