applying neuroscience to help the blind find their way
ABOUT BLIND MIND AND URBAN SPACES
Helping the blind to find their way
Blind,Mind and Urban Spaces is a project that aims to investigate how blind people navigate their environment without sight. Using cutting edge neuroscientific techniques and theory, the aim is to investigate how the brain adapts after the loss of vision, which information is optimal for way finding and how can these findings be applied practically to urban spaces such as train stations so they are safe for blind people to use independently. Blind Mind and Urban Spaces encompasses my P.h.D project and on going work that requires your support to help solve this important problem.
My name is Danny Michael Ball, I am a blind neuroscientist and I need your help funding my PhD research at University College London. In 2011 I lost my vision and was told by doctors that it would never return. My first thought was “how will I get around independently’’. As part of my work raising awareness of the dangers of sight loss, it soon became apparent that the anxiety I felt regarding safe way finding is often shared by members of the blind community. In an attempt to understand how I may adapt, I returned to education to study how the brain changes after sight loss, specifically how information from the remaining senses may be used by the brain region normally dedicated to vision to process spatial information . Although returning to education with a disability was profoundly challenging, it was also the Mose rewarding experience of my life!
I have achieved academic success a the highest level, winning academic awards and scholarships and recently became a published author in a high impact science journal. I was lucky enough to gain a place in the prestigious P.h.D program at University College London and have the opportunity to work with world renowned experts in the neuroscience of spatial processing and way-finding I now aim to use my unique position as a blind neuroscientist to research how blind individuals process spatial information without vision, which forms of information are optimal and which are naturally used to navigate the environment. I then aim to use my findings to inform the development of urban spaces so they can be use safely and independently by all. Read my full story in my first blog post (link below)
MY RESEARCH: BLIND MIND AND URBAN SPACES
There are an estimated 285 visually impaired people worldwide, of which 246 million have low vision and 39 million are blind. There is a global trend toward the social migration to city living and this is growing each year exponentially. This is salient for those without sight, finding your way in ever busier urban spaces is also a increasing problem that requires a solution. The way we design infrastructure and social spaces must go through a fundamental change to facilitate this growth and will need multi disciplinary expertise, with input from the neuroscience of way finding, engineering, architecture and computer science to help engineer accessible spaces, informed by cutting edge neuroscience, so that everyone can enjoy them and feel safe.
If we are to understand how to help blind people find their way safely we need to understand how the brain changes after sight loss. It is commonly agreed that regions in the brain normally dedicated to vision (the visual cortex) are used to process information from the remaining senses, however, the exact mechanisms for this are yet to be comprehensively understood.
The aim is to find which structures in the brain are dedicated to spatial processing and navigation once the use of vision is lost, although blind individuals may use the visual cortex for spatial processing, recent evidence suggests that the brain may functionally recruit specific regions and bypass others after sight loss, indicating a novel processing stream is used compared to sighted individuals. Based on these findings, the aim is to investigate which forms of information are optimal for wayfinding. The main technique Used will be functional magnetic resonance imaging, in conjunction with behavioural data which allows the analysis of which brain regions are active during wayfinding and are responsive to particular types of stimulation.
It is still unclear which forms of information are helpful to the blind community when wayfinding and those that are not, thus technologies and urban environmental design aimed to provide accessibility to the blind individual may in some cases actually hinder the user rather than help. This leads to uncertainty iin exactly which information to provide, and often information is inconsistent, this may be due to the sometimes impenetrable nature of niche science articles for anyone except those expert in a particular field. Therefore attempts, although well intended may infect be sub optimal and require cross disciplinary solutions with consultation between neuroscientists, engineers, architects, computer scientists and technology developers and the blind community for a substantial change to be made. My aim is to apply what is found in my research to address these problems, work with experts from other disciplines to find practical solutions, then argue that the cities of the future require such necessary changes to be made to ensure the wellbeing of all its citizens.
What the experts say
I am very much looking forward to collaborating with Danny and Dr kipper on the uestion of how to help blind people navigate their environment. My lab has worked for many years researching the neural circuits that underlie the brain s spatial map and we now have information that could be of great use in helping design more easily navigable environments. owever we also have much still to learn about how the brain adapts to navigating without vision. Danny s work offers to answer important uestions about the cognitive strategies and brain circuits that come into play when blind people navigate. In addition. Danny himself is a gifted and passionate individual who is on track to become a talented research scientist, with the potential to make important contributions to science and to human wellbeing"
Profesor Kate Jeffery, Director of the insatiate of behavioural neuroscience, University College London
"Danny s enthusiasm is catching and I am e cited to be along for the PhD ourney with him and Dr effery. I have been studying the neurobiology of hearing and how the human brain supports more general real world behaviors for the last years. ounds and tactile information matter more for the blind during navigation yet we still do not know how the brain uses this information. I am e cited to help apply my knowledge of brain imaging real world behaviors to the domain of spatial navigation to better understand these mechanisms. iven his drive, I have no doubt Danny is going to revolutioni e our scientific understanding of the neurobiology of spatial navigation and help the world by applying what he learns to the design of technology and urban space"
Dr Jeremy Skipper, senior lecturer, division of brain sciences, University College London
PLEASE SUPPORT THIS PROJECT
I need your support to complete this project. Please donate to Blind Mind and Urban Spaces if you can. Your donations will help pay the cost of brain scans, help ensure the safe transit go the individuals that take part, help to pay my course fees and develop engineering solutions based on research findings. No donations will be taken as profit. You can also support me by following me on twitter, face book and subscribing to my blog. Thank you in advance
make a donation
YOUR SUPPORT WILL BE REWARDED
If you decide to support me on this journey, helping millions of blind
people in the process, I will be happy to support your affiliation in whichever way I can: Your name will be published here to begin. later, by interacting with your company through my blog and social media output. I will be more than happy to meet with any supporters personally if you would like to know more about my research. You will be informed about my development personally and in terms of research and publications, and your contributions will be acknowledged in publications. You will be free to publicise your involvement. I aim to arrange networking events whereby your company logo will be displayed on correspondence, digital and non digital advertisements and promotion both prior, during and after the events. You will be invited to interact with the groups indicated above and other like-minded people that are interested in improving the environment and lives of sighted and blind individuals alike. A recent conference hosted by my PhD supervisor professor Kate Jeffery on Urban Wayfinding and the Brain proved to be a great success, with individuals speaking and attending from the Royal national institute for the blind (RNIB), transport for London (TFL), University college London (UCL) and Ordnance Survey: this already seen the instigation of new and exciting projects and collaborations.