BOOK INFORMATION FROM AMERICAN PRINTING HOUSE FOR THE BLIND
TITLE: Echolocation and FlashSonar
Echolocation and FlashSonar provides research, case examples, instructional approaches, and practice exercises that can, combined with long Perception Cane use, can lead to mastery of SonarVision.
This guidebook, written by Daniel Kish and Jo Hook, provides instructional strategies for teaching persons who are blind and visually impaired who are working independently.
Although Echolocation and FlashSonar works well as an instructional manual for O&M specialists, it can also be used by adults who are blind or visually impaired and who are not working with rehabilitation professionals.
An extensive list of references and resources is provided for the reader.
Topics addressed in this guidebook include:
- What is Echolocation?
- How the Brain Develops and Operates
- Optimizing Learning Conditions
- How do I Teach FlashSonar to Myself and Others?
- FlashSonar Exercises
- The Importance of Echolocation and Future Research
Warning: SonarVision skills should be practiced with a full-length cane, and if needed, a human or dog guide.
A REVIEW OF “ECHOLOCATION AND FLASHSONAR”
“Individuals who cannot see, who have learned to navigate autonomously, hold the key to their own safe and effective navigational skills. It is they who need to teach the sighted, about their blind referenced norms, perceptions, and abilities, in favour of sight referenced criteria. “Echolocation and Flash Sonar” does exactly that.”
Gordon N Dutton, MD, FRCOphthal, FRCS
Emeritus Professor of Visual Science
Glasgow Caledonian University
Book Review: “Echolocation And Flashsonar” by Daniel Kish and Jo Hook
REVIEWER: Gordon N Dutton, MD, FRCOphthal, FRCS
Emeritus Professor of Visual Science
Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland
The book “Echolocation and Flash Sonar” by Daniel Kish and Jo Hook, is a unique, compelling and comprehensive read. It is the culmination of a lifetime’s experience of using echolocation as an effective tool for environmental recognition and navigation, as well as over 20 years’ professional experience, successfully teaching worldwide, the requisite skills, to great numbers of blind students, and professionals working with those who are blind.
Since publication of definitive proof that, for echolocation users, echoic sound is processed in the visual cortex of the brain, effectively according alternative vision to the user (Thaler et al, 2011), it is clearly important that this skill is taught internationally to those who cannot see. “Echolocation and Flash Sonar” is a definitive manual that provides core training material and methodologies for everyone looking after and teaching blind children, not least the Orientation and Mobility profession. It is also a fascinating read for anyone wishing to learn about the acoustic worlds of blind people.
Human echolocation as a means of successful navigation by those who are blind, is not a new topic. Sporadic reports from as early as the mid 1700s, of their ability to characterise and navigate through their environment using sound, are succinctly reviewed and are fascinating to read.
Echolocation skills involve both passive and active methodologies. The sounds of footfall, or tapping of a cane, provide a ‘mild’ unfocused passive imagery, while active echolocation signals made with the intent of studying the surrounding soundscape can provide a clearer, more focused mental imagery akin to vision, coincident with the makeup of the surroundings.. In this way, those without sight can be helped to develop their intrinsic skills to explore their worlds within their own terms of reference.
Visual recognition is brought about by matching what we see with what we have mentally stored, likewise for echolocation skills, with respect to the identity, size and location of surrounding items, and their relationship to one another. Yet this can be a hard won skill, whereby echoic auditory patterns take on progressively more meaning with experience, particularly when enabled by skilled training targetted at focussing the learner’s attention upon optimal interpretation of what they are perceiving. Such skill once gained, continues to develop in quality and calibre as time goes by, particularly for those successfully encouraged to apply focused self-directed effort.
Just as it can take time to recognise faces and new places, echolocation is a facility that grows in quality and calibre as time goes by. Many learners experience an ‘aha moment’ during their early training, when everything starts to make sense. The use of intermittent, louder active echolocation signals provides the observer with an overall perspective of the wider and more distant environment, akin to the wider visual field, whereas targeting with more frequent, lower volume signals allows the observer’s attention to be given to the location, size and identity of elements of the acoustic scene, akin to central vision. This second element is refered to as Flash Sonar by Daniel Kish, as it creates short-term mental imagery that subsequently fades.
For those with sight, the visual brain processes the incoming picture in two main ways. It identifies, and it locates. Identification is largely a conscious process, while localisation of the elements of the scene, guides our movement, and is largely an unconscious process. (When a sighted person runs down a staircase, the location of each step does not reach consciousness.) In like manner, echolocation serves both functions. The conscious process of isolating a singular entity will locate a 9 inch item from a distance of 18 inches, but the less conscious remarkable process that allows the skilled blind practitioner to cycle along a country path, has a fluidic nature, accurately and successfully guiding the user, that defies such analysis as it is not static and takes place in real time through a form of automatic simultaneous mental processing that has yet to be characterised.
This book provides a wealth of technical information such as teaching how to compensate for environmental variables such as wind and rain, or a cluttered environment. For people who are blind, the brain re-wires. Major neuroplastic changes take place that change the brain’s functional pathways. When teaching echolocation to learners, the authors employ a questioning strategy to encourage and enable the echolocation learner to probe, understand and characterise their own perceptions, and so to learn through problem solving, rather than being told what to expect and what to do. In this way learning becomes self-directed. As for mastering all skills, enhanced experiential learning trumps learning through didactic teaching any day, especially when the learning is family centred, yet not overly protective!
The authors highlight that for the child who is learning, the panoply of skills needed for successful safe navigation, and safe progressive exploration of the environment, without the intrusion of a sight based philosophical construct of risk, is essential. “It is not a collection of skills that makes perception happen; it is perception that compels skills to develop, as circumstances require.” The idea that vision is a pre-requisite for navigation tends to be fixed within the mindset of the sighted, (with little recognition that the brains of those without sight from birth, have the capacity to develop differently), and it is this vision base self referenced criterion, when imposed upon those who cannot see, that can, well meaningly, culminate in long term dependency.
Having had the privilege to meet a number of individuals whose lives have been transformed by the independence and freedom that training in echolocation and flash sonar provides, I have myself changed from being a sceptic to a zealot. Just because I’m unable to echolocate, does not mean that others cannot. Training in echolocation, in a way that is complementary to training in orientation and long cane skills, needs to be available worldwide for those who cannot see. It is life changing. The comprehensive information provided in “Echolocation and Flash Sonar” once mastered, and practiced provides the wherewithal to bring this about.
Individuals who cannot see, who have learned to navigate autonomously, hold the key to their own safe and effective navigational skills. It is they who need to teach the sighted, about their blind referenced norms, perceptions, and abilities, in favour of sight referenced criteria. “Echolocation and Flash Sonar” does exactly that.
Thaler L, Arnott SR, Goodale MA. Neural correlates of natural human echolocation in early and late blind echolocation experts. PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20162.
Gordon N Dutton, MD, FRCOphthal, FRCS
Emeritus Professor of Visual Science
Glasgow Caledonian University April 1986 – Present (+32 years)
From LinkedIn: “During my tenure as a Consultant Ophthalmologist working at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, for over 20 years we researched a wide range of subjects (qv: PubMed – Dutton GN). The commonest cause of visual impairment seen, was cerebral visual impairment, and this latterly became a major focus of academic studies in our department.”
In addition to his work at Glasgow Caledonian University, Professor Dutton is also an Advisor and Contributor to CVI Scotland, a website devoted to helping people understand cerebral visual impairments, and together working towards beginning to master this complex spectrum of conditions.
From the website: “To forward our understanding of how CVI affects people, we regularly engage with parents and those affected by CVI. The findings we share on this website, and we are clear that the source is parents’ first-hand accounts, although our professionals provide guidance throughout.”
Professor Dutton contributes a regular blog to the site.
PREVIEW OF “ECHOLOCATION AND FLASHSONAR”
Preview of Echolocation And FlashSonar
By Daniel Kish and Jo Hook
We hope you will enjoy this book, and find it helpful. Neither the authors nor Visioneers / World Access for the Blind receive any royalties from the sale of this book. If you find this book helpful, please consider helping us reach more blind students in more places with your tax deductible donation to World Access for the Blind on our Make A Donation page. Thank you kindly.
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American Printing House for the Blind, Inc.
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Daniel Kish, Author
Jo Hook, Author
Terrie (Mary T.) Terlau, Project Leader
Laura Zierer, Research Assistant
Adam Clark, Manufacturing Specialist
Matthew Poppe, Graphic Designer
About the Authors: Daniel Kish
Daniel Kish is an internationally-acclaimed expert in the field of echolocation/FlashSonar. He obtained a master’s degree in Life-Span Developmental Psychology from California State University, San Bernardino, and a master’s degree in Special Education from Cal State Los Angeles. He is the first totally blind person to hold both national certificates in orientation and mobility: Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) and National Orientation and Mobility Certificant (NOMC).
After losing both eyes to retinoblastoma by the time he was 13-months old, Daniel began using active echolocation/FlashSonar to navigate the world as a toddler, and has spent the majority of his adult life teaching others to navigate using echolocation/FlashSonar.
In 2000, Daniel founded World Access for the Blind, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of an instructional philosophy and evidence-based instructional techniques for teaching persons with visual impairments to navigate freely, effectively, and joyfully.
He serves as the president of World Access for the Blind and provides what he calls perceptual navigation instruction internationally. He is a prolific writer and international presenter in the area of accessible navigation with the long cane and echolocation/FlashSonar, having consulted on a number of studies in human perception and technical applications. He continues to update instructional philosophy and methods to incorporate new research and instructional discoveries.”
About the Authors: Jo Hook
“Jo Hook first qualified as a Solicitor, and then became a law teacher and legal editor before retraining as a rehabilitation worker for the visually impaired.
Jo then gained a teaching diploma and an MA in education and worked as a Senior Lecturer in Rehabilitation Studies at Birmingham City University. Jo currently works part-time as a rehabilitation worker.
She is a proponent of the philosophy and instructional methods of World Access for the Blind and has worked with Daniel Kish during his presentations and instructional sessions in the United Kingdom. She contributes the strong research base for this book. Jo is based in the UK.
APH would like to thank the following professionals for participating in the field test of this book. We used their detailed feedback to make revisions to this helpful resource.
Janet Carlson, Spokane Public Schools, Spokane, WA
Kim Cooper, Mesa Public Schools, Tempe, AZ
Stephanie Doeren-Rasmussen, Utah School for the Deaf and Blind, Salt Lake City, UT
Julie Hapeman, Milwaukee, WI
Lauren Herring, Forsyth County Schools, Cumming, GA
Leslie Kelly-Watrobka, Jeffco Public Schools, Lakewood, CO
LeAnna MacDonald, Westside Community Schools, Omaha, NE
Nancy Montcalm, Pinellas County Schools, Largo, FL
Daniel Simmons, Wake County Public School System, Cary, NC
Sheila Spencer, Oregon Commission for the Blind, Portland, OR
Megan Warner, Overbrook School for the Blind, Philadelphia, PA
Gina Woods, Oklahoma School for the Blind, Muskogee, OK
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“For me, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, enjoyable, do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process I have called the good life. . . . But adjectives which seem more generally fitting are adjectives such as enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, meaningful. This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one’s potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life.”
(Rogers, 1995, p. 196)
Daniel Kish writes:
On my first day of first grade, the buzzer rang for morning recess. This catalyzed an immediate eruption of shrill voices bursting with nervous excitement, punctuated by a tempest of crashing and clinking chairs against desks. Every chair against every desk registered on my consciousness—each metal leg striking metal leg and each plastic chair back banging wooden desktop or clunking against the hollow, metal under-shelving. The noise was somewhat new to me, because the year before in Kindergarten, we had spent most of our class time on the floor in a circle. When we did work, the desks and chairs only occupied about a third of the room, and that had been the third nearest the door. Now, the clash and crash of movement filled the entire large, square room from wall to wall.
“Although someone had familiarized me with parts of the room previously—the location of the door, the sink, my desk, and the circle time area—I already knew the shape and size of the whole room by its echoes which came to me from its walls and corners, even though I had not explored these. However, I did not learn how I knew this until years later. Nonetheless, the image of the room’s shape and size presented itself vividly to me at all times. The floor was carpeted, so at least the chairs didn’t scrape and squeak against the floor which used to make me cringe. This universe of clatter quickly dissolved into a wave of seemingly countless thudding shoes carrying a ringing chorus of voices, all stampeding toward the corner of the room to my left, and slightly behind me.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
I occupied the last desk in the last row of desks nearest the corner of the room opposite the door. They thought this desk would be easy for me to find, which it wasn’t. The desk nearest the door would have been easier, though. In retrospect, it was rare that my desk was positioned nearest the door, possibly because they may have thought I would have clogged up traffic or gotten run over. In fact, I’d have been the first one long gone out the door before traffic would have been an issue, but I didn’t think of that until later.
With a splunk of the push bar and a subtle whoosh of air, the door was flung open. The room drained of sound as the myriad of gleeful voices streamed away into open space, merging with a swelling tide of noise and movement beyond. I ambled toward the column of noise framed by the doorway, occasionally clicking my tongue quietly in order to gage my proximity to the wall on my left, and also to avoid chairs left askew along the way. They had tried to teach me to trail the wall with my hand to the doorway, but I found that awkward and slow. Directing myself toward the shrill symphony of kids at play which breathed against me on a cool breeze, I clicked again to center myself as I passed through the open doorway. The muffled silence of the carpeted classroom, now empty, closed in behind me as I entered the oceanic expanse of the new playground beyond.
After a few steps, I dimly felt where the smooth cement turned to somewhat rougher pavement. Under my feet, I could feel a crack that I discerned ran parallel to the long building whispering behind me. I knew by experience that this crack was an important feature to remember, and I wished my feet were not so rudely encased in shoes.
I paused to consider the strange, chaotic scene stretching out in all directions before me. Clicking and swiveling my head from side to side, I scanned the expanse, straining to penetrate the heavy curtain of commotion. The world suddenly seemed bigger and noisier than anything I had ever encountered—teeming with flocks of darting voices, swarms of bouncing balls, and battalions of scuffling shoes, all darting and swirling in a mesmerizing tapestry of motion. Like the chairs against the desks, each individual sound, each footfall, ball bounce, and shouting voice, called to me, threatening to split my attention into a chaos of fragments blown in the wind.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
This playground, and this extent of activity and commotion, was completely new to me. Prior to starting first grade, I had only been oriented to the primary-students’ classroom building, taught to trail the wall of smooth, bevelled bricks with my hand from my first grade classroom five doors down to the resource room where I would learn braille. I didn’t need to trail the wall with my hand in order to follow it, for I could hear its presence just as easily, but I could not distinguish the closed doors by clicking, so I counted them by hand until I became familiar with the distance.
I had no cane; mobility training wasn’t provided to children my age in 1972. Although this practice has changed in the U.S., it remains this way in most countries. A short introduction had been given to my class that morning about a blind child among them, but we did not have aides looking after special education children in those days, so as I entered the playground I stood near the building all alone. I wasn’t scared though. I generally preferred to be alone, and in all my time in school since I was two years old, I had thought little about not being guided or helped along. I had been clicking my tongue to get myself around for as long as I could remember. I did not even have to think about my clicking, for it came as naturally to me as breathing.
To this day, I have always enjoyed figuring things out and finding my way around new spaces: What is around me? How do I get there? What do I do when I find it? How do I get back? New places have always been like intriguing puzzles to me, and this day was no different. I’d have given anything to be rid of these stupid shoes, though. Having kept barefoot most of the time, I had grown accustomed to reading every nuance of ground with my feet, making the ground with every step a kind of map comprised of tell-tale textures, shapes, and temperatures. As I stood poised to venture into this strange, noisy place, my main discomfort was that I could barely read the ground beneath me.
At first, I found the noise on this new playground oppressive, threatening to swallow me up. But curiosity won out over mild apprehension. I stepped gingerly forward, clicking quickly and loudly to cut through the cacophony while turning my head left and right to hear where my clicks came back to me as echoes. Clicking and listening allowed me to find the clear spaces, and I walked methodically over the pavement, threading my way between clusters of bodies, undulating blips on my “radar.” Keeping my distance from the boinging thud of bouncing balls and the repetitive clack of twirling ropes, I moved cautiously at first, but gained speed as I found my “fit” into these busy surroundings. From time to time I clicked back over my shoulder. As long as I could hear the hard surface of the building call back to me through the undulating crowd, I knew I could find my classroom again.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
The storm of noise stretched in all directions, and the building was fading fast through the bedlam fog as I stepped forward. I hesitated, wondering if I should return to the building while I still knew I should return to the building while I still knew I could, but the skittering of a ball behind me followed by shoes pelting lightly after it spurred me onward. I knew there must be quiet fields of grass somewhere; softer open spaces like there had been on my kindergarten playground. Noticing a slight downward slope of the pavement, I realized that if I could get back to the slope, I would be able to follow it most of the way up toward the building. Once I got close enough to it, I would be able to hear it.
Eventually, the pressing din gave way to a softer hue, taking on a slightly muffled quality, while my clicking inquiries found no reply. With relief I sped up, eager to find the open quietude of the large field of grass that I knew lay shortly before me. Despite the awful, rigid school shoes I was required to wear, I felt my feet hit grass. Stimulated by the promise of great adventure, I broke into a run, quickly clicking to ensure that nothing stood in my way. Finally emerging from the heavy fog of noise, I felt as freed as a bird taking joyful flight.
Then, suddenly, something whispered back to me from the open expanse, and I jolted to a stop. “Hi,” I ventured in a bell-like treble. There was no reply. As I scanned, clicking more softly, the something quietly told me about itself—it was taller than me, and too thin to be a person. As I reached out to touch it, I knew already that it was a pole. I was glad I found it with my tongue and not my head. As I followed the pole upward with upstretched hands, my probing fingers encountered a small metal cap adorning the top of the pole a few inches above my head. I clicked around me, and barely heard something else whispering back. Leaving the pole, I moved toward this next thing as it called to me with a similar voice, telling me that it was also a pole. I detected yet another one and another — four poles in a straight line before I reached the end of them. Later I would learn that there were actually nine poles in all comprising a slalom course, and that one day I would be able to slalom rows of trees on a bicycle while clicking madly.
A strident buzzer abruptly sliced the air. More annoyed than startled, I froze and raised my hands to my ears. When its dreadful assault finally ceased, I lowered my hands to hear buildings from far away calling back to me from several directions surrounding the immense grass field. I detested the buzzer, but the distant voices echoed back from every direction like my private serenade of wistful music, as if singing to me about just how big this field was, and of the houses and neighborhoods that lay beyond. I stood motionless a moment, amazed. I had never been in anything this vast. I scanned around me, clicking, but I couldn’t hear my classroom building over the great distance and bedlam of kids. As I fell in step with the tide of movement all flowing in a single direction, I clapped my hands with a sharp report, and something large called back through the tangle of piping voices and scurrying shoes. As I moved toward it, the grass gave way to pavement, and as I stepped quickly up the slope, clicking and clapping, I heard the unmistakably broad, clear voice of a wall drawing nearer.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
“I know!” I shot back, my very treble voice suddenly edged a little too loudly over the subdued shuffling of chairs and shoes on carpet. I had already sensed the distance from the wall in front of me, and I knew I had arrived at my desk at the end of my row. I reached to my left and found a desk with a braillewriter on it.
“How come you can’t see where you’re going?” I heard Michael ask, half under his breath almost as if he were addressing the question to someone else beside him.
“Plastic, eyes,” I over emphasized each word as I slid into my seat, annoyed at having to repeat myself “and, I know where I’m going.”
But as I settled into my chair, my annoyance quickly faded as my mind already raced to the next recess, excitedly anticipating the treasures of the new playground.
“People were saying, ‘we would like more information on this,’” says Prof. Diane Fazzi, Chair of the training program at California State University, Los Angeles, who attended Daniel’s very first presentation on echolocation, delivered by invitation to the California Association of Orientation and Mobility Specialists in 1994. “They thought it was very important. It has a lot of promise. It’s going to benefit a lot of blind people” (Nicolosi, 1994).
Since those first days so long ago, the use of advanced forms of echolocation by people who are blind and its implications for science, teaching, and unprecedented freedom of movement has gained increasing public interest through hundreds of written publications, radio broadcasts, online forums, and programs on nearly every major TV network in the world. The last ten years in particular has seen the impact of focused echolocation training on the navigation of people who are blind become a mounting topic of interest across many disciplines including natural and neural science (Stromberg, 2013 in the Smithsonian; Bleicher, 2012 in Scientific American Mind); human interest (Finkel, 2013 in National Geographic Magazine); health (Rosenblum, 2009 in Psychology Today); business (Shea, 2011 in the Wall Street Journal); education, and entertainment (Ker, 2009 in Mountain Bike Action Magazine) to name a few. Most recently the demonstrable impact of echolocation instruction on freedom of movement for people who are blind has been showcased in high-profile public forums including PopTech (Borthwick, 2011), TED (May 2015), and Idea Festival (2015). Public interest has also been raised by the Marvel’s Daredevil series in America whose protagonist, a lawyer who is blind, is a masked vigilante who uses echolocation.
As noted by Professor Mel Goodale, Canada Research Chair in Visual Neuroscience and Director of the Centre for Brain and Mind, “It is clear echolocation enables blind people to do things otherwise thought to be impossible without vision and can provide blind and visually-impaired people with a high degree of independence” (Goodale quoted by University of Western Ontario, 2011).
By way of example, as reported in Der Spiegel Magazine, a top European publication, “One of the trainers is Juan Ruiz, a well-known flash-sonar expert [trained by Daniel since 1994]. In several YouTube videos he can be seen riding a mountain bike through rough terrain. Indeed, before making his way to Berlin, Ruiz made a stop in Italy, where he set a new Guinness World Record. A television studio in Milan was outfitted with an obstacle course featuring ten columns spread out over a 20-meter (66-foot) path. The cameras rolling, Ruiz mounted his bicycle and pedalled away, constantly clicking. The spellbound audience followed Ruiz’s progress as he navigated his way forward guided by what seemed like a sleepwalker’s instincts. One column after the next seemed to enter his field of vision. He curved to the left and to the right and, after 48.34 seconds, rolled over the finish line without a single mistake” (Dworschak, 2011).
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
As I approached the building, I caught the exchange of other kids talking about me:
—”How does he know where he’s going if he can’t see?”
—”He’s got some kind of radar.”
The crowd noise organized itself and grew less assaultive as voices began to drop into hushed tones. I heard kids in lines facing the wall, their subdued voices organized in rows. I didn’t know why they were lining up or what I was supposed to do and I couldn’t tell where my classroom was. I stood a moment to ponder my next move when someone called my name off to my right. I recognized the bell-like voice of my teacher, Mrs. Mullen. I really liked her voice, and I really liked her. I started to walk along the crack parallel to the wall toward her voice, but kids were standing on it. I moved in toward the wall, clicking and walking between it and the fronts of the lines. A child came running up to me, then. “We’re over here,” came the voice of a boy I recognized. I wasn’t good at recognizing voices, but this one was unusually rough for a first grader, and he had some kind of an accent. He sat at the desk next to mine, but I couldn’t remember his name. As I walked beside him, I could tell he was a little taller, which was good, because it made him easier to keep track of. “How come you can’t see?” He whispered. The voices of all the other children had dropped also to whispering murmurs.
“’Cuz my eyes are made of plastic,” I whispered back. I sensed his body turn, his head cocked to stare transfixed into my face, his breath catching. His shoes shuffled awkwardly as he almost side-stepped along half in front of me.
“We’re right here,” I heard Mrs. Mullen say, “Thank you Michael for being so helpful.” I clicked and listened to find where the kids, now almost breathlessly quiet, were lined up. “Michael,” Mrs. Mullen’s voice rang quietly, “Why don’t you help Daniel find the end of the line?” But I had already turned away from the building and begun clicking along the line of kids, when Michael’s hand touched my shoulder. “It’s over here,” he announced quietly, tugging me in the direction I was already going.
“Michael,” Mrs, Mullen called, “let him take your arm.” But, by then, we were already there. Michael positioned himself in front of me, evidently not wanting to be the last in line.
As the line began to move forward, I clicked rhythmically to track Michael’s movements forward. I’d been taught to place my hands on the shoulders of the person in front of me, but something about Michael made me uneasy, and I felt uncomfortable touching him. As we filed into the room, I clicked and scanned to avoid kids as they shuffled into their chairs. As I clicked along the wall to my right toward the corner nearest my desk, I noted thankfully that our coming in was a lot quieter than leaving had been. “Your desk is right here,” I heard Michael insist in a tone half disgruntled, half surprised. “You’re going too far!”
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
It is in light of this prolific wave of public interest that the present authors, two enthusiastic mobility specialists, have observed a corresponding eagerness among blindness-related practitioners and consumers who are blind to expand their body of knowledge and refine their understanding about how to learn and teach echolocation to support blind navigation to a level of sophistication that is now known to be possible.
As Ken Lord (2010), mobility instructor of nearly 50 years and President Emeritus of the Mobility Association of South Africa, neatly summarizes after arranging and attending two, 2-day workshops led by Daniel and members of his Team, “Blind humans using flash sonar, which is much more than just echolocation, can move about as though they have a crude but effective form of vision. They can be well oriented, negotiate obstacles gracefully, quickly, safely, and be extremely independent — thus enjoying a wide variety of meaningful life activities. A blind traveler can receive multi-dimensional information from distances of many meters, depending on circumstances. Echoes make information available about the nature and arrangement of objects and environmental features such as overhanging branches, walls, doorways and recesses, poles, up curbs and steps, flower boxes, pedestrians, fire hydrants, parked or moving vehicles, trees and other foliage, and much more. Echoes can give detailed information about location (where objects are), dimension (how big they are and their general shape), and density (how solid it is). . . . The blind participants, with a crowd of 40-odd mobility instructors and parents observing, were taught to create and use a series of unobtrusive tongue clicks, . . . Lessons progressed to obstacle detection which included openings, poles, trees, and vehicles. … but to me, the cherry on top was the ability to detect the shape and outline of a vehicle and with a little practice pronounce that it was a bakkie, passenger car, or a 4X4. . . . Hopefully O&M instructors and blind people themselves will take forward what was learnt at both workshops” (Lord, 2010).
It seemed a good opportunity to support the O&M profession to take the lead in addressing this wave of interest on all fronts, especially the rapidly growing number of requests for this training streaming in from blind consumers throughout the world. So, this book was brought into being to provide the necessary materials to enable people to understand not only what echolocation is, but how it can be easily and consistently taught and learned to a sophisticated level of daily use.
Daniel Kish is not only widely regarded as one of the most famous echolocators worldwide, but he is reputed to be the most experienced teacher of echolocation skills, having taught for over 20 years in more than 40 countries (Cloutier, 2015; Utne, 2009; Levitt, 2015).
Prior to her position as Senior lecturer specializing in Orientation and Mobility, Jo Hook held a career as an attorney (solicitor). As such, she strives to establish her practice and instructional approach on evidence-based or proven research rather than personal opinion or unsupported adherence to long tradition. This blend of many years of practical knowledge and academic interest hopefully makes this book informative, interesting to read, and easy to follow.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
The authors seek to bring to light the wealth of academic support that exists for echolocation from many fields and disciplines which clearly demonstrates that it is not an untested idea or a skill that just a few people can perform. Rather, it is a useful, proved skill for orientation and environmental interaction that is readily applicable to a broad diversity of individuals who are blind and visually impaired. “It’s very exciting,” says Gordon Dutton, formerly of the Royal Children’s Hospital in Glasgow, “I have seen echolocation being used—it’s quite stunning. It has been demonstrated to me that it absolutely works. Of course there will be skepticism and doubt, but the benefits are without question. It will make a massive difference to the lives of blind and visually impaired people” (Macaskill, 2008). In fact recent research has shown that it may go much further than that, with “converging evidence for the idea that echolocation may play a role in peoples’ successful adaptation to sight loss” (Thaler, 2013a, p. 9).
According to Kenneth Jernigan (who was blind himself and a noted leader in the blindness field), “Independence is the ability to go where you want when you want without inconvenience to yourself or others” (Jernigan, 1993). In a similar vein Huebner and Sidwell (2004) define independence as “the ability to travel efficiently and comfortably, when, where and by the manner that one chooses to use in order to fulfill one’s personal life need” (Huebner & Sidwell, 2004, p. 33). One choice that leads to independent travel for those who are visually impaired or blind is to use a long cane. However, the long cane has its limitations such as “the inability to detect obstacles that are not rooted to the ground, for example, wall-mounted bookcases and overhead signs. Long canes allow for immediate ground-based detection, but do not provide sufficient information to accurately perceive the environment” (Davies 2008, p. 2).
“As Eric Weihenmayer, the first person who is blind to summit Mt. Everest and all seven of the world’s highest peaks, writes “I wish I’d known FlashSonar [Daniel’s coined term for active echolocation] a few months ago when I was walking through the airport and slammed my forehead into an overhanging metal beam. I hit the deck with blood pouring down my face and into my eyes. I still have a big scar and worst of all, I lost my latte” (Weihenmayer, 2013). The long cane can only allow for physical perception of what it can reach. Echolocation can allow for perception of the environment beyond the cane’s reach. Austin software developer Nolan Darilek, blind since birth, said Daniel Kish’s training is almost martial arts-like in its discipline, unlike any he’s ever experienced. Until he began working with Kish, he’d consigned himself to striking objects with his cane, drawing attention as he gets around. “I don’t want to bludgeon my way through life,’ said Darilek, 30. ‘I want to move through it gracefully’” (Ramirez, 2011).
“However, echolocation also has limitations: it is relatively difficult to interpret echoes of objects that are roughly below knee height (Kohler, 1964). The simplest way of explaining how the cane and echolocation can complement each other is to say that echolocation is best used for objects at knee height and above, as well as objects out of physical reach, whereas the cane is best used for detecting objects within physical reach below knee height – what we call ground level objects.
As a boy’s father observes, “Daniel’s mobility training works by combining information gained by use of the long cane, a compass to orientate yourself, and echolocation. Daniel took us to a fenced recreation ground and asked Samuel to locate different apparatus by clicking. He then had Sam use his compass, cane and clicks to find his way around the enclosure” (Lockwood, 2008, p. 39-40).
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
The authors are both very aware that “the essential problems of the blind… are associated with mobility and with mastery of the environment” (Juurmaa, 1969, p. 80). Dr. Gordon Dutton (2008) comments, “developmentally in young blind children it is the lack of awareness and active engagement with the surrounding world which leads to major problems. It is therefore likely that young children in particular could benefit enormously from being trained in echolocation” (Dutton, 2008, p. 2). As Wiener, Welsch, and Blasch (2010) state decisively, “The traveller with visual impairment who is able to make good use of reflected sound learns to travel in a more sophisticated, more graceful manner than those who cannot” (p. 128). However, Ashmead and Wall (1999), point out, “the nature of this auditory ability remains poorly understood” (p. 314), and Feinstein (2001), observes, “Sadly, echolocation is not talked about, nor is it taught. It’s only learned intuitively or by example” (Feinstein, 2001, p. 4). Although information about echolocation has, in recent years, become more readily available in the mainstream media and various scholarly disciplines as noted above, information about it in the body of literature associated with the orientation and mobility profession remains scant, and no comprehensive, systematic instructional methodology is known to have been published. Consequently, it is the authors’ observation that echolocation is not commonly taught by instructors or learned by people who are blind to a sophisticated level.
There are likely to be many reasons for this. One of these, as suggested by Davies (2008), is that it may be seen as socially unacceptable. As three-time Australian Paralympian and accomplished athlete, Gerrard Gosens, puts it, “I live in a sighted world and for me it’s about developing my skills to work into a sighted world. . . . The primary form of a mobility device should be either a white cane or a seeing eye dog” (Marshall, 2013).
Although the production of the clicking signal is audible, the authors maintain that the loudness of the click is not usually noticeable by others in a typical day to day environment. As one mom put it in a letter to a listserv: “on the topic of using a tongue click, I can again tell you from firsthand experience that it is hardly noticeable at all. . . . I also think the tongue click in no way resembles a blindism or mannerism (as cited in Kish, 2011, October, p. 7).
Both authors are passionate about people having information and opportunities available to them to make informed choices and achieve their full potential. “I strive to give my child access to all of the resources I can to help him become who he wants to be. … We want him to be as independent and free as he can be. To give him that, we want him to have access to all the options so that he knows what is possible and can make his own choices. . . . Echolocation training is most definitely helping to accomplish that goal” (as cited in Kish, 2011, October, p. 7).
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 39 million people who are blind in the world and 246 million people with low vision (World Health Organization [WHO], 2010, p. 4). This figure is then said to be possibly 20% over- or underestimated because of difficulties obtaining accurate data. Echolocation could potentially benefit about 285 million people worldwide. It is intended that this book, which explains echolocation, provides the groundwork for most effective teaching and learning, and provides specific training exercises to enhance echolocation skills, can fill this informational gap to help more people to bring these skills to the high standards that are now achievable and expected. “Most blind people have learned to do this to some degree,” comments Erik Weihenmayer (2013) “but it’s passive and not developed with a conscious process. . . . So it was especially gratifying when, by the end of the day, I was finding metal poles in a pavilion and even locating thin metal sign posts. It all took immense concentration, but the good news is that it’s fully possible, and only gets better with practice.”
Many of the concepts presented here may seem elementary to some, while at the same time esoteric or very advanced to others. For example, many instructors already embrace the opportunity to provide cane training and training in perceptual development to toddlers and even infants, while many others still stand reluctant or skeptical. Some wholly embrace a hands-off, non-directive style of instruction, while others remain more directive. Some make family involvement a regular component of the instructional process, while others may only see the family once a year when meetings require them to do so. Some instructors regard blindness as a challenging condition that can be adapted to, while others regard it as a severe and limiting disability. The authors recognize that readers come with a very broad range of knowledge, and we have attempted to appeal to and offer useful perspectives and information for that broad range. This book can be used as a self-teaching guide for those looking for opportunities to improve upon their own echolocation skills, for parents to gain greater understanding of their children’s learning, and for teachers or Orientation and Mobility (O&M) specialists to train others to use auditory information more effectively.
The authors did not want potential readers to be put off by overcomplicated theories or an overly formal writing style. This book should be accessible to all, and those who want to delve more into the research can easily do so by following up some of the many references.
Introduction by Daniel Kish continued:
Finally, the authors also offer a friendly invitation to members of the field to stretch our thinking beyond long held traditional frameworks. For all their wisdom and insight, the pioneers of the Orientation and Mobility profession in the 1950’s were noted experts in mid-20th century medicine. They were not experts in blindness, and they did not have access to modern knowledge of human perception, neurology, and biomechanics. With one exception, they were not blind themselves, nor were they daily users of the techniques they were developing. They filled a significant gap for blind people at a difficult time and are to be credited for their ground-breaking contributions at that time. That said, we propose that pioneers establish beginnings; they do not dictate endings. These pioneers of the 1950’s, at a time when people who are blind were routinely kept out of many sectors of mainstream society, would have had little idea of the challenges and possibilities that lay before people who are blind in the 21st century.
We find it useful to view our proposed model up-front as a dynamic, organic, open system of information exchange and development, as a system born of a loosely structured confluence of information and perspectives from many disciplines. What we did three or five years ago we may not do today, and many of our practices of today will likely fall away three to five years from now.
In striving for a more evidence-based approach, this book seeks to be clear about the clinical reasoning behind what we propose. Clinical reasoning is a term used by other professions to describe their ability to explain with logical understanding why an instructor or therapist would take a particular course of action with a particular client. This practice is relatively new to the Orientation and Mobility profession, and we applaud its formation. When asked “why”, orientation and mobility instructors are often still at a loss. Many students and parents have come to us and said, “They just can’t give me a reason,” or “she just said we’ve always done it this way,” or “that’s just best practice.”
We make every attempt to offer substantive, comprehensive, and well-supported reasoning behind everything we propose. When situations arise where the answers aren’t clear, we seek to find them with complete earnest. We hope we have done this to the reader’s satisfaction.
Daniel Kish | Jo Hook
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHORS | ORDER ONLINE
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ADDITIONAL FEATURES | INFORMATION ABOUT INTERNATIONAL ORDERS
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Echolocation and FlashSonar
APH American Printing House for the Blind
ADDITIONAL LEARNING MATERIALS
TEACHING SONARVISION: Component Videos
We’ve compiled and curated excerpts from the extensive video collection of media profiles of our work over nearly two decades in the field teaching blind people of all ages how to see with sound.
Blindness Professionals, including O&M specialists, Special-Ed teachers, case workers, coaches and others, including parents, relatives and friends will find these a beneficial supplement to the information in the “Echolocation and FlashSonar”textbook.
These videos are for educational purposes only and are not intended for commercial distribution.
In the video below, discover how our FlashSonar echolocation, combined with our full-length Perception Cane use activates the brain’s Visual Cortex to process acoustic feedback instead of visual feedback to produce SonarVision. Our partnered research suggests that perhaps we should rename it the “Perceptual Cortex”.
The video below explains how the brain of a blind person can be trained over time to re-wire itself to develop an acoustic vocabulary from the sonic signatures reflected in the echoes from our FlashSonar combined with the supplementary acoustic feedback produced when using a Perception Cane.
Just as sighted toddlers progressively develop a vocabulary to identify visual signatures around them, we teach blind toddlers to progressively develop an acoustic vocabulary to identify sonic signatures around them. And in the video below, you’ll learn how we adapt those sonic signatures to the age of the student.
Toddler Perception Cane
Did you know that in some countries, children born blind aren’t allowed to use a navigation cane until around the ages of 7 or 8? Can you imagine how much precious opportunity is lost in that time? We believe here are no valid reasons for this to happen, and as you’ll learn in the video below, we start ASAP.
Another important component of our SonarVision instruction is adapting it so that it is all being taught from the perspective of the student’s viewpoint. As this video shows, we adjust our teaching position from that of an adult down to the student’s level so that we’re “seeing” what they’re seeing using SonarVision.
Feature & Scene Analysis
As our students learn and grow in age, sonic vocabulary and skill set, we introduce ways for them to create their own spatial maps by learning to recognize and catalogue sonic signatures and landmarks. As you’ll learn in the video below, this is how Daniel Kish is able to draw remarkably accurate maps of his surroundings.
This video presents different basic activities that can be introduced as the student progresses in their perceptual skills. Some are more basic than others, depending on the age of the student and how focused their FlashSonar is becoming in recognizing and differentiating between objects and their proximity.
As the quality of a student’s FlashSonar echolocation technique advances, we teach them to expand their perceptual range. As you’ll learn in this video, shopping center parking lots can be an ideal training ground for near and far distance perception because of the vehicles themselves and the surrounding buildings.
The following video will open your eyes to the high-performance achievements that are possible when blind students are nurtured within the realm of our “No Limits!” philosophy and introduced to our SonarVision Perceptual Navigation & Freedom curricula at the earliest possible age and liberated from outdated traditional sighted dependence.
AUSTRALIA: ABC SCIENCE PROGRAM “CATALYST”
Since the year 2000, Visioneers.Org | World Access For The Blind have provided instruction to over 2,500 blind persons and their families, and over 5,000 blindness professionals in 40 countries.
In the video below, ABC TV Australia learned more about the science behind SonarVision and it’s components of FlashSonar echolocation and full-length Perception Cane training while Lead Visioneer Daniel Kish was on assignment “down under”.
PLOS BLOGS: Getting around by sound: Human Echolocation
Neuroanthropology: Diverse Perspectives on Science and Medicine – June, 2011
By Prof. Greg Downey | Macquarie University, Sydney
You already met Professor Downey in the Catalyst video above. This is one of the most well considered, researched, and erudite articles about human echolocation, featuring our work and research around it. Takes a refreshing and penetrating anthropological view. And , yes, he even addresses “The man without fear – Daredevil”.
“Human echolocation is a capacity of any human being, but the extraordinary skill shown by exemplary practitioners like Daniel Kish and Ben Underwood requires much more than just a human nervous system and the right training: the skill requires a community that ‘gets it’ and supports the capacity.”
“In summary, echolocation isn’t just the conjunction of a human brain, mouth, ears and objects to reflect back sound; it’s also the product of a social group and society that has its own attitudes and approaches to dealing with blindness. At the same time that people like Kish are helping to spread techniques like echolocation to an unprecedented number of individuals, we can see that other social forces might decrease the possibility of achieving this perceptual skill.”
USA: The Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or VABVI,
Visioneers.Org provided three days of SonarVision Workshops for blind children, teens and adults and their sighted mobility instructors at VABVI in 2013.
As VABVI Orientation & Mobility Instructor Eric Shaw pointed out in the video report by New England Cable News (NECN),”Anything that gets [young students’] attention that ultimately leads to their safe travel, their confidence, their parents seeing they are able to travel like anyone else is what we’re looking for.” You can click on the thumbnail (below right) or this link to watch the video at the NECN website where you’ll also find a text transcript.
Below on the left, you can simply click on the “Play” button to watch a report on the workshops by NBC News that aired on “The Today Show”.
VABVI ECHOLOCATION WORKSHOP ASSESSMENTS
You can watch the video below produced by the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually impaired to hear about their experiences with our work.
The email from Dan Norris, Supervisor of Adult Services, and an O&M Specialist for VABVI speaks for itself. We had a great time with everyone in Vermont and are grateful they found such inspiration in what we do,
Date: Mon, 6 May 2013
From: “Norris, Daniel E”
Subject: Thank you for Your Training
We’d like to thank you for your training this past weekend. All who were involved truly enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. Please send our regards and thanks to Brian as well for his training in Rutland. Jeff told us it went very well and all the participants enjoyed their time with Brian.
Bill, we definitely heard you when you emphasized that you and Daniel wish to be a resource for us and that we can come to you for answers to questions, problem solving, etc. We will be sure to do that. We look forward to finding ways to use your training as another tool in our client’s tool belts.
Again, thank you! Safe travels in Iceland, Daniel!