This week, the National Federation of the Blind and Virginia Tech demonstrated a prototype vehicle equipped with technology to allow a blind person to operate a car independently. The technology, called "nonvisual interfaces," uses sensors to let a blind driver maneuver a car based on information transmitted to him about his surroundings: whether another car or object is nearby, in front of him or in a neighboring lane.
My first reaction was frankly, skeptical. With all respect, there are already too many seemingly blind people driving in San Francisco. But it's an intriguing idea. Louis Braille opened worlds to the blind in the early 1800's because he desperately wanted to read. The arrangement of raised dots he invented has been adapted to nearly every language on earth. Perhaps no disability is as limiting as we generally assume.
Advocates for the blind consider the invention of such a vehicle a "moon shot." President Kennedy, who urged America to land a man on the moon and return him safely to the Earth, would surely agree. He said, "We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask 'why not?'..."
Licenses requiring eyeglasses could become obsolete. And the words, "Waddya, blind?" so beloved of New Yorkers, could lose their impact along with brandishing middle fingers at other drivers who can't see them. Big changes, people. Big changes coming.