On January 29, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind's Mark Riccobono became the first blind person to operate a vehicle. No driver racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona could have elicited louder screams from one group of fans than Mark Riccobono. Unknown to thousands of race fans pouring into the Speedway on Saturday morning, Riccobono became a hero to 400 members of the National Federation of the Blind. They were there from all over the country for one reason only - to witness Riccobono become the first blind driver to take the wheel in a solo trip on the track.
Several federation members compared his demonstration to the first United States space flight in 1961. "He's our Alan Shepard," said GaryWunder, editor of the Braille Monitor, the federation magazine. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time." "For the blind, driving a car represents freedom and independence, things other drivers often take for granted." The federation challenged the nation's universities to take the challenge of developing non-visual technology that would allow a blind person to drive independently. One team accepted, a group of students at Virginia Tech, working under the direction of Dennis Hong, director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory. The equipment was placed in a Ford Escape Hybrid.
Riccobono directs technology, research and education for the Federation's Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. To get behind the wheel, he put on gloves that send vibrating signals along his fingers to tell him when to turn and sat on a cushion that vibrated along his legs to tell him when to brake or accelerate. He drove the inside horseshoe on the track and in a tactical demonstration, dodged several boxes thrown in front of his vehicle and passed a van. The long-term implications of the technology were simply mind-boggling for many cheering in the bleachers. "This means a lot more to us than just the driving," Wunder said, "If we can get all the information that's necessary to drive, what other things will we be able to do? It's incredible," said Randy Phifer, of Overland Park, Kansas, a federation member listening to the play-by-play over the infield speakers. "I told my fellow parishioners at home that I'd be back to pick them up," Phifer joked.
For college student Mika Baugh of Indiana, it was "pretty neat." Owning and driving her own car would mean she "wouldn't have to wait for the bus in the freezing cold. You can't even imagine what blind and sighted people will be able to do with this technology someday," she said. Sabrina Deaton, president of the Daytona Beach chapter of the federation, lost her ability to drive almost 11 years ago, a victim of macular degeneration. Driving was "one of the most difficult things to give up," she said. "It was giving up my independence. The ability to drive opens up opportunities for education and employment," she said. And, just to be able to hop into the car and take a Sunday drive. If the research pace continues, Riccobono said the technology could be available for general use in just five years. Federation officials said they couldn't estimate how much the technology would cost. Riccobono said other challenges remain, especially convincing sighted drivers that it would be safe to share the road with blind drivers.
If you are unable to access flash, please see the direct link on youtube below this content.Blind Driver Challenge with audio description.
Columbus, Georgia (March 11, 2014): The National Federation of the Blind National Federation of the Blind today announced that one of its members, Dan Parker, an experienced racecar builder and driver who lost his sight as the result of a racing accident in 2012, will again independently operate a three-wheeled motorcycle with the help of a GPS system that gives him audible cues in order to help him maintain a straight course. Mr. Parker will drive his custom-built motorcycle on the runway as part of the Thunder in the Valley Air Show in Columbus, Georgia, this weekend.
On August 27, 2013, Dan Parker became the second blind man to publicly operate a vehicle independently. Dan Parker completed a two-mile run on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats, reaching an officially recorded top speed of 55.331 mph.
Mr. Parker said, "When I first lost my sight, I wasn't sure if I could continue my lifelong dream of building and racing motorcycles. With the help of my friends in the National Federation of the Blind, I realized that I can have the life I want; blindness is not what holds me back." "I look forward to demonstrating this truth to the general public at the Thunder in the Valley Air Show this weekend."
If you are unable to access flash, please see the direct link on youtube.Dan Parker at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Raveena, a resident of Atlanta, GA, and only six years old at the time of the 2013 National Federation of the Blind Convention, delivers a most powerful speech on what the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program means to her.
Let us hear a few words from Raveena Alli as she speaks to more than 3,000 Federationists at the 2013 NFB National Convention in Orlando, FL.
If you are unable to access flash, please see the direct link on youtube.Raveena Alli at the 2013 NFB National Convention.