Author Archives: Cathy McAdam

My Driverless Car!


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

Driverless care with doors open and 2 people sitting insideYes, I want one,  a Self-driving car, and have been asking family and friends if they will take a ride with me, (a driver who is totally blind)!  Many have said yes, and some hesitate wondering as many do just how safe these autonomous-vehicles will be.

My initial excitement has been a bit dampened by the reality of licenses needed and the current demand for a steering wheel and breaks and in most cases a backup driver. (See The conversation about driverless cars.)  However I still feel for many of my low vision friends and others with disabilities that there is tremendous potential for driving, and adding to public transit options this the driverless taxi.

I did read one comment (buried within the references/inks listed)  where a wheelchair user expressed concern for maintaining his current adaptive equipment, and this of course is a valid concern. How many times do people make assumptions that something we love, use, and even need, is no longer a valid approach, and then removed from the market? (For example, simple, basic cell phones.)  For many others the increased support of warnings for backing up or changing lanes, and assistance for parallel parking may already be a welcome support. I choose to believe that somewhere on this winding trail there will be many benefits for those of us across the disability spectrum. Some with low vision now drive with the help of optical lenses, and surely will appreciate some of the progressive changes already in motion. Many who have difficulty concentrating, or processing information under stress will also silently benefit as safety features increase.

Google seems convinced that a true driverless car without a steering wheel is possible. (See lifeline for the disabled.) Some propose that the software is “the driver” leaving room for revising licensing: legal and ethical considerations.

One of the things I found when researching this was very exciting.  4 people sitting facing each other inside car, table in between and screen on one sideThe inventor of cruise control was an engineer who was blind. Fears of his invention parallel some of the concerns that drivers will day dream, not pay attention to their surroundings and lose control.

(Maybe you were pulled into the hoax of a Stella award given to a woman/man who left cruise control on to go make a sandwich in the back of their Winnebago: Incredible-lawsuit-tales.)

So I imagine we’ll hear many exaggerated stories about this awesome technology being developed for my driverless car. The more we include people with disabilities in the development, testing and real discussions about this technology the better the outcome! I’ll still be waiting to drive my real friends even if it takes 20 more years!

woman standing next to google driverless car, holding a white caneWill you come for a ride with me?




An Endorsement for Things That Talk


by MATP Staff Member Cathy McAdam

tv remote close up showing microphone buttonI’m going to spend some time writing about a cable provider who is getting this accessibility thing right, but it’s not an endorsement for Comcast, more of an endorsement for universal design in this digital age. Yes, I am a person who is blind who does “watch” TV. Most providers now are getting pieces of this puzzle known as accessibility, and that’s part of the problem. Part way there leads to wanting more and frustration when something doesn’t work.

I’m having a good time with my TV remote!

I can, if I choose, talk to it to switch channels, or I can press a button and get feedback that I’ve chosen the correct channel, no easy feat with HD. With the press of another button I hear “what’s on now” and if I choose to record something I’m given prompts all the way through the process.

This is truly the first time I can record, play back recordings and manage options for deleting programs when I’m done with them. I can also find and play on demand shows.

With my last provider I could do some of these things using an app, but I couldn’t delete recorded programs, or find on demand offerings. And, I needed a second device rather than the nearby remote. And, oh yes, I get detailed descriptions of shows so I can decide if they may be worth my time.

By the way, I’m not a huge TV fan these days, but I love the “control” I have in this mundane part of my life!

The Business Case

So, what do you think the effect on marketing is for businesses who “get it”. They know many and even most people will never use these options, but they also know it’s a smart business decision in the long run.

Do you have a favorite mainstream talking device?


  • Blog article: Technology for the Blind
  • US Business Leadership Network

Electronic Braille


a braille display

By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

I still find my braille display an amazing assistive technology! It plugs into my computer with a USB port and up pops the braille! “These devices operate by raising and lowering different combinations of pins electronically to produce in braille what appears on a portion of the computer screen

About Braille Technology

I also use a 12-cell display with my iPod. Sadly, these awesome devices are still quite expensive. However, for Braille users, they can make a major difference in work production. Imagine doing computer programming or web development without access to detailed information at your fingertips!

The good news is that many of these displays work with the open source free screen reader NVDA , so if you need to make a choice for personal use, that may help.

There are also some innovative things happening including electronic Braille on a watch, For example, this article: No, This $300 Braille Smartwatch Won’t Revolutionize Reading For The Blind. Braille on a watch may need some work, but is interesting!

Our local University of Michigan team is developing an electronic braille reader:

  • In Pursuit of the Holy Braille.
  • Bringing Braille back with better display technology

National Braille press is developing a portable, refreshable braille computer and optional smart phone, with a goal of keeping the cost down – Braille to Go (B2G).

I still get asked if we really need Braille given our computer generation, and the answer is a resounding yes! Think about Braille notation done without a computer or try going without a pencil or pen for a week. I’ve   been told by some that they no longer use those antiquated devices, but I challenge that response. What do you do when the power goes out, or the battery dies? And, for those who are deaf/blind, Braille, and especially a Braille display, is a life line for computer and phone use!

Thank you U of M and National Braille Press for taking on these awesome projects!

Braille Alphabet card

If you don’t know what Braille is you can request a free braille alphabet card at: Free Braille alphabet card.


Last Minute Shopping


By MATP Staff Member M. Catherine McAdam

Oh no! It really is holiday time, whether Hanukkah, Kwanza or Christmas, we all find ourselves doing last minute shopping. If you’re looking for assistive technology there are several online options and some podcasts to help.

  • Check out our MATP AT directoryTray with dishes on lap of person in a wheelchair
  • For Blind/low vision gifts there are annual reviews for the holidays at Accessible World called “stocking stuffers”: Accessible world pod casts
  • An older post from Bussani Mobility has some fun ideas: top ten holiday ideas for people with disabilities

Floor stand magnifiyer lampBut, a word of caution is due if you’re not sure what power of magnification, degree of amplification , or communication options is needed consider a gift certificate until you can get to an in person demonstration.  Or include the person you wish to buy for in the plan, because surprises don’t always work!

As for me, I’m always ready for a new technology book from the national Braille press, and oh yes for that last minute gift, you can get fun refrigerator magnets in print/Braille, and a great way to let folks know Braille is alive and well!magnet: Life isn't waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.

What’s on your last minute wish list?