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I’ve been blind since birth. This in and of itself is not what this is about, but it’s a crucial part of the story. Throughout my life, I’ve used lots of different kinds of assistive technology; braille keyboards, voice command apps, adapted smartphones… Recently, I tried human echolocation for the first time in my life. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a technique emulating that of how bats find their prey in the dark. By making clicking noises with your mouth, you are able to hear the sound bounce off of objects it hits, and in that way “see” where the objects are. A friend of mine, let’s call her “J”, had seen a couple of videos about it on Youtube, and asked me if I had ever tried it. I told her I hadn’t, though I had heard of it.
Long story short, I decided to test it out. It took a lot of concentration at first, but after a few days I felt like I started getting the hang of it.
The next time I met J, she sounded excited and congratulated me when I told her I was doing really well. Practice makes perfect, and I was able to avoid any major obstacles without much trouble. We went to a park, and J asked me to demonstrate what I could “see” around us with my current abilities. I laughed, and told her that I’m not exactly Daredevil, but that I’d give it a go. After a few clicks, I told her I thought there was a small wall or building to our left, and a tall thing in front of us. It was “blurrier” for me to make out, so I guessed it was some kind of bush. J got quiet then, and had a hint of worry in her voice when she spoke again. “Well, you’re right about the wall… but there’s nothing in front of us at all. Just… grass.”
I froze. I knew that I was a beginner at this, but the sound clearly bounced off of something. It was much taller than a person, and only a few steps in front of us. Could I have messed up what I heard that bad?
I decided to laugh it off with J, and said that I apparently wasn’t ready to go out and fight crime just yet. Feeling very uneasy, I hurried us away from there, and we continued our walk. By the time she dropped me off at home, she seemed to have forgotten about it. I doubt I ever will.