The Skill of Sound Shadowing
Author: Zackery Hurtz
Losing your sight isn’t something one has happen willingly but it’s how you handle the loss that’ll determine the rest of your life. You’ll need to start training your other senses and learn how to rely on them to give you an accurate view of your environment. The most useful sense for long range data gathering is hearing and I’ll explain some ways to put it to good use. With consistent practice and hard work you too can learn how to use sound to navigate.
If you stand still in one spot for more than thirty seconds and just listen you’ll start to instinctively feel how big a room is or if someone is standing next to you. This is a great skill to develop and by constant use you’ll be able to surprise sighted people with “blind ninja skills” but just between you and I it’s called sound shadowing. Bats and other species use echo location to navigate around at night and to hunt food. We use it to find trees, sign posts, streetlights, bus shelters, moving vehicles and whatever else might be trying to stop us from moving forward.
The best way to show you what sound shadowing is would be for you to grab a piece of paper and hold it up either on your left or right side. You’ll be able to hear that the paper is blocking sounds from reaching your ear at full volume and you’ll even notice a drop in the flow of air moving across your skin. this always reminds me of the scene in Star Wars where Luke is training with his lightsaber and the remote sphere is floating around him firing electric shots at him. His goal is to use the force to feel and deflect the incoming shots with his eyes closed using his lightsaber. If Luke wasn’t able to use the force to feel when and where the shots were coming he could certainly use sound shadows to help him out.
So now with your paper in hand move it directly out in front of your nose and see if you can hear the sound shadow and determine how far away it is from your face. I know that you’re holding the paper so you’ll know how far away it is but you need to train your brain to judge distance through the method of sound. Move the paper around your head and stop at random points to build your brains ability to locate and deconstruct the shadow of sound so you can use it to navigate around obstacles. Controlling the movement of the paper gives you an idea of how far away it is so when you’re out and about you’ll have a known factor to compare distance and size of objects too.
Physical objects will have a sound shadow but we may not always hear them, for example my college likes to use wet floor signs which only come up to my knee. These have a sound shadow but often I’m too tall to notice it, if I were crawling on the floor I’d hear the shadow no problem. After tripping over the sign I’m usually crawling on the floor and then I can hear the shadow without a doubt. This is why having a cane is helpful, when using a white cane with sound shadowing you can use the sharp tap, tap of the tip to have a source of sound for echo location. If you’re using your cane with the two touch method you’ll have a sound going out to the right and out to the left with every other step giving you a real time stream of sound data to use for navigational travel. I also use dog clickers, harmonicas and whistling to know how far away that fifteen story building is or if there’s a set of stairs coming up so I don’t go down unexpectedly. Gravity isn’t kind to us when we trip or don’t know about the sudden lack of pavement beneath our feet.
Using different objects to make sound can provide differing amounts of information for our brains to build an auditorial map for us to navigate by. The higher notes of a harmonica can help me find objects at extreme distances of two hundred feet while the lower notes give me a better scan of objects closer at hand. Higher notes or frequencies travel longer and can bounce back without loss of sound which means better accuracy.
Another trick I use to use is putting metal tacks in my shoes, with every footstep the metal striking the floor or concrete served as a source of sound to help locate nearby obstacles. I stopped using this method though after scratching up a wooden floor but I discovered that tying bells onto my shoes served just as well. I found this method while hiking in Yellow Stone with the family on one of our many road trips. Wearing bells while hiking is a common practice to help let bears know that you’re in the area and are approaching them. I think this is an easy way for them to find a quick snack but rangers with the Forest Service claim that it’s to give the bears time to scamper off deeper into the woods. I guess this gives a whole new meaning to the “dinner bell.”
If you’d like to train your sound shadowing skill ask a friend to hold a sheet of paper up and have them move it around your head at different distances and heights so you can find the paper. Once you can find the paper consistently have your friend be the object and try to locate them using the sound shadow from their body. Start out by having them just walk around you in a circle and stopping at different points. Once you can find them consistently do the same thing but with different distances involved. After that have them go into a small sized room and then you’ll enter and try to use sound to find their position.
I’ve used sound shadowing for 25 years and I’m still finding different ways to use it in real life situations, in my opinion it’s more useful than algebra! I can walk through the woods without bumping into trees or walk alongside a building and know the second the wall turns into a corner. Auditorial navigation has saved my life many times while moving around large cities and if you can train yourself to use sound shadows you’ll have an easier time interacting with the world. I do want to caution you though just like vision it does have its blind spots and can be tricked so please be careful and keep that in mind while out traveling.
The Skill of Sound Shadowing