The Global Picture

International agencies and nation states launch major efforts to counter problems faced by mankind. Small Pox was eradicated through one of the most spectacular examples of global cooperation ever; all mankind benefited. The entire human genome was mapped through global cooperation. The international ophthalmological community has launched effort after effort to eradicate cataracts as a major cause of preventable blindness. The astronomers of the world cooperated to map the entire visible universe. Global cooperation is increasingly necessary as technology gets more complex.

As an organization dedicated to monitoring emerging wayfinding technologies, we know there has been no major global cooperation to improve the safety and efficiency of travel for blind people. There are two reasons for this. The computational power needed to create technologies that would help blind people move through their environment safely and efficiently simply did not exist a few years ago- computers were not powerful enough for the challenge. Only recently has technology emerged with the potential to bring highly sophisticated navigation capabilities to the world's blind population.

The other reason why there is no global effort to address blind navigation up until now is governmental priority. Funding is not available in most of the world for addressing rehabilitation. This is because we are still faced with medically preventable illnesses all over the planet. There are about 47 million blind individuals in the world according to the World Health Organization. Forty million of these people should not be blind. Most of the world's blind population has cataracts. Cataracts can be operated on and normal eyesight restored in a fifteen minute operation. Yet millions of new cases arise every year, and most go untreated. Malnutrition and bacterial infections, treatable with antibiotics, cause millions more cases of preventable blindness annually. Medicines and simple operations exist that could prevent blindness, or could at this very moment reverse blindness. Money must go to address this medical emergency. Faced with this, the world's non-profit agencies, and governments at all levels, from the United Nations on down, put their major funding into medical priorities. This leaves rehabilitation a poor cousin.

Because few people realize that we can now employ advanced technologies to help the blind navigate, and because there are no global funds available to address rehabilitation, there will not be global cooperation to address this issue unless we lead it. At IIBN, we believe that the time has arrived for an international effort to bring emerging wayfinding technologies to the blind citizens of this planet. We realize that those who will primarily benefit live in the developed nations and that no medical solution is available to reverse their blindness.


Computational power will evolve and wayfinding tools will get progressively more sophisticated; science will feed us enough knowledge to allow a constant flood of complex proposals for new navigational tools for blind wayfinding. Part of the task of supporting the efforts of inventors and engineers, is to help gather and organize this exponentially exploding flood of new knowledge. This means that not only will we have to push for the application of navigational technology for the blind, we will also have to actively gather and organize the knowledge . We will have to manage knowledge in cyberspace; the knowledge about blindness, the knowledge about navigation, and knowledge about the technologies that bring the two together. Part of our global task will be to forge a coalition of agencies to manage knowledge in cyberspace, and to do so in such a way that institutions respond to the task long after individuals have retired. Knowledge is global and the task of managing it will also have to be global.