I See With Sound
FOR over 30 years I have lived in a world of darkness. I am one of over 30,000 persons in Canada afflicted with blindness. Yet today, with both my eyes removed and light completely cut off, I love to tell my friends: “I can see now! I can see with sound!” Let me explain how my condition came about.
World War II was reaching its climax. The Allied armies had pushed across France into the Netherlands, and the battle of Antwerp was at its height. At 19 years of age, I had just been transferred from driver-mechanic with a Canadian artillery regiment to the infantry. November 1, 1944, was my first day in front-line action. After only five minutes, it proved to be my last. My unit was advancing along a dike toward Antwerp when, suddenly, a mortar bomb exploded in my face.
After regaining consciousness and despite being severely wounded, somehow I made it back to our own lines, where I collapsed unconscious. Seventeen days later I awoke in a hospital in England almost totally blind. What sight there was in my left eye produced only blurred images. My right eye was so badly damaged that it had to be removed. After three months in the hospital, I was released. Soon, what vision there was in my left eye disappeared, and a world of blackness became my lot.
In June 1945, with the European war concluded, I was shipped back to Canada to begin building a new life without sight. It was also necessary to learn to talk again because the explosion had shattered the lower part of my face. The doctors were able to rebuild my features by plastic surgery, for which I was very grateful.
It was strange to have to learn to get about by means of the God-given sense of touch. Truly amazing is the way that the fingertips become extra sensitive as the wonderful mechanism of the body endeavors to make up for the loss of vision. It did not take too long for me to learn to move around by just feeling for objects and also by using a long cane. Not until 1974 was I able to obtain a Seeing Eye dog. This dog, Leland, has been a faithful companion ever since.
A Change in Outlook
Back in 1954 a message was brought to me that changed, not only my thinking, but my whole way of life. Two very kind people called at my door and, from God’s Word, the Bible, they began to teach me about a marvelous future for mankind. I learned that Jehovah God’s kingdom in the hands of his Son, Christ Jesus, will forever remove from this earth all the pain, suffering and sorrow caused by war, violence and oppression during the past 6,000 years.
Under Kingdom rule, not only will ‘the ears of the deaf be unstopped and the tongue of the speechless one cry out in gladness,’ but ‘the very eyes of the blind ones will be opened’! (Isa. 35:5, 6) What a prospect! The best part of this is that, according to God’s promise, it will begin to be realized within this generation.—Matt. 24:7-14, 32-35; Luke 21:28.
Even while awaiting that wonderful new system, I knew it was necessary for me to make the best of my present circumstances. Hence, when it was brought to my attention that a New Zealander had designed a device now being used with success by many sightless persons, I decided to investigate its possibilities. Thus I became the first blind person in Canada to receive training in the use of an electronic aid for the sightless. This device literally helps me to “see with sound.”
What Is It?
If you were to see me walking down the street wearing my device, you would conclude that I was simply wearing a slightly oversized pair of eyeglasses. The three small screened openings you would see are the transmitting and receiving sensors. While the central lower sensor transmits, the two upper ones are receivers. As the transmitting sensor bounces high-frequency sound pulses off objects in my path, the echo is picked up by the receivers and is interpreted as “beeps” in the earphones contained in the glasses’ thicker-than-normal sidearms that hook over my ears. One sidearm plugs into a control unit/power pack attached to my belt. This hand-sized control box contains not only the rechargeable batteries but all the electronic equipment necessary for efficient operation of the glasses. For every four hours of use the batteries must be recharged for 14 hours. Along with the battery charger, all this equipment fits into a compact carrying case having a shoulder strap for the times when it is not in use.
How Does It Work?
Undoubtedly, you have learned about one of the marvels of Jehovah’s creation, the bat. This creature is endowed with a system of sound emission and hearing par excellence. Regarding its echolocation system, one writer said: “Scientists estimate that, ounce for ounce and watt for watt, the bat’s sonar is a billion times more sensitive and efficient than any radar or sonar device contrived by man.”
My electronic aid operates on the same sonar or echolocation principle. The transmitting sensor of my device radiates high-frequency sound pulses into about 20 feet (6 meters) of my surroundings. The receivers are deflected slightly, one to the left and one to the right. Hence, the reflected sound is louder in either my right ear or my left, depending on which side of my line of forward movement the object is located. Objects from which the sound pulses bounce all emit different tones of beeps in my earphones. For instance, steel gives off the sharpest sound, whereas a person sounds dull. The sound of wood is softer than that of glass. The variations in tone make it possible to “see” what is in front of me—a tree branch, a steel pole, a brick wall, a wooden or glass door, a person or an automobile.
As I become more proficient in using this equipment, it will be possible to distinguish what kind of tree may be in my path, whether it is a pine, spruce, alder or merely a hedge. Thus, my electronic aid conveys information not obtainable with just a long cane or by means of my dog. However, I cannot use this device independently of those two helps. I still need my Seeing Eye dog, Leland, to help me to detect holes and drop-offs or when I descend stairs. Nevertheless, combining the use of my dog and my electronic aid certainly has extended my mobility, resulting in more confident and safer travel.
Training and Instruction
Because we humans lack the bat’s instinctive abilities, the sightless person using an electronic aid needs much training in order to interpret its “language” correctly. Toronto was the site for my four-week training period. My instructress was one of approximately 100 persons who have been trained during the past three years to conduct such courses in Australia, Britain, the United States and Canada. So far, 400 visually handicapped people, including children, have been taught to “see with sound.”
A blind person needs to know how far away he is from objects that he might encounter. So the first drills given me were called “Pitch-Distance exercises.” These were most important, because without fully understanding “Pitch-Distance” it is impossible to use the electronic aid effectively. I learned quickly how the distance of an object in front of me is conveyed by the pitch of the reflected sound. The more distant the object, the higher the pitch. On approach it becomes lower until, one and a half feet (.46 meter) away, it stops. That signals “STOP” for me.
Then things started to get more complicated. Poles were set up for various exercises. In one case, I had to walk in and out between 10 poles in a row until I could do so without upsetting any of them. Parallel rows of poles were easily knocked over if I deviated even an inch (2.5 centimeters) from the center line. Just to make things a little more complex, the instructress once put a pole right in front of me during this exercise, but I stopped in time. Three poles were set in a triangle so that I was exactly 15 feet (4.6 meters) from each of them. The challenge here was for me to walk to each pole, touch it with my hand, and then return to my original position. One blunder—I missed one pole by 18 inches (.46 meter)!
More advanced training took me out onto Toronto’s busy streets. My instructress, walking behind me, wore a device allowing her to hear the identical sounds that registered in my electronic aid. Now I became aware of the real value of my training with the poles. The reflected beeps came from much more solid objects such as telephone and light poles, as well as mailboxes, parked motor vehicles and pedestrians. Besides having to avoid them, each had to be identified. Patiently, my instructress guided me through this kaleidoscope of sounds, and I began to “see” things more clearly.
Eventually I learned to distinguish store fronts and their entryways. It became possible to count the store entrances on a block. To test my skill, I was told to go to a bank that was a certain number of entrances from the end of a block. Bravely, I started off and turned in at what I thought was the bank. I walked confidently up to what seemed to be the counter and—CRASH!—400 dollars’ worth of lamps in a furniture store went tumbling to the floor! Fortunately, the damage was fully covered by insurance. Since then, as you can well imagine, I have been much more cautious.
One of the most difficult parts of my training involved a tour through a large department store. This was really a coordination test for me with my electronic aid and Leland. It was like being set down in a veritable maze. I had to learn about the location and width of counters and aisles, as well as to tell the instructress on which side people were passing me. I climbed the stairs to the second floor, where she deliberately tried to make me lose my sense of direction. Finally, the time came to return to the street level, locate our original entryway and go through it quickly enough that Leland’s tail would not be caught in the revolving door! To conclude that day’s training, we sat in a subway station and my instructress had me count the number of people getting on and off the trains. Strenuous exercises, indeed! However, they really proved the value of the electronic aid and built up my confidence in moving about with it. All of this has also brought home to me how keen the sense of hearing is to be able to sort out sounds the way in which it does!
Of course, nothing can equal the God-given gift of sight that enables mankind to behold all the color and beauty with which the loving Creator has surrounded us. Nevertheless, I have been thrilled with the new avenues of “vision” that have opened up for me through my electronic aid. When I first heard about it, real excitement was aroused. The question came to my mind: Could it possibly help me to be a better proclaimer of God’s wonderful Kingdom message for this time? That question has been fully answered by all the training I received in downtown and residential areas of Toronto. It is now much easier to perform my sacred service to Jehovah by going from house to house with the marvelous “good news of the kingdom.” (Matt. 24:14) That has been my foremost reason for learning to “see with sound.”—Contributed.
[Box/Picture on page 17]
A transmitter sends out a high-frequency sound, which is bounced off an object and received by microphones
The closer the object is, the lower the pitch will be