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Friday, February 25, 2011

the Blind Driver Challenge

Ever heard of a project called "the Blind Driver Challenge"?
It's being done by the NFB, National Federation of the Blind in the U.S.
the blind driver challenge is a project between the NFB, and Virginia Tech to come up with a car that the blind could drive safely. Not a car that just drives the person around on autopilot mind you.
The project Emphasises that the blind individuals themselves will be able to drive the car, actively making the driving decisions based on input they get from various scensors etc.
you can read more about it here
On the surface, this looks like an awesome project! And in a way, it is. I can't think of a blind person who doesn't dream of being able to drive. I know I do!
Even in cities with the best of public transit, Taking the bus or subway is often a major inconvenience when compared with jumping in your car and driving somewhere. Getting from one place to another takes an age, not to mention trying to run a whole variety of errands in one afternoon. The only real easy way to do that is if the places you need to go to are all within walking distance of one another.
If we have no dreamers, no inventors, no one who is adventurous and dares to try, we'd never get anywhere as a society.
Driving would of course be an incredible leap forward for us, a thing that neither the sighted public, nor the blind community, ever thought possible and, it would be an amazing feat of technological advancement as well.
To those who say this project is impossible, I say, wait and see. It may take years, but just wait and see...
Lets not for get the issues though!
And now to my issues with this project. C'mon, you knew I'd get to that eventually. I rarely feel the need to write about something unless I have some kind of issue with it.
Firstable, there are bigger fish to fry!
I think there are far more important things that not just the NFB, but all the blindness organizations of the world should be focusing on right now.
Did you know that the unemployment rate for blind people in the U.S. is around 70 percent. This is not in any way unusual. Here in Sweden it's around 50 % and, I have similar issues with the blindness organization over here. They're simply not doing enough to change the situation for the better.
Most blind people I know are unemployed and, most blind people I know who are lucky enough to have a job are vastly overqualified for it.
Second, did you know that with advances in technology, many blind children are not being taught to read Braille?
This of course means that they never learn to read at all, cause it has now become so important to save money, that being able to listen to the information is considered to be good enough.
But what does that leave us with? Ah yeh, a bunch of illiterate children and adults...
But So what if the education for blind children is deteriorating? As long as the fact that they're actually illiterate is hidden behind the fact that they all got to go to school.
I think all blindness organizations needs to set their priorities on employment and education of the blind themselves, as well as a better education of society in general, as to inlighten the sighted community of the true capabilities of the blind.
Third, the blind driver challenge has become a total PR stunt on part of the NFB.
The PR may not be all bad, and there is a good reason for it. Society doesn't give a damn about the statistics like the unemployment rate for blind or otherwise disabled individuals. They pay attention to things that make a splash, and this certainly does. Thus far I agree, But I still don't like the aproach NFB is taking.
I learned from Alicia, that They recently put out a press release talking about how everybody got the chance to drive a prototype of the car at the Daytona Speedway and, how this was an achievement for and by all blind people. But in reality only one of the organizations national leaders drove the car and, unfortunately the blind folks in attendance to witness this were not allowed to examine the car in any way. In fact, they could not even touch the car at all.
Apparently NFB has put out a question to its lists, asking for people to submit stories of how the blind driver challenge project has profoundly effected their lives. But how can it effect the lives of anyone, when the members seem to be excluded from the project, except, of course, in propaganda?
And last, but not least: The car being used for this whole thing is a Ford Escape Hybrid.

Yes you read it right; Hybrid!!
This means that they're using the very kind of car they lobby against, without the adaptations they are lobbying for. And, that part is cirtainly held back in all of the press releases about this.
You see This is a "quiet car." It doesn't even have any of the additional auditory mechanisms that the NFB has lobbied auto-makers to put into these cars to make them less dangerous to the blind.
Can we say hypocrites?

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