Sight for the Blind: The Growing Success of Seeing with Sound


Only tongue clicks allow precise spatial impressions. Mouth and ears practically form a single unit, and with increasing practice, their collaboration becomes automatic. Still, many blind people find the clicking unpleasant at first. Reinhard Eiler, who teaches blind students in Marburg, often encourages them to try it, with limited success. Blind people live in constant fear of attracting attention, he explains. Since they can't see who's staring at them, they easily assume the worst.

School Signals Interest

This meekness often starts early in life. Many blind children rarely leave the house. When they do, they tend to remain at their parents' side holding hands. "That's totally wrong," says Eiler. "They just shut down. Unfortunately, many kids are still growing up overprotected."

For some time, education experts in Germany have been discussing whether the clicking method could be helpful if learned at an early age. So far there have been no results. "But if parents also start asking for it now, the situation will obviously change," Eiler says.

Does that mean that the ideas of Daniel Kish could gain traction in German schools for the blind? Will teachers here start to receive instruction in flash sonar? "Definitely, yes," answers Jürgen Nagel, the head of the teacher-training department at Blista, the German school for the blind established in Marburg almost a century ago. Nagel sent someone to observe the training given to the blind girls in Berlin, and he was deeply impressed.

For now Juli and Frida will practice flash sonar with their parents. With her inquiring mind, Frida has already made rapid progress. And even Juli, the much younger of the two, can occasionally be heard making tongue clicks by herself. She also likes the word "click."

For example, when she's riding her trainer bike, Juli knows she can identify objects in her path. But, of course, there's always a lot going on when she's moving, and she likes to comment. Suddenly she hits a pole, which interrupts her constant chatter only for a brief, frightful second. "Oh," Juli shouts, "I forgot to click again!"

Translated from the German by Josh Ward

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