AVs can give freedom to those with disabilities, says Paralympian Rick Hansen

AVs can give freedom to those with disabilities, says Paralympian Rick Hansen

While it might take years before AVs are a common sight on the roads, Paralympian Rick Hansen says their development is a go worthy of pursuit. This is part two of a two-part series that previously ran in the print edition of Automotive News Canada. The stories focus on Paralympian Rick Hansen’s message about making the auto industry more accessible to those with disabilities. You can read part one here .

NIAGARA FALLS, ONT. — Autonomous vehicles (AVs), smart technology and ride-hailing apps have the potential to drastically increase a disabled person’s mobility, former paralympic athlete Rick Hansen says.

Hansen, a keynote speaker at the recent Trillium Automobile Dealers Association’s Automotive Conference and Expo, said AVs, combined with other technologies, could enhance the lives of quadriplegics, blind people and others with disabilities who cannot drive.

People are “going to be able to converge technology, leave your home and as you go out the door, the lights shut off, door will open, close behind you, the car will deploy, it’ll strap you in, set your GPS coordinates and off you go,”Hansen said during a question-and-answer session.

“And meanwhile while you’re there, you’re actually working on your business and you’re working on setting up a date with your wife or girlfriend.”

Automakers, suppliers and technology companies have invested vast resources in recent years to developing autonomous and connected-vehicle technology. While the technology has progressed, fully autonomous vehicles have yet to be developed. Major hurdles, including technological, regulatory and ethical obstacles, must be addressed before they become commonplace.

Vehicle design is key to determining whether AVs will benefit those with disabilities, according to a report by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America.

Released in April, the report called on automakers, health-care companies and electronics companies to develop “accessible designs” for AV systems and to develop universal design standards.

For example, companies must determine how a disabled passenger will be able to interact with an autonomous vehicle to “regain proper control” in a emergency situation.

While it might take years before AVs are a common sight on the roads, Hansen said their development is a go worthy of pursuit.

“Why shouldn’t that reality be there as technology converges, and especially if we put it to good to remove barriers? It’s a powerful opportunity.”

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