The other day, while browsing on facebook, I came across an article, detailing echo-location, (a system usually used by Bats, to enable them to get around their surroundings, due to the fact they have no vision) This article, I found to be very interesting, but as usual, the media had to put what in my view, was a derogatory headline. Still, I dismissed it, and carried on reading. It explained, that the technique this person had learned in the particular article, enabled them to “see” their surroundings. This in my opinion, is not correct.
Whilst there are many positive points one would wish to make about this article, and many others that detail the same technique in question, I for one, would find it socially uncomfortable.
I wish to reiterate, that I am not disrespecting the technique in any way, nor am I disrespecting anyone who wishes too, or is learning it. I understand if that makes them feel more confident, then that is good. We have our own choices. I congratulate them for doing so, but there are a few differences in the way I walk around as a person without sight, compared to those who use the technique.
The first of these, is the sound that is made with the tongue when walking. This apparently, enables you to tell if an object is wooden, metal, how far it is away from you, etc. I do not do this. The second, is that, if you are not careful, you could possibly become too dependent on it, rather than using mobility aids, such as canes, or guide-Dogs. The third, and more important point I wish to make, and it will probably be controvercial, is: Would you, as a sighted person, really want to be listening to someone constantly making a noise with their tongue when walking, and no-one you know is doing it? Would you, as the blind person in question, not feel uncomfortable, have a sense of being stared at, or thought of as “different”? How would you feel? I would feel slightly uncomfortable, and selfconscious, if I knew people were listening to me, and could hear it. Yes, they could question me, and I would educate them, but what would they be thinking? On the outside, they would perhaps show interest, a keen interest to know more, but what is really going on in their heads? What are their (real) thoughts? Not thoughts they wish to display to us. There would perhaps still be a stigma.
So,, here’s my story of how I use echo-location, or sonar as I have come to name it.
I have mentioned this briefly in a previous blog post, but now I believe it is time to take this further.
Taught to me by my Nana, it allowed me to know, what was taller than me, solid, and what was hollow. I could gage on the longer the echo lasted, the further away it would be.
You are out with friends, you can’t see, your eyes are closed, completely. Try this out if you must. You are walking on a route that you know well, however it sounds, and feels different. Sounds? Feels? Why does it feel different?
The answer lies within the air flow, not a sound I am making, perhaps the sound of my feet, or the sweep of a cane, but that will not contribute entirely. Only to a meer part of it. You get to a wall, but you suddenly stop a few feet in front of it, and ask your friend “What is this? It feels different” They tell you that it is a wall, and it is a few feet in front of you. You don’t bump into it, because you have used your ears. The air flow is bouncing from the wall, to your forehead, and back to the wall, and the cycle keeps on, until you pass it. The same goes for doors, or cars. You carry on walking, when you encounter a car parked on the pavement with its wing-mirror stuck out, or a truck, again, parked to the side of you. As soon as you approach it, your ears sense it, and you feel the air bounce toward the front of your head. When encountering hollow bus shelters for instance, the space around that area, will suddenly widen, and the sound of both your feet and clothes rustlling will echo, as well as the air flow bouncing to your head and back again. Imagine someone throwing the air, bizarre, but that’s the concept of it. At least, the only way I can think of to describe it.
In my view, this is how echo-location should be taught.
In order to do this though, it requires homing in on the listening skills, can you hear things from a distance? can you tell whether that is taller than your height or not? Walk on routes that you know, and identify shelters, cars, lamp-posts, walls, all by using the air flow sonar as I call it. It seriously, at least, in my case, wworks.
If I have caused offence in this article, I do not mean too, I am only wanting to reiterate, that there is more than one way to use echo-location, and I worry about how socially acceptable the other way would be in the sighted world. Because I’ve always gone to mainstream school, and been at the receiving end of some sighted people who do not understand, as I am sure many of you have, you will know I only have concerns for the future generation of people without sight. I want us all to live normally, and as mainstream as possible.
Feel free to comment. I don’t mind a debate 🙂