Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Accessible Format Now Available: Beginner's Guide to Echolocation

I originally started this blog to simply document my findings in echolocation and my own experimentation, but it has long since evolved into something much more and I while I don't consider myself a mentor to anyone in the blind community learning echolocation, my articles here have been referenced by many people around the world looking for more information on the subject.  Many of these people are part of the blind and visually impaired community, and in an effort to make my new book Beginner's Guide to Echolocation for the Blind and Visually Impaired accessible to everyone I am working on offering it in many other accessible formats such as audiobook, text for screen readers and possibly Braille.

The first fully accessible version of this book is now available in simple MS Word format.  You can download this accessible file here:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spreading the Word of Echolocation to the Masses

Each day when I wake up, I tell myself that I will be a better person than I was the day before - I will improve everything that I do.  And to me, being a better person includes helping others, teaching others something new that can change their life.

That is the goal for my new book Beginner's Guide the Echolocation.  If I can help one person to live a better, more fulfilling life I will have done my job.

Echolocation has long been unnoticed and under-utilized, largely because it is misunderstood.  I think the largest hurdle in echolocation right now is simply spreading the word.  There's no doubt to those who use and understand it, that it works.  It works amazingly well and there is nothing else like it.

Having spent time learning the skill, I know it's not hard to learn.  Anyone can do it, and you probably do it more than you think.  There are so many people out there who would probably love to learn but they're embarrassed to!  The skill is not socially acceptable and that is one of the main reasons people don't want to learn.  So we can approach this problem from two angles:

  1. Tell people to suck it up and do it anyway, all the while feeling like fools and potentially being outcast and sneered at.
  2. Or increase awareness of echolocation worldwide which will give people less reason to sneer and snicker.
Of course option one is faster.  I still believe in option one and at this point in time, if you want to learn echolocation that may be what you have to do.

Option 2 on the other hand is the more complete, more sustainable way of approaching this problem.  If we expose echolocation for what it is, get it in the media, get it in books and in people's minds -- if we make it part of their vocabulary, and a household word, people will be far less likely to sneer.  They will at least be able to say "Oh that dude is echolocating, weird...".  And people might respond that way for some time, and after a decade or so, people will start to say "Hey I've seen a lot of people doing that, must be working..."  And of course after another decade, a skeptic of today might start to say "That's really incredible how you can do that.  Can I learn?"

Given the practicality of the skill, (especially for the blind, but even for the sighted) it is inevitable that it will catch on.  I know that.  I want to be a contributor and help it catch on, and that's why I've written the book, to expose it and get people thinking "Hey, I can see how this might be useful for a lot of people."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beginner Echolocation Lesson #9: Seeing Objects From Above and Below

This is slightly more difficult. The ears are positioned on the side of the head, so right to left differentiation is easier than up and down. Right to left relies on the difference in amplitude or volume between the signals coming in each ear. The ability to differentiate between sounds from above and sounds from below relies primarily on the shape of the ear and the ear canal making it a bit more ambiguous. However, your brain already knows how to do this, so trust it.

If being able to distinguish right vs. left increases your echolocation "resolution" in the "X-axis" (or along the horizon) being able to distinguish up vs. down, will help you improve your resolution in the "Y-axis" (or vertically).  Each one of these resolutions will become very important when we start getting better and are able to start being aware of the non-visual images that our brain is creating.

  1. To begin, in a quiet environment have a partner make a sound in front of your face, but slightly above it at about a 45-degree angle upward. Have them rub their fingers together gently to create a very quiet sound. 
  2. Have them move their hand below your face, to about a 45-degree angle and make the same subtle sound. This will give you a frame of reference for echolocating to these two positions.
  3. Now have them hold up your hard flat object in these two locations. Use your click signal and learn to sense its direction the same way you sensed the direction of the sound they made with their hand. At this point, have them tell you which position it’s in.  IE: "the object is in the upper position" (and click to calibrate to it) and then "the object is in the lower position" (again click to calibrate)
  4. The next obvious step is for them to randomly change the location of the object and have you distinguish the location by pointing up or down. It’s important that they confirm your answer so that you can learn when you make a mistake.
  5. If this exercise proves to be difficult, simply move the object closer to your face until it becomes apparent. From there you can gradually have your partner move it away as you become more comfortable.
The reason we start in such a controlled environment is to isolate variables and make the signal and response from the object as apparent as possible.  If there are lots of other objects around or lots of noises in the background this will certainly make it a lot harder especially when you're just starting out.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Echolocation - NOW AVAILABLE!

I'm happy to announce today that my book, The Beginner's Guide to Echolocation is now available in large print paperback edition on Amazon, Amazon Kindle for your e-readers, MS-word format for blind accessible screen readers, and also audiobook format.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

What is Echolocation?
The ability to "SEE" objects using sound instead of sight.

Echolocation is a fundamentally simple skill that many blind people use daily to navigate and understand their environment. This skill is sometimes misunderstood, but it’s far more realistic and much easier than you may think.

The author demystifies the growing practice of active echolocation in a way that anyone can understand, and gives the reader simple exercises, examples, and lessons as a starting point for launching you into a successful practice of active echolocation.

Sound waves – like ripples in a pond – reflect differently off of all objects and surfaces. This makes it possible for the trained ear to distinguish shape, size, distance and material of our surroundings. Musicians will tell you that “reverb” causes each room or surface to have its own unique sound response. With sensitization and applied practice of this skill, it’s possible for people with visual impairments all over the world to become increasingly independent, supplementing their existing forms of orientation and mobility with the intrinsic awareness that echolocation can provide.

Echolocation requires no special equipment nor any special talent. The human body and mind are truly marvels of nature that grant us with capabilities you may never know you had. If you can hear, you can echolocate.

Understanding the simplicity of this skill will allow you to shift your way of thinking to accommodate an expanded awareness of your environment. With this awareness comes independence, confidence, new possibilities and new opportunities.

Get your copy on Amazon here

Listen to a free sample of the audiobook version here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Common Use of Echolocation: Ultrasounds

I like being able to offer real-world examples of how the concept of echolocation is being implemented in our daily lives and in the technology around us.  Submarines use echolocation to navigate and are essentially blind vehicles as I discussed in a previous post.  I came upon another implementation of echolocation recently after my wife and I found out that we are going to be parents!

An ultrasound machine, used for creating images of unborn babies inside of the womb, uses the concept of echolocation to a large degree.  Ultrasonic sound waves are emitted from a device into a woman's womb and the reflections of the sound are then analyzed by the machine and interpreted into an image that can be viewed on a screen.  These images are a representation of tissue densities at certain depths.   The thicker tissues reflect more sound and therefore create a different color on the screen.  When all of these little finite bits of information are pieced together they make what is known as the ultrasound image.

If any of you have been witness to this first hand, you'll know that it's an incredible thing to see.  A moving picture of your unborn baby.

This works in much the same way as echolocation.  Millions of bits of information from reflected sound come into your brain and are processed to create an image.  Fortunately for you, unlike the computer version of this, you don't actually have to do any math!!  Your brain is able to calculate and interpret these findings in a completely natural way allowing you to get the same result without doing all the work that the computer has to do.

Beginner Echolocation Lesson #8 - Seeing Right and Left

To begin determining direction and placement of objects around you, one of the skills you will need is to be able to differentiate between objects to your right and objects to your left.
  1. With a partner, start by using a dinner plate or similarly sized rigid sheet of plastic, metal or wood and have your partner hold it up to one side of your head. Perhaps not directly on the side, but out in front of you to the right or left at about a 45-degree angle. 
  2. If you are sighted or partially sighted, of course you'll need to close your eyes or wear a blindfold.
  3. Instruct your partner to move it to within 12 inches of your face, and then without notice, remove it from your view. Keep clicking or performing whichever signal works best for you.
  4. For this exercise, the flat surface of the object should always be facing directly toward you. This will ensure that the strongest, clearest response is reflected back toward you. 
  5. It is important that the object you are using does not make any noise of its own, such as the pages of a magazine. It’s also important that the person holding the object does not scratch or manipulate it in such a way that makes any sound. This will defeat the purpose of the exercise. 
  6. Once you can clearly tell when the object is present and when it’s not, try it on the other side. 
  7. Get used to both sides and then have your partner surprise you. After a short period of training, you should be able to easily determine where the object is.

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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