December 17th, 2020

The Road to Independence


In order to ensure that needs of the people with a disability are understood and technology solutions are developed to address these needs, planning, research and pilot programs need to be undertaken, otherwise the advent of AVs could create new obstacles for people with a disability.

Achieving genuine accessibility for the disabled mayrequire the integration of AVs with other emerging technologies, to enable AVs to understand spoken instructions, observe nearby surroundings and communicate with people.

Whether this eventuates however, will largely depend on how early and to what extent key stakeholders such as vehicle manufacturers, autonomous driving systems
developers, infrastructure owners and planning guidelines adopt inclusive design processes and work together to provide design solutions that optimize the end-to-end user journey

This paper explores how Universal Design of AVs should be considered in Australia, including the benefits it will deliver to society, the economic opportunities that it creates for not only industry but for those living with a disability, and the pathway to achieving this. Universal design provides a process for creating an inclusive society and is similar to other approaches such as inclusive design, human-centred design and design for diversity. Co-design is another important aspect, where designs are created with people with disabilities to ensure that designs are usable and appropriately meet user needs.

The scope of transport solutions covered by this paper includes private, shared, business and public transport options.


According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2018 there were 4.4 million Australians living with a disability (or 17.7% of the population). The prevalence of disability increased with age – one in nine (11.6%) people aged 0-64 years and one in two (49.6%) people aged 65 years and over had a disability. The ABS also reported that more than 770,000 people with a disability use mobility aids. This number is only going to rise given the aging of the population and the likelihood of living with disability increasing with age.

When a disability limits transportation options, this can result in financial stress, isolation that exacerbates medical conditions or leads to depression, and a diminished quality of life. A US National Institute of Health survey of people with a disability found that up to 68% of respondents reported transportation as a difficult issue. A UK study found that half of people with a disability people reported feeling lonely, and one in four feel lonely every day.

ADVI’s Public Acceptance Survey (2018) reported very high levels of agreement (76.7%) with the statement that AVs would allow mobility for people with driving impairments or restrictions. This suggests a high level of anticipation from the community that the needs of people with disabilities that impair their ability to drive will be served by autonomous vehicles. Therefore, progressing use cases that support people with driving impairments will be important for broader community acceptance of autonomous vehicles.

Existing Barriers to Transportation

Currently, most forms of both public and private transportation remain less than fully accessible, reliable or convenient to the disabled community.

For many people with a disability using a motor vehicle without assistance, this currently involves a costly post-purchase vehicle modification. Even with modifications, challenges may include finding suitable parking, cars parking too close preventing wheelchair access to the driver’s door, steep curbs etc.

For people with a disability unable to drive or ride, the resulting lack of personal motorised transportation (for example a car or motorcycle) results in those affected becoming far more dependent on public transportation, third-party modes of transportation and other individuals being able to drive them.

For future autonomous vehicles to be accessible, automation of operations should therefore not just apply to the driving task itself, but also to how the vehicle is dispatched, how it parks or docks, how it manages passengers entering and exiting and how passengers are safely secured for transport.