blindZA.co.za logo - white text on black background, with white border - and red braille version hovering in front of normal text

Beginner's guide to echo location

For the Blind and Visually Impaired - "Learning to See with Your Ears"

Firstly, this page is related to the following website/eBook:
http://www.humanecholocation.com/

And, if you want to get an idea of if this might be of interest etc., then maybe have a look at the following page on that site, where you can download a free 10-minute audio tutorial/lesson relating to sort of getting started or understanding the concept of echo location, and the sounds generally made use of therewith:
http://www.humanecholocation.com/free-lesson/

If you're not sure what the term "echo location" refers to with regard to blind/visually impaired people, have a look at the following wikipedia page on the subject:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_echolocation

the concept/practice of human echo location for the blind is that which Daniel Kish calls flash sonar - and mentioning that here since Daniel Kish has probably had the most media coverage worldwide relating to human echo location for the blind, etc - if you want more of an idea about his approach/take on that, try searching for him on youTube.

Anyway, while the eBook is available in various/multiple formats, I read through it in the ePub format, that Tim provided me with, since that suits me for reading it on my android phone, etc., and, overall, found it very informative, and indeed a good start to maybe understanding various forms of what quite a few blind/visually impaired people are probably already making use of subconsciously if not consciously - you understand your overall environment better than you would without various forms of audio feedback interpretation, even if you're not specifically/consciously listening for specific elements/aspects of audio feedback, all the time.

This also brings up another small thing, in that since I do wear hearing aids, due to partial need for them to interpret certain types of sounds better, and, specifically in that if I am not wearing both of them, I find it a bit more difficult to actually make use of/perform any form of directional auditory orientation.

And, yes, know in general hearing aids don't work too well when it comes to proper forms of directional auditory interpretation, but, one thing noticed quite early on when I started actually trying to interpret any echo location feedback consciously was that while the hearing aid's directional feedback wasn't perfect, it was relatively consistent, in that once I got used to the relatively small bit of adjustment had to implement, it wasn't really an issue either.

Another thing mentioned to the author of this book, Tim Johnson, was that with regards to trying to make use of echo location on a too conscious level doesn't make sense/work too well for me all the time - my comparison was that when you're listening to a piece of music, or a nice song, you're not really listening to each and every note, each little piece of the lyrics, all the time, but are, in general, listening to/absorbing the whole combination, and, therefore, yes, when starting out trying to make actual, conscious use of forms of echo location, while you will want to start off focusing on specific types of sounds, and the specific bits of feedback they might/can provide with regard to elements of your then current environment, etc. - especially when carrying out some of the training/learning exercises detailed in this book - but, besides that part of it, what worked best for me was to keep a form of open mind, try to implement the right forms of feedback sounds depending on environment/situation, and then just let my mind carry out the interpretation for me, in it's own way.

But, that might also have to do with the fact that I am permanently visualising shapes, forms, elements and parts of what I call my virtual vision environment - I am literally seeing somewhat vague shapes/forms/elements all of the time, although I am a certified, B1, 100% blind person, and no physically measurable signal gets passed through to my brain via my optic nerve, etc.

Anyway, I do work with other forms of sensory substitution on an ongoing basis (have a look at the vOICe-seeingWithSound - see link below), and it also invokes changes in my field of virtual vision - maybe on a more concrete level at this stage, since have been actively working with it for a little longer now, and that might also have a form of long-term effect in terms of what some people refer to as neural pathway remapping.

Anyway, at this stage, when using echo location, it's still more or less like I will know I want to find something along the lines of (pun intended) the edge of something, and after paying attention sort of subconsciously to any forms of audio feedback, I will find that I generally get it right first time, whereas otherwise, you'd not be too bothered and would just feel other environment elements, and find it like that, but with this sort of method, you'll be surprised how often you can get it right, first time, and almost every time...<smile>

Think the idea there is that once you got properly used to it, and literally used it sort of in the background processes of your mind, it would also invoke your own form of virtual vision, on an ongoing basis - how often is it likely that a sighted person who wants to enter a door into a building thinks that they'd specifically prefer not to walk into the door frame instead...?

And, yes, am trying to make sure you understand that I prefer to keep the whole concept/approach somewhat open-minded/light- hearted, in that, again, I am of the opinion that if you try too hard to focus too consciously on something like this, you'll generally be paying more attention to the actual sounds themselves, rather than the possible feedback they can, and do provide.

Either way, comes down to that definitely think this book is quite a good starting point for anyone actually interested in developing something like higher levels of echo location usage.

I also like the fact that Tim Johnson provides some technical details relating to different sound frequencies, why they operate the way they do, offers information and examples relating to the different/varying alternative forms of sounds you'd generally try make use of - and also like his generally light-hearted approach to naming conventions - blade pop, compared to here kitty...<smile>, etc., and in this book he provides forms of starting points, explains wider areas/ranges of use, relating to varying forms of indoor and outdoor environments, the different sounds you might need/want to implement/make use of, etc.

Anyway, the website related to the book, where you can also get hold of some audio clips relating to click sound tutorials/examples, etc., and contact the author, is:
http://www.humanecholocation.com/

And, the other website mentioned above is seeingWithSound - there I use primarily the android phone and windows learning edition versions:
http://www.seeingwithsound.com/

And, if you want any specific feedback from me regarding my interpretation of this book, etc., you are welcome to contact me.

Jacob Kruger

Back to BlindZA.co.za