WMU News

Long helps auto industry understand vision problems

May 9, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- A Western Michigan University professor will take part in a June conference focusing attention on the interconnectedness of vision and automobiles.

Dr. Richard Long, associate professor of blindness and low vision studies in WMU's College of Health and Human Services, will be a member of an elite panel of experts at the conference sponsored by the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology.

Named "Eye and the Auto" and held at the Ford Motor Co. Conference and Event Center in Dearborn, Mich., the conference is a world congress on the relationship between vision and the safe operation of a motor vehicle. It will focus on three general areas: matters related to the eye, vision and the act of seeing, particularly in relation to driving; advances being made in the automotive industry to enhance the vision of people with normal vision; and the environment in which a driver performs, including such matters as road illumination, signage design, and inclement weather conditions and how these influence vision. Long's presentation is on vision issues in driver-pedestrian interaction.

"I primarily am involved in research about visually impaired pedestrians," Long says. "This conference offers a great opportunity to inform the world's leading driving researchers about the challenges that visual impairment can create for pedestrians, and the need to plan roadway environments and vehicles so that drivers and pedestrians can both function safely and efficiently."

Long explains that one interesting automotive issue emerging in vision rehabilitation is the concern about the effect of quiet cars on pedestrians. People with visual impairment and blindness rely on their hearing to determine how vehicles are moving, and to judge when it is safe to begin crossing a street. As hybrid electric/gasoline powered cars become more common, the acoustic environment at roadway crossings will probably get more challenging from a blind pedestrian's point of view.

Long says he looks forward to talking about these topics with his colleagues who conduct driving research. His participation is evidence of the expertise and influence of the WMU Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies.

"The department is really one of a kind," says Dr. Janet I. Pisaneschi, dean of the WMU College of Health and Human Services. "There is simply nothing like it in the world, and Dr. Long and his colleagues have ensured its stature."

One conference goal will be to use the research and knowledge of professors such as Long to reduce the number of auto-related deaths on America's roadways. Such deaths currently number 41,000 annually. After the conference, organizers hope to publish the academic presentations in a special issue of a juried journal.

For more information, call Long at (269) 387-3451.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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