We propose a combined field and laboratory approach investigating large-scale cognitive spatial mapping in the blind through virtual navigation, and assessing the transference of acquired spatial knowledge in real-world indoor and outdoor navigation tasks. Training and evaluation of navigation performance will be carried out with a user-centered, computer-based navigation software platform called Haptic Audio Game Application (HAGA). This software was developed to assist in orientation and mobility (O&M) training by introducing blind users to an unfamiliar environment through immersive, simulation-based virtual navigation. Using iconic and spatialized auditory cues and vibro-tactile feedback, a visually impaired user learns to build a cognitive spatial map of their surrounding environment. Using a self-directed, free exploration strategy, users interact with HAGA to navigate through a simulated indoor and outdoor virtual environment that represents an actual physical space (i.e. a school campus). In the first aim of the study, we will compare spatial cognitive map development in early and late blind as well as low vision individuals using the HAGA software versus a group learning setting in which participants learn the layout of the campus using a tactile map. The ability to transfer acquired spatial information will then be assessed with navigation tasks carried out in the actual physical environment. In a second aim of the study, we will investigate the neural correlates associated with virtual navigation and prolonged training. Using functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we will identify and compare the neural networks associated with these skills in early blind and sighted individuals. The innovative combination of an intervention clinical trial study and hypothesis-driven neuroscience investigation will better inform the future design of assistive technology and broad-based O&M training for the blind. From a clinical perspective, this work will have potentially important implications in terms of rehabilitative training by improving navigation skils and promoting independence, while dispelling anecdotal preconceptions regarding the abilities (and disabilities) of the blind and visually impaired.

Public Health Relevance

We propose to investigate cognitive spatial mapping skills in the blind through virtual navigation of real-world environments using computer-based software. The novelty of this study is the development of a virtual reality based learning approach to assist in the training of navigation skills in the blind that, in turn, also serves as a platform for an integrated neuroimaging study investigating the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms associated with navigation abilities. The results of this study will help develop novel approaches for orientation and mobility (O&M) training in the blind and contribute new insights towards our understanding of the neural mechanisms associated with navigation and the adaptation to blindness.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Institute
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Type
Research Project (R01)
Project #
5R01EY019924-08
Application #
9003055
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (BNVT)
Program Officer
Wiggs, Cheri
Project Start
2010-02-01
Project End
2019-01-31
Budget Start
2016-02-01
Budget End
2017-01-31
Support Year
8
Fiscal Year
2016
Total Cost
$401,596
Indirect Cost
$128,000
Name
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary
Department
Type
DUNS #
073825945
City
Boston
State
MA
Country
United States
Zip Code
02114
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Bauer, Corinna; Yazzolino, Lindsay; Hirsch, Gabriella et al. (2015) Neural correlates associated with superior tactile symmetry perception in the early blind. Cortex 63:104-17
Connors, Erin C; Chrastil, Elizabeth R; Sánchez, Jaime et al. (2014) Virtual environments for the transfer of navigation skills in the blind: a comparison of directed instruction vs. video game based learning approaches. Front Hum Neurosci 8:223
Connors, Erin C; Chrastil, Elizabeth R; Sánchez, Jaime et al. (2014) Action video game play and transfer of navigation and spatial cognition skills in adolescents who are blind. Front Hum Neurosci 8:133
Bauer, Corinna M; Heidary, Gena; Koo, Bang-Bon et al. (2014) Abnormal white matter tractography of visual pathways detected by high-angular-resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) corresponds to visual dysfunction in cortical/cerebral visual impairment. J AAPOS 18:398-401
Sánchez, Jaime; de Borba Campos, Marcia; Espinoza, Matías et al. (2014) Audio Haptic Videogaming for Developing Wayfinding Skills in Learners Who are Blind. IUI 2014:199-208
Bolognini, Nadia; Convento, Silvia; Rossetti, Angela et al. (2013) Multisensory processing after a brain damage: clues on post-injury crossmodal plasticity from neuropsychology. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 37:269-78
Connors, Erin C; Yazzolino, Lindsay A; Sanchez, Jaime et al. (2013) Development of an audio-based virtual gaming environment to assist with navigation skills in the blind. J Vis Exp :
Sánchez, Jaime; Espinoza, Matías; de Borba Campos, Marcia et al. (2013) Enhancing Orientation and Mobility Skills in Learners who are Blind through Video gaming. Creat Cognit 2013:353-356
Merabet, Lotfi B; Connors, Erin C; Halko, Mark A et al. (2012) Teaching the blind to find their way by playing video games. PLoS One 7:e44958

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