Mary Robinson recently got the chance to watch something very few people thought was possible: Watch a blind person drive a vehicle.
Robinson, a teacher for Fremont Public Schools' Blind and Visually Impaired Program, watched Mark Anthony Riccobono drive a Ford Escape hybrid during the Rolex 24 in late January at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Riccobono's vehicle was equipped with non-visual technology, including a pad that gave him cues for when to stop, speed up and slow down, as well as gloves that indicated which direction to turn.
Riccobono also had to avoid obstacles, including boxes that were dropped from a van.
Robinson was amazed by the experience and said it showed her that there really are no limits for her students.
"It completely changes my attitude at blindness is what it does," Robinson said. "If I don't have those high expectations for my students, they're not going to go as far. If I believe they can do it, they'll soar."
Robinson made the trip to Daytona Beach as part of her participation in the National Federation of the Blind's Teacher of Tomorrow program. Robinson was one of 16 educators from around the country chosen to participate in the program last June.
In September, Robinson went to Baltimore to hear visually impaired people share some of their experiences and the ways in which they were taught.
"Some of them had great experiences and they learned Braille as a child when they should have, but others didn't learn Braille because teachers thought they had enough vision," Robinson said. "They didn't and that slowed them down."
She returned to Baltimore in November and attended a leadership academy for students who were 14-18 years old and came from around the country.
Those students performed such tasks as grilling food while blindfolded, putting on makeup in the dark and changing clothes.
"It was showing us teachers that anybody can do it if they have access and have the right tools," Robinson said.
After leaving Daytona Beach, Robinson went to Washington, D.C., where she got the chance to attend a seminar on Capitol Hill with parents of visually impaired students and members of the NFB.
They visited with senators, including Mike Johanns of Nebraska, in an effort to convey the importance of legislation that would be beneficial to visually impaired and blind people. Much of that legislation, Robinson said, focused on technology issues.
"It's things that I've never thought about," she said. "We as sighted individuals never think about access for the blind community, and if we do give the access everything has to cost more."
In April, Robinson will go to the NFB's state convention in Louisiana. She also will go to Orlando, Fla., for a week in July for the organization's national convention.
Robinson feels blessed to have been selected to participate in the Teacher of Tomorrow program.
"This is the best thing I could have ever done for myself," she said. "It has not only helped me with my teaching, it's helped me be a better advocate for my students."