Eye Health

Updated 14 March 2018

Teaching blind people to 'see with sounds'

It may be possible to successfully teach blind people to use sound to 'see', according to a new study.

The way the brain organises its visual sense is the same in people who are blind from birth and sighted people, a new study shows.

The findings challenge the long-held belief that the brain's visual cortex – which handles the sense of sight – doesn't develop properly in people who are blind from birth.

"The brain's map is hardwired, possibly dependent on genetically driven processes that do not need any external sensory information for their activation," said study co-lead researcher Amir Amedi, associate professor of medical neurobiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The researchers used functional MRI to monitor activity in the visual cortex of people born blind and people with sight. Both groups had the same type of wiring in the visual cortex, researchers found.

This was true even in blind people whose eyes did not develop normally, according to the study published in the journal Brain.

"Though the 'blind brain' wiring may change greatly in the blind in its frontal language related parts, it still retains the most fundamental organisational principles of the visual cortex–known as 'retinotopic mapping' – the processing of two-dimensional visual images through the eye," Amedi said in a university news release.

The findings suggested that many features of visual cortex development do not require visual experience to progress, and that the visual cortex does not lose all of its properties even when a person has no vision.

Amedi added that the findings suggest "it may be possible to successfully teach blind people to 'see with sounds'".

Also read:

Eyecare myths you probably believed

Glaucoma: a silent but devastating eye condition

Protect your eyes from harmful UV rays

Image: Eye from Shutterstock


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert


Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules