Blind students will be driving tomorrow: An event you don't have to see to believe

Remember that gut-wrenching paranoia and the adrenaline that ran from your heart to your clinched knuckles as your driving instructor told you to "check your blind spot?" There's nothing scarier than a two-ton piece of machinery that can top a hundred miles-per-hour and has blind spot.

Well, magnify that times, like, a million, and you might be able to imagine what it's like to be driving while blind. That's exactly how students from the Colorado Center for Blind might feel tomorrow when they go out for a drive with professional instructors.

You read right: Blind and low vision students will be taking up the wheel of a car, many of them for the first time. That's one helluva blind spot...

"We don't look at blindness as a tragedy," says Brent Batron, youth services coordinator for the center, which encourages blind students to try everything from rock climbing to white water rafting. "This is just one of the challenging recreation events that we do. It really builds confidence, and it teaches blind people they can do anything."

Driving isn't all about sight, Batron says. "Our students really get a feel for what driving is," he says. "They feel what the car I doing, listen to sounds of what the car is doing on the asphalt."

With navigators from MasterDrive, a Colorado-based driving instruction company, students will drive through an obstacle course and even learn to recover from a skid -- training many Coloradans with the gift of sight might consider.

"For our staff, it's inspiration, because these guys come in and they just overcome the challenge put in front them -- it's just amazing," says Mark Stolberg, general manager at MasterDrive, which has provided the opportunity for blind students to drive for seven years now. "For us, driving is really our society's right of passage, and these kids when they get to that age, no one talks to them about driving."

With that sentiment MasterDrive agreed to offer their services for free to students at the Colorado Center for the Blind and, more recently, students from other metro area high schools. "Driving is something that most of us in our society take for granted," Stolberg says.

Stolberg expects twenty students from the center will be driving at MasterDrive's Englewood course, at 15659 East Hinsdale in the morning, with another twenty from other schools coming in at 1 p.m.

Students will experience the sensation of driving at a controlled speed. And because they can't depend on sight to steer the vehicles, they'll have to rely mostly on their guides, the occasional cone and feel.

"The interesting part is, they're so connected to the car that they do a great job recovering from the skid," he says, though those with sight inevitably recover more smoothly. "But that's not the point. The point is just to give them the experience of driving a car."

MasterDrive and the Colorado Center for the Blind will be filming tomorrow's event, which they've agreed to share with Westword. We'll post the video later this week for viewing -- and hearing -- pleasure.


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