Small, cheap, electronic travel aids will explode on the market. These will use global positioning satellites, cellular triangulation and miniature radar. They will use computers sow into clothing. These "fabric" computers will have the ability to see and report landmarks and link this information with data from GPS.
Computers will become so small, so cheap, and so powerful, that incredibly sophisticated workstations will become available for mobility specialists and for blind consumers. Intelligent agents and information services (cyber -foundations) will collect and offer this knowledge for nominal fees.
The amount of knowledge in the world will continue to explode exponentially. There will be gems within this morass that will significantly improve the quality of life for our students.
The knowledge base of the entire profession will be placed in a virtual library accessible by all. There will be a centralized curriculum and electronic books. The miracle of these electronic store houses will be that they will grow over time, never becoming outdated. They will also be centralized jumping off points into other data base worlds.
Communication channels will proliferate and broaden. Mobility specialists will converse with consumers, product manufacturers, professionals from many fields, and with other mobility specialists. The conversations will be global in scope and continue incessantly. New coalitions, teams of people with similar interests and goals, will come together to solve problems, write books, hold meetings, and design new products. The time between the inception of an idea and the development of products (or the solution to problems) will be dramatically reduced.
The split between the haves and the have nots will widen; the gap between the technologically literate and the technologically illiterate will become stark. The moral responsibility of professionals, consumer groups, and cyber foundations will intensify, as will the need for a global perspective and for global outreach programs.
Several advances within the next ten to twenty years might completely eliminate the profession of orientation and mobility (and all other special education and rehabilitation fields). It seems clear that genetic disorders will go the way of smallpox. Less clear, but becoming more probable is the cloning of human organs. As biotech continues unabated, visual pattern recognition is evolving rapidly. By the year two thousand (or sooner) real time digital video, housed in miniature cameras will provide acuity better than human resolution, with a wider field of view (maybe 360 degrees), with voice feedback. These instruments will be popular with the general population. Blind individuals will blend in better when the devices they use are also part of the latest teenage fad.
The way we teach blind individuals to orient and navigate will fundamentally change.
The way we teach blind people to use mobility tools will also fundamentally change.
The population categories that we teach will also change. In addition to working with the totally blind, low vision populations, and non-categorical students, we will work with a population of individuals with AV, artificial vision. Our role with children, the elderly, and the multiply impaired will increase as technology is slower to meet the needs of these populations.
As long as there are blind children, there will be a role for mobility specialists. High technology like global positioning triangulation cannot be understood by young children. Many years of environmental exploration are needed before blind children can begin to grasp the more complex concepts. Child development remains a critical variable that will have to be addressed as long as there is blindness.
Not even eyeglasses or antibiotics filter down to the third world, or the inner cities of information age nations. All the high tech, futuristic predictions do not necessarily make it to most of the blind population of this planet.
Virtual services will be provided at minimal fees (or free) for assessing students. Virtual conferencing will bring together experts to assess various problems (gait, low vision adaptation, orientation skills, cane skills, etc.). Lesson plans and monitoring of progress will also be virtually available. A teacher (or parent, or the student) would bring the case to the virtual panel (the makeup of which would be different for each case) for review. Panel members would suggest testing strategies, ask questions, and review records before making suggestions.
For the blind consumer, technology holds these hopes and responsibilities:
The proliferation of inexpensive and small tools to aid navigation.
Empowerment as a consumer, and as a social, political advocate.
Computer workstations for school, employment, recreation, shopping, social/political .
Blind students plugged into the internet: equals in a non-biased electronic world.
Use of smart desk spaces, smart rooms and smart clothing will normalize the lives of blind persons.
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