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Just 60.4% of US residents with disabilities drive a car, compared to 91.7% of those without them, according to one study from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. While this highlights the stark difference among disabled and non-disabled drivers, however, accessible innovations out there are working to change things. From autonomous assistants that aim to make self-driving car technology more accessible to everyone to how one manufacturer has created a unique accessible solution, here’s what you should know.
The promises of self-driving technology
Self driving technology can be found today in a variety of vehicle models, though it’s no question that even these aren’t fully accessible to someone with disabilities. With engineering challenges being one major holdup, however, that doesn’t mean that automakers aren’t actively working on AV accessibility. Volkswagen’s Inclusive Mobility Team, based in Santa Clara, California, for instance, is working on AV accessibility for deaf individuals, by figuring out how an AV can communicate with users who are deaf or have low vision with the help of a software interface, as well as different seating concepts. Toyota, Cruise, and Waymo are additional brands working on solutions when it comes to accessibility needs and AVs, though not without their challenges, like design concepts.
AVA, the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant
AVA, short for the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant, was awarded a $300,000 research development prive by the US Department of Transport. Being an app-based system that is intended to help disabled passengers of AVs through all stages of using such a vehicle, the technology could bring a lot to the table regarding the matter. For example, the app can help disabled individuals greatly by integrating access needs directly in the booking system, which will ensure that passengers have the right accessibility functions from the beginning. Through the use of haptic feedback, AVA can help those with low vision to locate a vehicle, and can help with additional tasks, too — such as using door handles and exiting the vehicle safely.
Mazda’s accessible innovation
When it comes to those who experience physical disabilities that involve limited movement, getting behind the wheel can be an immense challenge. For individuals who have a condition like cerebral palsy, for instance, which is defined as a group of disorders that affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture, mobility can greatly vary. For example, with four main types of cerebral palsy (spastic, dyskinetic, ataxic, and mixed CP), mobility can range from wheelchair bound to high functioning. For those who are high functioning, and retain the use of their hands, Mazda’s accessible innovation can make a world of difference in ensuring those with such disabilities can get behind the wheel.
Available in both hybrid and electric versions, Mazda’s modified MX-30 Self-empowerment SUV brings a lot to the table in allowing individuals with disabilities that affect their lower bodies. Made possible by allowing users to use just hand controls, drivers can accelerate the vehicle by pressing an inner ring on the steering wheel, and braking with the use of a lever on the left. And, with other drivers still able to use the pedals, there’s no question that this car can make for an accessible model.
While accessibility and autonomous vehicles are still a work in progress, technology like AVA, in addition to other work by various automakers are working to make a positive change. And, with Mazda’s innovative accessible design for individuals with limited mobility, there’s no question that accessibility and vehicle design is advancing in the right direction.
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