At times, our dreams are vivid, colourful and imaginative, based on what we have imbibed and perceived in our dayto-day life. As common as dreams are for those who have vision, the visually challenged too dream. But what do they dream of, especially those who have been born visually challenged? Do they see colour? What do persons who have progressively gone blind dream of ?
“I cannot see,” says Ketan Kothari (37) an officer with the National Association of Blind (NAB). That, however, has not prevented him from seeing dreams. Never mind that he was born blind, without eye sockets as well.
“Of course, I dream. My dreams are auditory. If you exclude the component of sight, a visually challenged person’s dreams are as ordinary or as extraordinary as the dreams of other people,” says Kothari. “For example, take Mount Everest. For those who have vision, it would be high peaks, scenic viewpoint and so on. But for me, it means the wind, lack of oxygen, the chill,” says Kothari, who incidentally, is an avid trekker.
When the country watches Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid with bated breath, the cricket fanatic Kothari follows each and every ball-by-ball commentary on the audio. Does he dream of cricket? “I can hear the crowd going berserk when the ball has been hit midfield. I use my imagination along with the commentary,” says Kothari. Kothari’s dreams are based on a sense of smell or the feeling of heat or cold. Does he ever imagine sunset or sunrise? “For me sunset and sunrise are not vivid as described. I feel the sunrise when I first hear the crows. I feel the sunset when the temperature changesâ€¦but no colours,” says Kothari.
Dream images of the visually challenged seem to be reconstructions of objects based on sensory input such as touch and sound, just as it occurs in waking life. According to research done by C Hurovitz, S Dunn, G W Domhoff, and Fiss, titled “The dreams of blind men and women: A replication and extension of previous findings”, visually challenged people experience a very high percentage of taste, smell and touch sensations in their dreams. The highlights of this research were:
There are no visual images in the dreams of those born without any ability to experience visual imagery in waking life. Those who become blind before the age of five seldom experience visual imagery in their dreams.
Those that become sightless between the ages of five and seven may or may not retain some visual imagery. Those who lose their vision after age seven continue to experience at least some visual imagery, although its frequency and clarity often fade with time.
Suhas Karnik, 49, an officer with the Bank of India, who gradually lost his eyesight and went blind by the age of 15, says that his dreams have a visual element as he saw colours till the age of 15. “My dreams are made of sound and most of what I dream of is based on sound,” says Karnik who goes to cinema halls and watches entire three hour movies.
A vision for tomorrow
The progress in modern technology has made life easier for the visually challenged. For example, can one see with the ears? No? Twenty-seven-year-old Kandivali resident Pranav Lal, who was born blind, does. He uses a technology called vOICe (OIC as in ‘oh I see’) developed by Meijer, a research scientist in the Netherlands. Simply put, vOICe, can help one see with the help of sound-with the help of a tiny camera, a laptop and headphones. The camera is mounted on the head. The laptop captures the video input and converts it into auditory information, or soundscapes.
The scene in front of the person is scanned in stereo. The sounds of the objects on the left are heard through the left ear and objects on the right through he right ear. Brightness is translated as volume: bright things are louder. Pitch tells one what’s up and what’s down. The image refreshes once a second. For continuous use, a head-mounted camera is preferred for best sensory feedback, but for occasional orientation purposes, say for reading signs or to have a look at graphs or other graphical material in print, on the blackboard or on displays, a mobile can be as useful.
Solicitor Kanchan Pamnani (40), who progressively lost her sight, uses her mobile to see colours though not often. A Bulgarian company has developed a software implementation of the voice that runs on the Nokia 3650 (Nokia 3600, Nokia 3660) camera phone. The software includes a talking colour identifier, such that you can point the camera of your Java-enabled smartphone or PDA at any item of interest and hear the colour name spoken. The software is available free of charge for non-commercial personal and academic use.