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Communication with People & Surroundings

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Introduction

Communication with the visually impaired can be more difficult than communicating with someone who doesn't have vision loss. It is important to treat the blind the same way they would treat anyone else, rather than treating them like they have a disability, and need special attention.

Individuals with a visual disability not only have to find ways to communicate effectively with the people around them, but their environment as well. The blind or visually impaired rely largely on their other senses in order to understand their surroundings. They include:

  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Smell

Sound

Sound is one of the most important senses that the blind or visually impaired use in order to locate objects in their surroundings. A form of echolocation is used, similarly to that of a dolphin or bat. Echolocation from a person's perspective is when the person uses sound waves generated from speech or other forms of noise such as cane tapping, which reflect off of objects and bounce back at the person giving them a rough idea of where the object is. This does not mean they can depict details based on sound but rather where objects are in order to interact, or avoid them. Increases in atmospheric pressure and humidity increase a person's ability to use sound to their advantage as wind or any form of background noise impairs it.

Touch

Touch is also an important aspect of how blind or visually impaired people perceive the world. Touch gives immense amount of information in the persons immediate surroundings. Feeling anything with detail gives off information on shape, size, texture, temperature, and many other qualities. Touch also helps with communication; Braille is a form of communication in which people use their fingers to feel elevated bumps on a surface and can understand what is meant to be interpreted. There are some issues and limitations with touch as not all objects are accessible to feel, which makes it difficult to perceive the actual object. Another limiting factor is that the learning process of identifying objects with touch is much slower than identifying objects with sight. This is due to the fact the object needs to be approached and carefully felt until a rough idea can be constructed in the brain.

Smell

Certain smells can be associated with certain people and specific areas, this helps a person with vision problems to remember a familiar area or person. This way there is a better chance of recognizing an area layout in order to navigate themselves through that area and recognize people within their vicinity without that person saying a word.

Communication development

Visual impairment can have profound effects on the development of infant and child communication. The language and social development of a child or infant can be very delayed by the inability to see the world around them.

Social development

Social development includes interactions with the people surrounding the infant in the beginning of its life. To a child with vision, a smile from a parent is the first symbol of recognition and communication, and is almost an instant factor of communication. For a visually impaired infant, recognition of a parent's voice will be noticed at approximately two months old, but a smile will only be evoked through touch between parent and baby. This primary form of communication is greatly delayed for the child and will prevent other forms of communication from developing. Social interactions are more complicated because subtle visual cues are missing and facial expressions from others are lost.

Due to delays in a child's communication development, they may appear to be disinterested in social activity with peers, non-communicative and un-education on how to communicate with other people. This may cause the child to be avoided by peers and consequently over protected by family members.

Language development

With sight, much of what is learned by a child is learned through imitation of others, where as a visually impaired child needs very planned instruction directed at the development of postponed imitation. A visually impaired infant may jabber and imitate words sooner than a sighted child, but may show delay when combining words to say themselves, the child may tend to initiate few questions and their use of adjectives is infrequent. Normally the child's sensory experiences are not readily coded into language and this may cause them to store phrases and sentences in their memory and repeat them out of context. The language of the blind child does not seem to mirror his developing knowledge of the world, but rather his knowledge of the language of others.

A visually impaired child may also be hesitant to explore the world around them due to fear of the unknown and also may be discouraged from exploration by overprotective family members. Without concrete experiences, the child is not able to develop meaningful concepts or the language to describe or think about them.

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