Shifting from AV to AAV: Accessibility in Autonomous Vehicles

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MTI researchers analyzed how autonomous vehicle technology can be made more accessible for Americans with disabilities
September 1, 2021
San José, CA

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability, and people aged 18 to 64 with disabilities make 28% fewer trips per day (2.6 v. 3.6 trips) on average than people without disabilities.These statistics highlight the considerable suppressed demand for travel by the individuals with disabilities that is currently not being met. Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) partnered with Prospect SV and Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) on their new research, Gaps and Opportunities in Accessibility Policy for Autonomous Vehicles, which documents ideas on how autonomous vehicle (AV) technology as deployed by VTA for the AAV (Autonomous Accessible Vehicle) pilot demonstration project (and other similar deployments) may be made more responsive to the needs of the people with disabilities.

The authors evaluated how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other relevant research could inform the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles (particularly autonomous transit and paratransit) and developed a rating framework to evaluate how/to what extent vendors and technological frameworks, including VTA AAV, address accessibility requirements.

The research revealed that at full vehicle autonomy resulting in the absence of an onboard operator, tasks such as ingress-egress, securement of passengers and carry-on items, and the communications with passengers will need to be safe, efficient, and independent. The biggest challenges in this area may be:

  • the need to handle these tasks for a wide range of disability types, most of them currently supported by the vehicle operator, and
  • to put appropriate governance on data as individual information for those with cognitive and physical disabilities, which will be increasingly prevalent and subject to potential breaches of privacy.

“From a practical standpoint, opportunities exist for policy partnerships and collaborations between public and private entities. For example, these might include enhancement of infrastructure such as curb ramps and bus stops for AAV travel,” explain the authors.

While autonomous vehicles are being built with the purpose of curbing people’s need to operate the vehicles, lack of ability to drive is not the only barrier people with disabilities face while traveling. The simple acts of entering and getting out of the vehicle might pose difficulties for many people with disabilities, not only wheelchair users. This makes well-thought-out considerations for people with disabilities essential at the early stages of design and development.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

William (Billy) Riggs
is an MTI Research Associate and Associate Professor at University of San Francisco. He is a global expert and thought leader in the areas of autonomy and smart transportation, housing, economics, and urban development. Anurag Pande, PhD, is an MTI Research Associate and Professor of Civil Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. His research interests include before-and-after evaluations, traffic operations, and safety of all road users.


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