Braille Monitor                                     December 2017

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National Federation of the Blind and Automakers Host Conference on the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community

From the Editor: Transportation has always been at the top of the list when it comes to problems blind people want solved. The loss of the ability to drive is one of the problems that newly-blinded people grieve most, and it is the American rite of passage that has been denied to those who have been blind since birth. In most places in America, easily engaging in many social activities is predicated on the idea that one can come and go at will. With all of the options we have, from busses to cabs to Uber, there are times when the places we live lack these crucial services, and only when we too have control over a vehicle will we experience what drivers take for granted. Here is a press release discussing the role of the National Federation of the Blind in hosting a conference focusing on autonomous vehicles, one that involved major stakeholders, and one which will shape the self-driving vehicle we will soon see on America’s streets and highways:

Diverse Group of Attendees Focus on Accessibility of Autonomous Vehicles for the Disabled

Baltimore, MD (October 26, 2017): Yesterday the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (“Auto Alliance”) hosted a conference titled “The Promise: Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community.” The event was hosted at NFB’s Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

The conference brought together representatives from government, the automotive industry, and advocates for the disabled to discuss the advances, challenges, and path forward for autonomous vehicle development.

“Historically, accessibility has been a costly post-purchase vehicle modification for most people with disabilities, and nonexistent for the blind,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind was therefore pleased to co-host this first-of-its-kind gathering of disabled consumers, automotive industry representatives, ride-sharing providers, and policymakers, laying the groundwork for accessibility to be included in the development of promising new vehicle technologies rather than as an afterthought. Discussion between industry and disabled consumers has already had a positive impact on the Senate’s AV START legislation, and our continued work together will pave the way for autonomous vehicles to become tools that will truly enhance independence and opportunity for the blind and other disabled travelers.”

“Automakers have been developing self-driving technologies for years. We are motivated by the tremendous potential for enhanced safety for everyone and the opportunity to provide greater mobility freedom to people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the auto alliance. “Given the enormity of the social benefits, we are anxious to work with stakeholders and government leaders to develop the policy framework to realize these benefits as soon as we can.”

The conference was a key step in the ongoing conversation about how autonomous vehicles can be developed and deployed safely, while considering the needs of those 57 million Americans with disabilities. Autonomous vehicles offer disabled Americans opportunities for increased mobility and independence, as well as reliable transportation that could vastly increase employment opportunities. The National Federation of the Blind and Auto Alliance urge Congress, the Administration, and original equipment manufacturers alike to consider the needs of the disabled as they continue to develop the laws, regulations, and technology that will bring autonomous vehicles to the masses.

The day’s speakers included representatives of the disability community (including the National Association of the Deaf, National Federation of the Blind, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, United Spinal Association, American Council of the Blind, and National Down Syndrome Society); the automotive industry (including General Motors, Audi of America, Daimler North America, and Volvo Car Group); government (including representatives from the office of Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., the US Department of Labor, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and other stakeholders (including representatives from Uber and Securing America’s Future Energy).

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