HAPTIC PERCEPTION IN BLIND PEOPLE
Morton A. Heller Winston-Salem State University
Many researchers have been interested in tactile perception in blind people, because it is there that we are able to study the sense of touch without the intervention of visual experience or visual imagery. Some blind persons have never seen. These individuals must base their understanding of space on the senses of touch, proprioception, audition, and perhaps, olfaction. Do blind persons imagine objects as we do? Do they understand space in the same ways that the rest of us do? Do blind persons have images? These questions and many more will be addressed in this chapter.
Some of the research in this area has been influenced by the introspection of the sighted when deprived of vision. For example, imagine you are visiting a friend's house, and in rather unfamiliar surroundings. It is the middle of the night, there is no electrical power, and you need to get out of bed and go to another room in total darkness. Many of us have had a difficult time under these circumstances; a number of us may have walked repeatedly into obstacles. Some sighted persons may panic when suddenly denied visual support. It would be easy to assume erroneously that this accurately reflects the situation of the blind individual, but there are many differences between these circumstances and the perceptual and spatial tasks facing blind persons. Furthermore, problems in large-scale space may differ in some ways from tactile perception involving smaller configurations. It is a mistake to try to generalize from the introspection of the sighted to the psychological reality of blindness. Sighted persons have developed a reliance on vision. In addition, they have failed to learn some types of spatial skill based on tac-