Austin Seraphin, who you may remember from his review of the iPhone, recently learned how to use echolocation to navigate his physical environment in a new way.
Austin Seraphin blind
We started out in the hallway outside of my condo. They turned an old school into lofts, so the hallways and stairwells look and sound like a school. He had me walk down the hallway without touching the walls by using echolocation. Just to make it clear: echolocation does not normally replace the use of a cane, but for this exercise I did not use a cane. I could hear the hard surfaces, and gradually the walls came into focus. I could actually do it. The walls provided the shoreline, and I could actually see them on either side and keep in the center.
I began to understand that this required a whole new way of thinking. Justin gave constant instruction to help me learn. "Scan left. Scan right. Now scan straight ahead. You have to start thinking like a sighted person." In deed, the muscles in the back of my neck would start to hurt because I did not need to move my head as much before. Now the direction of my gaze actually meant something.
We then journeyed to the stairwell. Now I would really begin to understand what thinking like a sighted person really meant. I scanned left, and saw a set of stairs going up like I had in my loft. I scanned right, and saw a set of stairs going down, which made sense. I scanned up, and saw something extend above and going back. What the hell? It took a minute to realize with Justin's help that I saw the set of steps above me on another stairway. I had never experienced that kind of vivid three dimensional emersion before. My brain flipped.