Edited by Daniel R. Montello
Chapter 15: Navigating without vision: principles of blind spatial cognition
This chapter considers what it means to learn and navigate the world with limited or no vision. It investigates limitations of blindness research, discusses traditional theories of blind spatial abilities, and provides an alternative perspective of many of the oft-cited issues and challenges underlying spatial cognition of people who are blind or visually impaired. Several provocative assertions pertaining to visual impairment and spatial abilities are advanced that help to better understand navigation without vision, provide greater explanatory power relevant to many of the current debates in the literature, and offer some needed guidance on the development of new spatial learning strategies and technological solutions that will ultimately have a significant positive impact on the independence and quality of life of this demographic. An underlying and related theme of the chapter emphasizes the importance of ‘space’ in spatial cognition research, rather than vision as its principle mechanism. There is no debate that vision is an amazing conduit of spatial information, but it is also important to remember that it does not have a monopoly on space. Indeed, all of our senses encode spatial information to one degree or another, and as we will discuss, this commonality allows for equivalent performance on many of the same spatial behaviors, independent of whether they originate from visual or non-visual perception.
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