Thursday, January 19, 2012

Blind Driver

    All my life there is one activity I’ve always wanted to be able to do.  Even when I could see my visual acuity wasn’t good enough to allow me to drive.  The optometrists said my vision had to be at least 20/60 with correction.  By the time I was between fifteen and sixteen my visual acuity was 20/200 in my left eye and 20/400 in my right without correction.  Unfortunately though, any type of correction wasn’t really any option for me at that point.  The doctors told me in fourth grade that my glasses were no longer making much difference in my vision.  Therefore, there wasn’t any point in wearing them which of course meant I couldn’t get my vision corrected enough to drive.
     To most people driving is a sort of right of passage helping the transition into adulthood.  Most young people dream of getting those keys and going anywhere they want to go.  It’s a form of freedom getting them one step closer to complete independence.  I admit that when I found out I wouldn’t be one of those who got to line up for their first revolting driver’s license picture I kinda lost it.  I was terribly depressed.  To me it seemed like the end of the world even though of course it wasn’t.  But that’s a story for another day.
    When I was seventeen I could still see relatively well.  Yes, I was legally blind but I could still get around on my own just fine.  Well, except for at night.  From the time I was little I always had night blindness.  Anyway, my family and I went camping to our favorite camping spot in Morton Washington during the summer.  There are several logging roads near the camp grounds that were rarely used at the time.  Well needless to say that was the first time I got to drive.  My wonderful dad took me out to those logging roads in his Ford truck and pulled over.  I remember being over the top elated with the prospect that I was about to be sitting behind the wheel.   I was going to drive even if only for a moment.
    Not to pat myself on the back or anything but I actually did pretty good.  There were a few speed issues and I was vibrating with fear and excitement but all in all it was okay.   There was one teensy weensy little problem though.  Apparently I was destined to be a driver on England soil and not American.  I preferred the left side of the rode to our customary right side.  I wasn’t trying to be a rebel or anything I promise.  My peripheral vision wasn’t up to par and I could see the rode side better if it was on my side of the truck.  I obviously don’t recommend this to anyone else’s driving practices but I had to do it in order to see what I was doing properly.  It was my first “don’t try this at home kids” moment and I loved it.  I loved it so much in fact that later that day I convinced my brave mom and gram to take me out again.  This time I was in my papa’s Chevy Blazer.  I liked driving it much better.  I could reach the pedals much easier then in dad’s Ford Truck.  This time around I was much more confident and had a few more speed problems then the first time but it went well.  No tree, deer, or ditch was injured during my attempt at freedom.
    Now as an adult, I’ve always thought it would be so much more convenient to be able to just pick up and go when ever I wanted.  I marvel at the idea of knowing I need a gallon of milk and being able to get into MY car and getting it myself.  But thankfully for the sighted community, I’ve never found an insurance company that is comfortable with insuring the blind.  I can’t imagine why (just kidding).

Now at the age of twenty-eight I have learned that my dream is closer to being a reality then I thought.  I always hoped some day they would invent a smart car that could get a person with visual impairment from one point to another completely unassisted by a sighted person.  Yesterday mourning I was perusing the web and found and article that informed me that had actually happened.  On another blog from called Vision Aware was an article about a Blind Driver Challenge.  Ironically, the car used in the challenge was a Ford Hybrid.  I love that the first type of truck I ever drove was also a Ford and that’s the type of car used.  Maybe it’s a sign that someday that will be me behind the wheel of a Ford Hybrid.  This article is very well written and probably the most exciting article I’ve read in a long time.  I am beyond thrilled at the prospect that someday hopefully sooner rather than later I will be able to drive all by myself without causing catastrophe.  Below is the link to the article.  I very much recommend it to the blind as well as the sighted.  It’s highly interesting.  Plus, it’s a sneak peak into our world’s future which is always fun.        

VisionAware: The NFB Blind Driver Challenge™: A Success!

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