Can the blind “see” with their ears? Hebrew University of Jerusalem brain scientists have tapped onto the visual cortex of people suffering from congenital blindness by using sensory substitution devices (SSDs) – making it possible for them in effect to “see” and even describe objects.
SSDs are non-invasive sensory aids that provide visual information to the blind via their existing senses. For example, using a visual-to-auditory SSD in a clinical or everyday setting, users wear a miniature video camera connected to a small computer (or smartphone) and stereo headphones. The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera.
Surprisingly, proficient users who have had special training in a short time as part of a research protocol in the lab of Dr. Amir Amedi are able to use SSDs to identify complex everyday objects, locate people and their postures and read letters and words.
Amedi is a scientist at HU’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada.
In addition to SSDs’ clinical opportunities, using functional magnetic resonance imaging opens a window for studying the organization of the visual cortex without visual experience by studying the brain of the congenitally blind, he said.