Connections shape the fabric of every community. Recently in Phoenix, Waymo, an autonomous driving technology company that operates a ride-hailing service called Waymo One, brought Phoenix nonprofit leaders to discuss these connections. Leaders discussed how collaboration between each other and with Waymo can benefit their communities.
The roundtable brought together:
- Denise Resnik, the founder and president of First Place AZ, a residential community for people with neurodiversity
- Clayton Davenport, director of development and marketing with one•n•ten, an organization serving LGBTQ youth and adults
- Timna Guerchon, representing her work with Valley of the Sun United Way, which supports organizations making an impact in the community
- Brooke Beatty, employment services coordinator with Foundation for Blind Children, an organization serving people who are blind or visually impaired
- Tania Bustamante, the state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Arizona, an organization working to eliminate drunk driving fatalities
Across various forums, Waymo has been working with diverse community partners and advocates for people with disabilities to solicit their input and feedback on the development of its technology and its Waymo One ride-hailing service.
The company’s efforts are quietly shaping highly localized feedback loops on the frontier of autonomous driving in which community input from diverse riders creates better technology, and that technology better serves everyone.
In a vibrant conversation, participants discussed the following themes:
Partnerships between nonprofits and mission-driven companies like Waymo can help strengthen communities, participants said. Clayton emphasized that, in the LGBTQ+ community, when there is a trusted partner out there, people gravitate to that brand.
“They trust each other to know they are going to be in a safe space, and Waymo is just one of those partners they feel safe with,” said Clayton.
Brooke said she believes nonprofits can benefit from different types of partners like Waymo, “whether it is a means to independence or employment or housing options or social connectivity or a feeling of increased safety.”
Timna emphasized that no matter the goal, nonprofits share a single value, “the bottom line has to be: everybody wins.”
The theme of innovation was a hot topic during the conversation. Attendees said innovation could support their communities, but only if it is purposeful and helps drive their mission.
“Innovation is a part of it, but I think we're largely driven by our passion, and our desire to help people,” Brooke emphasized.
Innovations like Waymo’s technology could help LGBTQ+ youth because fewer people who one•n•ten serves want to get their driver’s license, Clayton said.
“Especially with technology and apps, it is changing the younger generation into a new form, the way that they not only transport but receive goods and services.”
Timna said innovations like Waymo can serve the function of bringing delight to communities and helping children imagine what is possible.
“We have worked with Waymo to help deliver books to schools,” Timna shared, adding that children were overjoyed to see technology they might not otherwise have access to, and that it sparked their imaginations.
Denise said that as a native Phoenician, she is proud of the city’s pioneering spirit.
“That's what we are also doing as nonprofits,” Denise said. “We are raising the bar for what people think about, and dream about, and envision in terms of more independent, connected, and inclusive living.”
Tania said the innovative nature of Phoenix makes it a desirable place to live.
For the populations they serve, the roundtable participants noted that it is very important to connect with the larger community and feel a sense of belonging among others.
“90% of our youth indicate they come to one•n•ten for a sense of community,” Clayton shared. “Knowing that transportation is a number one barrier for them, it's like, how are they getting this connectivity without solutions like what Waymo's offering?”
Brooke said that job seekers and professionals who are blind or have low vision can face obstacles when social activities require people to drive in order to participate.
“Sometimes people with vision loss get left out because people assume that we have no interest in doing those things or that we can't get there, and back. And so, that can become a social barrier to becoming included in the social network at your workplace,” Brooke shared.
Denise said she believes that Waymo could benefit families of people with disabilities who will never be able to drive.
“[Waymo] is empowering and liberating for moms and dads who think they're going to have to drive their kids as adults everywhere,” Denise said, adding that she is the parent of a neurodiverse child. “The beauty of Waymo is that it’s allowing us to not only use technology to get to where we're going, but to connect with people.”
Roundtable participants emphasized that safe and reliable transportation is crucial to connecting with nonprofit activities and services. They also noted it is not always available to communities.
“Transportation, on so many levels, is crucial to many of the families, and the neighborhoods that we serve in Maricopa County,” explained Timna, adding that families sometimes have to take two buses just to get to a grocery store to shop for healthy food for their families, all while carrying bags and sometimes children.
“Transportation is such a big barrier for the youth that we're serving,” Clayton shared. “We are always trying to come up with solutions to help them not only get into our building, but then to either medical care, or any of their other appointments that they need to get to.”
Clayton said that autonomous ride-hailing services like Waymo One could help LGBTQ+ youth feel safe.
“Their identity is very fluid... especially with our trans-identified youth,” Clayton explained, adding that a youth’s external presentation may not match their ID. “[When they] get into a vehicle that is autonomous, they can feel safe. It becomes their little capsule of transportation as they're going from one destination to another.”
Brooke said that people who are blind or have low vision can face obstacles to getting back and forth to work because they cannot drive.
“It makes such a difference, in terms of even the jobs that a person might apply for,” Brooke shared. “People have to make career decisions based on transportation, instead of on what they want to do in their career trajectory.”
Tania said she believes Waymo could offer people a safe transportation option, including for her niece who is blind and people who should not be operating a vehicle due to drinking or other consumption impairment.
“I think it's important to let them know that there's different options out there,” Tania said. “I think that Waymo gives a person freedom and that is really important.”
It is important to not only have transportation options, but also to feel safe and welcomed using transportation, regardless of one’s identity, roundtable participants noted. However, they said that people sometimes feel unsafe being their true selves when they depend on others for transportation.
Clayton said that he and his husband sometimes have to hide the fact that they are a couple when they use ride-hailing services.
“If we are picked up somewhere – and we never know the driver, or we don't know much about them – obviously we have to go back into the closet,” Clayton shared. “We have to change our language, change our tone, change our affection towards each other. So, it really does have an impact on us.”
Brooke said she tries to avoid questions about her vision loss, which strangers often ask her and can be tiring. “If you have to mask a part of your identity, or have your guard up all the time, that is an extra cognitive and emotional load, and extra emotional labor that you're doing, and it can wear on you.”
Denise said that nonprofit organizations and companies like Waymo can set an example for what inclusion looks like.
“If we can't change the world today, we can change our community, and we can do it one street corner, one group at a time. That's the power of our example.”