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Blind New World

February 2, 2012

Yesterday at the library, a persistent clicking drew my attention. Click. Click. Click. I looked to my left and saw a young boy of perhaps eleven, walking slowly down the staircase. In front of him, he held a long metal walking stick with a red tip. He was blind. His mother stood waiting for him by the elevator. She hadn’t helped him down the stairs;  she wanted her son to learn independence.

Inspiring as it was to see a young blind boy in a public library, tackling so many challenges all at once, my thoughts quickly turned pessimistic. As I watched him struggle to find the right button next to the elevator (“Is this down?” he asked his mother), I wondered what kind of future awaits this young man in the Innovation Economy. How could the blind possibly navigate their way through touch screens and cloud computing? What hope is there?

A simple Google search showed me just how misplaced my fears were. A 2009 New York Times Article introduced me to T.V. Raman. Mr. Raman lost his eyesight at fourteen. Amazingly, he now works for Google and is a renowned leader in the field of systems programming. He doesn’t use his blindness as a crutch; instead, he designs software that not only can help him, but millions of others just like him. He is also a master of solving the Braille Rubik’s Cube, something that he invented (see video below).

T.V. Raman is not alone. This tech article lists twelve awesome inventions that were designed to help the blind. One of these inventions, a wristband with GPS navigation built into it, has uses far beyond those of its original design. When the world’s most creative minds tackle the greatest challenges, such as helping the disabled, their innovations often inadvertently solve other problems as well, spawning applications far beyond their original intentions. (Aside: How cool are those tactile flash cards? Or how about the Touch Color Painting Tablet? Or the Braille E-book?!)

With so much hope literally at the fingertips of the blind, why are the American Foundation for the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind failing to broadcast these incredible advances? A visit to their websites yields very little useful information. The American Foundation for the Blind provides its users with old, outdated information. The National Federation of the Blind uses miniscule text and a lot of words to champion its own pet causes. Both organizations ought to trumpet these new breakthroughs and give renewed hope to the blind and their families.

Negativity abounds. Everywhere we turn, someone tells us that it can’t be done. How refreshing then that my ignorant pity for that blind boy could turn into such wonder at the world we live in! This is what technology is truly capable of: delivering hope to millions.

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