Seeing With Sound

June 26th, 2011 by Kel Smith | Filed under Blind, Innovation, Nature of Disability

Juli and her mother Ellen Schweizer in Berlin. The flash sonar technique is new to Germany, but the girls' parents hope their daughters' experiences will spark new interest.

Juli and her mother Ellen Schweizer in Berlin. The flash sonar technique is new to Germany, but the girls' parents hope their daughters' experiences will spark new interest.

Sometimes a blind person’s best assistive technology is their remaining senses. In Germany, a number of blind people have developed a bat-like method of navigating their surroundings through noise response. Some are even using “flash sonar” to conduct such activities as bike riding and hiking.

An article in Spiegel Online International describes one subject, a young girl, who is able to negotiate strange places through the use of echoes at a very early age. When she was crawling, she would slap her hands down on the floor and listen for reverberations. In later years, she used a sharp callout or tongue click to determine whether she was in a stairway, subway station or store. Her mother reports that new places have become exciting to her.

Daniel Kish, a California native and pioneer in echolocation for the blind who goes by the nickname “Batman,” estimates that 500 blind people and 5,000 teachers from 18 countries have undergone the training. Some people become so proficient that they are able to play contact sports, such as basketball. Some believe that a person well-practiced in flash sonar could determine their proximity to train stations, kiosks and parked cars.

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