Last updated: 30 december, 2009 - 14:31 GMT


Sound of Snow and Ice

Henri listens to the trees

Henri listens to the trees

It's well known that the blind learn to use sound to avoid obstacles - to create a map of their world.

Presenter and producer Joe Acheson visits Jyväskylä School for the Visually Impaired in the Finnish countryside. There they teach children this art to a much greater degree: the walls in the corridors are covered with all sorts of noisy objects.

They even have a 'sound room' - every surface covered in things that make stimulating noises - all set against the interesting Finnish soundscape of snow crunching as the children build the confidence to start exploring the world for themselves.

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The school's aim is to avoid a total reliance on high tech and expensive navigational aids, by honing the children's natural abilities which most of us possess, but which we don't use to their full potential.

At the same time they are very up to date with an increasing selection of technology available to the blind. Some of the children are highly computer savvy, and they make full use of developments like the internet, GPS, and even the laser cane.

The Jyväskylä school is a specially-designed environment full of dedicated, passionate and highly-trained staff. But some of the staff feel that the environment is sometimes too safe - and neither fully prepares the students for life after the school nor encourages some of them to want to learn and develop essential skills.

Outi Lappalainen has been at the school for more than 20 years, inventing and building many of the innovative devices, such as the wooden echoboards the children use to navigate around the playground - and the flourescent yellow canes (easier to see against the snow than a white cane) which are bent like skis so that they don't get stuck in the snow as the children push them along.

Original music by Joe Acheson

First broadcast 1 January 2010

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