Friday, October 3, 2008

Intermediate Echolocation Lesson #1 - Walking a Predetermined Path

I was visiting a friend down the road last night, and on my way home it was fairly dark and there were not a lot of people roaming around my little suburban-type town, so I was able to get in some good echolocation practice. My trip was about 1/2 mile and it is a fairly straight shot on a somewhat even sidewalk. I am still very much a beginner at this so if you already echolocate, this will probably not be news to you, I can only offer my observations of myself as I'm learning.

This was my method that seemed to be fairly fruitful:

  1. Sighting your target. With your eyes open, look ahead, down the path that you are to travel. I find that somewhere between 30 and 60 feet is a good starting distance. Pick a distance that is long enough so that you will not be able to count your footsteps, but short enough that you will not get discouraged or lose track. Pick a landmark at the end of the path; a telephone pole or bush that you can end at. Familiarize yourself with the lay of the land so that you will have a starting point and some familiarity. Notice changes in terrain, bushes, parked cars, telephone poles, fire hydrants, etc. If you are blind then you'll most likely be attempting to navigate a path that you have previously used a cane for, and are familiar with the obstacles that you must avoid.
  2. Setting your course. Once you know approximately where you're trying to get and what obstacles you need to avoid, it's time to set you course. Which side of the tree will you walk on? Will the fire hydrant by to your left or your right? Will you need to adjust your direction to navigate around obstacles? By doing this you will be able to break up your echolocation journey into smaller segments. (IE, after the firehydrant, vear right to avoid the overhanging bush.
  3. Closing your eyes. Close your eyes. If you are blind this mean stowing your cane. You will probably be tempted to peek... it is natural, but don't, it kinda defeats the purpose..
  4. Echolocating. Now to begin the echolocation journey. The first few steps you will be expecting. The immediate terrain and obstacles will be in your short term memory and you will easily navigate them without clicking. But click anyway so that you can hear and get familiar with the echoes. As you approach your first large object, maybe a car, tree or telephone pole, be aware that it is there. Listen for it and concentrate on the echoes. Obviously, the point here is not to touch anything that would give away the path, but if you are nervous about smacking your face into anything you can keep your hands up. I would suggest keeping them low and out of the path of your clicks, however.Objects that are nearer to your starting point will be easier to pinpoint. Click in the direction that you are expecting to find an object. Once you have reached a landmark, acknowledge it, try to judge it's distance, and then visualize your path with relation to it. What is the next landmark? The car on the left? Focus on the path and continue down it with a strong concentration and expectation of hearing the reverberation off the car. Once you get to it, acknowledge it. Notice the differences between the car and the telephone pole. The telephone pole, since it is round will sound the same from any direction. The car will change its reflective properties as your angle to it changes. I find that cars and metallic objects also reflect higher frequencies due to their less absorbent characteristics.
  5. Reaching your goal. Once you have navigated yourself through you predetermined path, you should be at your end landmark. Be sure to stop when you have gotten to the landmark and acknowledge it. If possible, walk around the object still echolocating and clicking towards it. Remember not to touch it! Are you sure this is the correct object? Or is that thing you think is a telephone pole actually a bush? How far away from it are you?
  6. Open your eyes. Take out your cane. Confirm the object that you've approached. Is there even anything there? How close did you come? Keep clicking for a little bit to understand what you are hearing. Where you hearing another echo from a nearby tree that threw you off? Did you judge the distance accurately?
Now wasn't that fun? As I'm typing it, it got a bit more involved, and I will certainly be typing up more exercises that might be easier, and as I progress, getting a little harder. Good luck with this one and don't get discouraged if you're not getting it. Just try objects that are a little closer or larger.

Free 10-Minute Audio Lesson: Learn the Echolocation Click

Learn echolocation clicks with a free audio lesson
Learning how to click is one of the first steps to becoming an effective echoloator. This lesson provides clicking samples of a variety of different clicks and descriptions of when they might be most useful. This lesson has been used by O&M instructors all over the world.

Despite popular belief, it's easy to make your clicking quite subtle or unnoticeable even in quiet settings. There are many different clicks for different situations. I explain all of these in great detail and give examples of where, why and when they can and should be used.

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