Sensory Replacement and Sensory Substitution Overview and Prospects For The Future

Jack M. Loomis, University ofCalifornia, Santa Barbara

The traditional way of dealing with blindness and deafness has been some form of sensory substitution — allowing a remaining sense to take over the functions lost as the result of the sensory impairment. With visual loss, hearing and touch naturally take over as much as they can, vision and touch do the same for hearing, and in the rare cases where both vision and hearing are absent (e.g., Keller 1908), touch provides the primary contact with the external world. However, because unaided sensory substitution is only partially effective, humans have long improvised with artifices to facilitate the substitution of one sense with another. For blind people, braille has served in the place of visible print, and the long cane has supplemented spatial hearing in the sensing of obstacles and local features of the environment. For deaf people, lip reading and sign language have substituted for the loss of speech reception. Finally, for people who are both deaf and blind, fingerspelling by the sender in the palm of the receiver (Jaffe 1994; Reed et al. 1990) and the Tadoma method of speech reception (involving placement of the receiver's hand over the speaker's face) have provided a means by which they can receive messages from others (Reed et al. 1992).

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