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Opinion

The drive for self-autonomy

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:59 PM

I have been visually challenged since birth. One of the biggest obstacles I face as an adult with moderate central vision loss is being unable to qualify for driving privileges, due to current conservative vision standards (20/70 or better in each eye) required for driver licensure in our state. This has a profound effect on my ability to be mobile, employable and live independently.

Ironically, in states such as Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, persons with similar types of vision loss as mine (less than 20/70 but no worse than 20/200) are afforded the opportunity to explore driving. For this reason, I am currently starting a consumer advocacy effort aimed at encouraging state legislators to create or amend current legislation that would expand vision standards and require the development and implementation of a formalized program to screen, train and test individuals like me with mild and moderate vision impairment who wish to explore the driving privilege.

By bringing this concern to the public's attention I hope to determine how many other individuals like me who reside in Florida are in the same situation.

State laws permitting restrictive driving privileges for those whose vision falls below the standard requirements are not something new. This practice began evolving more than four decades ago in the United States and since has allowed thousands of visually challenged Americans to drive. Today, almost all 51 licensing jurisdictions allow low-vision driving in some form. At least 44 states also allow the use of prescription bioptic lens systems for enhanced visual performance on driving tasks that include, for example, reading road signs, deciphering the color of traffic lights or distant activity requiring a potential change in vehicle speed or lane position. At least half of those states that allow bioptic lens systems now offer some type of formalized low-vision driving training.

By federal statute, low-vision persons legally licensed in other states are permitted to drive in and out of Florida. Yet, Florida residents with similar levels of vision loss are not given access to the driving privilege.

Being a person who is not able to drive in Florida is extremely difficult, as public transportation services are limited and not reliable. I need to manage the impossible task of making sure everything is within reach using public transportation. I constantly find myself worrying about how I will get to and from places. Everyday basic activities such as work or school, or simple things such as grocery shopping are more challenging. I worry whether public transportation (buses) will be able to get me to my daughter's school on time to pick her up or how I will take her to the doctor when she is sick.

For these and other reasons, I need self-autonomy, and that would only come if there were changes or amendments to current state law(s). My whole life I was told I couldn't drive, and now driving is a viable option for individuals such as me if laws are amended or created accordingly. Driving will change my life and give me the independence I never thought I could have.

Ana Pedersen

Tampa

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