Two Perspectives on Global Positioning

Editor’s Note:Rapid advances in science and technology continue to enhance the lifestyles of the blind and visually impaired. In the following, Leon Moten of the Mountain States Regional Group weighs in on Humanware's Trekker, one of three accessible systems from which the blind can choose. Jack Gordon then illustrates, with a dose of humor, the degree to which blinded veterans may soon rely on GPS technology as he shares a purely fictional narrative of "Blind Bob" at an imaginary VA Winter Sports Clinic. Jack is a member of the Southern California Regional Group and a former President of the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center.

GPS Enhances Quality of Life

by Leon Moten

In mid-October, Leader Dogs for the Blind of Rochester, Michigan, enrolled my guide dog and me in a week of training on Trekker, a hand-held talking GPS designed for the blind. Leader Dogs is one of two entities of which I am aware that trains veterans on Trekker. The other is the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind located in Smithtown, New York.

I continue to be amazed by Trekker and the manner in which my particular system announces streets and points of interest. It feels in some ways like I have regained a portion of my sight.

With the touch of a button, I can create a route from where I am to a specific address anywhere. I can also obtain directions to a point of interest that I have previously entered into the system. In my opinion, the only pre-requisite to use Trekker would be general mobility with a cane or a guide dog. If a blind person is sedentary to begin with, even Trekker and all it has to offer will probably not get the person off the couch and mobile.

My Trekker training ended on October 18. Ironically, a free upgrade of the software was announced two days earlier. There are many positive changes in the upgrade that make continued learning worthwhile.

Late in my training, my dog and I were dropped off on a street in Detroit, a city I had never before visited. I was given the simple instruction: "We’ll meet you at the lounge.” I then created a route from the point at which I stood to the lounge. The task was easy since I had, a few days earlier, set the lounge as a Point of Interest (POI) while in training.

As I began walking, the unit directed me to turn 180 degrees. I had evidently started out in the wrong direction! I was then given instructions to proceed to a particular street. At that point I needed to cross the street, make a left turn, and continue straight ahead to the next intersection. As I obeyed the commands of the unit, the very welcome words “You are on course” were pronounced. After several more directions and street crossings, I was told that I had arrived at my destination. The feelings of satisfaction and exhilaration that came over me are nearly impossible to describe.

When making a visit at the VA medical facility in Beckley, West Virginia, I often walk to the YMCA for exercise afterward. I decided to create a route in Trekker and did so at my dining room table. I then browsed the route and found that the unit would name all of the streets, including where to cross and where to turn.

My actual trip from VA to the YMCA began on a sidewalk on the right side of a street. From previous experience, I knew that the sidewalk would end abruptly and continue on the other side of the street. When I reached that abrupt ending, I created a POI in my Trekker. Thereafter, when reaching the spot, the Trekker will always announce: "Sidewalk ends—cross street.”

For a blind individual, Trekker is the most useful device I can imagine.

Although Trekker will never replace a mobility aid such as a cane or guide dog, the instrument most assuredly enhances one’s quality of life.

Prospective Trekker and other GPS system users should already be relatively mobile with a cane or guide dog before being trying to integrate this type of technology into their lifestyle. As wonderful as these scientific advances are, they are not sudden antidotes for the sedentary couch potato who has not experienced an effective blind rehabilitation program. I encourage blinded veterans everywhere to prepare for, enjoy, and profit from the miracles of modern assistive technology.

That Blind Guy’s Out There Again!

by John "Jack" Gordon

High on a snowy mountain just above Aspen, Colorado, the Annual Veterans Winter Sports Clinic gets underway in Snowmass Village.

Atop the ski ramp, a small group of jumpers prepares for a long jump. One jumper wears a ski cap pulled down over his eyes. Someone says: "He's back—Daredevil Blind Bob!" Someone else yells: "His pockets are bulging with electronic stuff this time."

The blind jumper makes military quarter turns as he listens to his talking compass. Next, he stands at attention while setting his talking stopwatch. Moving side to side, he appears to confirm his GPS location. From there he coordinates his next GPS location to the spot at which he will finalize his run.

Bob adjusts his lip microphone, which is connected to his two-way CB radio transceiver. From his back pocket he pulls up the radio's shiny antenna and reaches down to his side. Pressing the transmit button, he says: "How 'bout ya X-Ray-1? Blind Bob here, requesting a radio check! Come in, please."

Far below, teammate Ray sits comfortably in Starbucks. Ray replies: "Gotcha Blind Bob. Loud and clear, tree top tall.”

"Stand by X-Ray-1," Blind Bob responds. "Need to check one more thing."

Bob always makes sure everything is in excellent working order. He steps into his skis, clicking them into the bindings and then bending down to check their degree of snugness. Before returning to a standing position, he touches the snow for good luck. He again presses the remote talk button clipped to his belt and states: “Okay, X-Ray-1, have that hot cup of Joe waiting for me."

Bob remains standing rigid but appears somewhat confused as a gathering of well-wishers cheers each competitor’s start. More cheers are collected down the snowy path. Blind Bob is the very last to go.

Bob presses the transmit button and says: "X-Ray-1. I am ready."

Ray scratches his head and, not able to see Bob, he prefers not to reply at all.

Bob sidesteps in the direction that he believes he was previously instructed. Alas, he is actually facing the wrong way and begins to slide down the first ramp backwards! Midway down the ramp, Ray spots him from below.

“Bob! You're moving backwards!"

Onlookers yell and scream so loudly that Bob can pick out only a word or two. Adjusting his ski cap in flight, he feels the sensation of a breeze on the back of his neck. He senses that his skis are pointing upward, not downward. Something is most definitely wrong.

From his front side pocket Bob removes a talking compass.

“South? Oops. Big time human error here,” he admits to himself.

While gaining speed, Bob is still able to switch on his two-way radio.

“Ray, can you confirm my direction of descent?” he screams.

"Bob! Listen to me carefully! With all of the guts you have, you must twist a full 180!"

Immediately Bob leaps and twists a full 180 degrees through the air. Cheers erupt from the sidelines. He slows as the slope becomes less steep. Ray exhales a sigh of relief to see Bob heading down the homestretch.

"Bob, that was simply beautiful," he says in the mouthpiece. "Your coffee is ready."

A dozen or so spectators, half of them in wheelchairs, leave their coffee and move toward Ray to listen to the communication. Bob’s broad smile can be seen from there as he hears the female voice:  "You are now heading north 0.3 degrees, arriving at your final destination of Starbucks, located inside Snowmass Village. Have a nice day!"

With the award ceremonies complete a few minutes later, Bob and the other medal recipients begin trying to leave the podium. Bob takes a quick step backward, encountering nothing but air and falling two feet below into a drift of powder. Quiet and motionless, Bob appears to be face down in the snow. Crowds gather and cell phones begin pressing 9-1-1.

"He only got what he deserves,” an icy metallic voice declares. What? The voice is coming from Bob’s talking cane, also deep in the powder next to him.

“He left me totally out of the celebration,” the voice continues. “With news and TV cameras everywhere, he took all of the glory for himself. Here he is now like a stick in the mud, looking about how I felt today each time he whacked me through the mud, yellow snow, and dog droppings that are such a part of this place.”

Ray becomes livid.

"Well, of all the ungrateful, disgusting pieces of junk,” he says, opening the cane's battery compartment.

Sensing the action, the cane screams out: "No No! Don't do that! You're killing me, Larry!"

"Who's Larry?” Ray thinks to himself. “Bob and that stupid cane of his have been listening to too many ridiculous radio ads!"

Ray shakes out three tiny button batteries onto the trampled snow. With the cane's last microwatt of power, it moans, Ayyyaaaamdyyyiiiing — Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"

Onlookers now aplenty, Ray reaches for Bob and lays him on his back. Quickly, Ray brushes snow from his face. Bob’s eyes open. The crowd gasps. "Blind Bob is alive! And he’s okay!" The screams are loud and numerous.

Ray wipes a tear from his left eye using his snow-covered coat sleeve as Bob makes his way to his feet. Bob takes his hand out of a left pocket under his warm-up pants and presses a button on the device attached to his coat zipper to shut off his own electronic devices.

"Ray, I was in that snow for a minute and 42 seconds while you all called for help and messed around with that worthless cane of mine,” Bob says. “It looked like you were going to leave me here to freeze to death. And where's that hot cup of coffee you promised?"

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