Blind Ambition
July 19, 2018 4:07 PM   Subscribe

In 2017, Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco launched the Holman Prize to support the emerging adventurousness and can-do spirit of blind and low vision people worldwide. One of the winners was Ahmet Ustenel who is about to pull off his prize winning proposal to cross the Bosphorus in a kayak, solo. His story is fascinating, and so are the stories of the other winners.
posted by agatha_magatha (9 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Sound travels differently on the water. It slows down and dances lazily in the cool pocket of air just above the water’s surface. This can have an amplifying effect, making sound appear closer from great distances, but it comes with a price: sounds also stretch and bend, ricocheting off choppy breaks and skipping along with deceptive ease when the water is calm.

Fascinating. I'll try to really listen next time I'm on the water. I've never thought about this before.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:58 PM on July 19, 2018

I had to visit Lighthouse offices in San Francisco to pick up some Braille programs that a client had ordered. You can order Braille publications from there. Anyway, the elevator announced all the stops aloud. Then at the actual office I was greeted by the extremely gregarious receptionist whose name I can’t recall. I happened to have a bouquet of flowers with me and as soon as I got off the elevator one blind young man exclaimed “ooh, flowers!” I chatted with him and he had come to visit Lighthouse all the way from Indiana. Anyway I hope I get another excuse to go visit again someday.
posted by shalom at 9:56 PM on July 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

"the modified Mr. Beep" sounds like a British robotic superhero.

Thanks so much for sharing this. What an adventure! And dodging giant ships that you can't see and could be a football field closer than you expect! Wow!
posted by jillithd at 9:21 AM on July 20, 2018

This is great; people who are blind should have the opportunity to go on whatever adventures they want and can, just like the rest of us.

On the other hand, if they want to sit on the couch, they can do that do, like the rest of us. He's Your Inspiration, Not Mine, by Kathi Wolfe.

"Erik Weihenmayer had just become the first blind man to climb Mount Everest... The sighted folks were inspired again, and I knew what was coming. "So?" she continued, "when are you going to climb Mount Everest?" ...anyone who's disabled can tell you that the experience is all too common. One of us bursts onto the cultural radar screen as a superhero, and all of us are expected to perform amazing feats.

Eyesight aside, I'm never going to climb Mount Everest. I'm a lover of creature comforts who freaks if the AC breaks down for 15 minutes. And as I told that woman at Starbucks, I'm terrified of heights.


It's hard to say which stereotype is more annoying: the disabled as helpless victims or as superheroes. ...supercrip stereotype exacerbates the already difficult challenges that people with disabilities face. If we hear enough such stories we may feel defeated by the comparison. And trying to live up to the image can be just as damaging."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:28 AM on July 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

OK... I understand that is a common ableist trope, but I don't feel like we are doing that here in this thread. I definitely don't see this man as a helpless victim nor as a superhero. He is practicing daily, putting a lot of hard work and engineering and a team of assistants in order to accomplish this goal. That's not superheroic - I call that driven and determined.
posted by jillithd at 11:47 AM on July 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Anyway, the elevator announced all the stops aloud.

This is just good accessible design practice. ADA compliant, even. It's not signs and wonders.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:33 PM on July 20, 2018

So great to learn all this. My work colleague and I are drafting audio descriptive scripts for a museum client of ours, and are vetting them through someone at Lighthouse now. This is wonderful.
posted by droplet at 8:47 PM on July 20, 2018

The tech, which Ahmet developed with a team of volunteer engineers (many of whom also work at AT&T, in Atlanta) is fairly simple, but comprised of a delicate orchestra of devices that weren’t necessarily made to work together. There’s a talking depth sensor that Ahmet has repurposed to identify objects at a horizontal rather than vertical distance; a non-visual compass of sorts called Mr. Beep (originally an aid for blind rowers), which Ahmet has hacked to send vibrating feedback to his left or right hands to show direction while keeping his ears free to listen to traffic; and of course his phone, which will mostly function to livestream his progress to the world.


Finishing the journey won’t change the course of history or go straight into a Guinness book, but Ahmet knows that the symbolism of his solo trek is powerful for the general public and other blind would-be adventurers alike. He has visions of the modified Mr. Beep becoming a mainstay for blind navigation of all sorts. Late last year, in an interview with Red Bull, Ahmet suggested that the hacked tech he developed could also work for blind runners, surfers, cyclists and others who need intuitive non-visual guidance.

Here's Mr. Beep

I like the cut of his jib, so to speak (we have a closet full of fucked up white canes).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:49 PM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

This video does a good job of showing his technique and tech on the water. I also like hearing people using Voiceover at the speed I'm used to hearing it at home (full tilt).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:59 PM on July 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

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