People have been asking me if I’m excited about the “driverless car” Google is working on. Truth is, I don’t miss driving that much. Mike and I live in a neighborhood in Chicago so close to downtown that I can walk or take a train, cab or bus just about anywhere I want to go. Parking costs a lot here, so many of our neighbors who can see don’t have cars, either.
And then there’s this: I was a bad driver when I could see. I miss riding my bicycle independently far more than I miss having a car. I’m in the minority, though — when I talk with others who have visual impairments, especially ones who live in the suburbs, driving is#1 on their “Things I Miss” list. And so, I was happy to learn that Google asked a man who is blind to test-drive the prototype.
Steve Mahan, the head of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center in California, took the wheel earlier this year, and a post about the test-ride on Google+ from last March has a link a video of the test ride that has special audio captions so I could understand exactly what was going on.
I’m not always a fan of audio captions (sometimes they serve as more of a distraction than a help) but the extra narration on this one really helped me understand how Steve Mahan was able to head to a Taco Bell without having to touch the wheel or pedals. An array of video, radar and laser sensors constantly scanned the road for him, and passengers told him (and me!) when they’d stopped at a stop sign. Mahan’s gleeful exclamations needed no narration –- I could hear how much he was enjoying the ride.
Towards the end of the video, Mahan said self-driving cars could make a huge difference to the lives of people who are blind. ” There are some places you cannot go, some things that you really cannot do,” he said. “Where this would change my life is to give me the independence, and the flexibility, to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things.”
So like I say, I appreciate the attention Google is giving to people with disabilities when working on the car that drives itself, and hey, the technology is wayyyyyyy cool! I’m just disappointed they don’t use the cool narration technology that already exists on all the videos they are making about the Google self-directing vehicle project. They published a new post on the Official Google blog this past Tuesday called Just press go: designing a self-driving vehicle that links to a YouTube video of a number of people test-driving the prototype. I couldn’t find any options to add special narration to this new video, so I’m not sure exactly who is in there. I think one of the featured test-drivers is Steve Mahan again, and of course I could ask Mike to take a look for me, but I prefer doing things independently when I can.
Does that sound whiny? Maybe it is. But on a practical note, if the technology for audio captions already exists, why not use it? Especially for this subject matter. Then there’s this: using accessible technology all the time tells me a company or organization is sincere, and has made accessibility standard operating procedure. Using it selectively — as it was used in the video centered on Steve Mahan — makes me wonder if maybe it was more about PR than policy.