The Blind Leading the Blind ... Into the Future

Ron Hideshima sits at Judi's Place on Market drinking his Ouzo. He just got off work and is talking to a friend about a trip he is making to Boston tomorrow. Ron is going to speak at Harvard and MIT about a piece of hardware called the DOTVIEW that makes it possible for sightless persons to access email, do web research, learn Japanese and "see" Windows icons through the help of over 1,500 Braille pins that move in and out of the DOTVIEW forming the equivalent of a Braille computer screen. Ron lost his own sight in a car accident when he was 25, and immediately taught himself Braille.

[Ron is an instructor at the Living Skills Center for the Visually Impaired in the East Bay. The center teaches people 18 and older how to live in society while visually impaired. He said they center averages approximately 30 students a year. "Last year we had a student who turned sixty during the program," said Ron. "When he came to the school he was so 'protected' he couldn't even use a phone, now he is emailing." The DOTVIEW is not quite as mainstream as Ron would like it to be. Mostly because of the cost of the retracting Braille pins. The first model with 768 pins was $6,000; the current model Ron uses with twice as many pins is more than twice the price. He said the largest DOTVIEW, with 3,072 pins is used by a NASA scientist in Japan.]

~{# Japanese Friend in Chinatown #}~

I went down to see my friend Yusei today. He lives by Fifth and Market. We were going to go see the Diane Arbus exhibit at the SFMOMA but taking care of our hunger ended up taking more time than expected. "Let's go eat fast food," said Yusei. "Let's go eat in Chinatown," I insisted. "They're infamous for cheap food." We were walking down the street in Chinatown and a girl came up to us showing a menu and offering 20% off. "I'll show you where it is," she said. We followed her around the block to the place. She escorted us in the door, up the stairs, and even seated us. While we were looking at the menu Yusei held his hand up and said, "Is my hand shaking?" I told him it wasn't. It was the entire building, we must be sitting on top of a motor or something. We put our coats back on without eating and left. There's no sense eating in a shaking restaurant.

[We walk up another street to try our luck with cheap food. After Yusei asked someone directions he told me he gets aggravated in Chinatown sometimes. Because he's Japanese people look at him and expect him to speak Chinese. When he continues to speak English the Chinatowners get irritated with him like he is not upholding their traditions. I told him to say, "Can you understand me" in Japanese and they might get the picture. Aside from the Chinese community looking at my Japanese friend like he was the downfall of their culture, everything else went smooth and we ended up eating at a pretty cool place on Stockton St. called New Moon Restaurant.]