Sensing Nature: exploring visual impairment in the natural environment


In November 2016, ECEHH Researcher, Dr Sarah Bell, started a new two-year ESRC-funded project exploring the diverse sensory and emotional experiences people have in nature, focusing on individuals living with visual impairment. Approximately 285 million people are thought to live with sight loss and blindness across the world – a number that is increasing as populations begin to age and conditions such as diabetes become more common.

Whilst life with vision impairment can be both debilitating and deeply distressing, accounts shared by people who were born blind and those living with long-term sight loss also convey rich multisensory worlds. Many of these wider sensory experiences are currently overlooked in our understanding of how people sense and make sense of nature in the contexts of their everyday and whole lives.

Using in-depth qualitative methods, the ‘Sensing Nature’ project will examine how diverse visual impairments shape people’s opportunities for positive and therapeutic experiences in nature, and what support (if any) is needed to facilitate such experiences e.g. social, emotional, technological or environmental. It will explore how this varies between individuals with different life histories, including those born with a visual impairment and those facing sight loss later in life.

This work aims to promote greater awareness of people’s multisensory encounters with nature, as well as exploring how and why people have negotiated barriers to access. Such insights are important if we are to promote positive experiences in nature, ensuring a more inclusive approach to landscape design and accessibility and supporting the right to adventure, pleasurable immersion and meaningful connection regardless of one’s visual sensitivities.

For more information about the project, do visit the Sensing Nature website and the Project News page where regular updates will be posted, together with links to relevant resources for the public, practitioners, researchers and policy-makers. If you’re on Twitter, you can also follow us via @Sensing_Nature.

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