Vicky: We have a statement on our training quiz ‘Blind people can hear better than sighted people’ and we ask people to mark it as True or False. I’d say we get 50/50 responses – which we then discuss. For those of you wondering about the correct answer – no, people with a vision impairment can’t automatically hear better than sighted people (and there are plenty of people with a dual sensory loss – both a vision and a hearing impairment). However, many people with a vision impairment will use their hearing differently and be more reliant on that sense.
Quite often if we’re out, Dave will ask me ‘What’s that noise?’ to which my reply is sometimes ‘what noise?’ and I then have to focus on sounds around me which I had previously been oblivious to. But to Dave, without sight, noise is an important indicator of what’s going on around him. If out on his own, he will use sound to orientate himself (as well as smell) – so for example, knowing where he is when he hears the electrical drone from a telephone exchange or recognises the smell of a bakery (it’s always a bakery – funny that!) will enable him to know that he is where he is and that he’s on the right route.
There is a technique that some blind people use called echolocation – where the person would make a noise (often clicking with their tongue) and, dependent on the responding echo, know how far away items are - there is a fascinating video on the BBC news website of Daniel Kish giving quite a detailed description of a park that he cannot see by relying on echolocation - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/magazine-35545476/daniel-kish-man-who-is-blind-but-can-see-like-a-bat.
Dave: It is common knowledge that people with a vision impairment use their other senses more to compensate for a lack or loss of vision. I use my hearing loads, more so if I’m out on my own or with the children to ensure that I am exactly where I think I am. I use traffic noise in particular, listening out for cars so that I can gauge how close I’m getting to a particular junction or to confirm that I’m still on the pavement and heading in the right direction. Since losing Errol (my guide dog) and having to use a white cane, I have had to relearn how to use my senses in tandem, for example, I will sweep my cane and be listening out for what it’s hitting. This might be some metal railings or a wall or even finding a gravel drive. These are known as ‘landmarks’ and it is the sound that these make that I use to orientate myself, not the feel of the cane (notice I didn’t mention cars… whilst they make a great noise when you hit them, because they are a movable object they don’t make good landmarks).
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Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.