Reader’s Forum – Week of November 11, 2013

For your convenience, all Reader’s Forum submissions are separated by the ## symbol.

Eric wrote:

Regarding John Christie’s article on faulty service by Verizon: The service I got from MCI, predecessor to Verizon, was very demeaning and condescending. To put it in a nutshell, I was put through bait and switch, both in 2004 and 2006. MCI promised “The Neighborhood,” AT&T’s answer to unlimited long-distance. Right away, I noticed that for every service call assumed to be “free,” I had to pay for it. In 2006, I got a call, begging me to switch back from AT&T to MCI. Like a fool, I said yes. The second time,
not much changed. I couldn’t call a few party lines, because, in their infinite wisdom, MCI blocked them.

I really got annoyed when the phone bill came, and I did not get free directory assistance, something AT&T offers to all disabled people; the Neighborhood was a rip off, and I could not completely use Call Screening, to block all annoying calls. So I was stuck with paying $350!

I also understand that Verizon’s services for cell phones have also deteriorated. So that’s why I’m comfortable with AT&T for my landline, and Sprint Boost Mobile for my cellular service. Verizon? Goodnight now!

Responding to Anita’s comments in last week’s Readers Forum: I’m sure the lady who wrote in, only wanting to give her Skype address, might have meant well, but is both nonsensical and trifling to do so. Many of us read the Ziegler through NFB Newsline, so we cannot use a link to write you back.

For the safety of those who want to write you, you should please use an email address. Some of us want to contact you via cell phone or landline. We’re not saying this to hurt your feelings, we want you to be safe. We want no predators to be stalking you. Anita is right. So please help us!

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Terri wrote:

I’d like to start by welcoming our two new feature writers Roger Cicchese and Jane Kronheim.

To start with your article, Jane, I just couldn’t agree more with you about the need for interdependence. While I agree that the ideal is to function at one’s optimal level of independence as a person with blindness or vision impairment, I don’t think that optimizing one’s capabilities has to mean that a person never needs help (nor should it). Fresh out of high school and right into college, I felt just that way, though, because those were the messages I received from my school, Overbrook School for the Blind, in Philadelphia. If what seemed to be conveyed about independence and blindness wasn’t what was meant, well, that sure is how I perceived and interpreted, and I don’t think I was alone.

Welcome again, Jane and Roger, and keep on sharing your perceptive insights.

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Karen wrote:

I wish to compliment our newest feature writers Jane Kronheim and Roger Cicchese on their articles. I wish to respond to Bob Branco’s thoughts on driverless cars.

In Jane’s article where blind students were encouraged to attain autonomous independence, I agree there are serious flaws in that philosophy. While using Braille displays and computers help blind students keep up with classmates, does it foster interdependence? In my teen and young adult years, I began learning an important lesson. The true sign of maturity is when, with trepidation, you admit that you need help. This is a sign of humility, vulnerability and courage.

I liked Roger’s article about his confidence and competence in tackling a difficult task. I also liked the humor he used in relating what could have been a difficult situation between him and the apartment inspector.

I must disagree with Bob Branco’s view on driverless cars. Some features of driverless cars are already in high-end cars. When looking at October’s consumer reports, one of the 2014 models speeds up or slows down in heavy traffic. There is another, older, high-end car, which finds the best parking spaces for their occupants. It will be ten or fifteen years before we will have fully autonomous driverless cars on our roads.

Will we see the vision of science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clark had of sitting back while these cars drive us to work or leisure activities during our lifetime? While we see the beginnings of this, it is our kids and grandkids who will reap its benefits. What an exciting future: elderly people with failing eyesight will be able to drive at night. Blind teens and adults will have licenses to drive. Gone will be the excuse of “I can’t get there because of lack of transportation.” I believe blossoming technology will make our children’s future better than we can dream.

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Jake wrote:

I wish to respond to Cheryl in last week’s Reader’s Forum, about screen savers. I love the idea of endless lines of Braille! To add to that or as another option, I think it’d be cool if someone invented a screen saver with all the TTS engines and their respective voices babbling away at each other. The American-English voices as well as those in other languages could be featured. I’m talking both the robotic ones and the more natural-quality ones. Then we’d have a whole chorus of men, women and children, plus all the novelty voices!

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James R. Campbell wrote:

In recent issues of the Ziegler, much has been made of the need to educate the public regarding our capacities as blind persons. I am glad that this topic has been receiving the time that it so richly deserves. It is long overdue.

I agree with those who prefer dialogue and interaction, I have found that my neighbors and others respond much better to dialogue and education than they would a hostile, defensive attitude. The latter actually harms our cause, rather than helps.

The holidays are just around the bend, and I am still disheartened by the stories I hear on the chat lines from blind friends who have family that either put them in a corner, or treat them like porcelain figurines. Both approaches are wrong. There is a better way.

During Thanksgiving dinner last year, my cousin Courtney, who is sighted, asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I told her I wanted something that money could not buy. When she asked for ideas, I told her I wanted love for those who didn’t have it. I told her about this one woman whose family wanted nothing to do with her.

Courtney was taken aback, she could not, for the life of her, understand, how a family could mistreat a blind or disabled member in that manner. But it happens all the time. I am fortunate that I can cook, for example, if not, my cherished Aunt and I would go without most nights.

I had a cashier at WalMart who wanted to put the sacks in the basket, but I told her that I could do it, although I appreciated her offer. I put the food up and prepare it when my Aunt comes home from Daycare.

The more we can do as individuals, the more self-reliant we are, and this, in turn, makes us able to help our families and friends. This makes our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities at large, better places to live.

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Bridget wrote in response to Bob Branco’s Op Ed – Self-Driving Cars? Not For Me!

I have to laugh when people tell me someday I will be able to go where I want with these things. My first point is ok, so I get in the car, I go to the mall by the GPS. Does it park itself? So maybe it does. Well, where did it park? Where is the door? Did it park by Sears or Boscov’s? So I manage to get in the mall. Now I come out and like most people I stand there and wonder where the car is. All articles I have read said that a licensed driver must operate the car. So now I have a self driven car and still need to have a driver? It is for the lazy. It is for the people who are done thinking. Ask a person who uses GPS to go around the corner. They are now unable to find themselves out of a box. Do math? Forget it. Before losing my sight I didn’t even use cruise control. Computers do what they want. Just look at the auto fill functions, geez. I agree; not for me or realistically for the blind.

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Debra wrote:

I am responding to the article about self-driving cars. I say “Bring them on!” I would be willing to test one if I were offered that privilege. I would love to be able to pick my friends up and take them places. As for the computer malfunctioning in the middle of the road, to me, that would be just like any other car accident. One never knows when traveling what will happen. You take risks when you travel, or when you do anything for that matter. Traveling in a self-driving car is a risk I would be willing to take, because it would be another measure of independence, and independence is one of the most important things in my life.

In response to the article entitled “I’ve Always Wanted a Fan Club.” I am so glad about the outcome of this!! I used to live in a government subsidized apartment, and I always absolutely hated the annual inspections!! I considered it an unnecessary invasion of privacy. That inspector got what he absolutely deserved!!! I hope that others who live in this type of housing will also stand up for their rights!

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Casey wrote:

I have to say I agree with what Jane Kronheim discussed in her article regarding independence. Although many pieces of technology, such as i-devices and anything with a touch screen, are helpful for many blind and/or visually impaired people, these devices are not for everybody. I, for one, do not like the idea of using a touch-screen device because I do not think it would be as easy for me because I have never worked very much with such devices. For two, there may be people with other disabilities which impair their dexterity in their hands or sensitivity to touch. I firmly believe that although many blind and visually impaired people use these devices easily and are good at learning all of the gestures required to operate the menus and things, many people still require assistance with certain things, be they touch-screen devices or whatever the case may be.

Independence is wonderful to have, but I think that rather than independence being pushed onto blind and visually impaired individuals no matter if multiple disabilities may be present or not, I think that it should be discussed but not so much pushed as taught on an individual basis.

I have my beliefs as do others, and all opinions are definitely respected by me. I am just stating my own.

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Wesley wrote:

Given that mobility is one of the biggest hurdles to independence for blind people, I am totally excited about the various companies working towards the sale of driverless cars. Google has long been in front on this project, with a fleet of about 10 cars that have been equipped with a LIDAR laser radar and a Velodyne 64 beam range finder laser. These components allow the vehicle to generate a detailed 3D map of its environment. The car then takes these generated maps and combines them with high-resolution maps of the world, producing different types of data models that allow it to drive itself. Having driven over 300,000 miles on roads, primarily throughout California, these cars have had zero accidents while under control of the driverless system.

Several other companies are working on autonomous vehicles, including Toyota, Mercedes, Ford, and Tesla. Several high end automobiles have already incorporated features similar to a driverless car, such as collision detection, and self-parking. Since a response time from a computer is much faster than a human, and the ability for a computer to actually detect objects over a wider visual field, it is very apparent to me that we would be able to literally eliminate accidents with the use of autonomous vehicles. However, at this time the cost is prohibitive, clocking in at over $150,000 for the systems installed on the Google cars.

While I won’t rule out the possibility of electronics failure, I will note that much of our manufacturing is run using robotics, which repeat tasks tirelessly. Planes are flown using automation, traffic signaling is automated, communications routing is automated, along with thousands of other tasks in our complex society. There is a staggering difference between a home computer and a dedicated piece of software and hardware that effectively manages one task, driving a car. A home computer is prone to a horrific amount of human intervention, during which viruses can be introduced, or configuration conflicts can occur. Meanwhile, a dedicated system isn’t prone to meddling, although it will require updates as roadways change and other improvements are made, such as the use of RFIDs to locate neighboring vehicles, and correlate their routes to make lane adjustments and speed calculations.

In March 2012, Google posted a YouTube video showing Steve Mahan, a Morgan Hill California resident, being taken on a ride in its self-driving Toyota Prius. In the video, Mahan states 95 percent of his vision is gone. He goes on to say “I’m well past being legally blind”. In the description of the YouTube video, it is noted that the carefully programmed route takes him from his home to a drive-through restaurant, then to the dry cleaning shop, and finally back home.

Nevada passed a law in June 2011 permitting the operation of autonomous cars on their roads, which went into effect on March 1, 2012, and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles issued the first license for an autonomous car in May 2012. The license was issued to a Toyota Prius modified with Google’s experimental driverless technology. As of April 2012, Florida became the second state to allow the testing of autonomous cars on public roads. Shortly after that, California became the third state to legalize the use of self-driven cars for testing purposes as of September of the same year.

I am of the exact opposite mindset from Mr. Branco. I look forward to using driverless cars to get around our large cities, designed for automobiles. While I wish our cities were designed differently, I must accept that they are made for cars, and as a legally blind person, I must use the best resources at my disposal to live an independent life. When driverless cars become available for sale to the public, I fully intend to purchase one to freely travel across this country! For any blind person, I believe these cars will provide enormous freedom to access careers, shopping, vacations, entertainment, socializing, and generally getting around just like any sighted person. In fact, I believe these cars will do it better, since they will effectively be accident free, and theoretically shouldn’t get lost!

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Lucia wrote:

Dear Terri,

I have a reaction to your article on “Song Lyrics and Blindness.”

There was a classic rock song, played on our local classic rock station WAXQ (q104.3) by Dire Straits, called “Money for Nothing.” There was a word in that song, “that little blank got his own jet plane,… that little blank is a millionaire” That word was quickly removed from the song. We have to do the same thing. We have to employ that same type of activism.

Too often, people believe that if you are visually impaired, you are stupid! (I keep forgetting to say “vision impaired.” You are right.) Family members of too many visually impaired and blind people just don’t want them. This has been an attempt to clarify and crystallize what is occurring.

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Roy wrote:

In response to Bob Branco’s article about self-driving cars: I would actually trust these self-driving cars more than I would cars being driven by people. Self-driving cars aren’t distracted by texting or talking on the phone or by attractive people both passing by or on billboards. Self-driving cars also won’t be propelled to do dumb things because of road rage.

Bring on the self-driving cars and I’d love to own one and use it. Oh, the places I’d go. I hope it happens in my lifetime. It’s looking good.


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