Blind learn to navigate with the help of sound

DANIEL Kish was just seven months old when he lost his first eye to cancer, and 13 months when he lost his second.

At 47, the Long Beach, California local, is a world leader in teaching the technique of 'FlashSonar' to the blind and vision impaired around the world, having visited more than 36 countries to promote and educate about mobility and independence.

Daniel is the president of World Access for the Blind, a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates the self-directed achievement of people with all forms of blindness, and increases public awareness about the strengths and capabilities of blind people.

World Access for the Blind Australia has also been established in conjunction with the the American organisation.

Daniel is currently in Australia working with different groups of people around the country to teach the workings of FlashSonar, a skill he developed and refined into a uniform system that can be used by anybody.

In a major coup for the area, Daniel arrived in Taree for a two and a half day, intensive training program with four blind and vision impaired people from around the district, who were eager to learn Flash Sonar and further their independence.

The basis of FlashSonar is using clicking noises to determine where objects and things are around you.

Since David was about 15 months old he has used the technique and explained that FlashSonar actually uses the visual part of the brain to relay messages of where and what objects may be, otherwise known as echo location, also used by bats.

"Sound is like light in that they're both waves of energy," Daniel said.

"These waves of sound bounce off things in the environment, and when they return they actually carry with them an imprint of what they've encountered."

Daniel's brain has been able to use the sound to create images of his surroundings, to the point where his independence has been significantly increased.

"It's a hands free approach to mobility, using what we've got to help guide us," he explained.

David Cunningham, of Port Macquarie, first met Daniel two years ago in Port Macquarie.

David has lost vision in one eye and his other eye is deteriorating so he has spent the last two years learning to use a cane and he has now been introduced to FlashSonar.

"Obviously practice makes perfect," said David.

"I have been exposed to it before but this is the first time I've tried it.

"It's going to be a matter of personal discipline to keep persevering with it, but it's been a wonderful opportunity for us to meet Daniel and learn directly from him," David added.

Kathryn Stephens of Wauchope, Michael Waldock and Norris Hardinge of Taree also took part in the workshop and all agreed that they were surprised by how functional and reliable FlashSonar could be.

"It's going to be a great tool that we can use, alongside our other aids, like a guide dog, or cane, or compass," said Kathryn.

"I've really enjoyed learning about the technique and putting it to use around the community in different situations."

From identifying where objects were placed around them, to navigating around a room, down hallways, through doors and eventually outside in a park, the four participants were tested but all could see the potential for FlashSonar to significantly increase their independence.

"The inability to see with our eyes need not be disabling when the brain learns to 'see' with an intact and heightened perceptual imaging system," David has said.

World Access for the Blind Australia is hoping to get David back to Australia next year.

For further information on him, his work, the FlashSonar technique or to make a tax-deductible donation to the organisation, visit http://www.worldaccessfor theblindaustralia.org.au/

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