Disabled Americans deserve the benefits of self-driving cars
© Getty Images

For the millions of Americans living with a disability, navigating the world can often be a challenge. At the American Network of Community Options and Resources (ANCOR), a national, nonprofit trade association representing more than 1,400 private community providers of services to people with disabilities, our mission is to advance the ability of our members in supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to fully participate in their communities. We are always interested in supporting the development of technologies that make getting around easier for people living with disabilities. That’s why we are particularly excited about the potential of self-driving cars. However, the benefits of this technology can’t be experienced until Congress passes the AV START Act. We believe the time to pass this legislation is now. 

We have supported the AV START Act since 2016 because increased availability of automated vehicles can address the significant transportation challenges faced by the individuals our members support.

ADVERTISEMENT

It is well-documented that transportation remains a major obstacle for people with disabilities, whether it be public transportation, paratransit or private transportation. This has been a long-standing challenge despite legislative advances such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As shared in a 2012 joint report by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and the Leadership Conference Education Fund: “Of the nearly 2 million people with disabilities who never leave their homes, 560,000 never leave home because of transportation difficulties.”

For individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the obstacles extend beyond physical accessibility. As shared in a 2016 article in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, “people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) often have trouble with many of the skills that navigating transportation requires.”

The widespread nature of transportation challenges have been corroborated by a 2017 article in the Journal of Disability Policy Studies, surveying over 4,000 individuals with disabilities on public transportation. The authors found that: “Although the ADA paved the way for change in public transportation, it is evident that existing facilities and systems are still not meeting the needs of people with disabilities. Nearly half (47.9%) of the respondents reported the public transportation system was inadequate, meaning that it did not get them where they needed to go, when they needed to get there, and in a reasonable amount of time.”

Due to the limitations of our current transportation systems, ANCOR believes it is important for Congress to empower technological innovation in this field. Access to reliable, safe and customizable transportation, such as that offered by automated vehicles, could profoundly improve outcomes for individuals with I/DD by helping them live more independently. For example, increased mobility would mean greater access to work – a key issue for people with I/DD, as they are more likely to live in poverty than their peers without disabilities. Beyond encouraging innovation, the AV START Act has specific provisions addressing the needs of people with disabilities. Specifically, the AV START Act prevents licensing practices that would exclude persons with disabilities from being able to use an AV. The bill also creates a working group dedicated to accessibility for individuals with disabilities.

The House of Representatives passed its SELF-DRIVE Act in the fall of 2017. Since then, its sister bill has been languishing in the U.S. Senate. The disability community shouldn’t have to wait any longer for the opportunity to access the same benefits of transportation that so many Americans enjoy. We urge the Senate to pass the AV START Act as soon as possible so that individuals living with disabilities can have the same freedom of mobility as other Americans.

Barbara Merrill is CEO of the American Network of Community Options and Resources.