Hey! I saw the post you answered about echolocation as a way to avoid writing canes, but I was wondering what you think of a character using a cane and echolocation at the same time? For things like knowing how big the room is or if there are large obstacles, get a feeling for the buildings in a street, etc. The cane would be their main mobility aid, along with sighted guides, but echolocation is a tool in their arsenal. Thank you!
Hi nonnie! Thank you for this question. It is a good one. You all come up with good questions. :)
First, here is the post anon is talking about. I would suggest reading the notes as well because some good discussions occurred. Check the notes of this current post as well, because I’m not as familiar with this topic and someone might be able to discuss it from more experience than I can.
I am working on a post about blind tropes I’m tired of, and that aren’t necessarily bad, but potentially bad if used for bad purposes, such as to avoid writing about canes or guide animals fir navigation. And how to possibly do them BETTER. Echolocation is one of the things I want to cover.
Why Do I Dislike the Echolocation Trope?
It’s overused and boring. Can it be done well and in an interesting way? Yes. Do people normally make it interesting? No.
The majority of things I see on echolocation are like “this character is blind and uses echolocation to SEE.” That’s it. That’s the skill the character has. It is also usually used to avoid writing about canes or guides dogs, or used in weird ways, like allowing characters to locate or ‘see’ things they would not be able to see with the echolocation method.
Obviously, you aren’t doing that. You’ve done your research and you understand that canes are important and provide a specific function that echolocation cannot fill. This includes interacting with their environment to map it out and remember it better, using stairs and escalators, feeling cracks or obstacles on the ground, signaling to drivers or other people that you cannot see well (this is essential when crossing the street).
Echolocation is just something people think blind people use regularly and that is not the case. It can be hard to learn and someone would have to already be able to use a cane before learning to use it. It requires good hearing and probably wouldn’t work in a crowded, noisy area. Rain and snow may hinder echolocation as well.
So Echolocation Has No Use?
Not necessarily. I just want to stress the trope is way too common for the extent that it is used in the blind community.
Here are a few ways I know people use active and passive echolocation:
-listening for the amount of echo in a room. A convention hall is going to sound way different from a small classroom. The amount of echo can also tell someone if there are things on the walls (such as posters or shelves with knickknacks) because empty walls sound more echo-y.
-The tap method for white canes. This can be seen as a kind of echolocation, although I think people mostly think of making click sounds. This can give a good idea of your surroundings, although it may not work if there is a lot of noise, and in my opinion, and the tap method can get tiring to use for a long time (although I suppose people who favor it get used to it). I don’t think this method is used all the time though.
What About Toph?
I guess Toph’s thing would be considered echolocation? Yes, I like Toph. Her ability is fun and even common in her world. She just took a tool she had and refined it to her needs. A blind blogger even wrote a post about Toph which you can find here.
Here is the part I find relevant to this discussion:
Also, even in an AU with bending, I think Toph would like the advantage of tapping her cane to create a stronger, more distinct vibration than a small shifting of her weight on her feet. It would have more control.
Where I Would Rather See Echolocation
There are places where I would prefer to see echolocation despite not being jazzed about the trope.
- sea creatures/half sea creatures who use echolocation in real life
- animals or half animal characters who use echolocation in real life
- robots, cyborgs, or other similar characters
I’m okay with these because 1) characters who live in the sea might not be able to use a cane effectively and 2) some animals already have a precedent of being able to use echolocation, thus making them believably able to use it (although if they are able to hold a cane, echolocation should not replace white cane use).
I am also more open to robots and similar characters using echolocation because the techy side of them makes it more believable, especially since in order for it to be useful, it would need to be beyond human levels of echolocation. Which are currently not that great. Canes should also be used, at least in my opinion.
I bring this up because your questions were about echolocation being used “For things like knowing how big the room is or if there are large obstacles, get a feeling for the buildings in a street, etc”. This is an interesting way to think about echolocation, as these things would be out of reach of a cane and a person would certainly want to know about them.
To be honest, I don’t know if real echolocation is this good when done by humans. Thst’s why I suggest non-human characters use it. Also, just because you know the shape and size of something there does not mean you can tell what that object is.
However, I feel like instead of wanting to know about objects so far away, most people want to know about things they can run into that their cane cannot detect. This would include anything that is above the ground.
Sunu Bands and Sonar Canes
If you’re really interested in writing this with a human character, I would suggest researching the SUNU Band. It was co-created by a man with low vision, Fernando Albertorio, which I could only find in one video, which is concerning. For some reason I couldn’t find much about the creators, not that I need info they aren’t comfortable with. I personally feel that it is important to highlight blind inventors.
Here is the video
The creator describes it as providing information where a person turns their wrist in a specific direction. The band can give them an idea about objects or obstacles there. The band has an inside setting (with shorter range) and an outside setting (with longer range). He describes it as being useful for avoiding objects like branches that a cane cannot find, or a sign post a cane might miss.
The Sunu Band website is here.
It describes the Sunu Band as being useful for avoiding injuries to the upper body. I feel this is the most useful part of this kind of tool. While it is good to know how big a room is and where buildings are, I am more concerned with getting hit in the face by a tree branch lol. I have used this device myself and it can be hard to get angles right and understand the vibrations. However, I think it is a good device to have, especially because it can reduce injuries or maybe help you locate something you’re searching for, like a water fountain you know is there.
This type of technology is not meant to replace a cane or a guide dog and is even supposed to be worn on the wrist that isn’t using the cane (probably so you can turn your wrist more easily?)
This cool review pointed out the usefulness of this product when standing in lines because you can know when to move up. The review also has practical demonstrations of using the band indoors. You can watch it here.
Another review by the same channel is also helpful.
The channel also mentions one can distinguish moving objects from stagnant objects by the duration of the vibrations.
There are lots of canes that have similar functions, although I prefer a regular cane. If I’m going to use anything else, it would be a Sunu Band. These laser or sonar canes have, according to my research, been around since the 80s and are still in articles today. However, while I haven’t used one myself, I feel more interested in the apps they come with than the actual cane. I would rather my cane find objects than use this technology to avoid them and I wonder how good the range is, vertically, if the detection comes from a cane. Lastly, I’m sure these are very expensive, sensitive to extreme temperatures, not water proof, and harder to replace than a regular cane. At least, according to a few reviews I found for the WeWalk cane. Although their app sounds extremely useful.
So, if you want to use these for your story, it would probably be more realistic. Unless these or similar devices are what you were talking about, in which case I hope this helps.
If you have more questions or wanted to expand on this question, let me know.
Honestly, I feel out of my depth here. If anyone else wants to talk about their experiences with echolocation or any of the above devices, please share. Honestly, some tropes are a little more specific in how or why they don’t work and how or when they do work. I tried to show that here. As with anything, variety can help. If you feel a bit iffy on whether a trope will work, adding other blind characters with different experiences will do wonders, especially because most of these issues stem from stereotypes or myths.
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Back during the early Eocene, around 50 million years ago, global temperatures were much warmer than today, and in North America tropical and subtropical rainforests extended as far as Alaska.
And one of the most abundant animals in these balmy ecosystems was a small mammal called Hyopsodus, an early type of ungulate that was probably part of the perissodactyl lineage, closely related to the ancestors of modern horses.
Many different species of this genus have been discovered, ranging from rat-sized to cat-sized. Remains of Hyopsodus account for up to 30% of fossils in some locations, with tens of thousands of specimens known – although most of them are isolated teeth and jaw fragments.
(The illustration here depicts Hyopsodus wortmani, a 30cm/12" long species which lived about 50-46 million years ago across the Western and Southern USA.)
More substantial skeletal remains of this little mammal are very rare, and initially seemed to show a long weasel-like body that resulted in Hyopsodus being given the nickname of "tube-sheep". But more recent specimens have given us a better idea of its proportions, and it wasn't really tubular at all. Instead it was probably built more like a cavy or a hyrax, with a more chunky body and a spine held more strongly curved.
Its teeth suggest it was a generalist omnivore, probably mainly eating a mixture of vegetation, fruits, seeds, insects, and occasionally smaller animals, and while its limbs were proportionally short it was likely still quite an agile fast-moving animal. It also appears to have had some ability to dig, and may have sheltered in burrows similarly to modern groundhogs.
But one of the most surprising things about the "tube-sheep" comes from studies of its braincase via CT scans of its skull. Its brain was unusually large for its size, and had enlarged areas associated with good senses of smell and hearing – and notably one sound-processing region (known as the inferior colliculus) was developed to a degree similar to those seen in echolocating animals.
Analysis of its ear bones suggest it wasn't highly specialized for echolocation like bats, but may have still been capable of a more basic shrew-like version, using it for close-range navigation.
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