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How autonomous vehicles give wheelchair users more autonomy

We recognize the need to make transportation more equitable Learn about May Mobility’s commitment to design AVs that are wheelchair-accessible.

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Technology has evolved to the point where almost everything is available for purchase at the click of a button. We can have every type of knick knack, clothing, electronic and more shipped to our door the same day or within a couple of days of ordering it. Food delivery apps bring us our groceries or lunch from a nearby restaurant. And as great as this all is, we all still need to get out of the house for something. It may be an important doctor’s appointment, visiting friends or family, picking up a child from soccer practice or local grocery delivery just isn’t available where you live. And for most people, it’s as easy as hopping into your car and hitting the road. But not everybody has it that easy.

An estimated 25.5 million people have travel-limiting disabilities, and about 20% of those use some form of a wheelchair (11.6%), motorized scooter (4.4%) or motorized wheelchair (3.9%) to get around. While some may have their own modified vehicle (which may be cost-prohibitive, especially for low-income households) and someone to assist, many are unable to travel. We’ve made it our mission to provide wheelchair-accessible transportation as a core part of our service offering. We believe that autonomous vehicles can provide an equitable solution and foster independence for disabled individuals and those who have mobility limitations.

Transportation equity

You probably know at least one person who uses a wheelchair or maybe even use one yourself. Chances are, if you take a close look at multiple wheelchairs and assistive devices, you’ll start to notice that they aren’t all built the same. Some are motorized, others are not. The wheels could be different sizes, the seats built differently and even the footrests positioning won’t be exactly the same. With all the variety out there, it’s important that there is a system in place to help provide equitable transportation access for an extremely broad range of devices.

We are working hard to stand out in the AV industry through our wheelchair accessibility system, which is fully compliant with The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal civil rights law that guarantees that people with disabilities have the same access to public goods and opportunities as everyone else. But being compliant isn’t enough. We recognize that there is so much work to be done to make transportation accessible and equitable. That’s why we knew we had to develop a way to help wheelchair users board and ride our vehicles safely without the worry of being excluded because they don’t own a specific brand of wheelchair. Of course, making our vehicles wheelchair accessible takes more effort than throwing a ramp or a lift into a vehicle. And the wheelchair securement system needs to be strong and adaptable, while still ensuring rider comfort.

To accomplish this, we partnered and consulted with people and businesses that are leading the charge toward accessible transportation and mobility solutions. We believe that our ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp combined with our securement system and an attentive autonomous vehicle operator (AVO) provide a more equitable transportation solution for riders who use various assistive devices. We’ve implemented a versatile harness to be able to work with virtually any kind of wheelchair and our AVOs will help wheelchair users feel confident that they are securely seated within the vehicle and able to enjoy the ride.

The future of wheelchair accessibility in autonomous vehicles

We know some of our riders may appreciate having an AVO in the vehicle to answer questions and assist them with entry, securement and disembarkment from the autonomous vehicle. As we get closer to our rider-only deployments, we want to make sure wheelchair users still have a positive rider experience in our vehicles. We are hard at work developing a solution that works for all passengers in wheelchairs and are continuing to study disability access more broadly. And we look to our friends and colleagues in the accessible transportation community for guidance and feedback to ensure we’re considering the right things as we proceed with this work.

We consider transportation a public good and a critical component of the social safety net. With that, we consider equity and accessibility paramount to our service and mission. We’re continually working toward our commitment to real-world accessibility with autonomous vehicles and we won’t stop until we’ve accomplished what we set out to do.

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