"Reading with Sounds" - Results Reported In The Current Issue Of The Prestigious Neuroscience Journal, Neuron

November 11, 2012 - Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in France have now shown that blind people – using specialized photographic and sound equipment – can actually “see” and describe objects and even identify letters and words. The new study by a team of researchers, led by Prof. Amir Amedi of the Edmond and Lily Safra Musical CityCenter for Brain Sciences and the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada at the Hebrew University and Ph.D. candidate Ella Striem-Amit, has demonstrated how this achievement is possible through the use of a unique training paradigm, using sensory substitution devices (SSDs). 

"Reading with Sounds: Sensory Substitution Selectively Activates the Visual Word Form Area in the Blind" results are reported in the current issue of the prestigious neuroscience journal, Neuron, Volume 76, Issue 3, 8 November 2012, Pages 640–652.

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 camera connected to a small computer (or smart phone) and stereo headphones.

The images are converted into “soundscapes,” using a predictable algorithm, allowing the user to listen to and then interpret the visual information coming from the camera. The blind participants using this device reach a level of visual acuity technically surpassing the world-agreed criterion of the World Health Organization (WHO) for blindness, as published in a previous study by the same group.

The resulting sight, though not conventional in that it does not involve activation of the ophthalmological system of the body, is no less visual in the sense that it actually activates the visual identification network in the brain.

“SSDs might help blind or visually-impaired individuals learn to process complex images, as done in this study, or they might be used as sensory interpreters that provide high-resolution, supportive, synchronous input to a visual signal arriving from an external device such as bionic eyes” says Prof. Amedi.

Research Topic

Visual Impairment

284 million people are visually impaired worldwide. Imagine not knowing what colors look like or having to walk everywhere with a white cane. For people who live with visual impairments, this is a part of every day life.

At IMRIC, we are training people to ‘see’ with sound and walk without the use of the traditional white cane. Training in sensory substitution and the development of the virtual cane gives new hope to people who are learning to ‘see’ in ways they never thought possible.