by Kevan Worley
From the Editor: This article is reprinted with permission from The Extra Mile Newsletter from Achilles Pikes Peak. Educating others is a part of our job, and in this article Kevan attempts to describe the benefits of echo location to some who have never heard of it or are either skeptical or oversold on what it can do. Here is what he says:
Hello, hello, ooo, ooo. Achilles, Achilles, eeesss, eeesss. Well, there is the echo; "echo: noun 1. a repetition of sound produced by the reflection of sound waves from wall, mountain, or other obstructing surface.” That is from Dictionary.com.
And, here is what it says about cue: “cue: noun… 2. anything that excites to action; stimulus. 3. a hint; intimation; guiding suggestion. … 5. a sensory signal used to identify experiences, facilitate memory, organize responses. verb (used with object), cued, cuing... 7. to provide with a cue or indication; give a cue to; prompt.”
Since I was a child, I have relied on echo cueing as a significant tool for independent travel. But I have sometimes been amazed at how often the newly blind or folks who can see ask me how it is that I can discern that we are passing a tree or a wall or a fence or a building. When space is filled with an object of sufficient size and density, the object will reflect ambient sounds which can then be heard if one is paying attention. By the same token, if there is no object to fill that space you will hear openness, the lack of an echo coming back. If I am walking down a narrow hallway, I will hear walls on both sides. These walls might reflect the sounds of my shoes walking, cane tapping, guide dog harness jingling, or whistling the Achilles theme song. Do we have a theme song? Good! I was afraid that we did. If I walk out of the narrow hallway into a large cavernous room, the echo will be vastly changed. This will give me a cue about where I am and which way I might wish to go.
There have been some very fanciful news clips and articles about blind kids who could ride bikes at considerable speeds drawing much of their information and directing actions from echo cues. There have also been stories about blind kids who can actually hear an echo from a ball lying in the middle of a field. I have no reason to believe that these incidents are not true. Although I do not remember having that kind of specificity when I was a kid, before fifty years of rock-n-roll took a toll on my hearing. When I was a kid, my hearing was better; I was shorter, closer to the ground, and I could actually hear curbs and bushes. Echoes are extraordinarily helpful in providing information in order to cue the blind person. But I recently talked to a professional who teaches orientation and mobility. She told me she had never heard of echo cueing. Echo cueing has as much value as the long white cane, mapping skills, a willingness to explore one’s environment without trepidation, the guide dog, and the acceptance from your fellow human beings as you meander forth on the trail.
Forward, always forward ‘til next time.