BALTIMORE, Jan. 28, 2011 / PRNewswire-USNewswire / — The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the oldest and largest organization of blind people in the nation, announced today that Mark Anthony Riccobono, a blind executive who directs technology, research, and education programs for the organization, will be the first blind individual to drive a street vehicle in public. Mr. Riccobono will be behind the wheel of a Ford Escape hybrid equipped with nonvisual technology allowing a blind person to drive it independently as part of a historic demonstration scheduled during pre-race activities leading up to the Rolex 24 at the Daytona International Speedway. The demonstration is set to take place at 11:30 a.m. EST on January 29.
Mr. Riccobono said: “I have been blind since the age of five, so I never got to try for a driver’s license or drive a car without another person telling me which way to steer. The NFB’s leadership in the Blind Driver Challenge™ has taken something almost everyone believed was an impossible dream and turned it into reality. I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel and demonstrating to the world that being blind does not prevent me from engaging in any activity I choose as long as I am able to get the information I need. This will be a truly historic occasion for my blind brothers and sisters and for America, and I am humbled and proud to be part of it.”
Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “The sight of a blind individual driving a vehicle without assistance from a sighted person will shake the foundation of public misconceptions about blindness and blind people by showing that even tasks that are thought to require vision are possible if a blind person has access to information in a nonvisual way. Vision is not a requirement for success. Capacity, imagination, and determination are all that is needed, and blind people have all of these qualities.”
Mr. Riccobono was the first director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a state agency that serves Wisconsin’s blind children. Since coming to the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind in 2003, he has spearheaded many initiatives, including educational programs designed to engage blind youth in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. He currently serves as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. He and his wife Melissa, who has worked as a school counselor and serves as president of the Maryland affiliate of the NFB, live in Baltimore with their two small children, Austin and Oriana.
The NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ is a research project of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute-the only research and training facility on blindness operated by the blind. The Jernigan Institute challenged universities, technology developers, and other interested innovators to establish NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ (BDC) teams, in collaboration with the NFB, to build interface technologies that will empower blind people to drive a car independently. The purpose of the NFB Blind Driver Challenge™ is to stimulate the development of nonvisual interface technology. The Virginia Tech/TORC NFB BDC team, under the direction of Dr. Dennis Hong, Director of the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech., is the only team that has accepted the challenge. The team uses the ByWire XGV™ developed by TORC Technologies as the research platform for the development and testing of the nonvisual interface technologies that allow a blind person to drive.
For more information about the NFB, please visit www.nfb.org. For our digital news release about the Blind Driver Challenge™ and the debut of the BDC car at the Rolex 24, including audio and video clips for television and radio, please visit DigitalNewsRelease.com.
About the National Federation of the Blind
With more than 50,000 members, the National Federation of the Blind is the largest and most influential membership organization of blind people in the United States. The NFB improves blind people’s lives through advocacy, education, research, technology, and programs encouraging independence and self-confidence. It is the leading force in the blindness field today and the voice of the nation’s blind. In January 2004 the NFB opened the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, the first research and training center in the United States for the blind led by the blind.
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