I heard an awesome documentary on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks entitled “See, If You Can Hear This.” about a technology called “The Voice” that allows blind people to see with their ears. The Voice consists of a digital camera and a pair of headphones and the computer in between that translates the visual image into an audio “image”. It is up to the person’s brain to process the audio information as a visual image, much like is done with light patterns collected by one’s (working) eyes. Basically, researchers know that we form images in our brain, not in our eyes. The eyes are just used to collect the light. Sound and touch and our memories are then combined with the light information from our eyes to form a visual image. Using the Voice, the blind are able to take advantage of the same process. The image they can form is not the same or as good as with the eyes (the frame rate of the Voice is 1 frame per second), but a visual image is definitely formed in the mind. The blind woman featured in the documentary tells the story of when she first saw the mountains over the desert using the Voice. Incredible!
The entire documentary is featured in a downloadable mp3, so go have a listen.