Every exploration process enriches our knowledge of the world, and exploring is made through the senses. But what happens if one of the senses is missing? Studies show that because they do not have access to visual exploration, blind children create distorted and even fictional mental images of objects and, consequently, of the surrounding world.
The only way of helping blind children understand the world accurately is by stimulating the other senses – be it touch, hearing, smell, or taste. Tactile materials play a vital role in the education of blind children because they help create a more accurate mental image of the objects around them.
1. How do sighted and blind children understand the world?
Studies show that because of their restrictive way of exploring the environment, blind children gather fragmented, incomplete, and inaccurate information about the world.
In the article ”Mental Imagery in Congenitally Blind Children”, David W. Anderson and Myrna R. Olson compare the way sighted and blind children relate to the world and the differences made by visual and tactual exploration. In the experiment he conducted, ten sighted, and ten blind children were asked to describe objects – first, from memory and then, through tactual exploration.
The mentioned study shows that although blind children use the same vocabulary as sighted children do, their mental image of the same object differs, meaning that they understand concepts differently. The difference occurs because of the way they explore those objects: ”blind children develop their mental images of objects from their unique experience with the world, and that the language they use reflects that experience and their form of mental representation rather than their knowledge of the language of sighted people”.
Visual exploration gives exponentially more information about an object than spatial exploration. The first provides instant information about proportions and concepts such as tall and short, thin and thick, slim and fat, up and down. While visual exploration gives immediate access to information, in the case of spatial exploration, access to information must be mediated. One represents a subtractive way of exploring the world, the other an additive way.
Blind children can enjoy the benefits of visual exploration through tactile graphics. Tactile graphics give instant access to 3D information, such as shape, spaciousness, and depth. That means that the more such graphics we give to blind children, the better will they be able to create an accurate mental image of the world.
Just as sighted people need to see as many objects as they can to enhance their knowledge of the world, the blind need to touch as much as they can. Blind children should be given ”an ample opportunity for hands-on exploration and experimentation of objects”.
2. The importance of tactile graphics
Tactile graphics – maps, drawings, or graphs, help enrich the blind children’s knowledge of the world. Through them, they have access to numerous objects they wouldn’t otherwise be able to experiment or fully understand. It can be animals, means of transport, big objects like statues and even paintings.
The tactual exploration of graphics and the audio presentation of information is done simultaneously. The exploration of a tactile drawing showing a dog, for example, will be done together with a specialist. That specialist has a twofold mission: he has to take the hand of the blind child into his own and guide it while he gives verbal information about every part of the dog the child is touching: the head, the nose, the tail, the legs. Also, the specialist can provide a lot of other pieces of information, such as the dimension, breed, or color of the dog.
3. Exploring tactile graphics independently
The educational platform tactileimages.org comes to satisfy the need for tactile drawings of blind children. It houses an enormous LIBRARY of tactile drawings, that can be downloaded free of charge and used whenever or wherever.
The self-describing tactile graphics give the LIBRARY its uniqueness. The tactile graphics give children the vital guidance and audio information they need for the exploration to be complete simultaneously. The guidance is done with the aid of a mobile app, called Tactile Images READER. The app comes to replace the specialist above the shoulder, by giving the children learning independency and can be download from the App Store free of charge.
Because they lack the benefits of visual exploration, blind children must be encouraged to learn tactual exploration to create accurate mental images of the world. The exploration can be done with the aid of tactile graphics, which can represent any object in the world. Moreover, if they are given self-describing tactile graphics, blind children are encouraged to explore new objects and broaden their horizons.
Do you have any questions about the importance of tactile graphics in the education of blind children? Write in the comment section below!
Image source: Ben White | Unsplash