Most people are familiar with the white cane and dog guides. These navigation tools have served blind folks for decades. But other methods of mobility have been tried in the past. One of those was the beat box.
During my first autumn at Jericho Hill School for the Deaf and Blind, the administrators decided to try an experiment with echo location as a method for blind children to navigate their environment. My dorm mate Peter was one of those chosen for the experiment.
One afternoon, he walked into my dorm room carrying a flashlight-shaped gadget that emitted clicks. “What’s that thing?” I enquired as I stared at his hand.
“It’s a beat box,” he explained. “We’re learning how to get around by hearing the clicks bounce off walls and stuff.”
“Can I see it?”
Peter handed over the turquoise object. Except for the speaker grill where the bulb and reflector would normally be, it looked like a regular flashlight.
I handed it back to him and said, “Can I get one of these things too?
“No. You have to be totally blind to get one of these.”
The blind boys practiced finding their way around the institute’s grounds for a few weeks with their beat boxes. Then the trial of these mobility aids stopped. No reason was given to us but I suspect that the boys found listening for reflected sound pulses too difficult to master.
I wrote about my six years at that institution in Deliverance from Jericho. More information about it can be found at the Bruce Atchison’s Books link.