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Driverless Cars: Opening Doors for People with Disabilities

I-95 is one of the roads the state of Maryland wants to use as a testing ground for driverless cars. (md.gov)
I-95 is one of the roads the state of Maryland wants to use as a testing ground for driverless cars. (md.gov)
January 27, 2017

BALTIMORE - Maryland and the rest of the country are preparing for self-driving cars to hit the roadways, and new research says the technology could help people with disabilities.

The report explored the ways autonomous cars could improve the lives of people with disabilities, including through employment opportunities and health care. Nearly 6 million such people have difficulties finding transportation, and Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said 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,' " he said. " '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 said as many as 70 percent of people with disabilities in the United States are unemployed.

Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan's administration applied for a U.S. Department of Transportation program that aims to work out the kinks in "autonomous vehicle" technology. Testing would happen on Interstate 95, U.S. Highways 1 and 40, and the Intercounty Connector, as well as the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The study said autonomous cars could not only improve opportunities for accessibility to work but save on health-care costs, too. It found more than 11 million medical appointments are missed every year for lack of adequate transportation, which amounts to about $19 billion in wasted health-care costs.

Kristina Kopic, who contributed to the study, said 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," she said, "self-driving technologies would be a boon, because you would really be allowing people curb-to-curb transportation."

Kopic said even paratransit, a product of the American Disabilities Act, can be exclusionary because it doesn't allow families to travel together when some don't have a disability, so, self-driving cars could become an inclusive form of transportation.

The study, commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America's Future Energy, is online at issuu.com.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD