Tech trends: Making driverless vehicles accessible

Friday, August 19, 2016

ARLINGTON, Va. – Silicon Valley and Detroit may be in a race to develop the first autonmous car, but it’s John Tschida’s job to make sure everyone, including those with disabilities, can use the finished product. 

“There’s a large portion of the population that can’t access transportation,” said Tschida, director of the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR), at the RESNA/NCART 2016 Conference in July. “So we have a host of individuals with different functional abilities who could benefit greatly from advances in these areas.”

Tschida recently attended a meeting hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration where policy recommendations around the development of these autonomous vehicles were distributed.

Also in attendance: Uber, Lift, General Motors, Audi, Volkswagen and Ford.

“We’re telling them, ‘We understand that there’s a mass market appeal to this, but we want to make sure that you understand the user needs of this very large and growing community to ensure accessibility,’” he said.

Because it can be expensive to retrofit technology once its been adopted by mainstream society, Tschida says researchers, designers and engineers need to ask the big questions now.

“What is that technology going to look like, how are they going to be accessible and how can we design vehicles on the front end so that they can be universal?” he said.