Many people have black and white thinking when it comes to vision. Think a blink; sight – eyes open, blind – eyes shut. But here’s the paradox: the brain, encased in the dark confines of the skull, uses many senses to “see” the world. With blindness, the occipital lobe, normally devoted to vision, can interpret other stimuli such as touch, sound, and smell, using these abilities to navigate the world, which includes reading Braille.
The sighted can also benefit from using touch to “see”. Here are some ways this can be incorporated in technology:
- You are plugging a cord into the back of a computer that cannot be turned and but are challenged to find the desired empty port. Solution: put matching textures, ridges or shapes on the end of the cord and beside or around the port to guide their connection.
- You are operating the TV cable remote control but need to look where you put your fingers to change channel and volume. Solution: Make it easier to identify buttons by their shapes or textures so you don’t need to look away from the TV. When picked up, the remote keypad configuration and tactile features is mirrored onto the TV display and guides button selection.
- Your smartphone starts to ring in your pocket but is difficult to pull out of your pocket. Fortunately, you can recognize different buttons by the way they feel and choose to answer a call or not.
- You’re driving your car and want to operate the cruise control, change radio channels and volume, and make phone calls using the many buttons embedded in the steering wheel. These buttons are hard to distinguish and you don’t want to look away from the road to select these controls. Solution: Put buttons on the steering wheel that can be recognized with the sense of touch to reduce distraction. The menu items on a heads up display can be associated with icons that match the positioning, shape, and feel of the buttons on the steering wheel, to guide the selection process.
So here’s my takeaway: tech should stay in touch and put on a haptic face.
References and Comments:
Michael Proulx has written an excellent paper called Blindness: remapping the brain and the restoration of vision. Sensory substitution technology enables sight without visual input. He describes the neuroplasticity of the brain and references papers that have found that the visual cortex can process other senses (sound, sight, and smell) to “see” without eyesight.
Massathusetts Institute of Technology published at Sciencedaily.com an article titled: Parts of brain can switch functions: In people born blind, brain regions that usually process vision can tackle language. The visual cortex is integral to reading in the sighted. Interestingly, it continues this role in the blind by processing Braille.
The paradox of the brain in its dark confines seeing the world is derived from All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and exquisitely describes how a girl uses touch and other senses to adapt to becoming blind.
“Haptic” relates to the sense of touch.