Blind and roaming in Las Vegas? Get a Lyft!

That was supposed to be a twist on 'Fear and loathing in Las Vegas' - that famous novel from 1971. Let's swiftly accelerate away from that reference by jumping into a fully autonomous vehicle outside our hotel and heading for the strip. Oh, and don't forget to fold up your white cane (or, in my case, stow the guide dog in the passenger footwell) first.

Lyft are lending their driverless smarts to passengers with low or no vision 

Almost anything is possible in Las Vegas (including losing all your money) but, up until now, driving from one neon-bedecked venue of venture and vice to the next eyes-free hasn't been one of them. This is no longer the case thanks to a partnership between the ride-hailing company Lyft, driverless tech firm Aptiv and America's National Federation of the Blind.

Las Vegas at night

Grabbing a driverless ride is nothing new in Nevada's nightlife capital. Aptiv’s self-driving BMWs have already made more than 50,000 rides on the Lyft app in Las Vegas, but now there's a new and important twist - a twist that promises to take autonomous taxis to a whole new level of inclusion.

Blind person getting in a Lyft car

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With input from the NFB, Lyft's adding blind and low-vision passengers to the trial - making sure that the end-to-end experience is both accessible and supportive for everyone, regardless of how much vision they may have. “Autonomous vehicles have the potential to provide a level of mobility and independence that blind people have never experienced, enhancing our ability to live the lives we want,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We are pleased to collaborate with Lyft and Aptiv, companies that recognize the importance of incorporating input from the blind so that driving will be accessible to all. This demonstration will allow future blind drivers to experience and begin providing feedback about this technology, paving the way for the development of a nonvisual user interface and other inclusive design elements.”

Paving the way for a fully inclusive future

Lyft have spelt out their vision for an inclusive future for all their customers in their blog:

"At Lyft, our mission is to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation. We’re focused on bringing communities together, and providing better mobility solutions for those who need them most. Alongside providing on-demand options for shared rides, electric bikes, scooters, and transit, self-driving cars in the Lyft app provide another way for people to get around reliably without needing to own a car.

As the promise of self-driving technology develops, we are committed to ensuring that the future of mobility is inclusive. Today, we are proud to announce that we have partnered with the National Federation of the Blind and Aptiv to bring Aptiv’s self-driving technology to Lyft’s blind and low vision rider community. These riders will join the over 50,000 rides we have already provided with Aptiv here in Las Vegas.

Together with Aptiv and the National Federation of the Blind, we're showcasing first-hand how self-driving vehicles, and the technology powering them, has the potential to enhance transportation solutions for those who have traditionally faced barriers to mobility."

And of course, apps and in-car experiences that are inclusive and supportive for those with disabilities will mean that they will be better for everyone. Who wants to be using their eyes to ensure they arrive safely at their destination? Who wants to have to apply significant effort and attention to avoid rolling up on the wrong side of town? Everyone is set to benefit from services that are ensured to be extremely usable by all, regardless of impairment or ability.

Whilst still several years away, it's looking like a future when autonomous cars are a normal part of everyday transport on our streets will also be a future of inclusion and choice for all - and I, for one, am extremely grateful and excited.

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