Having been blind for 11 years, Travis Smith is no stranger to using canes to navigate through town.
However, with help from his friend Rusty Summers and donations from a hayride pub crawl, Smith recently received a $550 smart cane called WeWalk.
The cane connects to Smith’s smartphone, talks to him and notifies him of various obstacles through vibrations in the handle. With wireless integration, the cane can use applications like Google Maps to navigate him to a bus stop, for example, and it can be updated through that smartphone.
“It’s just another way to make someone who’s low-vision or blind completely independent as far as motor traveling goes,” Smith said. “You go into some parts of Kansas City ... and they have talking crosswalks, talking elevators. I have yet to come across any of that stuff here in our city. So I mean it’s very important to have something like this allow me to be able to be independent. There’s no price on it.”
Time Magazine recently recognized it as one of the best inventions of 2019, and for someone like Smith, a single father with two kids, it’s particularly useful.
That being said, Smith had hoped his insurance would help to cover the cost of such a device, and he said the price tag definitely can feel like a barrier to entry for those needing WeWalk.
“To me, this is no different than a wheelchair ... that’s a form of mobility. This is allowing people to be mobile by themselves,” Smith said. “The cane does so much. It’s unbelievable. You could store destinations in it, not even on a just like personal transportation around the city. There’s another side to this: Think about what this could even do as far as allowing somebody who has low vision or blind opportunities and workplaces.”
He said there seems to be a lot of hype behind smart cars to help those who are vision-impaired. However, something like the WeWalk cane can benefit him for efficiently day to day.
“I just bought a car that gets me into a parking lot that I can’t find my way around,” Smith said. “So an integrated device like this cane is almost a must-have with the world getting to that level as far as getting transportation for somebody who’s visually impaired.”