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Autonomous Cars: Autonomy for People with Disabilities?

A new report says autonomous vehicles could make transportation much easier for people with disabilities. (Marc van der Chijs/Flickr)
A new report says autonomous vehicles could make transportation much easier for people with disabilities. (Marc van der Chijs/Flickr)
January 30, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska, like the rest of the country, is preparing for self-driving cars to hit the roadways, and new research says the technology could help those with disabilities.

A recent report explored the ways in which 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. As you do that, consider people with disabilities - because they can really not only benefit, but society can benefit,’” Ruderman said. "They are the largest, untapped resource that we have in our country."

He added 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, but many car manufacturers and technology companies are investing in their development.

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

Kristina Kopic, a contributor 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, self-driving technologies would be a boon,” Kopic said, "because you would really be allowing people curb-to-curb transportation."

Kopic said that even para-transit, 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 was commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America's Future Energy.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE