Sunday, November 25, 2012

Benefits of Echolocation for Blind Mobility beyond the White Cane

The cane is probably the most popular tool for blind mobility.  People who use it regularly are generally very comfortable with it.  As I attempt to introduce echolocation as a mobility tool I do of course meet resistance.  Many blind people are not comfortable with echolocation or don't see the benefits it can offer.  One of the most popular arguments against echolocation is "I can see everything with a cane that I could with echolocation, why would I want to go around clicking when the cane is perfectly socially acceptable?"

My answer to this is, you cannot see everything with a cane that you can with echolocation.  Let's take a close look at the difference:

One Data Point

In order to see an object with a cane you have to move the cane to the object, touch the object with the tip of the cane and then move your cane around to see other parts and other surfaces of the object.  It's safe to say that the cane provides only one "data point", meaning only one piece of information at a time.  It may take a few seconds to touch something in a few places and actually get an understanding of what it is.  Echolocation, on the other hand, offers several data points in a single click - an instant.  One click can uncover the shape of several surrounding objects.

Beyond the Tip of the Cane

The cane is a physical object about 4 feet long.  Essentially this is the range of one's perception.  If the cane is the only thing you are depending on to navigate.  Then anything greater than 4 feet away is completely invisible to you.  With echolocation the range of your perception can be up to several hundred feet.  You can see buildings, trees, people, hallways, entire rooms much larger than the length of your cane, and you can see them in an instant, or at least after a few clicks.

Side Vision

When walking with a cane, it is generally swung back and forth in correspondence with one's footsteps.  It is swung in an arc to determine anything on the ground within the walking path.  Unless you swing the cane way over to the side and try to touch something you will not see anything beside you.  Echolocation of course offers perception of objects on both sides of you, objects at head level, objects above you, and even behind you.

Physical Contact

Of course with a cane you must make contact with the object you wish to understand.  Sometimes that can be someone's shin, something fragile or something that causes a loud noise.  This can be arguably more intrusive than making a click sound with your mouth.  The only thing that makes contact during echolocation is sound waves which, to my knowledge, have never been observed to bruise shins.

It is encouraged that people supplement the white cane with echolocation and learn to use them both together because, while the cane acts as an excellent and irreplaceable safety device, echolocation gives you a much broader and more complete view of the world around you.  Echolocation isn't a huge life change you have to make all in one stroke.  It's easy, if you have an open mind and are willing to try new things, to take it a little bit at a time and experiment with it on your own to get comfortable.  And know that you never have to relinquish the security and assurance that your cane provides.

Another review for the Beginner's Guide

Here's another great review from Alexis Utica in Romania.  Read the whole review at:

The book is a bold interpretation of echolocation, being the first book on such manner I find it to be very fun to read and understandable to any person who wants to discover this “sense” that we each have. The author introduces, during the lecture, motivational quotes by Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama, Galileo Galilei and more, that make you feel that tiny boost of “Yes I can” into your life; I wanted to add this line because it made me want to read more and more with each paragraph.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Beginner's Guide to Echolocation - Audiobook Now Available!

The audiobook version of Beginner's Guide to Echolocation is now available here:

The audiobook includes click samples for use with echolocation and its impeccable audio quality and musical transitions make it easy and enjoyable to listen to.  Narrator, Gabriel Bush, brings his professional and powerful voice to this book to give it the impact and professionalism it needs.

Running Time:  2:17:07
Format:  MP3 Download
Author:  Tim Johnson
Co-Author: Justin Louchart
Narrator: Gabriel Bush

The book will soon be available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes as well.

Book Outline:

Introduction & Preface

Part 1 - Intro to Echolocation

Part 2 - Beginning Your Journey

Part 3 - Start Experiencing Echolocation

Part 4 - Echolocation Signals

Part 5 - Echolocation Lessons

Part 6 - Continuing Education and Training

"The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper."
William Butler Yeats

Echolocation F.A.Q.s

Here are some frequently asked questions about learning echolocation

Q: How long does it take to learn echolocation?

It all depends on how much time you want to commit to dedicated practice, but it is possible to learn a great deal in only a few days.  The three day intensive seminar through World Access for the Blind gives people the ability to comfortably navigate in foreign environments.  

Q: What's the best click to use for echolocation?

The click recommended for use with echo location by world access for the Blind is the blade pop.  There are also many other sounds that may be useful in other situations and environments.

Q: What is the best age to start training?

Young children tend to pick up echolocation faster then adults, but people of any age can easily learn echolocation.

Q: Why would I use echolocation when I'm proficient with a cane or have a guide dog I love?

It is true most blind people feel comfortable with one of these more conventional methods.  It is suggested that you use these conventional methods in conjunction with echolocation training.  The speed, range and versatility of echolocation offers great advantages over these conventional methods.  With a cane the knowledge of your environment is limited to the length of the cane and the speed at which you wield it.  Echolocation can give you instantaneous knowledge of everything around you within 100 feet, or even more.  A guide dog may be able to show you the way, but echolocation allows you to see the way for yourself.

Q: Can I learn even though I'm sighted?

Yes.  You will be at a disadvantage and it will take you longer, but if you can hear you have everything you need to learn echolocation.

Q: At what age can I start teaching my child echolocation?

If your child is blind they will naturally be exploring the sounds around them every day.  It's never too early, or too late to starting encouraging the concept of echolocation.

Q: What is the best way to start learning echolocation?

If you are blind or visually impaired and you have a mobility instructor, tell them you're interested in learning.  If you don't have access to a mobility coach, contact World Access for the Blind.  If you're not ready for dedicated training or would like more information about it, pick up the Beginner's Guide to Echolocation, available in large print paperback and audiobook.  If you're not ready to spend money on a book sign up for the mailing list and get a free audio lesson.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What Does a Non-Visual Image Look Like?

I've only started to scratch the surface of non-visual imagery, but this is one of the truly profound elements in the study of echolocation.  It's one thing to listen to sounds and think.. "oh that sounds farther away than this..." or "I can tell the doorway is here because it sounds hollow".  After a few years of my own intermittent training I have only begun to start to register non-visual images.  It doesn't happen all the time, but when it does it is a wonderful feeling.  A rush of excitement comes over me when my senses "open up" and provide this very clear "image" of the things around me.

Being a sighted person, it is certainly taking me longer to learn echolocation than it would for someone who is blind, so you may start to register non-visual images in a much shorter amount of time.  First this is due to the amount of time I can dedicate to practice, and additionally, my visual cortex is already very busy with my everyday vision to have room for such things as non-visual images.  It's known that an unused visual cortex can be re-commissioned to aid in echolocation, so you may have that to your advantage.

I have indeed experienced them and it is an absolute thrill ride when I get a "moment of clarity".  Basically, this involves being aware of the big picture as opposed to thinking so hard about the mechanics of it.

So what does it look like?

I would describe the feeling of a non-visual image to be a thought.  If you picture a shape or shapes in your mind, that might be akin to a non-visual image.  In our mind's eye, we can manifest an infinite amount of thoughts, places, shapes and images.  When echolocating we can still receive or create this type of imagery, but it will be based on our sensory input as opposed to our imagination.  So in that case, I would imagine that it looks different for everyone.

For me these images are comprised of two things:
1. Edges of objects
2. Proximity

Remember, there will be no color or text information supplied by echolocation.  Objects are outlined because of the sensation that there is a difference between one point and the next.  Generally the closer objects have a sense of being more dense, or thicker.  Sometimes that translates to being "darker" for me, but like I said, I'm sure it will translate to something a little bit different for each of us.

Have you had any experiences like this during your training?  Let me know about your experience with non-visual images in the comment section.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tracking Along a Wall using Echolocation

Let's start moving!

As long as you're comfortable with Lesson #8, Seeing Right and Left, you should be able to start tracking along a wall or flat surface.  Try to find a wall that you are familiar with, it can be indoors like a long hallway or outdoors against the side of a building or solid fence.  It should be something that doesn't have a lot of other obstacles around, like trees or furniture or other objects and should be free of danger.  A straight stretch of wall with no windows or doors would be best.

I like to calibrate to my surroundings first by clicking around and getting accustomed to the environment.  Approach the wall first and click to echolocate the wall.  Turn one direction and then the other, still clicking to get a feel for what the wall looks and "feels" like.  Move toward and away from the wall and verify that you know how far from the wall you are by reaching out to touch it with your hand or cane.

Turn in the direction you are going to walk and get comfortable with the sound of the wall on that side of your body.  Once you are comfortable with the sensation of the wall, start walking alongside the wall and try to maintain the same sensation on that side of your body.  Move slowly if you need to at first, and remember, since you have already determined that the route is free of dangers, you should refrain from reaching out to touch the wall even if you think you are going to hit it.  If you get a strong "close" sensation on the wall side, just pause a moment and take a step away.  Gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable doing this.

If you are in a hallway, you will have walls on either side of you which may be a bit easier because I think getting dangerously closer to an object is easier than detecting getting farther away from an object.  But the principle is the same either way.  Just try to maintain your proximity to the wall or walls.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Few Advantages of Echolocation over Vision

Vision is mode of perception unlike any other; it provides so much information to us and is the primary sensory input for most people.  Using vision we can interpret 3-dimensional space and color to a great level of detail.

However, there are some benefits that echolocation can offer; details that cannot be distinguished using our eyes.  These benefits are, most notably:  Texture, Density and Material.

With our eyes we can make assumptions about these things based on prior knowledge, but they do in fact require that prior knowledge in order to make that assumption.  Our assumption will be base on what the object is, the reflectivity of the surface which in turn indicates the smoothness or roughness of the surface, and the color differences.  As is the nature of vision, however, it is always subject to optical illusion.  Things may appear to be one thing, but then turn out, in reality to be something completely different.

With echolocation the texture of an object can be seen as it is a direct result of the sound waves diffusing upon hitting the surface.  Much the same as with light, if you shine a flashlight in a mirror, you get a big bright dot in your eye, whereas if you shine a flashlight at a carpet, it diffuses and looks very different.  Not as much light returns to your eye because a good percentage of the light is being redirected toward other directions.  Since we are only one observer and our eyes and ears can only be in one place at any given time with respect to a signal, the texture of an object becomes apparent when we notice that the response signal is "softer" than it would be as compared to a hard flat ("shiny") object.

This is just one example of how echolocation can lend us advantages over vision, aside from the myriad of profound implications it has on the human race as a whole.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Great Book Review - Roger Wilson-Hinds from

A book review from Roger Wilson-Hinds of:
It is a sad fact that the term echolocation is little known amongst blind people, never mind the main population. Johnson Is passionate about his subject and rightly so. To maximize the use of our senses is great and this is especially so if you lack an important one like sight. Echolocation is about getting the best from your ears. Hearing or sensing the detail of what is around, hearing there is a lamp post before you bump into it or being able to judge the size of the room you are in and knowing
how far off a wall is in front of you.
Those of us who have been privileged to work closely with blind infants know that they use their native wit and make clicking sounds within their mouths to help them understand their surroundings via the echos they get back in their ears. Johnson goes into the detail of the best way to click, the best frequency of the sound to make and later delivers an echolocation teaching programme. The fact is that anyone concerned to improve the lives of blind people should read this book and learn from it. And furthermore, as Johnson often says, the rest of us too  can do much to enhance our own control over the mind and senses  by spending time and effort developing our echolocation skills. After all, we as humans have massive redundancy of abilities which our ancestors needed but which have fallen into disuse or under-use.
A good read for anyone inquisitive about stretching human limits and overcoming disabilities.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learn from Familiar Environments; Challenge Yourself with the Unfamiliar

I've recently had the good fortune of moving to a new house and with that comes the benefit of being able to navigate an environment that is not particularly familiar.  The more we become familiar with one certain environment, the less practice we get using actual active echolocation.  For instance, we may use clues to help us navigate, such as "the void" I know to be the 15 foot long hallway, or "the chair" I have to navigate around.  Once we place ourselves into a foreign environment, it becomes much more critical that we actually concentrate and utilize precise active echolocation.  This is a good thing because it forces us to get better.

Instead of saying to yourself, "oh yes, and there's the table.. and if I go this way I can go around it safely..." you're forced to ask, "...and what is this object here?  ...and how can I go around it?"  In this case, your mind will really be required to focus in and you might try clicking at different angles or moving from one side to the other to get a different vantage point.  You might even crouch down to check the height of the object (avoiding the urge to reach out and touch it).  All of these exercises are critical learning methods for improving your skill.

In other instances, you might say to youself, "OUCH!  That really hurt... what the heck was that?"  In which case, that's not always a bad thing either.  In instances of pain, since we are human beings we will try to avoid repeating that same scenario at another time, and one natural way of doing that is to take inventory of the situation and say to yourself.. "Why did that happen?  What did I miss?"  At which time it would be a good idea to take a step back and evaluate the current environment as in the paragraph above and try to determine the reason your echolocation did not show you that particular object.  If it was something at waist level, then that might indicate that you need more practice with "Up vs. Down Training".  If the object was a thin object like a lamp post or pole, consider isolating that type of object and challenging the limits of your echolocation in order to improve your capabilities with such object shapes.

The moral of this post is, always challenge yourself.  Now, is training in your own home cheating?  I would say no.  But if you become complacent in a particular environment, you are inherently not challenging yourself as much as you could be, do some exploring!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

My first book review from Austin Seraphin!!

I'm so happy to announce my very first book review of the Beginner's Guide to Echolocation!  Austin Seraphin is a great guy and many of you know him I'm sure.  He just wrote a great article covering his thoughts on the book over at his blog "Behind the Curtain".

Here is a snippet of the review
I have some very exciting news. Ever since I started learning about echolocation I wanted a way to get started myself. I made contact with Justin at World Access for the Blind and he helped me on Skype before we did my amazing life-changing intensive. Still, we all agree that we need a way to easily teach the blind about echolocation, or at least give them enough information to get them started safely. We also need to prove to the skeptics that it really exists. Now someone named Tim Johnson has written the perfect book to get you started.
Read the whole review here because he has some great things to say that I'm sure you can relate to.  I'm so glad that this book is being well received.

Of course if anyone else out there is interested in writing a review of the book either on your blog or on the Amazon page, PLEASE contact me!  I will see what I can do about getting you a review copy of the book.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Echolocation Audiobook Coming Soon!

Okay, I will get back to writing posts you actually want to read very soon about my echolocation journey, but I'm very excited about the new book so I have to let you know that I am currently producing an audiobook!

I just found a GREAT narrator for it and it is being produced as we speak! (or type and read) It will be available on, Amazon and iTunes within the next couple weeks!  Be sure I will let you all know as soon as it is available.

Also the Future Reflections publication has requested a copy of the book for review.  They are affiliated with National Foundation for the Blind and their review should be published in an upcoming edition of their newsletter.  So if you get that keep your eyes peeled.

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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