[AI] additional thoughts on mobility

Jean Parker radioforever at gmail.com
Mon Sep 27 05:01:21 EDT 2010


Further to my previous posting, here are some other things to consider.

Many of you know that my work requires a lot of travel both inside India and to other parts of the world.  The fact is that I could not do my job if I lived in North America.  Why?  Because there is inadequate transport and I don't drive.  America is a country in love with its cars and the transport infrastructure reflects this.  Even in the largest cities on the east coast it would be difficult or impossible to do the kind of work I do because there is inadequate transport.  

America is set up for people who drive.  India on the other hand, is set up for people who don't drive.  Even with the increase in the amount of vehicles on the roads today, the infrastructure of trains, buses and rickshaws remains intact.  There is a culture of public transport.  Everyone uses it except the very wealthy.  In America most people who use public transport are the poor and those who have lost their driving license because of drunk driving.  Although in cities like New York, Boston and Washington this is not as much the case, there is no arguing the fact that America is geared to those who drive.

So what does that mean in a practical sense?  In America where a blind person can live is limited by the availability of public transport unless they make a choice to ask others for rides all the time.  It means a blind person's work location is also limited by the availability of transport unless he wants to depend on co-workers or taxis which are extremely expensive.  It also means that a blind person's social life is limited by these same factors unless he is accompanied by a sighted friend or relative.  In most places in the US, using public transportation is not a viable option if one is seeking equality in the ability to move about in society.

When a blind person in the west encounters some blind person from India or another developing country and that person has an assistant with them, some look upon this with scorn.  They observe that the blind person allows the assistant to make decisions for them and is not in control of how the assistant actually empowers that blind person to do his job more effectively.  But others look upon this with curiosity and some envy.  In America, one can not choose whether or not to travel with an assistant.  There are none.  One either does the thing himself or it doesn't get done at all.

One advantage we have here is that we can choose whether or not to seek assistance and we can govern how that assistance is utilized.  We can be very creative about this.  Having a personal assistant is part of the culture.  It is not at all considered unusual to have one so if you're blind, you can have your driver or your assistant and it's considered normal.  Not so in America. 

If we choose to use it, we have a lot of autonomy here that is not available in the west.  If I have an appointment ten kilometers away for example and I either need or want to go there by myself, in India I go outside my building and get a rickshaw and go there.  In America I have two choices depending on where the appointment is.  I might be able to take several buses in which case I would have to plan ahead, figure out the schedules, find out if the bus goes anywhere close to the place I want to go, and perhaps spend several hours getting there and back.  Or, I can get a taxi which would cost an enormous amount of money.  Neither choice leads to equality.  People ask me all the time why I have remained in India as long as I have.  One of the biggest reasons is transport.

There are also significant disadvantages in India that we all know about and there is no need to reiterate them here, perhaps the biggest exclusionary factor we all face is social exclusion and paternalism.  This is probably the root cause of most of the difficulties of blind people.  In America, things are in general but not always more advanced in this department.
    
There are many other things that are more convenient here that are again, beyond the scope of this list.  All I want to say is that the matter is not as simple as it appears. 

Jean



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