Disability technology: Is the future already here?

Extract from BBC News written by Emma Tracey on 14 November 2013.

Robin Christopherson of the charity AbilityNet is blind and an adisability tech enthusiast. His focus stretches to technology high on many disabled people’s shopping lists – driverless cars. Christopherson thinks these are “just a couple of years away” at the minimum and are likely to cost about £5,000-£10,000 more than a regular family car.

But there is a worry in the disability community that even when the technology arrives, lawmakers and the public may not allow disabled people to “drive” such cars if they are unable to over-ride them in an emergency – potentially excluding people with visual impairments or motor function difficulties, for instance.

Christopherson thinks acceptance of computer-driven cars will take time but is quietly confident the trust will build.

“Google Ventures – venture capitalists – have put in $258m to purchase 25,000 autonomous taxis,” says Christopherson. The vehicles are for use by international cab company Uber, he says, “specifically so that they won’t have to pay taxi drivers”.

And though it might feel socially problematic to allow a disabled person to use a car he or she can’t control, he points out that smart taxis could shake up the discussion in a different way as they will sometimes be “toddling around without anybody in them when they go to pick up their fare”.

So in the future we could have empty cars run by a computer, or cars with a disabled driver unable to over-ride the computer. Is there a difference, and which would you prefer?

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