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21. Understanding Spacial Concepts at the Geographic Scale Without the Use of Vision

DescriptionReview of literature that has sought to determine how people with visual impairments or blindness form 'mental landscapes'. This work is linked to the development of navigational and orientation aids for people who are blind or are visually impaired.
MethodologyLiterature review which examines the arguments surrounding whether people with visual impairments or blindness can understand geographic relationships such as distance, configuration and hierarchy.

Considers that more research must be carried out within the environments with which people will interact and not limited to the laboratory. Concludes that very little research has been done in real environments.

Asks whether the sighted/non-sighted/partially sighted have different knowledge of geographic space and if this knowledge is structured in a different way.

PublishedProgress in Human Geography 21 (2): 225-242
AuthorsKitchin, R., Blades, M., and Golledge, R.G.
Pricesubscription 146 p.a. (4)
Keywordsvisual impairment; spatial cognition; environmental perception

The intention of the article is to stimulate further research. The authors conclude that despite the research interest in the spatial activities of the blind and partially sighted the spatial abilities and activity patterns of this group are unknown.

Hill et al (1993) conducted a detailed survey of wayfinding and search activities of the blind and vision-impaired. Strategies to establish orientation and boundaries used by groups of blind, vision-impaired, blind fold and sighted were compared. Methods used were similar and included use of anchor points, establishing patterns in the layout of the environment, and using sounds, textures, smells as landscape cues. However Loomis et al. (1993) found that there were individual variations in wayfaring strategies among the visually impaired and that the types of strategies used were related to the degree of visual impairment.

The review provides a useful commentary on existing research fields and outlines fruitful areas of future research. In particular the authors suggest that the design of the environment can contribute to the ease with which the visually impaired can learn and remember new environments and give greater access to the environment.


Hill, E.W., Rieser, J.J., Hill, M., Halpin, J. and Halpin, R. (1993), How persons with visual impairments explore novel spaces: strategies of good and poor performers. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness 87: 295-301.

Loomis, J.M. et al., (1993) Non-visual navigation by blind and sighted: assessment of path integration ability. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 122: 73-91.