Thursday, June 28, 2012

Overcoming Vision Loss with Echolocation

Worldwide, there are nearly 40 million people who suffer from blindness.  If you are struggling with vision loss or if you have been blind since a young age, you know all about the obstacles that need to be overcome to get by in modern society. In the US we are fortunate to have modern technologies and complex methods of overcoming these adversities, such as schools and foundations for the blind, guide dogs, and even the simple collapsible cane that is not available in many less fortunate countries.

If you do not have the conveniences or support structure to assist you in overcoming these obstacles, you may feel isolated and completely dependent upon family members to care for you. I know that there are hundreds of thousands of blind people in less fortunate places in the world who have no one to care for them and lead extremely solitary, unfulfilled and unhealthy lives. Whether you are blessed with modern conveniences and support to help overcome your challenges or not, echolocation is a concept you should come to understand.

What is Echolocation?

Echolocation is the learned ability to sense the size, shape, location, distance and even construct of objects surrounding you without touching them (with your hands, cane or otherwise) or being told about them. As a hearing person, you have this capability, in the same way that you have the capability to enjoy good music.  If you've been without vision for a while, you probably use it to some extent without even knowing it.  Most blind people I speak with, in their effort to figure out what is going on around them, know this concept as "facial pressure", "air currents" or "ambient sound".  Before they learn what echolocation is they think this is a primitive way of getting a "sense" of the size of a room, or location of a door, etc.

Most people don't know that this is a skill that can be learned and improved upon in order to eventually give them a very real "vision" of the world around them, to an ever increasing level of detail.  Some completely blind people have been known to use echolocation to be able to "see" well enough to distinguish the difference between a coffee cup and a stapler on a table, find a ball in an open field, and even go mountain biking!

Senior scientist Dr Mel Goodale, from the University of Western Ontario, said:
"It is clear that echolocation enables blind people to do things that are otherwise thought to be impossible without vision, and in this way it can provide blind and vision-impaired people with a high degree of independence in their daily lives." 

How Can I Learn Echolocation?

The undisputed pioneer of echolocation in today's world has started a foundation called World Access for the Blind and has made it his life's work to teach blind people to see using echolocation.  His name is Daniel Kish and he has developed methods of teaching blind mobility in ways that no one else has.  I have spoken with Daniel and many of his colleagues at WAFTB and can assure you that they will be able to help you get started learning how to sensitize to echoes understand how you can best learn echolocation.

Everyone learns differently.  Some people learn through hearing, some learn through touching, but regardless, for echolocation you need to keep an open mind and trust that anything is possible.  It will come with time if you let it.  Personally, I have been documenting here on this blog how I best learn echolocation and doing my best to present different lessons and ways for new practitioners to approach it.  I will continue to dispel as much information and knowledge as I can on the subject, and with luck it will become more prominent, more practiced, and more socially acceptable among the blind.  Best of luck to you, and if you have any questions about getting started please feel free to contact me.

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.

Get your free lesson now:

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