Research on the psychology and neuroscience of blindness has the potential to lead to the development of both sight restoration and processes of sight substitution whereby visually impaired individuals are able to learn to make use of their other sensory capacities to perform daily tasks that might otherwise rely heavily on visual information. Research in cognitive psychology can reveal the function of vision for brain development, and how things change in the absence of visual experience for those with sensory impairments. By combining this fundamental knowledge with cutting edge technology that converts images into sound or touch, psychologists can help develop inclusive technology for the visually impaired.
Dr Karin Petrini and Dr Michael Proulx have both made fundamental discoveries about how visual impairment changes cognitive and neural processes. They have used these insights to understand their applied research on prosthetic devices that try to provide visual input to the visually impaired either invasively (retinal implants) or non-invasively (through converting visual information to sound or touch). This work, funded by the EPSRC, British Academy and Alumni among others, is leading to technological developments to assist visually impaired adults and children with work and educational tasks that involve inaccessible images.