"I don't think I'm different. I think how I interact with the world is different."
So explains Belo Cipriani, who was born with sight but lost it in adulthood. Like millions of Americans and people all around the world, he's learned to thrive in his new normal, savvily using the right tools to help him on his journey. A guide dog and sometimes a white cane help him get through his day.
But what would an even more accessible world mean for him? How could he be provided with even more mobility and connectivity? What would that look like?
Hearing Belo discuss how he interacts with the world points us toward the true heart and soul of accessibility. Listen to him and then check out more of the story below.
The term "accessibility" is a common one. It is a sterile word that often conjures up images of ramps and chair lifts, parking spots and building codes. While it is indeed those things, it is also so much more.
Making the world accessible is about doing whatever can be done to ensure people with different abilities can be their full selves with the same freedom, confidence, independence, safety, and ease as everyone else.
It's about more than the occasional closed captioning and braille options or doing the bare minimum to ensure people with disabilities have subpar, insecure, minimally inclusive participation in the day-to-day activities of life.
It's about pushing the limits of what is and rethinking the status quo to give everyone the opportunity to participate in as much of the human experience as possible.
And if there's one sector that understands the value of pushing those limits and possibilities, it's technology.
That's where Toyota's Project BLAID comes in.
Their engineers in the Toyota Partner Robotics group have collaborated for more than four years with leading organizations and members of the blind community to better understand the mobility needs of the visually impaired and develop solutions to meet those needs.
Translation: They're creating technology to fill in the blanks left by current tools for the blind.
How innovative? Well, this new product is a hands-free, horseshoe-shaped device that sits on a person's shoulders. It’s easy to wear and comes with cameras, voice recognition, buttons, speakers, and vibration — all calibrated to help a blind or visually impaired person better explore and interact with the environment around them. Bluetooth technology pairs it with a smartphone.
With a push of a button, it helps identify signs for bathrooms, exits, elevators, stairwells, and other important places — giving people with limited sight a new level of accessibility so they can do more with greater independence and confidence.
Belo, who was invited to check out the product in its early stages of development, is quite excited about the potential and possibilities.
But he's just the first of many to come. Keep an eye on The Toyota Effect for more information.
Toyota's Project BLAID and other technology that is pushing the boundaries isn't a win just for Belo and others with visual impairments.