The approximately 57 million people in the United States with visual, hearing, cognitive and mobility disabilities often face significant barriers to personal mobility and transportation. Recent research has indicated that as many as 20% of the disabled in the US face transportation barriers with 45% of this group lacking access to a personal passenger vehicle.
This problem is especially pronounced for persons with visual disabilities. Unlike amputees or persons with partial paralysis, there are no commercially available assistive technologies that enable persons who are blind or those with significant low vision to operate conventional motor vehicles.
While access to transportation is a significant problem for several segments of the U.S. population, the impact upon those with disabilities is often near insurmountable. These transportation barriers significantly impact the economic, physical and social well-being of many of the country’s visually impaired persons.
Recent data from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) indicates that approximately 28% of non-institutionalized persons age 21-64 with a visual disability worked full-time in 2015, while 29% lived below the poverty line ; almost double the rate of poverty of society at large during this period.
While several factors are at play here, personal mobility limitations have been cited as a key factor for this disparity. Lack of access to a personal vehicle may also adversely impact physical well-being, particularly in terms of delayed health care, with studies associating access to a personal vehicle with delayed cancer treatment and decreased healthcare utilization.
Beyond the issues of financial and physical well-being, the inability to drive has also been associated with reduced social engagement and loss of independence; the results of which are a decrease in the quality of life. While public transportation is an option, the costs, complexities and limitations for persons with visual disabilities pose their own challenges.
Emerging transportation technologies hold tremendous potential in addressing the multifaceted transportation problems with which the disabled must contend. The combined use of concierge or ride sharing applications (e.g. Uber, Lyft, etc.), fully autonomous vehicles, light rail, automated shuttles and conventional buses now provide a conceptualized scheme for enabling the visually disabled to independently travel from a point of origin to a final destination.
The combined use of these transportation technologies has been described by the U.S. Department of Transportation Accessible Transportation Technologies Research Initiative (ATTRI) as the “accessible transportation chain”. However, what is the outcome if either one or more of the “links” within this transportation chain is inaccessible?
While considerable research has and is being undertaken to address distinct aspects of transportation chains consisting of existing technologies (e.g. human driven buses and taxis) significant deficiencies in emerging transportation chains still require a thorough investigation to address those deficiencies. Our goal with the present project is to explore issues of accessibility with the imagined initial link of the accessible transportation chain of the future; mobile ridesharing applications.
Project Date: Jan. 1, 2019 - Present
Keywords: accessibility, ride sharing, multi-modal mobility