The meaning of “disabled” is changing as people adopt wearable devices and move into a bionic future.
By David Z. Morris for Fortune
The visually impaired have used canes to navigate for most of recorded history, but the white version we’re familiar with was born in early 20th century Paris. Guilly d’Herbemont lived above a street frequented by blind pedestrians, regularly witnessing their peril in an era when automobiles were common but crosswalks a novelty. By 1931, she had come up with the idea of establishing a bold white cane as a protective symbol and navigational tool for the blind, and distributed more than 5,000 of them at her own expense. The idea had spread internationally within two years.
Tech developer Krispian Lawrence hopes to build on d’Herbemont’s legacy. Lawrence lives in India, which he says has “the unfortunate distinction of being the blind capital of the world,” and he sees both the strengths and drawbacks of the white cane. “The cane has social significance. At the same time, it has two major defects: it can’t [guide] you from one place to another, and it can’t orient you.” Lawrence is CEO ofLechal (Hindi for “Take me there”), which he co-founded with Anirudh Sharma in 2011. The company is about to release its first products: footwear that will supplement the white cane by providing navigation and safety information through vibrations in the wearer’s feet.