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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Seeing the World through Echoes Workshop

19th June 2014, 09:00 to 20th June 2014, 17:00, Earth Sciences Building, Room 228/229

This workshop is also open to all; however registration in advance is requested. To register or to request further information, please contact Dr Lore Thaler (

Timings listed above to be confirmed.

People use light to navigate and to go about their daily life, for example to grasp an apple, or to avoid bumping into a lamppost. Now -- consider people who cannot use light to sense the spatial layout of the world. Blind people use hearing and touch. More and more blind people also use echolocation, just like bats and dolphins. They echolocate for example by making mouth clicks and listening to the click-echoes.

Echolocation works based on reflection of sound, similar to the way vision works based on reflection of light. Echolocation - in a way - is like seeing without light. Blind people use echolocation to sense shape and size of buildings, materials, or the layout of rooms and hallways. Research done by Lore Thaler in the Department of Psychology also shows that the processing of echoes in blind people involves those parts of the brain that process light in sighted people.

The programme will address fundamental issues about the nature of spatial sensing through echolocation, how vision loss affects spatial sensing and other aspects of daily living, and how echolocation may benefit people with vision loss in this context.

Lore Thaler will organise a series of science lectures, a ‘hands on’ echolocation workshop, and a moderated roundtable discussion. Lectures will be delivered by Lutz Wiegrebe (Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany), Ivan Dokmanic (Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland), and Lore Thaler (Department of Psychology, Durham University). The echolocation workshop will be conducted in collaboration with Daniel Kish from World Access for the Blind, a US based organization providing professional echolocation instruction, and Visibility, a Glasgow based organisation that has been working with people with visual impairments for over 150 years. The roundtable will be attended by representatives of organisations working with people with vision loss (County Durham Society for the Blind and partially Sighted, Visibility, World Access for the Blind) and Durham University’s sensory support team. Attendees will discuss how vision loss affects spatial sensing and daily living, and the relevance of echolocation within this context.

Contact for more information about this event.