Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Friday, July 15, 2005

 

The blind with GPS leading the blind without

We decided to add a little altitude to our hiking on Friday. Cristina drove us up a skinny, windy gravel road to a ski hut and chairlift called, Col To-do. We parked there at 1450 meters and began hiking straight up the ski slope. The views became more and more stunning as we climbed a good reason to stop and catch our breath from time to time. At 1700 meters, we reached another ski hut and the base of the higher chairlift.

It was easier to talk on the way down and we learned a lot about the local culture from Cristina. This part of Italy used to be Austria. At least half of the 4000 residence of Cortina speaks a dialect called Ladin, quite different from Italian. A community based organization owns much of the lands and properties of the area and is responsible for maintaining them. The mountain goat formerly common in this area got a bad eye disease, which has killed most of them off.

Mike driving the Otto Bock, huge smile on his face with his cane sticking out the front

Back at the conference center, I encountered a very cool all terrain vehicle called the Otto Bock. I asked if I could feel it and next thing I knew, I was driving it around the parking lot to the great horror of the developers. I found myself wanting a 3 meter cane or obstacle detection technology in order to take it out on the trails.

I gave my talk and then met the blind Italians from Milan who I was slated to introduce to the GPS and the somewhat foreign concept of independent travel. I learned quickly that it was their sighted guides I would have to educate the most.

I led the ten of them into the center of Cortina, explaining through Cristina how the technology worked and how I was finding my way. One of the guides was very nervous when I was walking backwards. I explained to her that my backwards cane technique is pretty good and it is very practical when guiding a group to walk backwards so they can hear what you are saying.

Mike leading the group from the conference

Like all good adventures, we ended up at a bar where we could become better acquainted. The blind people were hungry for information about how I navigated and about all the technologies I knew about from talking microwaves to talking cell phones. We worked our way around the language barrier, finding common ground in many of the challenges we all faced.

We made our plans for hiking together the next day and said ariva derche. I set the Cooperativa Department store on my GPS as the next destination to find some gifts. A mere 7 kilometers or so since we set out in the morning, we concluded an incredible day with a nice meal with my friend Sile from Ireland at La Tavernetta, with another comfort meal of Casunziei and red wine. My favorite way to experience a new place, walking, eating, walking, drinking and eating some more.

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