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Seeing In Tongues

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(Claude Monet)

In 2011, we told the story of Emilie Gossiaux, an art student who was hit by a truck and fell into a coma. Though Emilie was permanently blinded in the accident, she has recently been able to see again — in a very different way.

Comments [31]

Monica from Wichita, KS

Jad describes Emily's view, translating NYC with her tongue, as a "hazy sea of walking fish that make their way along in the sunshine." Just beautiful.

But yes - truly amazing! "Lost and Found" is really the only episode that has struck such a strong emotional chord with me (I mean, of course, I love ALL of the episodes). It is this incredible story of love: Alan refused to believe that Emily's life was over, and he was going to do whatever it took to prove that. The "Translation" episode has made Emily's story just that much more inspirational.

Jan. 29 2015 06:15 PM
Agatha M. Silverstein

Humans never cease to amaze me. The sunglasses that Emily was given to help her see sound like an amazing apparatus. I still do not understand all the correlations between the electrodes in the brain, the tongue sensor, and our vision, but I believe whoever helped develop this is a genius. The device is not perfect; facial features, textures, and 3 dimensions are not visible, but for someone who has lost all eyesight, this is a gift. I especially like that Emily was given the opportunity to use this because it has helped her continue her artwork. Overall, this podcast just makes one appreciate the wonders of the human body, it is a system so intricate, that even a complete loss of certain functions can be slightly restored with the right connections.

Jan. 26 2015 11:04 PM
Agatha B. Silverstein from Florida

This is an incredible story of Emilie Gossiaux regaining what is very important to her. Being an artist and losing your ability to see is one of the most horrible things that can happen to a person, even if they're not an artist it's a horrible thing to happen. With the help pf developers a new device has given back her ability to see. The device connects to her tongue and allows her to see what she describes as very soft blurs of movement.

Jan. 26 2015 07:15 PM
Upton D. Wilder

This is such an interesting story. I love hearing about new gadgets and technology that better the lives of people today. The BrainPort doesn't disappoint. Someone who is blind can now see again through their tongue. That's crazy. I can only imagine what that must have felt like to have the world around you go completely dark. But then to be able to see it once again? That's amazing. Technology like this opens so many new doors for people that are blind. And who knows. Maybe technology will be developed to help people who are deaf. Maybe even people who are paralyzed. The possibilities are endless.

Jan. 24 2015 10:29 AM
Lyra A. Swift from FL

This device is quite bananas. These scientists have such a chill way of doing science: eyes are really complicated, so let's just get to her brain via the tongue. But surely we can't be too far off from the day where we can artificially reconnect the retina to the brain. I mean, just thirty years ago laser eye surgery would've seemed way farther out of reach than it turned out to be.

Jan. 20 2015 05:12 AM
Gandalf G. Bond from Florida

I think it is amazing that somebody even thought to develop this technology. I can't believe this is the first time I have heard of this device, it seems like a major breakthrough in medical science. The existence of the device is incredible because it could be used to help many more people who lose their vision in accidents.

Jan. 19 2015 11:01 PM
Toni J Wilde from Savannah, Florida

It's amazing how this little piece of technology could produce patterns onto her tongue to decode the pictures in front of her. Emily is extremely blessed to have been able to be apart of this opportunity. I found that this was very interesting that something like this could happen. Never in my dreams would I imagine that a little machine could put electricity onto the tongue and produce an image. It says that when you don't use your eyes anymore that the brain overcompensates for the eyes and that you don't actually see through your eyes but your brain. Emily describes that when the guy Ed swiped the object in front of her she saw the object completely. She describes that everything she sees looks like a painting that could move. This is most definitely my favorite NPR podcast of all time. I have never heard anything like this before and I am speechless.

Jan. 19 2015 09:43 PM
Anna B. Silverstein from United States

It's amazing that she was able to see at all through the device, and it shows how much of what we sense or perceive is dependent on our brains. I would be curious to know how her art went with the device. The more technology like this that comes out the fewer blind and disabled there will be.

Jan. 19 2015 08:37 PM
Oscar Rosseau

Man, technology is awesome. The change this could bring about in peoples lives is pretty amazing. Its also really interesting to hear the description of what the world "looks" like through the device. Definitely a super interesting story.

Jan. 19 2015 07:56 PM

The BrainPort is an amazing technology device, which in the future may lead to more break throughs for not only the blind but others. There are engineers and technology companies working on developing programs/devices that would allow our blind citizens of the world to walk down a street and know when the red/green crossing light made it safe to cross the street. If a driverless car knows when to stop, the technology is here. In Australia Monash is working on implanting a computer chip in the visual cortex that would connect to a camera on glasses similar to the BrainPort. This would restore sight to almost all blind people in this world. Engineers and technology will change life in this century like the plane and computer did in the last century. The BrainPort is just the beginning.

Jan. 18 2015 12:34 AM
Laurie Mosman from Twin Cities, Minnesota

This is a truly amazing story, which we heard on MPR, but I was curious as to whethe or not Emilie was able to keep the device which allowed her to see again? Also, what ever became of this study and why haven't not we heard more about this type of device⁉️

Jan. 17 2015 04:27 PM
Gail Katz Hanson from Oregon Coast

It really helps knowing her whole story... From being Stuck iIn A Wall to being able to "SEE" again! We all know the brain can be RE Taught... I hope this technology can be made available to more people with out sight. I'm simply Amazed and in this crazy world we live in, how Wonderful for Emile...💜

Jan. 15 2015 10:27 PM
Aldous T. Chrinchton

I think this is insane. I would have never thought of doing this. This is amazing and incredible. This would change the world for blind people.

Jan. 12 2015 10:24 PM
Harriet from Florida

The fact that this technology will definitely be improved in the future is an uplifting thought. It's exciting to think of all the things people will come up with to combat vision reduction. Hopefully blindness will not be as much of a problem as it is today. Also, Emilie's recovery is amazing! Taking something that usually eyes are needed for and making it her own.

Jan. 11 2015 07:31 PM
Kaitlyn from Oviedo, Fl

This is inspiring. She was a visual artist? Wow. She had to completely relearn different ways to do things. The advancement of technology is shocking, and I'm very excited for this blind girls ability to "see." It's pretty cool to think about how we "see with our brain, not our eyes."

Jan. 11 2015 01:16 PM
Sir Lancelot from Panera Bread

An artist to lose their eye sight could mean the end of their career, but not if modern science can help it. That little device which transmits light to electrodes, and then sends those images to the allow the girl to see images in a unique way, thus creating new art. Cutting edge technology, such as this can be transferred to different body parts to connect technology and the brain. Although, the invention needs work, it's clear to see that this can change the future of handicapped people.

Jan. 10 2015 03:29 PM
Bob Papich from United States

This is fascinating. As children, we played a game where we would draw letters on one another's backs and guess them. When I was going to college in the 80's it occurred to me that a device could be made that would transfer an image onto skin "sensory-sight". Turned out this was not a unique idea. I believe a Chinese scientist thought of this in the 1940's. Marshall Mcluhan also mentions it in one of his books, which is probably where I got the idea. I made a device and sent it to an institute for the blind and received a "thanks but no thanks" letter in return. My invention though working was crude, I admit. It used a camera obscura, solar cell array and the heat from small light bulbs to transfer a thermal image onto one's skin.

Jan. 01 2015 10:29 PM
Kressel Housman from Monsey, NY

Emily from Miami,

My thoughts exactly!

Dec. 30 2014 12:23 PM
john raymond berry from Seattle

My fiancee had a stroke and after several days, the doctor wanted to take him off life support. I knew that he was in there, because he would open his eyes periodically, the doctor doubted any creedence. So, the week progressed until the fateful hour, when after i wasn't allowed to be with him anymore, and the family was making the decision, in his prescence, mind you, of whether "to bring him home as ashes, or in a box". My guy sat up in bed, intubated and wired, shocking them. I had wondered if there was a living will decided to donate his organs, and was chided for it. The therapists all remarked how well he was, when i joined in on the therapy session. I was removed from Overlake Hospital when I questioned why Haldol was being administrated after he had been under anaesthesia, which only exacerbates the drugs and situation.
My guy is now in a facility, none of his friends from Seattle, or myself, are allowed to see him. Even though Obama has made great strides for gay people that are hospitalized, there isn't any teeth in this for us, because I do not know where he is hidden at, he can walk and he can talk, I have seen video of him in captivity, he is deprived of that one thing. Love from his significant other, and for me and i am certain for Nick as well, life can now be a hell on earth created by bigotry and hatefulness. Thank you for the story of this woman and her beau, i was glued to the radio. Blessings on their love.

Dec. 28 2014 11:46 PM
Micheline from United States

Great story. But we need more follow up! How is she doing now? Is Alan still her boyfriend? Why didn't the person assigned to assess her eligibility for rehab, try more things like what Alan did?...It scares me to think she could have been written off as "does not qualify for rehab" and sent to a nursing home as essentially a vegetable!... Please update this piece! - Thanks, Micheline

Dec. 27 2014 06:59 PM
George Lutz from Washington State

We sat in the car until it was over and then fired up the pc at home o get the rest of the story. The human spirit with the help of love is a powerful tool not to be underestimated. Thanks for the story and we hope Emily continues to "see".

Dec. 27 2014 05:38 PM
Ruth A Meyers from Florida

I am with Tamman on this incredible story; as a retired occupational therapist/educator who was in fact stimulated to enter the profession by seeing the story of Helen Keller in 'The Miracle Worker', I , too was so surprised that a rehab OT had not been consulted ( apparently- or if they had- shame on them ) to fully assess her awareness and potential- including finger-spelling. Ah- the pain it would have saved!

Thatsaid- good luck and Godspeed and way to go Allan!

Dec. 27 2014 02:17 PM
Tammam from Seattle

First I would like to congratulate Alan and Emilie’s family on their courage and level of commitment to Emilie. Emilie’s story is indeed a remarkable one. Unfortunately, it may not be as rare as one might expect. What is unique about it is Alan’s resourcefulness in advocating for Emilie. Alan’s energy could have been used to support Emilie in different ways if the treating team consulted the rehabilitation professionals to assess Emilie’s rehabilitation potential.

I am curious why the clinical team did not consult an occupational therapist to evaluate her? The occupational therapist would have been able to determine whether Emilie’s responses and behavior were purposeful or not. Such an intervention may have saved Emilie’s family some of their pain and suffering and would have assisted the interdisciplinary team with the clinical management plan.

Dec. 27 2014 12:30 AM
Barbara from Way out West

Emilie's story was a driveway moment for me -- a "sit in front of the UPS Store with the engine running for fifteen minutes" moment, actually -- and such a tribute to her wonderful boyfriend for not giving up on her. He awakened her with the most powerful language of all, the language of love.

Dec. 24 2014 05:29 PM
Tim from New York

This is fascinating. Is it possible that while training her brain to receive visual stimuli via her tongue, Emilie was able to 'see' the different tastes of food?

Nov. 14 2014 02:48 PM
Huxley T Wilder from FL

First of all, her perseverance is incredible. She gets hit by a truck, goes completely blind, but still tries to do what she loves. This type of technology is honestly crazy cool. She is seeing with her tongue! The plasticity of her brain relearned how to see with her mouth. That's awesome. I also think it's beautiful the way she says she sees people as a painting, in splotches of paint that just- moves. It makes me happy that she gets to see again, and in such a strange wand wonderful new perspective. Technology continues to open worlds of possibilities for us all the time.

Nov. 10 2014 08:33 PM
Bala from Los Angeles

This story reminded me of project some friends and I hacked a few years ago. If curious:

and more-

Oct. 26 2014 07:29 PM
JN Jasmin from France

After listening to this I went online to learn more about the creators of Brainport. Turns out it was started by a very interesting scientist, Dr Paul Bach-Y-Rita. Unfortunately he passed away in 2006, here's his obituary:

This man needs a biography written about him!

I also checked out some videos on Brainport on youtube. The device is absolutely amazing. In one video a blind man is even able to read using a brainport! (extra-large fonts, but still - the machine is in its infancy!)

Oct. 23 2014 10:48 AM
David Tsal from Anaheim, CA

About 15 years ago I saw on TV a show about a similar program, except there they had an ultrasound signal sent forward by a device on a blind man's head and when it bounced back, this was picked up by devices near his ears and lowered in pitch from ultrasound to regular sound, so he could hear them. I.e. just like a bat sees.

The result was not totally positive, because there are things that swallow ultrasound, so to him it was as if there was nothing there, but in reality there was. But he did begin to see.

I wonder whether that experiment was continued and improved. Does anyone know something about it?

Oct. 23 2014 05:27 AM
Emily from Miami

What happened to Alan? I remember their story from the lost and found episode but it sounds like they're no longer together. I guess it's none of our business but it made me a little sad.

Oct. 23 2014 01:14 AM
Mark Hammond from UK

What an incredible story. Did she get to keep the equipment at the end of the experiment or did she have to go back to being blind?

Oct. 22 2014 05:29 PM

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