I have been reading some interesting news from the world of the blind and visually impaired. Great strides are being made to allow people with low vision (or no vision) to participate in all facets of life. I wanted to share a couple of these inspiring stories.
First, there is a story of Turkish singer Metin Senturk, blind since he was three years old, who broke the world record for fastest unaccompanied driver. His average speed in the Ferrari F430 was 292.89 kph (180 mph). When he stepped out of the car, he cried, saying that he felt like he had “danced with death.”
In other driving news, Virginia Tech undergrads have developed a car that the blind can drive. The dune buggy styled vehicle “uses a laser range finder, voice software and other sensory technology.” In addition to driving, the technology has implications in other aspects of independent living for the blind and visually impaired.
In a sports breakthrough, students at two schools for the blind in Massachusetts participated in a fencing match. The competition marked the first time two school for the blind had met in the sport in the US. Fencing improves fitness, orientation and mobility skills, but the students like it “because it’s fun and proves that they can do anything the sighted can do.”
There is also news of an inclusive sport, Goalball, in which all players wear goggles that block out all light. Two teams face each other on a court. One team heaves a 3 pound rubber ball with three bells inside at the other team members, who dive to stop it with their bodies. If the ball gets through, a point is scored. Goalball is a sport where blind and sighted exist on a level playing field, visually. This sport is not made to be gentle because the players are blind. The ball weighs a “hefty” three pounds and is thrown at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Players dive to the floor. They get bruised. Like the real athletes they are, they give it their all.
Each of these stories thrills me. We live in a world where people do not need to be put into categories where they must stay. Great strides are being made to allow each person to be free to live the life he chooses. Independence for the visually impaired comes in breakthroughs in text readers and visual aids, but also through participation in “normal” activities like driving and playing sports. For me, the “normal” activity that is life-giving is photography. It only takes a bit of adaptation to allow me to function as an amateur photographer and it opens my world. It only took imagination (and daring) to invent Goalball and to dream of teaching blind students to fence. What else do we dare to dream? If a blind man can drive a Ferrari 180 miles per hour, I feel safe saying that there is no limit to where our imagination and abilities can take us.