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National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky

Lexington Chapter

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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.

Happy Birthday Louis Braille: A Letter to Louis Braille

Posted January 6, 2011

Happy Birthday Louis Braille!

January 4, 2011, 8:26 am

Dear Louis Braille,
I'm writing to send you a birthday greeting. photo of Louis Braille Tomorrow is your two-hundred-and-second birthday, which means that braille, the code you invented that allows people who are blind to read and write and communicate, must be about 187 years old, since you were only 15 when you invented the code! Dear Louis, that just blows me away! When I was 15, I was busy pretending that I could see just fine. My nose was quite literally buried deep inside every book I read; I was spending three or four more hours getting my tenth-grade homework done than my fully-sighted classmates, and I was in a "math basics" class (for dummies) because the guidance counselor at the high school I was attending said none of the math teachers could figure out how to teach geometry to "someone like me!" I would have been so much better off, dear Louis, had I known the braille code or about your life's work of making braille the accepted literacy code for people who are blind worldwide and going forward in time. Dear Louis, I was misguided for so much of my youth about blindness and about braille. First, I thought that if I could see, even a little bit, I wasn't really "blind." Most of my teachers and all of the Caroline County, MD, public school administrators thought the same thing. that's why they insisted that I use print, and that's why they couldn't figure out how to teach me geometry or physics, and that's why I spent so much time on homework. And that's why I gave up on piano lessons, which I loved, when I couldn't read the music in the Grade Three John Thompson music book, and also why, two years later, I went off to college without any useable blindness skills at all! In college, Louis, I went crazy trying to keep up with the reading load. Then I discovered that I could hire people to read aloud to me. And when I signed up for books from Recording for the Blind (now Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) things got better. Even so, I had to change my intended major from Spanish and stopped at Spanish III because I couldn't read the print in the advanced Spanish textbooks. Imagine how much happier I might have been with my classes and my choices about majors if I had known Braille! It's a sad state of affairs that this misguidance is still occurring in today’s mainstream schools with children who have extremely low vision or are blind. Sometimes parents are told that because of "modern digital communications" like audio books, braille isn't really necessary. But in my opinion, braille is essential for literacy gains. Dear Louis, it took me several decades to see the proverbial light, but thank God I found out that braille is just about the most useful skill a person who is blind- even a person with very low vision - can learn! Thank God I took the braille reading and writing courses from the (free) Hadley School for the Blind, and from a teacher in my state's Division of Rehabilitation Services! Thank goodness there were braille magazines to help to practice my braille skills, like "our Special Magazine", from National Braille Press, and the Matilda Ziegler Magazine (now sadly discontinued in hard-copy braille). Oh, dear Louis, the stories I could tell - about learning to use a Braille'nSpeak and then taking notes in graduate school faster than any of my sighted classmates; about borrowing print-braille books from National Library Services and joining National Braille Press' Book Club, so that I could read picture books to my then four-year-old son while I was learning to read the braille code myself. Louis, my young sighted son didn’t care how slowly I read, he only cared that I was reading him a story, and later on, when he was struggling to learn to read print, we read together, I reading one braille page, and he reading the next print page - until we had both mastered the skills of literacy! He was my last of six children, and the only one to whom I was ever able to read aloud! Dear Louis, I have so many reasons to thank you. Without your code, I couldn't do my job. Without your code, I would be unable to keep personal records, to copy recipes, to find addresses and phone numbers for friends and colleagues. Without your code, I couldn't label my microwave or my oven controls - Imagine having to ask a family member for help every time I wanted to cook them a meal! I don't think I could have succeeded in graduate school because I could never have given an acceptable oral presentation, or read my class notes even an hour after I had written them, or kept track of my research, especially the bibliographic information! If I didn't know braille, I would have missed out on the hundreds of books I have downloaded and read from and the National Library Service's Web Braille project. And without your code, dear Louis, I would never have developed the self confidence I enjoy (most of the time) today, or have embraced my disability the way I have come to now. Dear Louis, thank you from the bottom of my heart! And, happy birthday!

Penny Reeder

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. blindness is not what holds you back. You can live the life you want!

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