Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
A technique called “echolocation,” by which a person uses sound to position themselves in their physical environment, is significantly improving the abilities of some blind children and adults to maneuver in a more independent way. NBC News reports on a pioneering echolocation program, led by World Access for the Blind and serving approximately 1,000 people from over 30 countries, about half of whom are from the US:
At a recent class in Burlington, Vermont, [47-year-old echolocation teacher and blind man Daniel Kish] taught the basics to two teenagers. They began by learning how to position themselves in the center of a room. Then Kish had them find the corners in an open hotel lobby.
“Corners are cool because they’re easy to find and you can hear them in very big places, or when very they’re far away,” he says.
Within two hours, Kish and his students were walking down Church Street, a busy restaurant arcade in the center of the city. For 14 year-old Alek Wolfe, it was the first time he could walk around unaccompanied by his mother. Though his mom wasn’t far behind, Alek walked unescorted, and the young teenager was ecstatic with what felt like independence.
“I love it!” he said while walking with traffic less than ten feet away.
The class is part of a program by the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Dan Norris, one of the supervisors who organized the event, explains that, “a lot of teenagers in our school get mobility training instead of driver’s ed.”
Kish says that echolocation is unique from traditional mobility training, especially for blind teenagers, because it encourages people to move around under their own direction.
“I didn’t have formal mobility training when I was younger,” he says. “If I had I probably wouldn’t be who I am because formal mobility training back in those days — and it still is to some extent today – is highly structured, highly regimented.”
Kish, who taught himself how to echolocate as a child, argues that mobility training overemphasizes the “mechanics of skills rather than activation of the brain. My brain was activated in the same way that the brains of sighted children are activated.”
If Kish has his way, blind children would learn echolocation much earlier in their lives, and it’s become his mission to teach echolocation to as many people as possible.
Image: Crowded city street, via Valerie Potapova / Shutterstock.com
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Thursday, April 11th, 2013
A large-scale study on the effects of oxygen levels on premature babies is under scrutiny by an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has issued a letter to parents warning them they were not cautioned that participating in the study could increase the risks of blindness of death afflicting their babies. More from The New York Times:
The Office for Human Research Protections, which safeguards the people who participate in government-funded research, sent a letter to the University of Alabama at Birmingham last month, detailing what it said were violations of patients’ rights.
The university, which was a lead site for the study, had not detailed the risks in consent forms that were the basis of parents’ participation, the office said in the letter. Specifically, babies assigned to a high-oxygen group were more likely to go blind and babies assigned to a low-oxygen group were more likely to die than if they had not participated. Ultimately, 130 babies out of 654 in the low-oxygen group died, and 91 babies out of 509 in the high-oxygen group developed blindness.
Some of the 1,300 infants who participated in the study, which took place between 2004 and 2009, would probably have died or developed blindness even if they had not taken part. They were born at just 24 to 27 weeks gestation, a very high-risk category. But being assigned to one or the other oxygen group in the study increased their chances further, a risk that was not properly disclosed, the office said
Richard B. Marchase, vice president for research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a telephone interview that a similar group of infants born around the same time who did not participate in the study actually died at higher rates than those in the low-oxygen group. Those infants were not a control group in the study, but were roughly similar in number and in age to those in the study group; they had a 24 percent mortality rate, compared with a 20 percent mortality rate for the infants in the low-oxygen group.
He said the study kept the infants within the standard band of treatment for oxygen levels — 85 percent to 95 — and that its findings were forming the basis for a definition by the American Academy of Pediatrics about what the standard of care should be.
He said he had assured the Office for Human Research Protections that in the future, “we will to the best of our ability let the subjects or their parents know as thoroughly as possible what previous studies suggest in terms of risk.” He added, “We are going to be very sensitive to that going forward as we look at these consent forms.”
Image: Infant in incubator, via Shutterstock
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