'The Blind Have High Hopes for Self-Driving Cars'

Elizabeth Woyke, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Advocates for the blind—at Perkins and beyond—say driverless cars could revolutionize their lives, provided the vehicles are designed to be accessible. As the promise of a truly autonomous car draws closer, organizations representing the blind are taking a more active role in shaping the vehicles and software being developed.

“Autonomous vehicles will be transformative for people who are blind,” says Dave Power, Perkins’s president and CEO. “For the first time, they will be able to get to school, work, and community activities independently, regardless of distance. There is tremendous enthusiasm about it, both here and nationally, among the blind.”

Advocates want companies to make their autonomous vehicles disability friendly rather than produce special cars for the visually impaired, which would probably be extremely expensive. Power, a former technology executive, knows the blind community can’t assume that autonomous-vehicle makers will take their needs into account. So he has begun inviting technology companies to Perkins’s campus to make presentations and gather feedback. “We want to help these vendors build accessibility into their designs and think about blind people up front,” says Power.

In many ways, self-driving cars represent the zenith of accessibility for blind and low vision people.