There could soon be new ways to help the visually impaired navigate better through everyday life and also blend in with the mainstream more easily.
Researchers have found that new tools could be developed for them on the basis of a device called "Enactive Torch".
The "Enactive Torch" looks like a TV remote but it can do much more than just changing channels.
"The torch enables the visually impaired to judge their ability to comfortably pass through narrow passages, like an open door or busy sidewalk, as good as if they were actually seeing such pathways themselves," said Luis Favela, a graduate student in philosophy and psychology at the University of Cincinnati.
The handheld torch uses infra-red sensors to "see" objects in front of it.
When the torch detects an object, it emits a vibration - similar to a cellphone alert - through an attached wristband.
The gentle buzz increases in intensity as the torch nears the object, letting the user make judgments about where to move based on a virtual touch.
"Results of this experiment point in the direction of different kinds of tools or sensory augmentation devices that could help people who have visual impairment or other sorts of perceptual deficiencies," Favela said.
For the study, researchers tested participants' judgments in three ways: using only their vision, using a cane while blindfolded and using the "Enactive Torch" while blindfolded.
The idea was to compare judgments made with vision against those made by touch.
The research was presented at the American Psychological Association's (APA) annual convention in Washington DC this week.