American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Special Issue: Early Childhood      ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

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Play Ball and Teach Sound Localization to Blind Students

by Liz Wisecarver

Reprinted from Blog on Blindness
July 17, 2015

Liz WisecarverFrom the Editor: The Blog on Blindness of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) at Louisiana Tech University provides a compendium of articles on teacher training, the education of blind students, and the lived experience of blind people. This article offers practical suggestions for teaching sound localization and encouraging freedom of movement in blind children. Liz Wisecarver teaches orientation and mobility in public schools in Louisiana and Mississippi. She also works with BELL Academies and other youth programs in Louisiana and Texas. She and her husband live in Texas, where she coordinates the Texas NFB-NEWSLINE® program.

Blind people and those who teach cane travel must learn to pay attention to the environment beyond the tip of the cane. We must listen to traffic, people around us, music from nearby shops, echoes caused by our tapping, and sometimes even the information from a GPS. Sound localization is the ability to identify the location of a sound and determine its distance from us. Students can improve their sound localization with practice.

There are several ways to help students develop sound localization. The cane travel instructor may have the student stand near a busy street, point toward approaching vehicles, and answer questions about the location of sounds in the environment. But this sort of top-down approach may not hold the interest of active young children for very long.

In my years of teaching, I have found that children learn more easily by playing games. Many important cane travel concepts, including sound localization, can be taught using accessible athletic balls with bells, rattles, or beepers inside.

Take the student to a quiet, open area such as the gym or an empty hallway. It's most fun when all of the players wear sleepshades and use canes. Start by asking the student to clap or speak so you can hear where he or she is standing. Then roll the ball to the student, who can hear it approach and stop it from rolling away.

Encourage the student to find the ball with the cane. If the ball rolls away, teach the student to find it by sweeping the cane in a wide arc and walking in a grid pattern to make certain the entire area has been searched. Clap or speak so the student can tell where to roll the ball to as well.

Once the student rolls and catches the ball a few times, have him kick the ball along the floor and follow it. The idea is to keep the ball rolling without letting it stop. Let him practice tossing or punting the ball. If you have a basketball, he can find the net with his cane and practice shooting a basket.

Bill Jacobs and his son, David, play on the floor with an audible ball.You will be surprised how well most kids respond to playing simple games with noisy balls. I have fond memories of rolling a rattling soccer ball back and forth in the hall with young kids, kicking it around the dark apartment with my boys in the STEP program (Summer Training and Employment Project) at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and seeing blind teenagers run and kick a ball completely uninhibited for the first time.

Unfortunately, many blind kids do not get the opportunity to run and play like their sighted peers. Playing simple games with balls that make noise may spark an interest in goalball or other adaptive sports, sports they never before considered. Students will improve their sound localization, gain confidence, and improve their perception of blindness.

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