Investigating motor skills of visually impaired young people and the use of sound to guide movements

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Motor skills allow us to explore our environment and interact with the objects within it. Vision plays an important role in the development of these skills. The impact of visual impairment on perceptual-motor development is not well understood as a result of mixed findings and limited research. Therefore, the current thesis investigated this topic using a perception-action framework.

Four studies were conducted to assess the motor performance of visually impaired (VI) and sighted young people. Studies were designed to be close to the execution of object control and locomotor actions in real-life and to explore the use of auditory-based modifications. Mixed results regarding effects of visual impairments on motor skills and benefits of additional auditory task augmentation were found across the thesis experiments, and a consideration of the organismic, task and environmental constraints unique to each study is needed to make sense of the results.

The first study showed that degree of visual impairment (organismic constraint) impacted motor performance with the more severely VI group producing lower performance across a variety of motor tasks. This implies that this group require fundamental motor skill development. Subsequent studies demonstrated that VI and sighted blindfolded participants can detect action-relevant information in sound to guide motor performance to a similar standard in some but not all tasks. The use of a physical constraint (guiding rail) was useful for an interception task. The final experiment showed that interactive sound which changes in response to participant movement is effective in guiding actions for navigation.

The current thesis demonstrated that augmenting otherwise visual tasks with sound can be a useful approach to support the motor development of VI young people. This has implications for future research and for individuals interested in the mobility of children and young people.
Date of AwardDec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsGuide Dogs Northern Ireland & Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMatthew Rodger (Supervisor) & Martin Dempster (Supervisor)


  • visual impairment
  • motor development
  • young people
  • sonification
  • sound
  • perception and action

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