A Glimpse into How a Blind Person Navigates the World (Part 2)
People who lose their vision, whether at birth or later in life, must learn how to navigate the world a little bit differently. For those with vision, it can be difficult to understand how someone with limited or no sight sees the world. Yet, people with blindness live full, independent lives just like the rest of us. And this guide will help you to better understand the ends and outs of a world without sight.
The senses that people who are visually impaired use to navigate the world are truly intriguing. After all, seeing individuals have these senses too, but they are often underused. Every person who is blind finds certain techniques that work best for them, whether relying heavily on smell, human echolocation, or a guide. A blind person’s ability to sense the world helps the world to become more accessible to them.
Two Basic Categories of Blindness
Loss of vision is broken into two basic categories: those who are congenitally blind, meaning they had no eyesight at birth, and those who became blind later in life. Each group of people navigates the world differently due to the timing of the loss of their vision.
Congenitally Blind Navigation
When a person has been blind since birth, they access their touch, smell, and hearing to help explore and interact with the world. Often, the smell becomes the most important indicator of where a person without sight is. Based on the scent of coffee, clothes, or other scents, the person could locate where he or she is on a path.
Later Blind Navigation
For those who became blind later in life, memory is the main component for moving through a city or neighborhood. Although unable to visually see anymore, their minds often create the memory of the route to help them walk the path. In fact, people who become blind later in life rely on their other senses a lot less, though sound continues to help them.
The Phenomenon of the Human Echolocator
Discover Magazine wrote an intriguing article about two men who learned how to use sound to recognize objects at a young age. This is called echolocation. For example, bats and dolphins both use echolocation to locate objects in the air and water, by sending out sounds and interpreting the echos to understand the location and size of an object. Discover Magazine shared how these two blind men learned echolocation, which allowed them to learn how to ride a bicycle, skateboard, and accomplish many more activities that most would consider not possible for someone who is visually impaired.
Sometimes a person who is blind still has the ability to perceive light. In this way, they can use light to help guide them as they move. Anything from sun placement, a glare from the headlights of a car, and even sparkles in a sequined dress can helpful indicators of direction.
Resources for Navigating the World
While people with vision impairment find ways to use their other senses throughout their day, a couple of resources have been created to help make independence more accessible. Most of society recognize these resources, but not everyone understands how they work. As technology continues to improve, people are inventing more tools to help people who are unable to see.
A white cane works in several ways to help people who are visually impaired. While the white cane is moved side to side to notify the person of possible obstacles in their path such as steps or crosswalks, the cane also serves as a cue to sighted people that the cane user is using other senses to navigate.
Guide dogs are trained to specifically help individuals who are blind or visually impaired navigate the world. These animals are adept at guiding their owners around obstacles and finding entrances. It is up to the master to inform the animal where to go, but the dog’s job is to guide the owner safely.
Obviously, this is the simplest resource since people with sight can offer an arm and verbal directions. This can be the most comfortable option for someone who is unable to see when they are in a new environment.
Smartphones offer a whole new world of accessibility for people with vision impairments. As more and more services move to voice activation, people who are blind can use their smartphone to gain instructions for navigating a new city or getting from one destination to another.
People with vision impairments are able to explore the world and live normal lives just like the rest of us--they just do it a little bit differently. We believe in making the world more and more accessible to individuals with disabilities.