BOSTON — Self-driving cars aren’t criss-crossing the streets just yet, but disability advocates are already looking to the technology as a potential solution for those who can’t get around on their own.

In a study released by the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation this month, researchers found self-driving cars would dramatically improve the lives of residents with disabilities by making it easier and cheaper for them to travel — especially to and from a job.

“Approximately 2 million individuals with disabilities would have new employment opportunities,” the study said. “New transportation technologies have the potential to help those with disabilities enjoy the activities that those without disabilities take for granted.”

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Many expect self-driving cars to upend the traditional concept of car ownership, transitioning to a shared model along the lines of Uber or Zipcar.

Although disability advocate Sarah Kaplan still has a lot of questions about the technology, she said self-driving cars could be a difference-maker when they’re ready for the road.

“In theory, the idea is wonderful, I think it would increase the possibilities for employment for a lot of people with disabilities,” said Kaplan, who has cerebral palsy and uses a motorized wheelchair much of the time.

“Public transportation is not something that’s easily accessible,” she added, “In a lot of parts of the country, those services aren’t available.”

Sertac Karaman, president of the Cambridge-based Optimus Ride, which is developing self-driving technology, said his company is “really interested in being able to work with people with disabilities.” The organization is working with the Perkins School for the Blind to identify ways autonomous vehicles can help those with visual impairment.

“A lot of people when they think about (artificial intelligence) and robotics, they think it’s going to put a lot of people out of work,” Karaman said, “but there are a lot of people with disabilities who will be able to work.”

© 2017 Boston Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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