Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.
“It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” This has been the motto of Way Fun 2005 and on this, our third day together; I think I truly began to understand something of what those words mean.
For me, the day began with the perfect next step in the progression of learning to master travel with a GPS. As a novice user, I had the advantage of beginner’s luck on Wednesday and Thursday and was, on those days, able to locate destinations and follow routes without any major complications. This morning, however, I decided to add the additional complexity of carrying an iced mocha from Starbucks in one hand while still trying to work a dog in the other and simultaneously operate my BrailleNote GPS. To add to what was already a “challenging” situation, a technical difficulty which prevented my BrailleNote from seeing my Bluetooth GPS receiver threatened to get me started on the wrong foot. Fortunately, some personal time with GPS Jedi Mike May fixed the technological snag and I had no more problems during the day. If anything, the hold-up was a blessing in disguise as it allowed me to concentrate on my coffee without worrying about typing any keystrokes.
If our primary aim for the week is to travel hopefully, then a secondary goal clearly demonstrated today was to share that hope with others. We spent our morning at the Iris Center—a local blindness organization—in Portland where, after a brief overview of GPS technology from Mike, the entire Way Fun group had the opportunity to share our experiences and our equipment with eager orientation and mobility instructors and blind men and women from the surrounding area. It was an incredible experience not only to hear the passionate testimonies of current GPS users, but also to witness the enthusiastic responses of those who were seeing for the first time the possibility of greater independence and mobility. It reiterated to me once again how for so many blind people, a GPS or other piece of adaptive equipment is not just a convenience or a fun gadget, but a new lease on life.
Before leaving the Iris Center, we also managed to wrangle our way onto local TV news and to pose for a few pictures. My personal favorite is the line up of all the Way Fun dog guide teams, eleven of us, in all.
After a relaxed lunch and a few final hours in Portland, most of the group loaded onto a bus headed for the city that will host us for the remainder of our adventure, Bar Harbor, and some of the State’s most beautiful coastline.
On the way, the gang stopped for another quick picture at the head quarters of DeLorme, the company that produces the GPS receivers that many of us use. The background of the picture—a giant globe—seems somewhat symbolic. Not only does it represent the world-wide scope of the satellites’ eye, but it also serves as a reminder of the international contributions that have led to the creation of the technology we are all using this week: a technology created by one man from the Western United States and another from Canada, now coupled with the products of a company born in New Zealand, and utilized by blind people from California to the Netherlands.
I actually did not ride along with the rest of the group. Instead I tagged along in a van with one of the many staff members from the Seeing Eye which allowed me to put the vehicular route capabilities of my GPS unit to the test. Looking back, it strikes me that our car, too, illustrated some of what has made the technology and independence revolution for blind people possible. Among us, there was a sighted woman born and bred in New England who had dedicated her life to enhancing the travel skills of blind people by training Seeing Eye dogs, a young blind, black professional woman raised in Arkansas and now transplanted to Washington, D.C. where she works for NASA, and me, a Midwestern turned southern grad student just trying to absorb the diversity in experience and knowledge of our group. We are all very different in terms of training, background, and geography, yet we have a common drive that pushes us towards the same goal of greater freedom for ourselves and other visually-impaired people.
Perhaps an alternate theme for our trip could be, “Not everything worth finding can be tracked by GPS.” This is certainly one point that has been especially relevant for me. Once in Bar Harbor, for example, we were able to easily locate a nearby restaurant and travel to it using our equipment. However, it was what we found inside the restaurant that made the greatest impression on me. More important than any Point of Interest cataloged in the GPS software, I had the fortunate occasion to sit and enjoy the company of successful and accomplished blind people who have been blessed with incredible vision. Their experiences and reputations speak volumes, and their patience to sit and listen as I vented my frustrations and theories demonstrated the extent of their wisdom. It is the people that make Way Fun worthwhile, and GPS techniques and commands are only a few of the important lessons they have shared with me this week.
Jamie Dean, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem North Carolina