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Dean P. Inman, Ph.D.
Ken Loge, M.S.
Oregon Research Institute
1715 Franklin Boulevard
Eugene, Oregon 97405
541-484-2123 (telephone)
541-484-1108 (fax)
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Children who have significant visual impairments are required to use other sensory modalities to compensate for their lack of sight. This is especially true when they walk. Two forms of sensory input are used to walk safely within familiar and unfamiliar environments: tactile information and acoustical information. Tactile information derives from a cane held close to the ground, from the hands which can discern shape, texture, location, temperature, and function of objects found in the environment, and through the feet which provide information about the floor over which one is walking, the distance from one place to another, and a means for learning the correct path to take to get from where one is and where one wants to be. Acoustical information provides information about the nature of sound generators in the environ-ment and their location. Skillful individuals can also use echoic information which can reveal where non sound-generating objects are located in the environment as well.

Children who are visually impaired and also have a significant hearing impairment, are further disadvantaged in that they have less acoustical information available to them. Bi-lateral amplification is provided to help mitigate the hearing loss. "Learning to hear" is a very important functional skill for children with dual sensory loss. Their ability to ambulate depends on it.

Orientation and mobility training is provided to teach children how to learn to walk through familiar and unfamiliar environments safely. Training is done in a variety of real-world situations, including hall ways, furnished rooms, and cross walks. Training is time consuming, sometimes risky, and limited to the number of environments available to the student and the O&M Training Specialist.

It is well known that training complex sensory-motor skills can be done effectively and safely in computer-simulated environments. Simulated training environments are (a) unlimited, in terms of the different types of training simulations that can be created for the learners, (b) safe, (c) cost-effective, and (d) they make is easy to provide learners with repeated guided and unguided practice. Simulated environments can also accent specific sensory information while diminishing perhaps confusing back-ground information, until the learner knows what to "listen for". Then the computer could slowly change the signal to noise ratio until the simulated situation matched the real world situation after which is it modeled.

The costs of the computer hardware needed to model a three-dimensional sound environment after a relevant real-world situation have dropped dramatically. For $300-$500 dollars, a sound card can be installed in most standard PC's (IBM or MAC). The recent surge of availability and the drop in prices is due to the success of the gaming industry which is beginning to exploit three dimensional platforms.

For the first two years of the project our plan is to work closely with the Oregon State Department of Education and the Oregon School for the Blind, to create and test the training materials using children who are totally or nearly totally blind. During year three and four of the project, we will begin working with deaf-blind children and modifying the material as needed to accommodate the concomitant hearing loss.

During implementation, data will be collected on individual child change, family satisfaction, and teacher assessment. Dissemination activities will be extensive.