Braille Monitor                                     November 2017

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Autonomous Vehicles and Freedom for the Blind

An Address delivered by
President Mark Riccobono
September 12, 2017

President Riccobono stands at a podium while Secretary Chao and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel sit off to the side.From the Editor: On September 12, 2017, President Riccobono attended a Vision for Safety event held by the US Department of Transportation where Secretary Elaine Chao announced new guidelines for autonomous vehicles. It is amazing to see how quickly these vehicles are moving from science fiction to science laboratories to roads and highways. Below are the remarks President Riccobono made to those who will work with us in shaping the vehicles of the future so that we may use them:

Madam Secretary and other distinguished guests, it is my honor to be here today to emphasize the important opportunities that automated vehicles present to all citizens of this great nation and, most specifically, about the increased independence and freedom that the seven million blind Americans will experience from this innovation. Equal access to reliable, affordable, flexible, and barrier-free transportation is one of the most significant obstacles preventing people with disabilities, representing one out of every five Americans, from fully contributing their talents and achieving full integration in our communities. The race to bring fully autonomous vehicles to America’s road brings an unprecedented opportunity to ensure equal access for people with disabilities.

Driving has always required vision, but only because we have not imagined and built transportation systems differently. In a society where everyone uses the power of automation to travel, we should build vehicles without the artificial barriers of the past. With this opportunity comes great responsibility to include everyone in the design of our future transportation systems. Imagine what will result from better utilizing the capacity and talent of those who are not today in the class of drivers. As President of the National Federation of the Blind, I have been invited to sit at the table with automobile manufacturers, technology developers, systems researchers, and policymakers. The increasing recognition of the important role that people with disabilities play in the automation of vehicles and the design of future transportation systems gives me confidence that our nation will lead the way in maximizing the benefits to society that these vehicles have the promise of delivering. With the development and implementation of automated vehicles, we have the opportunity and responsibility to begin with the prospect that everything is possible and then work together to make that future a reality. We appreciate that Secretary Chao and other champions for automated vehicles have made equal access for people with disabilities a top priority, and we welcome the increased freedom and independence that will come with the innovations that result.

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