How Partnering With May Mobility Helps Transit Agencies Better Serve Disabled Communities

By May Mobility

Our goal as an autonomous vehicle (AV) service provider is to make transit more accessible and equitable. So when we design and engineer our AVs, we take steps to accommodate the needs of as many riders as possible.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that 27 percent of adults in the U.S. live with some type of disability. That equates to around 77 million Americans. Of these, 12.1 percent have a serious mobility issue, with 6.1 percent deaf or hard of hearing and 4.8 percent with a disability related to vision. The U.S. Department of Transportation further reports that people with disabilities are less likely to own or have access to vehicles than people without disabilities. They found that 22.5 percent of non workers and 12.2 percent of workers with disabilities live in zero vehicle households.

Without accessible transportation options that take disabilities into account, people with disabilities can be limited by their environment. But on-demand AV microtransit empowers people by offering a convenient and accessible solution that meets their individual needs and schedules. Transit agencies that prioritize this kind of innovative service can allow people with disabilities to enjoy much greater freedom, independence and control.

How does autonomous on-demand microtransit benefit people with disabilities?

Many people with disabilities need to schedule their days around the limited transportation options available to them. Often, this must be done days in advance to ensure they can travel and return safely and with confidence. The obligation to micromanage travel arrangements can be very frustrating and sometimes makes it impossible to access employment, grocery shopping, medical care or entertainment.

We’re designing on-demand autonomous vehicles that bridge the transportation gap to help dismantle these obstacles to everyday life. Our AV deployments aim to provide easy and reliable access to vital services and leisure activities that may otherwise be hard to reach. Transit agencies should prioritize adapting their services to better accommodate people with varying abilities, to ensure equal access for everyone.

Designing for disabilities

By collaborating with a leading manufacturer of accessible transportation and mobility solutions, we’ve modified our Toyota Sienna Autono-Maas vehicles to include an ADA-compliant boarding ramp. They can also accommodate two ambulatory riders or a service animal, and are attended by a friendly autonomous vehicle operator (AVO) who assists with entering and exiting. We strive to give wheelchair users greater agency in travel with the same level of safety as other passengers.

But we don’t just design our AVs to empower those with mobility issues. We are also working on incorporating speakers and a display to provide important information to riders, especially helpful to those with audio or visual impairments. In the meantime, our AVOs are happy to answer questions and, if requested, will announce when the vehicle is approaching its destination for added support.

Grand Rapids, Minnesota deployment: Accessible autonomous transportation in action

We’ve deployed our AVs in 11 communities across the U.S. and Japan, giving over 320,000 rides. Of these, our deployment in Grand Rapids, Minnesota has been particularly well received by its wheelchair users. The program launched in 2022 to compensate for transportation gaps and increase equity and accessibility in a rural community. The deployment consists of five AVs, three of which are wheelchair-accessible.

Among our many partners is the non-profit accessibility movement Mobility Mania, whose goal is to make Itasca County the most accessible county in Minnesota. The organization’s co-founder and well-known advocate for handicapped-accessible transportation, Myrna Peterson, quickly became a regular rider. When asked about the impact our AVs are having on her community, she told us:

May Mobility has made a huge difference in our community for those people who aren’t as mobile. It gives them the opportunity to get accessible transportation to events in the evening and on weekends, to church on Sunday, to a concert, to one of their grandchildren’s sporting events or just out leisurely to have dinner with friends or family. I want people to enjoy a better quality of life than having to stay home because they can’t get there.

Our Grand Rapids deployment has been an incredible triumph for AV technology and even featured in the new BBC series Technology’s Golden Age

Self-Driving Senior Shuttles Coming to Detroit

By Joe Guillen, Axios

Self-driving shuttles for older people and those with disabilities should be available in the city late next year.

Driving the news: City Council approved a $2.5 million contract last week with Ann Arbor-based May Mobility to provide free autonomous rides to the store, doctor’s office or other places for people 65 and older and those living with disabilities.

Why it matters: The project advances Detroit’s goal of being a leader in transportation innovation and should supplement the city’s troubled paratransit program.

State of play: Vehicle safety testing and development of the service’s mobile app starts this fall. Shuttles are expected to be available in spring 2024.

  • Research for the project began last year and is funded through 2026 with the help of a federal automated driving grant.
  • Ford and Mobileye are also exploring autonomous vehicles here, according to BridgeDetroit.

How it works: Riders will be able to book shuttles for daily transit needs on-demand or in advance through a mobile app, website or by phone.

  • Rides will be available in two different zones — one north of downtown and the other covering southeast neighborhoods, per Bridge.
  • Human operators will chaperone rides during the project to familiarize users with the technology and to assist riders getting on or off the shuttle.

What they’re saying: Tim Slusser, the city’s chief of mobility innovation, says the project will help solve transportation obstacles and build public trust in self-driving technology.

  • “We want Detroiters to feel safe and well-informed riding on and sharing the road with autonomous vehicles,” he said in a statement.

What’s next: Community outreach to finalize service routes begins this fall.

Autonomous Vehicle Transit Pilot in Rural Minnesota to Expand with $9.3M Federal Grant

By Andy Castillo, American City & County

Ten months into its 18-month-long pilot initiative, an autonomous vehicle transit program in rural Minnesota, goMARTI (Minnesota’s Autonomous Rural Transit Initiative), has received a $9.3 million federal technology grant to expand into Grand Rapids, Minn.

Since launching with a fleet of five self-driving vehicles in September (three of which have ADA-compliant wheelchair ramps), goMARTI has provided on-demand service to about 70 pick-up and drop-off points in a 16.5 square-mile area. The expansion will add community-requested stops to the east and south of the current area, including Minnesota North College Itasca, Second Harvest North Central Food Bank and Walmart.

“Connecting residents with these rural community destinations will allow for equitable access to critical services in the region through a convenient and reliable shared mobility option. We are excited about continuing the state’s interagency collaboration between the Iron Range and MnDOT in the state’s transition to shared, electric and automated transportation,” said Ida Rukavina, commissioner of Minnessota’s Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation board in a statement. With the federal Advanced Transportation Technology and Innovation Program grant and additional “EV infrastructure planning underway, northeastern Minnesota is well positioned to help create a better future for rural transportation.”

Along with the added stops, administrators are planning to use the funding to add another autonomous vehicle to the fleet along with three fully electric, non-autonomous vehicles that will serve the Grand Rapids area and the nearby communities of Cohasset and La Prairie, Minn.

While initially launched to help people in rural Minnessota get to and from jobs, medical and other appointments, the expansion will reach a new population.

“Expanding goMARTI to Minnesota North College Itasca is a big win for our current and prospective students,” said Dr. Michael Raich, president of Minnesota North College in the statement. “Reliable transportation is a barrier for many people, and this free and convenient shuttle option will make college much more accessible to those who don’t live on or near campus. This project also presents an opportunity for our college to prepare our future workforce by exposing students to emerging technologies and careers in the transportation industry.”

The grant will also be used to integrate goMARTI into the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) trip planning platform, the Transit App, which is currently being used in southern Minnesota. Funding will also support continued research from the University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies and workforce development efforts with Minnesota North College. Minnesota North College will be developing curriculum to leverage the project creating student experience opportunities, new curriculum opportunities and career pathways in new technology.

A Senior and Formerly Unhoused Mechanic Tries Out Autonomous Driving

By Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving

By all accounts, Clayton, a Phoenix man in his 70s, is flourishing. He resides in a close-knit, affordable housing community called Acacia Heights that hosts game nights and potlucks once a month to bring its residents closer together. He serves as a volunteer on the board of nonprofit Circle the City that provides life-saving healthcare to unhoused individuals.

“I feel grateful for every day I’m allowed to wake up,” Clayton says.

It’s hard to imagine that not too long ago, Clayton was also unhoused and a client of Circle the City. Circle the City empowered him to find his home at Acacia Heights through another nonprofit, Foundation for Senior Living (FSL), which provides assistance to Phoenix seniors and people with disabilities and access to affordable housing.

“The residents here are really good at looking after each other,” Clayton says, adding that he loves the community’s amenities like a common room, computer lab, and easy access to downtown Phoenix. “It’s a really, really good feeling to me.”

In contrast to when he was unhoused, Clayton now has many community connections, and volunteering is especially meaningful to him.

“It’s my way of giving back,” Clayton explains.

Clayton, who once worked as an auto mechanic (who once put a totally torn-apart engine back together in two hours and 10 minutes!) believes in a lifelong commitment to trying new things. He put that into action recently when he caught a Waymo One ride to Circle the City in an autonomously driven vehicle.

“People said, ‘You can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Don’t tell me I can’t. That’s not in my book.’”

Tami Bohannon, CEO of Foundation for Senior Living, which manages Acacia Heights, says FSL is partnering with Waymo to explore how the technology could help residents like Clayton, many of whom do not drive.

“The partnership with Waymo allows FSL participants to stay connected to the larger community,” Tami emphasizes.

Waymo’s autonomous driving technology is designed to be conscientious, constantly vigilant, follow road rules, and make safe driving decisions. Not only could the technology offer seniors who can no longer drive an on-demand safe transportation option, it also could help seniors with limited mobility get the final miles from their homes to public transportation stations by providing one possible solution to the “last mile problem.” Waymo has worked with Phoenix’s public transit system on piloting models for how the technology could close transit gaps.

Tami says the population that FSL serves is expanding, and so will the need for assistance and tools that help people live independently.

“We have a silver tsunami coming. By 2030, there will be 42 million seniors, people over the age of 65 in the United States,” Tami explains. “I do know 90% of seniors tell us they want to live independently.”

Over the last 30 years, FSL has developed 25 affordable apartment communities for seniors and people with disabilities in Phoenix, including Acacia Heights.

Tami says she believes that technology like Waymo’s could be an extension of the services FSL provides already.

“When I think of Waymo’s partnership with FSL, it is actually an extension of our caregiving resources,” Tami says. “If a senior has the ability to use an app, call a Waymo, and take a ride to go to the doctor, an exercise class, or to visit a friend or family member… it’s kind of a new way to look at caregiving.”

Tami says the partnership reflects FSL’s solutions-focused, innovative values.

“Whether that solution is an autonomous car that picks up one of our participants or residents, or we would love to explore robotics and be able to have some form of robotics help us with our caregiving duties, whether it’s in someone’s home or in one of our centers, we’re all about embracing innovation and looking at the world differently.”

Tami says she realized some people might be afraid of autonomous driving technology like Waymo’s, but that life is much richer when people don’t let fear stand in the way of new ways of doing things.

“Think about how your life would be different if you had this kind of technology, this innovative technology available to you,” Tami urges, adding that Clayton is a great example of someone trying new things. “We can’t let fear drive us, but we can let an autonomous car drive us.”

From No Phone to Riding with Waymo One: Sheila Shares Her Journey with Foundation for Senior Living

By Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving,

In a single moment of luck and curiosity, Sheila found her beloved permanent home in Acacia Heights, a Phoenix community for seniors and people with disabilities.

She was walking along a Phoenix street one day while running errands, and, having bounced around from place to place for 10 years, she was looking for a more stable community to live. She looked up and happened to see Acacia Heights, an affordable housing community managed by the Phoenix nonprofit Foundation for Senior Living (FSL).

“The building and the colors… they’re subtle, they’re warm,” Sheila recalls. “The location attracted me.”

Sheila went inside and spoke with FSL property manager Jeff Weist. Jeff placed Sheila on a waiting list for housing at Acacia Heights, but Sheila didn’t have her own phone number. She relied on different people to check in with Jeff. A few weeks later, a spot opened up for her.

“I contacted her, and honestly I think she was almost crying on the phone when I contacted her to come in so we could start paperwork for housing for her,” Jeff remembers.

Sheila says Jeff went above and beyond to help find her a home at Acacia Heights.

“I’m very, very grateful that he brought me in and that I ended up with FSL,” Sheila says.

Sheila says she loves all the community events at Acacia Heights and the opportunities that come with being connected with FSL, an organization with a mission to serve seniors and people with disabilities and embracing innovations to drive their vision.

FSL and Waymo are partnering to explore how autonomous driving technology – which is designed to drive safely and obey road rules – could help seniors like Sheila stay connected and maintain their independence.

Sheila, who lives with a disability and does not own a car, says she enjoys hailing rides with Waymo One, Waymo’s fully autonomous ride-hailing service in Phoenix.

“Right now if I want to go to the store or go to an event downtown… Waymo will take me there safely and bring me back to the location,” Sheila explains. “That’s independence for me even though I don’t have a car.”

In addition to the convenience Waymo One offers, Sheila says she appreciates that Waymo’s technology is designed with safety as a foundational principle.

“I think it’s safer than having a human [driver]…  because Waymo has all these cameras that are set up to really be able to perceive any movement on the road,” Sheila explains. “And a lot of drivers nowadays, of course, we have distractions.”

The Waymo Driver is designed with a suite of sensors, including cameras, radar, and lidar, to see 360 degrees around the vehicle, identify and differentiate other road users, and make safe, proactive and defensive driving decisions that are based on myriad data points.

Sheila says using Waymo One to get around on her own is part of living an active lifestyle and connecting with the community, which she says helps keep her healthy.

“There’s a world out there,” Sheila emphasizes. “Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’m done or don’t want to work anymore and just stay at home. That is not healthy.”

Sheila says she’s ready to have adventures.

“I’m ready to go zip lining. I’m ready to jump out of a plane. Whenever I get that opportunity, I’m definitely going to do it. You have to stay active,” she shares.

Sheila says she urges others who may be in a time of transition or uncertain about the future to remember that nothing is permanent and not to dwell too much on negative things.

“You have to step out. You have to breathe air. You have to see people. You have to talk to people. You have to do different things. Don’t give up,” Sheila says.

She says she is grateful to FSL for helping provide a pathway to permanent housing and to Waymo for providing another mobility option to run errands, get her groceries, and connect to the community.

“That means a lot for us,” Sheila says. “We keep our independence at the same time and we take care of ourselves at the same time.”

National Disability Institute: Accessible Ridehail Would Boost Employment, Federal Revenue

By Michele Lee, Cruise

For the 42.5 million Americans who identify as living with a disability, transportation access is far from a given. For many, it can be prohibitive to workforce participation, access to critical services, and connecting with the people and things they love. For decades, attempts to expand transportation options for those with a disability have remained persistently unreliable and expensive.

We know how this impacts the daily lives of people with disabilities, including my own. As a power wheelchair user, who has the privilege of a job and income, I struggle with even getting around town. I’ve been refused rides, experienced long waits, and constantly face the reality that there are no drivers or vehicles available for me when I need it the most. As a result, I am often stranded and frustrated. It’s an unacceptable status quo that motivates our work at Cruise to build a better, more accessible product for our riders. That’s why we are developing the Origin Mobility –– the world’s first purpose-built, wheelchair-accessible autonomous vehicle. Engaging with the disability community throughout the design and development process helps inform our work –– we have held five studies so far to test the accessible user experience and added a dozen accessibility features to our service last year.

But until now, studies on the cumulative impact of this transportation gap on employment and the U.S. economy, or how a solution like accessible, self-driving technology could play a role in closing it, have been scant.

We’re proud to have partnered with National Disability Institute (NDI) to conduct this first-of-its kind study, released today. According to NDI’s report, an accessible and widely available autonomous ridehail service could have a profound benefit. Such a service would:

  • Bring 9.15 million Americans into the workforce. This includes 4.41 million direct jobs for Americans with a disability, 1.93 million indirect jobs to support this new employment, and 2.81 million induced jobs to support the increased consumer spending from this combined employment.
  • Save the federal government $120.7 billion. In year 0 of the model, projected increased employment would generate $92.96 billion in annual federal tax revenuefrom new personal income tax, social security tax, excise tax, and customs duties, a 1.8% increase in total federal revenue. Additionally, it would reduce federal spending by $27.8 billion, including reductions in spending from SSI and SSDI programs due to increased wages for people with disabilities.
  • Grow U.S. GDP by $867.7 billion. This is a roughly 3.8% increase for the U.S. economy based on 2021 national economic output.The study reached these conclusions by exploring the prevalence of transportation barriers for various types of disabilities, their associated labor force participation rates in the economy, and estimated job creation potential and federal tax savings that accessible Level 4+ autonomous vehicles could generate if made available to these Americans.

This massive opportunity is clear when considering just how high a barrier transportation creates for the disability community: unemployment for people with disabilities was double (10%) the rate for those without (5%) in 2021, and just 21% of Americans with disabilities participated in the labor force, significantly below the 67% for those without disabilities.

As part of their unique study, NDI convened a series of interviews that bring this reality to life:

  • An employer who described transportation as a “nightmare” for their program employing people with intellectual and developmental disabilities: “I feel like I’ve been able to overcome every other challenge in this space except this one.”
  • A small business owner who must rely on friends and family, and often expensive rideshare, hindering the growth of their business: “There are times where I don’t even make a profit because Uber eats it all up.”
  • The all-too-common experience of being refused service: “Now, I was standing there in not the greatest area suddenly alone in the dark, and it was chilly. I had to call two more Ubers before one agreed to take me. I think people forget about the safety element of being stranded. The AVs are going to be a lot more reliable, especially in these sort of late night, early morning situations where safety can be paramount.”
  • The impact on healthcare access: “I’m out on medical leave, but my husband isn’t. Being able to go to appointments by myself would ease a lot of strain on our schedule. So for us, for people with disabilities, it would be a Godsend to have that [AV], you know, where I could go on my own.”
  • And the opportunity for independence: “Aside from giving us all more independence, increasing our quality of life, increasing the amount of change we’ve got at the end of the day because it costs less and lets us have more opportunities, just the concept of being able to independently do anything is huge. It’s certainly an ego-boost.”

As is clear in my work with people from across the disability community, there is never a one-size-fits-all solution to accessibility challenges. And while Cruise works to make our service available to more communities, iterate upon our accessibility features, and engage with users to build our wheelchair-accessible Origin Mobility – AVs simply aren’t everywhere yet. On this, NDI recommends policy to further AV testing and promote adoption, including by raising the cap on AVs that can be manufactured at scale.

The results of this study –– the volume of savings, employment, and growth associated with a more accessible future of mobility –– may come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t. It’s a future that’s possible, one that Cruise will continue to work toward, and one our community is counting on.

Cruise Senior Public Affairs Manager Michele Lee Talks Autonomous Cars And New Accessibility Council In Interview

By Steven Aquino, Forbes

In a blog post published on Friday, autonomous car maker Cruise announced the formation of a so-called Cruise Accessibility Council. The San Francisco-based and General Motors-backed company wrote the Accessibility Council is yet another step forward in its steadfast commitment to making the future of transport “more accessible, equitable, and inclusive” to everyone, regardless of ability level.

Cruise describes the Accessibility Council as “a cross-disability group of leaders and advocates who will provide external, independent input on Cruise’s product, programs, and approach to accessibility.” Feedback from the group will be instrumental in “[continuing] to develop all our services.” The Accessibility Council is comprised of seventeen people representing various disability organizations, including the National Federation of the Blind, the United Spinal Association, and the National Association of the Deaf. The Council members, Cruise said, “bring a wide range of disciplines and lived experiences to the table, with the mission of realizing a more accessible transportation future.”

“Self-driving technology has the potential to help people overcome numerous mobility challenges. But that reality cannot be achieved in a vacuum—it has to be done with direct input from people with disabilities,” wrote Michele Lee, who leads accessibility efforts at Cruise, in their announcement posted to its website. “I came to Cruise as an advocate within the disability community myself, and the [popular in the community] refrain ‘nothing about us, without us’ rings true.”

Lee, who lives in Chicago, has played an integral role in seeing Cruise’s Council go from conception to fruition. She became disabled herself in a car accident, suffering neck and spinal cord injuries. An electric wheelchair user for close to two decades, Lee’s injuries meant she was unable to drive again so accessible transportation is a topic very close to her heart. So close, in fact, she serves on the board of the Chicago Transit Authority. Everybody wants to get around and go places, but as a wheelchair user, Lee finds relying on public transit and ride-share problematic because they’re not consistently accommodating to disabled people.

Enter Cruise and their autonomous driving technologies.

“I’ve been an advocate for people with disabilities ever since becoming a member of this community and just fighting for access to just everything,” Lee said to me earlier this week in an exclusive interview via videoconference ahead of today’s news. “It’s been a journey, and transportation has been a real focus for me.”

Lee works on Cruise’s public affairs team. She described her primary responsibility is to “engage with disability advocates and advocacy groups and the disability community at large to understand the needs of the population. Obviously, disability is very nuanced and it’s very diverse.” In terms of a car’s functionality, Lee is in the trenches working with teammates to ensure Cruise’s vehicles embody the company’s institutional beliefs on accessibility and inclusion.

The advent of the Accessibility Council is representative of Cruise’s ethos around disability inclusion, according to Lee. The company has a long history of partnerships with the disability community, and the Accessibility Council stands on the shoulders on those bonds. Lee is especially proud of, and excited for, the Accessibility Council because it’s an earnest attempt at not merely improving the literal accessibility of Cruise’s products—it’s a conduit to constant conversation.

“We’ve long engaged, Cruise as a whole, with a lot of different disability advocacy groups,” Lee said. “We’re really trying to formalize these relationships and bring everyone into a room and make it a little bit more diverse in terms of all the disabilities together having a voice [and] learning from each other.”

Beyond the broader societal representation angle, Lee explained, somewhat jokingly, another reason for creating the Council is sheer pragmatism. She talks to people all the time. “I just thought it would be a way to make it easier,” she said. “If we’re meeting quarterly, then I can save on the [amount] of meetings.”

As for the future, Lee keenly shared Cruise has even bigger ambition that, of course, is mindful of inclusivity and empathy. She told me the company is currently developing a “purpose-built vehicle from the ground up to be wheelchair accessible,” which she added is a first of its kind. The minivan-like vehicle is known as the Origin Mobility. The project is being worked on in collaboration with GM, with Lee telling me the car’s safety standards will be “amazing.” Cruise is doing user testing in the Bay Area, and maintains a database of people with accessibility needs. “We’re always trying to expand and get new folks to come and test our products, including the wheelchair accessible vehicle,” Lee said.

The Origin Mobility, combined with Cruise’s autonomous driving technology, is quite representative of what accessible transport can be like for disabled people in the future. Lee calls self-driving tech a “game-changer” as an assistive technology because of what it allows for people who are ostensibly immobile due to their disability. To wit, Lee acknowledged the fact not everyone leaves near a bus stop or train stop, let alone have a driver’s license. Ergo, the rise of autonomous driving means a vehicle like Cruise’s will “reliably come get you,” Lee said to me.

Ultimately, fully autonomous vehicles will enable a newfound freedom for the disability community. A person like Lee can go anywhere, at any time, without being at the mercy of public transit’s machinations or the goodwill of other people.

The bottom line has no hyperbole: self-driving cars is accessibility at its zenith.

“It’s going to enable independence,“ Lee said. “It’s going to enable freedom to move about as you want and live your life. I am so excited for the day that Origin Mobility is on the streets. I dream of it honestly—I have to always rely on somebody to drive me, or a bus driver, a train conductor, Uber driver, Lyft driver, or taxi driver. [With autonomous cars], I’m not always relying on someone. I want to want to go places and I want to do things. I know I’m not alone in that. People with disabilities want to live life. This is going to really be a game-changer.”

Cruise is actively soliciting feedback on its efforts with the Accessibility Council and the Origin Mobility. The company has an open call for interested parties to join its accessibility research studies, which Cruise says is a paid opportunity.

Launching the Waymo Accessibility Network

By The Waymo Team, Waypoint

Since our founding, Waymo has partnered with and listened to advocates for people with disabilities. As we continually improve our technology, we will strive to put individual passengers – with their diverse needs and experiences – at the center of our product to co-create the Waymo One ride-hailing service together.

Today, we’re launching the Waymo Accessibility Network to formalize and scale our longstanding collaboration with disability advocates. This will expand inclusion of their crucial voices and valuable perspectives as we work together to shape the future of transportation.

The Waymo Accessibility Network brings together disability advocates who share in the mission of improving access, mobility and safety in our communities. Through the network, Waymo will partner directly with organizations that support people of all ages with physical, visual, cognitive and sensory disabilities. Members include both national advocates and community-based nonprofits serving the cities where Waymo One operates.

“Establishing the Waymo Accessibility Network is our latest step in ensuring our transformational rollout of autonomous technology is inclusive and equitable,” said Chris Ludwick, Waymo Product Management Director. “Consistent, two-way communication with the disability community will help Waymo research, design and deploy accessible solutions for all of our riders.”

We are excited to announce that the 13 inaugural members of the Waymo Accessibility Network include the national nonprofits American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), National Federation of the Blind, United Spinal Association, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Epilepsy Foundation of America, Blinded Veterans Association, United Cerebral Palsy and the American Council of the Blind; San Francisco-based LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco and Self-Help for the Elderly; and Arizona-based Foundation for Blind Children and Foundation for Senior Living.

“Involving the disability community from the ground floor in technological advancements is the key to being a true champion of inclusion for today’s leading innovators,” said Vincenzo Piscopo, President & CEO, United Spinal Association. “The arrival of fully autonomous vehicles is especially eagerly awaited by the disability community—and we have been striving to make our voices heard in the development of this landmark technology. The Waymo Accessibility Network will elevate the dialogue that Waymo has consistently maintained with our community, and sets an example for their peers in the AV space to follow.”

The Waymo Accessibility Network will work directly with member organizations to conduct user research, product testing and more. This invaluable feedback will help us build upon Waymo’s current accessible design features, like audio cues, screen readers, rider support chats, educational tips and more.

“Forming this network deepens our established relationships with these key accessibility stakeholders,” said Heather Aijian, Waymo Public Affairs Manager. “Only by continuing to listen to and learn from the foremost disability advocates can we move forward together to make mobility more accessible.”

“We have provided our expertise and lived experience to our partners toward the design and development of accessible autonomous vehicle technology for more than ten years,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Extending our partnership through becoming a member of the Waymo Accessibility Network holds the promise of a truly accessible driverless experience leading to freedom-enhancing transportation options that increase employment opportunities and improve the quality of life for blind people and people with other disabilities.”

This year, Waymo was honored to be recognized as a national semifinalist in the US Department of Transportation’s Inclusive Design Challenge, a formal invitational meant to further creative product thinking around inclusive mobility. As part of the challenge, Waymo partnered with many groups affected by lack of mobility options, including some of our long standing partners in our Let’s Talk Autonomous Driving public education initiative. Our partners provided feedback and insights that shaped our submission, and we’re proud of the features that we designed and integrated into our Waymo One service as a result of the challenge.

At Waymo, we have always believed that an inclusive design process makes the end product better for everyone, and we know we’re building a journey, not just a technology. To refine the details of touchpoints along the journey, collaboration with people with disabilities has been and will continue to be indispensable.

Waymo believes in the disability community’s mantra “nothing about us without us” as we leverage technology to bring new transportation options to the marketplace. We look forward to continuing this work and welcoming additional organizations as we grow and scale the Waymo Accessibility Network.