A horseshoe-shaped device that can help those without sight explore the world better than ever.

"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.


All GIFs via Toyota USA/YouTube.

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.

It's a win for anyone who believes that society is better when every person is able to freely contribute what they believe they are capable of giving to our world.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

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