Google this week posted a fascinating video on YouTube showing Steve Mahan, who is blind, driving to Taco Bell on his own, using Google’s pioneering self-driving technology. (It is captioned for the deaf, and audio-described for the blind.)
Google points out Mahan drove this car as an experiment on a “carefully programmed route.” Still, it is a brilliant and necessary application of a technology that was developed with the goal of making driving safer for everyone, eliminate traffic jams, and bring people to their destinations without getting lost. Just as the automobile changed the world at the beginning of the 20th century and introduced the so-called automobile culture, self-driving cars will impact how we live our lives in the 21st century.
Today, people who are not able to drive safely on the road — like people with vision loss, people in wheelchairs, or elderly people with age-related physical or cognitive disabilities that make it difficult to operate a car — are limited in their ability to live independently the way the rest of us do. They must rely on alternative technologies or services to achieve the sense of independence and control so they can be less of a burden to their family and friends.
When a car has the capability to take a person anywhere anytime, without operating a steering wheel or pedals, it removes a significant accessibility barrier for those whose disabilities limit their ability to operate a car.
Self-driving cars are going to be a game-changer for everyone, most of all people with disabilities.