When I bought my car, I paid twice what someone else would have, and I had limited options. My van was $25,000 and the modification was $25,000. That’s double!

Stories

Kelly’s Story

I got involved in organizing when I got a disability. When I was starting my career I was a social worker. But I got approached by a Vista volunteer in 1979 who was working to organize people with disabilities. And I’ve really enjoyed making a difference in other people’s lives — that’s why I do the work I do.

I own my own car and drive everywhere. Parking is a problem because not all lots or spaces are accessible for my wheelchair, and HOV lanes are useless for me because I have to drive my own vehicle. So autonomous vehicles have great potential for me.

When I bought my car, I paid twice what someone else would have, and I had limited options. My van was $25,000 and the modification was $25,000. That’s double!

With autonomous vehicles, traffic and parking could become much less of an issue. But I haven’t seen any indication that there will be accessibility options. That’s what I see as the biggest obstacle.

So if I want to use an autonomous vehicle when they become available, how costly will they be to purchase? With current vehicle designs, you can take a van and chop the floor out and lower it, and make the van accessible. But with the autonomous vehicle designs I’ve seen, you can’t do that because the communications array is large and centrally located in the vehicle. So will it even be possible for me to ride at all?

If I could speak with the people running the auto manufacturing companies, I would tell them that these vehicles need to be universally accessible. That means an interface for the blind, hearing impaired, wheelchair users, and more — universal for all people.

We all need to demand universal accessibility.

When I bought my car, I paid twice what someone else would have, and I had limited options. My van was $25,000 and the modification was $25,000. That’s double!

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Parking is a problem because not all lots or spaces are wheelchair accessible.

The affordability of accessible vehicles is a huge problem -- it’s basically a penalty structure, and we’re the ones paying the penalty. If more companies were making vehicles that were designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning, then more people would be able to buy them.

Stories

Alejandra’s Story

I’ve lived in New York City my whole life (I’m 37), I have cerebral palsy and I’ve been a wheelchair user my whole life.

I rely mostly on public transportation, but I’ve only been a Subway rider since 2008. I’ve lucked out where I live because the station close to me is accessible, but the system as a whole is only about 24% accessible. Last Spring, two federal lawsuits were filed against the Metropolitan Transport Authority on Subway accessibility by disability advocates, but they will take a while to work their way through the courts.

Our buses are accessible, but in New York City traffic, it can take you an hour on a bus to travel a mile.

No matter what form of transportation I take, I have to plan far in advance and figure out which elevators are in service and which aren’t. Because of liability issues, if I get stuck underground I have to call 911 instead of receiving help from MTA staff or police.

I do use accessible taxis, and they are slowly becoming more available. If I call 311, I’m routed to an accessible dispatch. And I’m part of a pilot program where I can call an accessible taxi and pay a fare similar to what I would pay for paratransit.

I believe that autonomous vehicles would be helpful to me. I would absolutely be interested in using them. I’m worried that the cost would be prohibitive, especially with modification costs if they weren’t accessible to begin with. But my other concerns are about safety — as a wheelchair user, in case of a technical problem I would be very vulnerable.

My questions for the automakers: Are you thinking about my accessibility? What is the control interface like? Would I be able to use them? Who is testing them out? I want to know that we are part of the conversation.

The affordability of accessible vehicles is a huge problem — it’s basically a penalty structure, and we’re the ones paying the penalty. If more companies were making vehicles that were designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning, then more people would be able to buy them.

I have been involved with many advocacy projects over the course of my life. I see transportation as a space where I could start applying my effort as an advocate, because I see how it impacts my life every day. It was advocates working together when I was an infant to create the transportation network I use today, as imperfect as it is. If we apply ourselves now, we can make even more progress on this issue for the next generation.

The affordability of accessible vehicles is a huge problem -- it’s basically a penalty structure, and we’re the ones paying the penalty. If more companies were making vehicles that were designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning, then more people would be able to buy them.

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Alejandra is interested in using autonomous vehicles, but she is worried that the cost would be prohibitive -- especially with modification costs if they weren’t accessible to begin with..

These are not significant costs when they are considered in the design phase of a product -- they only become large costs if the design phase fails to address the issues.

Stories

James’ Story

The most significant challenge I face with transportation is reliability.

I’ve been blind since 2010. As I was receiving instruction on independent living skills — learning Braille, using a cane, etc. — I met other blind individuals and got the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences. I met other people involved in advocacy and learned that I would have to advocate for myself. I was drawn to the National Federation of the Blind, and I’ve worked with them quite a bit.

I learned that with the right education, training, and mindset, I can live an independent life and be successful. So I got my bachelors degree in psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, and now I’m a 3rd year graduate at Peabody College at Vanderbilt to become a counselor.

Before I lost my vision I was used to driving my own car, but now I’m dependent on others to get around. If the service isn’t on time, I can’t get where I want to go. Also, many drivers aren’t educated on my needs.

For example, a recent driver I called showed up 20 minutes early — never called, never texted, nor came to my front door. I didn’t even know the car was there.

We don’t have train transportation in Nashville, and bus stops are not in an ideal location for me. I’ve heard horror stories from friends about journeys that would be 30 minute walks taking four hours because of bus transfers.

Self-driving cars have a great potential for me. They can give the independence and autonomy back to me. It’s a very empowering thing: To be able to leave when you want to leave, and go where you want to go. But a lot of times in the past when a revolution in technology occurs, not everyone’s needs are considered. In those cases, what could be a big benefit can actually become a hindrance and make things worse.

Inaccessible devices such as touchscreens, for example, have been actively limiting my ability to use computers. They’ve been popularized to the point that they’re now everywhere, but reliance on touchscreens is an active nuisance for me. Now, people developing kiosks with touchscreens have to make later modifications to fit the needs of people like me. If they had considered my needs from the beginning, it would have ended up better for everyone.

To the manufacturers: Have you spoken to people with disabilities as you’re designing your vehicles? If not, you’re missing information that will save you time and money later. Incorporating accessibility from the get-go is a must.

These are not significant costs when they are considered in the design phase of a product — they only become large costs if the design phase fails to address the issues.

One other thing to keep in mind: Partial accessibility is not accessible. That doesn’t cut it. We want manufacturing companies to keep that in mind as they develop autonomous vehicles. During your design process, think it through from the perspective of wheelchair users, blind people, deaf people, and and those with a wide range of needs.

These are not significant costs when they are considered in the design phase of a product -- they only become large costs if the design phase fails to address the issues.

It's not about cars -- it’s about culture. With the right culture, we have the ability to solve these problems with relative ease. People with disabilities make up 20% of the human population, and as a result of ridiculous bias, current fleets of vehicles are not accessible to up 1/5th of humanity! From a purely profit standpoint, that’s lunacy.

Stories

D’Arcee’s Story

I grew up in North Carolina, and down South if you don’t have a car you’re completely stuck. My older brother had a car and he drove everywhere, and when I turned 16 I was excited to start driving, too. I took Driver’s Ed just like everyone else, and when I came time for my written practice test I passed with a 98. But after that test, the instructor pulled me to the side and told me I had to quit. They didn’t have a car that I could drive, and the instructors didn’t know how to teach it even if they had it.

So I called the Wade County Board of Transportation to find out what resources were available to me. To my surprise, the lady told me to “take the bus” and hung up.

Through research, I found out that I needed to buy and modify a car myself, which costs thousands upon thousands of dollars. In addition, to find an instructor, I would also have to go all the way to Richmond, Virginia and it would cost me $5,000.

As a result, at 32, I still don’t have a car of my own.

Back then, when all my friends were driving in high school, I couldn’t. I couldn’t go to friends’ houses, I couldn’t go grocery shopping, and forget about dating!

When I came to D.C. for an internship in 2007 I was instantly hooked — D.C.’s accessibility standard is fantastic. It was the first time I was able to go anywhere on my own terms without someone else’s cooperation and permission.

I remember the first time someone invited me to come out in DC, I almost said no before I realized that I could get there on my own. When my internship ended, back in North Carolina, I immediately told my mom that I was moving to DC permanently, much to her surprise. Nowadays, even though the cost of living is outrageous, I still believe it’s worth it. I simply can’t go back to living in a space with no transportation.

I also believe that eventually, autonomous vehicles will be a big positive in my life. As it is now, driving is a privilege, and I don’t think some people understand that. With autonomous vehicles, I hope that more people especially those with disabilities, will in turn, be able to finally own, travel, and enjoy the freedom of cars.

But to find autonomous vehicles useful, l recognize that I need space on the inside of the car — but not too much. I have cerebral palsy, but all people with cerebral palsy have different needs. We need accessible vehicles that are appropriate for different people’s needs, and autonomous vehicles should address that.

To the automakers: It’s not about cars — it’s about culture. With the right culture, we have the ability to solve these problems with relative ease. People with disabilities make up 20% of the human population, and as a result of ridiculous bias, current fleets of vehicles are not accessible to up 1/5th of humanity! From a purely profit standpoint, that’s lunacy.

Serving this market is where ingenuity comes in. You have spent so much time and resources refining your designs. Why haven’t you turned that attention on a new challenge that could grow your business?

Transportation is a basic human right. The ability to get from point A to point B — you can’t get much more fundamental than that. Somebody needs to sit down with the automakers and tell them about our stories.

It's not about cars -- it’s about culture. With the right culture, we have the ability to solve these problems with relative ease. People with disabilities make up 20% of the human population, and as a result of ridiculous bias, current fleets of vehicles are not accessible to up 1/5th of humanity! From a purely profit standpoint, that’s lunacy.

Though some may expect me to be excited, I have to admit to mixed feelings about autonomous vehicles. I like the idea of being able to get around independently and get up and go whenever I want -- it would be so helpful. But I don’t know how manufacturers are going to work out the kinks, especially when it comes to accessibility.

Stories

Stephanie’s Story

I’m from the town of Clinton, in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but I attend school in Nashville, Tennessee. I try to be as involved as possible. I was on the board of the National Federation of the blind for several years, and I’m the Vice President of the Tennessee association of guide dog users. At Vanderbilt, where I go to school, we have a five-year action plan to make the campus and the city more accessible.

In my daily life, I’m very reliant on public transportation. I want to be independent and I don’t want to lean on friends to get around, which usually means public transportation. In New Jersey we have New Jersey Transit trains, and we have disability buses — “Access Link” and “The Link” in New Jersey, and “Access Ride” in Nashville.

In theory, I have transportation options. In practice it takes me double, triple, quadruple the time that another person would take to travel. And there are always unexpected challenges. For example: I had a therapist whose office was technically over the county line, and Access Ride wouldn’t take me.

Back home in New Jersey, public transportation is not that great because Clinton is a rural area.

I use Uber and Lyft in Nashville, and they’ve been useful to me. But it’s gotten more expensive — especially Uber. Recently I took a trip to the airport and it was $50. But I’m not going to make a friend drive me to the airport at 4:00 a.m.

Up to this point, I don’t have access to accessible vehicles, and I can’t get a driver’s license. The current prototypes for accessible vehicles involve different forms of physical feedback. I heard of one project where the driver wears a vest which vibrates in different locations depending on what a driver would need to do, such as slow down or stop.

Though some may expect me to be excited, I have to admit to mixed feelings about autonomous vehicles. I like the idea of being able to get around independently and get up and go whenever I want — it would be so helpful. But I don’t know how manufacturers are going to work out the kinks, especially when it comes to accessibility.

I want autonomous vehicles accessible for blind people. What we need most voice-activated interfaces. If automakers launch the vehicles without accessibility features, I won’t be able to use it. To keep their promise to members of the disability community, automakers should make sure that self-driving cars are accessible from the very beginning.

I think education and awareness is the biggest step for us to make progress on accessibility. As a person with a visual impairment, I always try to educate and make people aware of my challenges. People don’t mean to exclude — if I don’t tell them about my life, they’ll never know. These issues go way over people’s heads. That’s why I’m speaking up now.

When I was little, my parents ingrained in me that I stand up for myself and advocate. I hope that all of us working together can let people know what we need and bring more accessibility to transportation.

If self-driving cars launch with features that make them accessible to me I will be the first one in line to use them. I want to get up and go whenever I want. I want the ability to get to school or work when I need to. Independence: That is the most important priority for me, just like for anyone else.

Though some may expect me to be excited, I have to admit to mixed feelings about autonomous vehicles. I like the idea of being able to get around independently and get up and go whenever I want -- it would be so helpful. But I don’t know how manufacturers are going to work out the kinks, especially when it comes to accessibility.

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If automakers launch the vehicles without accessibility features, Stephanie won’t be able to use them.