Blind people can improve their mobility and navigation skills using echolocation, a study finds.
Echolocation occurs when an animal emits a sound that bounces off objects in the environment, returning echoes that provide information about the surrounding space.
While the technique is used in the animal kingdom by species such as whales or bats, previous research has also shown that some blind people can use click-based echolocation to assess spaces and improve their navigation skills.
During a 10-week training program, the team examined how blindness and age affect click-based echolocation learning.
They also examined how learning this skill affects the daily lives of blind people. The study included blind and sighted participants between the ages of 21 and 79 who exercised over the course of 10 weeks.
Blind participants also took part in a three-month follow-up study to assess the effects of the training on their daily lives.
Both sighted and blind people improved significantly on all measurements and in some cases performed compared to expert echolocators at the end of the training.
Neither age nor blindness appeared to be a limiting factor in the participants’ learning rate or in their ability to apply their echolocation skills to new, untrained tasks.
In the follow-up survey, all blind participants reported improved mobility and 83 percent reported better independence and well-being.
dr. Lore Thaler, of the University of Durham, said the results suggest that the ability to learn click-based echolocation is not greatly limited by age or vision.
This has positive implications for the rehabilitation of people with vision loss or in the early stages of progressive vision loss. “I can’t think of any other work with blind participants that has received such enthusiastic feedback,” said Thaler.
“People who took part in our study reported that training in click-based echolocation had a positive effect on their mobility, independence and well-being, confirming that the improvements we saw in the lab outweighed positive life benefits outside the lab.
“We are very excited about this and believe it would be useful to provide information and training in click-based echolocation to people who may still have good functional vision but are expected to have good functional vision later in life.
will lose vision due to progressive degenerative eye disease. .” Currently, click-based echolocation is not taught as part of mobility training and rehabilitation for the blind.
There is also the possibility that some people are reluctant to use click-based echolocation because of a perceived stigma around making the required clicks in social settings.
However, the results of this study also indicated that blind people using echolocation, as well as people new to echolocation, have confidence in its use in social situations.
Researchers have previously developed a hat equipped with ultrasonic sensors that give blind people a sense of proximity to physical objects to help them navigate the interior.