How the Auto Industry Is Prioritizing Accessibility Tech for Drivers

Posted on 13/02/2023 by MilesOliver in Blog
Tags: automation, Car

Living with a disability has its challenges. Depending on the nature and severity of the condition, persons with disabilities can find their independence slipping away.

This is particularly true when it comes to that fundamental freedom of adulthood: the freedom to go where you want, when you want, simply by hopping behind the wheel of your own car. For those with sensory impairments such as low vision, those with mobility issues, or with some types of neurodivergence, a medical diagnosis can mean losing the ability to drive. 

And the impacts of that loss can be profound and wide-ranging. The loss of the ability to drive may impact not only the individual’s self-esteem and mental health but also their ability to travel to work, school, or medical appointments. Drivers with disabilities may find themselves isolated, largely confined to their homes, or reliant on others for transportation.

But there is hope. The auto industry has in recent years made enormous strides in automation technologies, which are dramatically expanding accessibility for drivers with disabilities. This article examines how today’s auto industry is prioritizing accessibility tech to enable all drivers, regardless of impairment, to get back on the road safely and securely.

Automation, Access, and Affordability

Autonomous vehicle technologies are still very much a work in progress, but innovations are being made at lightning speed. Four distinct levels of automation are presently recognized, ranging from limited driver assistance at level one to complete automation requiring no human intervention at level four.

While level four, complete automation, is still under development, most new vehicles fall somewhere between levels two and three in terms of automation. Importantly, these automation features are now standard on vehicles at lower and mid-range prices. This constitutes a significant industry shift from previous years, when such technology was relegated almost exclusively to the luxury market.

And what this means for drivers with disabilities is that accessibility tech is increasingly entering their price range. They may purchase an affordable vehicle off the lot without requiring expensive and time-consuming modifications to make them accessible.

Hands-Free Driving and Automated Cruise Control

Drivers with mobility impairments, such as those with paralysis or limited motor control, may be unable to control a steering wheel or foot pedals safely. However, new accessibility technologies are emerging to enable the vehicle to navigate with minimal driver intercession.

This includes technologies that use artificial intelligence (AI) systems, as well as sophisticated sensors, GPS, and front, rear, and side-view cameras for real-time navigation. This has resulted in the development of increasingly reliable technologies that can autonomously navigate freeways and point-to-point driving. Thus, drivers with mobility impairments will need to engage only minimally with the vehicle controls, reducing fatigue and increasing the distances the driver may safely travel.

In addition, accessibility features such as automated lane-centering, automatic braking, parking assist, and evasive steering relieve drivers of the more physically challenging aspects of driving.

Night Vision, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Beyond

Drivers with vision impairments can have a particularly difficult time with night driving or low light conditions. Many states impose significant restrictions on driver’s licenses for those with low vision or clinical blindness, including prohibitions on driving at night or traveling great distances from home.

However, new technologies are making driving safer and more accessible for those with vision impairments. These include night vision, automated high beam technologies, and surround-view cameras to facilitate safe driving in low-light conditions.

But drivers with low vision are far from the only ones to benefit from these technologies. Many of these tools are proving highly effective for drivers with various forms of neurodivergence, including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and autism.

For instance, traffic-sign recognition technologies can assist those with dyslexia and other challenges with reading and numeracy. These technologies can “read” the signage and adjust the vehicle’s speed and course accordingly, both with and without human intervention. 

Likewise, automated lane centering, collision prevention, and speed adjustment can help drivers with ADHD should they become distracted on the road. 

Similarly, features such as traffic jam assistance can be useful to drivers on the autism spectrum, who may quickly become overwhelmed by traffic congestion. Rather than endeavoring to process all the sights, sounds, and noises of a traffic jam, this “robotic car” technology can ease the burden of navigating the chaos safely. The driver is required to intervene minimally, if at all, which reduces the risk of overstimulation and panic for drivers with autism.

The Takeaway

The ability to get behind the wheel of a car and travel anywhere your heart desires isn’t just a matter of convenience. It is also an essential freedom. However, when you are living with a disability, that freedom is often the first to be lost. The auto industry, though, is working to change that by prioritizing accessibility tech that may soon return the joy of the open road to drivers of all abilities!


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