Seeing with your ears
Walking to the bus stop with my eyes closed is good practice for when all of my vision disappears. It also helps keep my white cane skills intact. Pinpointing exactly where I am is becoming easier. I thought I had it all worked out. Now I am finding there is another method some other blind people use. It's called echolocation. It simply means using your ears to find your way around.
Dolphins and whales
It's common knowledge that in using soundwaves many types of dolphins and whales can detect objects, attract prey and navigate their surroundings. In other words they have what is sometimes called a sixth sense.
It is also said that ancient seafarers had this same sixth sense. They relied on the 'simple echo' system for their bearings. In darkness or heavy fog, they could tell their position by ringing a bell and waiting for the return echo. Hearsay also has it that a good sailor could recognise the change in the coastline by the different sounds the echoes made. However, I'm unsure if recognising such detail is fact or fiction.
Just recently I read a memoir called
The Stolen Light by Ved Mehta. Set in the1950's, the story tells of Ved's struggle with blindness while being educated in a foreign country. One of his greatest desires was not to look different.
From an early age, Ved mastered the skill of echolocation and was very capable of finding his own way without assistance. Throughout the book he writes it was a constant annoyance that others would try to guide him.
Ved says of one occasion,
He kept on irritatingly pointing out steps and doors, which I could recognise by myself by means of sound shadows.
Up until now, many of those who have mastered echolocation have been self-taught. And some have learnt this skill at an early age.
Several years ago American Ben Underwood amazed people with his echolocation abilities. Ben lost his eyes to cancer when he was three years old. But it didn't restrict him. He could still play football, basketball and ride a bike with the rest of the neighbourhood kids. He said he could detect where object were by making clicking noises with his tongue.
Daniel Kish lost both his eyes as a baby. At a very young age he taught himself to locate objects by also clicking his tongue and waiting for the resound. He is now teaching others the same skill.
Despite a study proving that human echolocation is possible, it has been mostly ignored as a mobility aid. Kish has his own ideas on why.
In a recent report in the magazine
Men's Journal Kish says,
The blindness field is firmly based in tradition and dogma and is very slow to evolve.
In the meantime, I have a new challenge in trying to develop my own sixth sense. And I'm just not getting it. But I have come to realise how close my computer is to me by swearing at it. Currently, that's the extent of my echolocation skills.