Cullen, a Secondary Program student at Perkins School for the Blind, has always been interested in technology. So when he met State Representative Joe McKenna of Webster at Blind Legislative Information and Networking Day (B.L.I.N.D), an annual advocacy event in Boston, he asked why the state wasn’t doing more to support the development of driverless cars.
Four states already allow road testing of driverless cars, but Massachusetts isn’t one of them. It’s an important issue, Cullen said, because people who are blind could operate the vehicles without sight, making it dramatically easier for them to travel to school or workplaces.
“We don’t want to be the last state to be testing new technology,” Cullen said. “I think the sooner it gets done the better.”
McKenna agreed, and promised to look into the state’s driverless car laws.
“It’s something we understand to be the wave of the future,” he said. “We want to explore it.”
The seventh annual B.L.I.N.D. Day, held March 10 at the State House, was an opportunity for Massachusetts residents who are blind or visually impaired to discuss issues that are important to them with state lawmakers. About a dozen Perkins students and staffers attended the event.
At a luncheon in the Hall of Flags, speakers advocated for adequate funding for blindness services provided by state agencies and nonprofits like Perkins. Many people with visual impairments rely on education, technology, rehabilitation and library services that are funded, at least in part, by the state.
“I can’t imagine being able to successfully complete a school system without having all the services that I do,” said Juna Jdata, a sophomore at Harvard. “Without my braille notetaker, laptop or screen reader there’s no way I would be able to keep up with schoolwork. Without library services I never would have had braille music and gone on to perform at Carnegie Hall. And without my TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) I wouldn’t have been have been able to keep up with other students.”
Among the legislators in attendance was Senator Michael J. Barrett of Lexington, who was presented with the 2015 B.L.I.N.D. Legislator Award for his work on behalf of people with disabilities by Perkins Library Director Kim Charlson and Joe Abely, president of the Carroll Center for the Blind.
“Senator Barrett has made it a priority to reach out to all groups of people with disabilities, including those with deafblindness,” Charlson said. “He’s a true advocate and a real friend to people with disabilities.”
Perkins President and CEO Dave Power addressed the crowd as a parent of a child with deafblindness who relies on services delivered by the Mass. Commission for the Blind’s “Turning 22” program. Through the program, young adults receive valuable services like vocational training and residential assistance.
“For deafblind adults, every day is a different kind of struggle,” Power said. “I want to thank legislators who have made the Turning 22 program a budget priority in good times and bad. All of our communities benefit from having our deafblind citizens more involved."
Events like B.L.I.N.D. Day are an important opportunity for populations that are often underserved to be heard, he added.
“One of the great things about this forum is it provides a voice for adults who are visually impaired in Massachusetts,” Power said.