Prepare for the coolest sentence you will read all week. A blind man will be driving around the track at Daytona International Speedway this weekend. Did you catch that? That's one small step for racing, one giant leap for the differently-abled in America.
Thanks to a joint venture between the National Federation for the Blind and Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, a program called the Blind Driver Challenge will debut on the in-field track of one of the nation's (world's) most famous racetracks right before the Rolex 24 at Daytona race on Saturday. The driver, who also happens to serve as director of strategic communications for the federation, is Anil Lewis, a father of one who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 9.
But it wasn't until Lewis was 25 that he lost his sight -- meaning he once knew how to drive and enjoyed it. Technically, Lewis' story is fairly uncommon. Most childhood blindness occurs before age 5, and more than half of those cases are unavoidable.
But there are millions of adults who had vision as children and now suffer. There's no way to put a marker on who struggles "more" (I wouldn't even try to denigrate the special circumstances), but going blind remains one of Americans' biggest fears. Last summer a full 60 percent of Americans said they feared going blind over heart disease. Next to losing a loved one, 79 percent said going blind would be the "worst thing" to ever happen to them.
Once you experience something you enjoy, it's hard to give it up. Whether you're a diabetic giving up her favorite chocolate bars or a blind man giving up the fun of sitting behind the wheel and hitting the open road. But even more than giving up on what you love and having to depend on other people is the knowledge that you are now marked. People look at you differently.
As Lewis said of this weekend's drive around the track: “The foundation of many misperceptions about blind people and blindness will be shaken.”
When Lewis gets behind the wheel of the modified 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, he won't just be showing off about the wonders of science and technology. He'll be giving people back some of their dignity.
Image via jasonr611/Flickr