Author of the Article: Shri Thomas Tajo, the National President of the ORGANIZATION FOR INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT (OFID)
As you all know, Navigation is very important for both blind and everybody. We may not be thinking, or taking it for granted. Why is Navigation important? This is why, it is very, very important. Navigational skill is very important for blind persons, because it allows them to travel anywhere they want. It gives them the freedom to move around without any worry. You know, we blind people, most of the time, we waste our time to wait for somebody just to cross the road, and how frustrated it is! How embarrassing it is! we always feel. Yeah, we always feel that we cannot travel on our own. As blind persons, we cannot do it on our own, we need somebody to travel around as it is not save to be around by ourselves. This is because this kind of belief has come from the negative cultural view, that blind persons are not capable of doing anything. So, this is the example in the case of Navigation. that blind persons traditionally are believed that they can’t navigate freely and safely on their own. That’s why, when blind persons have to move in and around, they have to find first a sighted guide. That is why, that kind of belief that persons with visual impairment, always need sighted guides to take them to move in and around. However, that kind of cultural belief that persons with blindness need sighted guide to take them around, does not allow them to discover the nature, the non-visual capacity which we have all depend on navigation.
In this Article, we are going to explain the examples of how we can develop navigational skills for independent navigation, which allows blind people to move freely and safely anywhere we want at any time we want. Independent navigational skill is very important for persons with blindness because it allows them to go to school, come back from school, go to college, university on their own, or it can allow them to look for jobs on their own in different places. We believe that through this skil, it can open up more opportunities for them. With their navigational skill they might be able to be employed in the job which requires a lot of travelling. that’s why this kind of skill is really necessary as it gives the freedom of movement anywhere at any time they want safely. By providing the training on such skill, it will certainly enhance the freedom of movement and this freedom of movement which they get from navigationall skills, would change the way they think about their capacity. they would no longer think of themselves as blind persons who are incapable of independent navigation. It will change completely their negative image of themselves as blind persons who can’t navigate on their own to a positive view. the positive view would encourage and helpm them to have control on their own movement anywhere and at any time. this further reflects in their personalities. They have become more confident. through this skill, other people will see that they are more confident and more capable. thus, this will allow the people to trust them more. It will allow them to take up roles that they would normally wouldn’t because they lack the trust in them and their capacity.
In this particular Article, we will also get the opportunity to introduce to you the two new techniques for navigations, and these two new techniques are mainly Echolocation and full lenth cane or long cane. The navigational approach that allows us to use Echolocation or the full length cane or long cane, which we are going to teach in Organization, is called Perceptual Navigation.
Full Length Cane or Long
The cane which I am using is called ‘full length cane’ because it is much, much longer than the traditional cane, the cane which are given to you all by the traditional blind organizations. this cane can reach upto my nose or ears or more than my hight. The reason is why do I have a long cane is that, if I have a full length cane, I have a longer reach. This allows me to see what is there in front of me. The full length cane allows me more time to avoid obstacles. The cane I use, even though it is very long, it is still very light. Dear friends, the way I hold my cane also is very different from the way it is held traditionally. I hold it from the side naturally where my hand falls when I am standing. By holding it on the side, it allows my hand to become mor flexible. It allows my hand to move left, back and forth, and if it gets stuck in front, I can put my hand back. traditionally, the cane is held in the middle of the belly. The traditional technique as we find, it is very dangerous. the problem is that if your cane gets stuck at something in front of you, your cane goes into your stomach. It is seriously dangerous for everybody. Especially it is more dangerous for blind pregnant woman, to hold a cane in that position. There are a couple more points about the cane I use, the full length cane which is very light:
- We prescribe for all blind persons to have a very light cane which is upto their nose or chin. But we don’t have only one full length cane which is prescribed for everybody So, everybody chooses a full length cane that reaches upto their nose or ears or somebody may have a cane which is longer. In case if you happen to travel in a crowded place, and you need to make your cane short, just hold it lower down, and in other time you can extend it. traditionally,, you are given a shorter cane which is very heavy which is very uncomfortable for them to use. For tall people it is very uncomfortable and difficult if they are given a short cane as they have to bend down, and
- especially for you women who wear high heel shoes, it is seriously difficult to have a short cane. You have to bend down or stoop to use your cane which is in fact inappropriate. Another problem with the traditional cane given to the blind is that the way blind people are taught to hold the cane, it puts so much pressure on your hand and your wrist. Many blind people whom I have taught because of the traditional technique of holding the cane, have suffered from elbow and wrist problems and many other medical problems. That’s why I prefer to use a full length cane which is very light. One more thing, the way I use my cane is different in the way I use it. I don’t use to tap from point 1 and then jump to point 2 or left and then to right, as if we are building a bridge. I don’t do this, one tap here and one tap there. But my using the cane is call the feather touch. I slide the cane slightly along the ground this is slide the cane from right to left and from left to right. By following the feather touch technique, the cane user can avoid the obstacles which is in front of him or her very nicely.
Q1. asked by Mr. Dilbertstar Lyngdoh Nonglait to Mr. Thomas Tajo,
Do you face any hurdle while travelling in a cab as you prefer to use a long cane? If you do face any problem because of its length, how do you solve it?
Answer: you can use a full length cane which can be folded, or you can use a full length cane which cannot be folded too which is also known as straight long cane while travelling in a cab because anyway, you can still adjust it inside a cab. the reason of me using the long straight cane is that i love it, and another reason of me using this kind of cane is also for a cultural reason. which we have already talked about. First of all I love my cane as sighted people love their eyes. The main reason for me having this long straight cane is that I always have it with me, it’s a part of me. It’s a part of whom I am. I don’t want to hide my blindness. I’m blind. That is how I move. That is the technique I use for moving. There is nothing to feel embarrassing about it. I think this is the right time to tell you. Most of the time when I give lectures in universities and elsewhere, I always start by sayin, “I am very happily blind”. I even go further to say, “I am proud to be blind” . one thing I want to say to you is that, “trust ourselves, do speak for ourselves”. Normally, we always think that somebody has to speak for us. My family members, my friends, my relatives, will speak on our behalf. But, in reality, blind people should speak for themselves. They have to think for themselves. They have to learn to question especially blind women. blind men however are a bit more adventurous because of the culture. therefore, we need to start thinking, and questioning. We need to start discovering our voices and our own ability. that’s why I asked you that do you have any question. there is a reason for me asking you to ask me question.
Q2. Mr. Tyrnit Dkhar asked to Mr Thomas Tajo:
Thomas, have you ever travelled through a rough road or terrain. Have you ever faced any difficulty?
Answer: Yes, I have travelled around the world like in Europe, in New Delhi, here, in Arunachal Pradesh and in some villages. It is just a matter of getting used to it, adapting to it. It is not difficult.
LAST POINT ABOUT THE CANE
A lot of blind people have canes. But, they don’t use them, especially blind women. A lot of blind people don’t have canes and they are not given canes, and these are the last of people who realize the need to teach navigational techniques to blind people A lot of blind people don’t have canes, because they don’t no the usefulness of the canes as nobody tellsthem about this important navigational tool. Yes, a lot of blind persons do have canes. But, they don’t use them. Why? You guys are very good. you have no worry.
But, unfortunate around the world, not just here, I was teaching a group of young blind girls in Norway, Scandinevia. these people have canes, but they have never used it throughout their lives. the reason is that traditionally, in the negative cultural view, of blind people, White cane is being associated with the negative identity of disability. It is a symbol of blindness and blind people have been stigmatised as incapable human beings. So, traditionally, white cane in the cultural or in the popular believe is a sign of inculpability, stigma or negativity. Why blind people don’t want to use their cane, because they don’t want to be identified with stupid negative, stigmatising, identity of an old woman or persons with blindness. that’s why a lot of people don’t use white cane. That’s why, it’s high time we have to change the meaning of white cane. For me and our Organization, a lot of us will use White cane everyday for navigation. White Cane is not a symbol of negative identity or disable identity, identity of a person who cannot do anything. Actually, White Cane is a symbol of freedom. It is my freedom. I can grab my freedom in my hand. In fact, not many people can’t do that.
Therefore, when I use my White Cane proudly, when I don’t hide it, I use it as a meaningful identity, not as a symbol of my negative identity or as a blind person. But, White Cane is a symbol of my capacity, it’s a sign of my ability, so we change the meaning of White Cane. Hence, we have to do that, because if we don’t do that, we will stop using cane, and if we don’t use cane, you know what will happen to the blind persons. Yes, I think we need to change the cultural thinking about blindness. So, one of the example we just discussed is we changed the meaning of Cane, where traditionally, it is considered as negative, stigmatized identity of blindness or identity of an old person. But, for us, we have to realize that it is not a sign of sensibility, incapability, but it is a sign of freedom. However, if we want to bring a new cultural view, if we want to become human beings who are productive, we have to look at our Cane differently.
therefore, it is very important to change the cultural thinking and view about blindness, because if you have a cane, and you know its functions as well, but the culture of our society stigmatizes the White Cane to the point that you feel embarrass to use it, even if you know about your Cane and its functions, you will not use it, if you subscribe, if you blindly believe to what culture thinks about you as a blind person or what culture thinks about a Cane. Hence, it is not enough just to know what the White Cane can do, and have a cane. It’s not enough. we also need to change the cultural thinking about Cane. Yes, earlier, I also believed like other blind persons, that White Cane is negative, and I don’t want to be attached to this negative identity. I did not use White Cane and that affected my freedom of movement. I often had to wait for people to take me around, and it was really a terrible moment.
Definition: Echolocation according to the Wordweb dictionary, Determining the location of something by the measuring the time it takes for an echo to return from it. Echolocation echolocates the direction of the sound. That means it tells us from where does the echo comes. What kind of information does it bring to you. So, echolocation is a technique traditionally being used by animals like the bats.
Another Definition: Echolocation is locating and identifying objects and obstacles in the environment through the interpretation of echos. It is a technique or way of consciously employing the sounds to gather precise details about the nature and structures of the environment, and therefore detecting and identifying an object or a group of objects present within this environment.
There are two forms of echolocations: active echolocation and passive echolocation. PASSIVE ECHOLOCATION is the use of the sounds coming from the environment around you and using those sounds as cues to recognise a locality and identify your position in that locality: sounds of a church-bell tells you where you are in the village, or a constant sound of cars tells you that you are approaching a highway etc.ACTIVE ECHOLOCATION means to actively produce sharp clicking sounds that hit against the objects in front of you and bounce back in the form of the echo that tell you about: DISTANCE: How far or how close the object is, where it is, right, left, or straight in front of us, and avoid us bumping into things. We can also detect distances between parked cars, gaps between standing people, and half-opened or fully-opened doors, shape and size of the object, a tall, round object such as a pillar or tree, or a short, wide object, such as a wall or fence. Clicks can also detect the density of objects. We learn to tell a part a soft cotton pillow for example from a hard steel or ceramic plate, a glass table from a wooden table etc. Echolocation is not intended to restrict and replace the use of canes and other mobility tools. It is to be used in combination with the cane and other mobility tools as well as technologies to compliment and supplement the information we receive from the world around us, so as to ensure a freer, safer, and more independent movement of blind people, in both familiar and unfamiliar surroundings.
Usually, we think that blind persons are incapable or cannot become a productive members of the society, why, because they can’t see. Look at the bats, these little animals! They are considered as one of the most flourished kind of species in the world or more populous than the sighted animals. However, people don’t accept this fact because the cultural view about blindness is not correct, or it’s wrong. But, the nature is also supporting me in this. The bats use high frequency sound. The sound that is very high, which is beyond the reach of human hearing. They produce the very high pitch sound. These sounds are very reliable sounds through which they can form the three D image of the space around them from the reflections or echos. Yes, Human beings also have developed echolocation. But, of course we use the sound within the human range. We can’t do exactly like the bats do to get information about the nature of their space, or to get the three D image or information around us. That’s why, for human beings, to echolocate, we normally use tongue cliks. There is a reason why we use tongue clicks. Of course, we can use the Echolocation by various means. E.g., by tapping with your cane, clapping, tapping your feet on the ground, clicker, etc., But, from the scientific point of view or research, the best and effective means from among these for navigation, is tongue click. In fact, you may wonder, how do we produce the sound with our tongue? You just click with the tip of your tongue and do it in front of your mouth, and do smile while clicking (ticktick………….tick). Why do we have to smile while clicking our tongue, The reason is that it can produce the sound very clear. smile also helps you to keep your tongue in a proper position while clicking. It also helps your tongue to become flexible. In the beginning, when you click your tongue, you might not get it right, right now. It will come gradually with practice. that’s why, you need to keep on practising. Normally we don’t use our tongue as we do to echolocate. That is why it will take some times for you to build the muscles of your tongue as a flexible and strong one. It takes for me three weeks to four weeks just to get it right. Hence, to get this technique right, you just need to work hard on it. in the beginning I did it as if I am kissing somebody, and later I stopped kissing everybody. Oh, what a tragedy!
Actually, I had a student in Belgium, Oneday, we were walking on the road which leads to the bus stop. In that bus stop, there was a bunch of girls, and as soon as we reached the bus stop, that student of mine was clicking his tongue as if he was to kiss somebody. So, as soon as I heard him doing that, I asked him that what you were doing ? Were you planning to kiss those girls? So, when you go out on the street and click your tongue with your face smiling, when the people see your your smiling face, they will all love it. they will say, what a happy person! but, in reality, they don’t know that we are clicking our tongue and they also don’t know that smile enhances our navigational skill. So, in turn, we get double benefits and appreciation.
FEATURES AND FUNCTIONS OF ECHOLOCATION
Echolocation is a three D Information. The first D Information of Echolocation when you echolocate it gives the density of the object. It describes how hard an object, which material an object is made. it gives the clear information of the nature of an object. When you click to an object in front of you or on your right or on your left, you will be able to get different sounds and you will be able to know that the object is made up of certain materials. This first D information, gives us the information about the quality, nature and condition of an object. For this reason, this first D Technique, does make people very interested to learn. that Echolocation is better than sight. Let’s say you are looking at two objects that exactly have the same colour and same shape, you will not know by looking at it. The object is made up of what kind of material. But, if you click, you will get to know.
The second D of information through which Echolocation can give is Dimension. Dimensional information describes the shape of an object. Let’s say I am standing straight in front of you and beside you there’s something. I am clicking to it. It sounds solid and it goes very high up, and it sounds the same, obviously it’s a pillar. With Echolocation you will be able to know what kind of shape an object has. You can recognize and identify object with Echolocation. Suppose I am standing beside an object, and I click my tongue and the sound which is produced does sound solid, the sound goes very high up, and the sound high up does sound sharper. So, through all these information which I have obtained I can tell that the object is a tree. Another advantage of Echolocation is that you can hear through corners and beyond an object where the eyes can’t see. Let’s say that there is a wall that stretches all the way to a certain distance, and there is an empty space behind the wall, By clicking you can hear that there is an empty space beyond the wall. But your eyes can’t see it. This is because the sound travels along that wall and it will finish where the wall ends and it will travel around. That’s why you can hear it, that is echo beyond. The information goes straight ahead. the sound travels in a three dimentional directions i.e., left, right and downward. That’s why you can hear the sound through the corners and so you can find the end of the wal, and the space opens up left and right, and if there is a space on the left,
you can find it. this is because the property of the sound. For example, I used to walk with few people in Germany, and there were houses along the footpath. While I walked, I clicked and I could hear the open doors. In the beginning people did not believe it. But when they saw me they are convinced that there is a possibility of getting the information through this technique. Now the last D Information which we get from Echolocation is Distance. Then, we click to the two objects in front of you, or left right, whatever. You will get to know which object is nearer or which one is far away I get the information just by clicking. That is three D Information which we get from Echolocation. The first one we get to know the nature or the quality of an objecThe second D information, we get to know about the shape of an object, and the third D Information which we can get from Echolocation is that, it gives the information about the distance of an object.
Here are some of the qualities of the sounds that you can use for Echolocation: volume, pitch and delayed echos and the amplitude. the object which is bigger would sound louder compared to a smaller object. Objects that are harder will produce the sound with high pitch. while with the softer object it produces a low pitch when you click. If you click to the object which is closer the sound will be with high pitch, and with the distant object is vice versa. .
With Echolocation we are going to learn our hearing much better. It also gives more information from what we already hear. It is not enough just to hear. I can hear and you all can hear. But, what is the difference between you all and I? The difference is that you all haven’t used the sense of hearing the way I do. So now We have to expand our hearing. we have to learn to extract more information from what we already can hear. You really have to listen to the information while hearing, Do pay attention. It is not enough just to hear and get information. But, you have to use the information to direct your direction. Only then, your hearing and its function is complete. Yes it’s complete when you hear and get information and then you use that information to change things, to get things done, to direct your movement and change your destiny. That’s what your hearing sense is really complete.
So I should tell you that Echolocation is really cool for a lot of people. Many people when they know that they echolocate things, they would find it very interesting and fascinating. But, a lot of blind people after getting introduced to Echolocation, they would feel ashamed or embarrassed to use it. They feel that by using echolocation they would look weard. So it is the same thing with Cane. Traditionally Cane is negatively associated with disabilities and that’s why blind people don’t want to use Cane. But, we don’t want to fall into the same trap in the case of using Echolocation. we have to get over with the idea that using Echolocation will make us look weard or crazy. It won’t be. It’s good for you. It gives you freedom. You have to embrace it, use it.
“If you approach blindness with an open scientific mind then you will realise that blindness is not a disability but rather a potential opportunity”. Shri Thomas Tajo, OFID National President.