Will Toronto City Council Vote Today to Ban Robots from Sidewalks, to Protect People with Disabilities, Seniors, children and Others?

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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Will Toronto City Council Vote Today to Ban Robots from Sidewalks, to Protect People with Disabilities, Seniors, children and Others?

December 15, 2021 Toronto: At its meeting today or tomorrow, Toronto City Council will debate whether to ban robots from sidewalks, including robots delivering packages. Disability community advocates have called for robots to be banned from sidewalks because they endanger safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. Under such a ban, people would remain free to use robots on their property.

Toronto’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and Infrastructure Committee each recommended outlawing sidewalk robots. Today’s and tomorrow’s City Council meeting will be streamed live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZk2xbN6jjw

In its December 7, 2021 letter to Toronto’s Mayor and City Council, the AODA Alliance emphasized the many new disability barriers that robots and sidewalks can create. Robots on sidewalks can be a tripping hazard, or a collision danger. Blind people risk not knowing that a robot is heading right at them or in their path of travel.

For people who use wheelchairs, robots on sidewalks risk becoming an access barrier in their way. If a person has balance limitations, robots brushing by them on the sidewalk could send them toppling.

Sidewalks are publicly funded for pedestrians. Roads are for vehicles. Sidewalks already have too many accessibility barriers, being increasingly cluttered by street furniture, art, signs, plants and restaurant seating.

“To allow these robots would be to knowingly create a serious new disability barrier,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance. “The Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become accessible by 2025. Far behind that schedule, Toronto can’t afford to create these new disability barriers.”

If robots are allowed on sidewalks, enforcing the law will be exceedingly difficult. A person cannot prosecute or sue a robot, or make it produce an insurance policy.

It’s no solution to require the robot’s company name to be displayed in braille. Imagine a blind person chasing a robot, with one hand on their white cane, and their other hand searching for the robot’s braille label.

It’s also no solution to require robots to have a remote driver. That cannot be policed. One can’t know from looking at a robot whether it has a remote driver somewhere at all, much less a sober one who is properly trained and attentive to steering. A remote driver could undetectably steer several robots simultaneously, dangerously dividing their attention. The public can’t know if a remote driver is in Ontario, or halfway around the world, unreachable by Ontario police.

“We don’t oppose innovation. We daily innovate in our lives and use cutting-edge innovative technology,” said Lepofsky. “We only oppose innovations that endanger people with disabilities, seniors, children and others.”

This is not about one specific company’s small delivery robots, which have recently gotten some media attention. It is about any robots on sidewalks, no matter which company makes them, no matter what size or weight they are, and no matter whether they are being deployed to deliver legitimate products or for some anti-social reason.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

The AODA Alliance will be available to comment on City Council’s debate and vote on this issue. For real-time tweets, follow @davidlepofsky on Twitter.