When it comes to employment supports—those resources we all need to access employment opportunities and perform our jobs effectively—transportation is one of the most impactful. After all, your dream job is out of reach if you can’t get there. Thus, accessible and affordable transportation options are crucial to the employability of all individuals, and especially people with disabilities, who often face barriers commuting to work.

In alignment with PEAT’s goal to promote the incorporation of accessible technology into work-related transportation systems, the Ruderman Family Foundation recently issued a white paper entitled “Self-Driving Cars: The Impact on People with Disabilities.”(link is external) The paper examines new self-driving car technologies and their promise for advancing the employment of people with disabilities—as long as developers incorporate accessibility into these technologies from the start. In fact, authors estimate that “mitigating transportation related obstacles for individuals with disabilities would enable new employment opportunities for approximately 2 million individuals with disabilities.”

Self-driving cars show exciting promise to address existing barriers for people with disabilities traveling to and from work. Currently, workers with disabilities encounter a range of transportation supports, including subsidized public transportation benefits, ridesharing programs, and preferential parking privileges. Challenges of these current options include inaccessible public transportation, sporadic and unreliable service with taxi and transit systems, and costly retrofitting to make vehicles accessible to people with physical disabilities. Autonomous vehicles, the authors argue, could ease work-related travel and deliver broad benefits, including “$1.3 trillion in savings from productivity gains, fuel costs, and accident prevention, among other sources.”

Widespread adoption of self-driving cars may be a decade away, but they will only be a solution for people with disabilities if they are accessible, both physically and technologically. The white paper recommends developers and designers consider the following components:

  • User interfaces should feature both auditory/visual systems and speech/text options.
  • Lifts, wheelchair ramps, and processes for stowing chairs during travel should be standard.
  • Interfaces should be limited in complexity and communicable with mobile devices and GPS.
  • Vehicles should incorporate universal design principles for usability and accessibility with a potential range of vehicle options to meet the needs of various users.

As stated, these cars and systems should be universally designed. According to the paper, “disability advocates urge that autonomous vehicles be designed for inclusion as early as possible in the design and manufacturing process. By incorporating accessibility in the front-end of development, the community will not be forced to fight for accessibility on the back-end.”

We at PEAT could not have said it better, and we look forward to watching and influencing how accessible transportation technology drives access to employment for people with disabilities.