This self-driving startup announces a new accessibility network for the disability community

In a blog post published Thursdayautonomous driving startup Waymo announced the formation of what the Mountain View-based company calls the Waymo Accessibility Network. Waymo notes in the announcement that the initiative aims to “formalize and expand our long-standing collaboration with disability rights advocates, [and will] broaden the inclusion of their crucial voices and valuable insights as we work together to shape the future of transportation.

The Waymo Accessibility Network is essentially an extension of Waymo’s work on its eponymous Waymo One ride-hail service, which is currently available in San Francisco and Phoenix via an app on iOS and Android. According to Waymo, the overarching goal of the network is to bring together members of the disability community who use Waymo One and who care about and are invested in the future of transportation in society. The company says it is committed to partnering with organizations, both national and regional nonprofits, that support people with disabilities of all ages and abilities. Waymo says there are thirteen inaugural members of the network, including the American Association of Persons with Disabilities (AAPD), the American Council of the Blind (ACB) and the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, headquartered in San Francisco.

The roots of the Waymo Accessibility Network go back to the early days of Google’s self-driving car project. That Waymo is so passionate about helping people with disabilities in particular to access the world by moving around more easily really makes sense in context. Driving a car today is beyond the knowledge of many people with disabilities, myself included. This is both practically and legislatively impossible. Waymo has taken on the monumental task of achieving what is unquestionably the conceptual zenith of accessibility: self-driving vehicles. As I wrote last Decembera fully autonomous driving system is the only way in which blind and visually impaired people will ever be able to enjoy the luxury of driving. While there are regulatory and financial hurdles to overcome, technology is paramount.

For the most part, self-driving is pure convenience. Waymo realizes the bigger picture.

“We were founded on a mission to save lives, improve independence and create new mobility options,” Heather Aijian, Waymo’s head of public affairs, said in an exclusive interview with me conducted. by email. “Waymo wants to create a product that meets the needs of all cyclists, and the Waymo Accessibility Network is creating a forum to hear directly from this community to help us research, design and deploy accessible solutions. [for disabled riders].”

“At Waymo, we’ve 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. [We strive to] refine touchpoint details along the journey; collaboration with people with disabilities has been and will continue to be essential,” Waymo said of their corporate philosophy in a statement released today. “Waymo believes in the disability community’s mantra of ‘nothing about us without us’ as we leverage technology to bring new transportation options to market. We look forward to continuing this work and welcoming other organizations as we grow and grow the Waymo Accessibility Network.

These words are not fluffy or empty bromides. They are real for Waymo.

“Given the potential widespread benefits of self-driving technology, many members of the disability community are eager to provide information and share lived experiences that can help shape the future of accessible transportation,” said Aijian. “As our work in the United States shows [Department of Transportation] Inclusive Design Challenge, in direct partnership with disability advocates, can help us design and integrate key accessibility features into our Waymo One service.

Today’s news of the launch of the Waymo Accessibility Network comes nearly two months after the company was recognized by the aforementioned Department of Transport. In early August, the federal agency praised Waymo for its work on the Inclusive Design Challenge. The company was a semi-finalist for its work designing plans for an accessible driving experience, replete with various assistive technologies such as screen readers and a range of other sensors. The prototypes were tested by blind and visually impaired San Francisco residents.

Comments are closed.