Friday, July 17, 2009

Wanna Go For A Spin?

When I first met Ashley and her then-foster mother, Linda, she was quick to point out all the things Ashley couldn’t do. I, on the other hand, take a much more positive approach to life, and envisioned all the things Ashley would be able to do.

Linda either didn’t understand or chose not to seek out the supports that could make a significant difference in Ashley’s life. There had been no early intervention – Ashley was two years old when I adopted her – no therapies of substance – an absolutely no planning for a future involving anything other than constant caregiving.

One of the stories Linda related to me was how a doctor once told her Ashley would never be able to drive a car. Linda said she replied to the doctor, “Well, of course not, she’s blind”. Linda thought it ludicrous that anyone would even suggest there may be a chance for Ashley to independently navigate a vehicle.

Well, you know what, Linda – you were wrong! A student team in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering is testing a vehicle aimed at giving the blind an opportunity to drive!

A retrofitted four-wheel dirt buggy developed by the Blind Driver Challenge team from Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory uses laser range finders, an instant voice command interface and other methods to guide blind drivers as they steer, brake and accelerate.

The vehicle has been tested by folks who are totally blind, and according to Wes Majerus, of Baltimore, the first blind person to drive the buggy on a closed course at the Virginia Tech campus earlier this summer, "It was great!"

Read more about this remarkable step towards more independence for people who are blind, here and here.

Oh, and just so you know, Ashley is already deciding what color car she wants :)

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