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.
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.