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Self-driving cars could change lives of people with disabilities

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RANDOPLH, Mass. - While self-driving cars are being tested in Boston, IBM researchers are seeing how the automated vehicles can change lives for people with disabilities.

It’s the type of freedom that Kamisha Heriveaux craves.

“Just because I have a disability, doesn't mean I can't think outside the box and do what everyone else does,” said Heriveaux.

Heriveaux is an energetic young woman with big plans, and she just happens to have cerebral palsy. 

“Just because I have a disability, doesn't mean I can't think outside the box and do what everyone else does,” said Heriveaux.

With a passion for photography and traveling, Kamisha wants to tour the world but says getting around is challenging because she can't drive.

IBM in Cambridge is working on technology that would allow anyone to get behind the wheel and go.

“We are able to look at the most promising, most exciting technologies,” said Erich Manser.

Manser, a Cambridge IBM researcher, said his team is looking at navigational systems for the visually impaired, to 3D printers that can create life-size car models with different designs.

IBM teamed up with the Newton-based Ruderman Family Foundation after the nonprofit published a study in January that said while one in five people have a disability€¦preventing them from traveling, two million could become employed with self-driving technology.

Furthermore, that would generate $1.3 trillion dollars in savings from gains in productivity to cuts in fuel costs.

“I've worked so hard to get to here I am right now. I'm proud of myself for doing that, but this technology would enhance that ten times fold,” said Heriveaux.

Manser says IBM hopes to have several prototypes in a few months and install them in a test vehicle by the fall. For Heriveaux, this technology would open up a whole new world.

“There's no more stopping people - you could just go! you could just get up and go,” she said.

Lawmakers would need to establish safety regulations before allowing any of the self-driving vehicles on the road.