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Daniel Kish, President of World Access for the Blind

There are so many amazing stories out there and this is one of them. Daniel Kish had both of his eyes surgically excised because of retinoblastoma (retinal cancer). The first eye was removed when he was 7 months old and he was rendered sightless with the removal of the second eye at age 13 months.  He doesn’t remember when he learned to see with his ears but thinks he began producing the clicking sounds he uses to echolocate when he was about 15 months old.

 

Human echolocation

Human echolocation is similar to echolocation used by bats and dolphins. A sound wave is produced, in the case of humans, by clicks of the tongue. The wave travels away from the mouth until it hits an object and then bounces (or echoes) back toward the person, entering the body via the ears. Sound waves from echolocation are processed by the brain in much the same way that the brain processes light waves that enter the body through the eyes. Daniel says, “I believe that brains are already at least partly wired to do this. All that has to happen is the hardware needs to be awakened. It needs to be activated. And we believe we have found ways of doing this.”

Daniel says that the sound waves produce sensations that allow him to detect size and shapes of objects around him. “It’s like seeing with discreet flashes of light,” he said in an interview with CNN. Because the sound waves are sonic, not ultrasonic like bat echoes, he can only detect objects if they are bigger than a baseball whereas bats can detect tiny objects, like insects, at a distance of many meters.

 

World Access for the Blind

As remarkable as this is, it is only a small part of what makes Daniel Kish such an extraordinary human being. He is passionate about liberating blind people from the shackles imposed on them by the sighted world’s perception of their disability. He founded and leads World Access for the Blind (WAB), a non-profit organization “that facilitates the self-directed achievement of people with all forms of blindness, and increases public awareness about the strengths and capabilities of blind people.”

The staff of WAB is mostly blind and, like Daniel, believe there are no bounds to what blind people can do – they speak of their “No Limits” attitude and “unique, scientific method  that teaches blind people to see in new ways by activating the brain to gain images of the world through sound and touch – like lighting a match in the dark.”

WAB has worked with more than 5,000 people in 18 countries, teaching them to see with their ears and gain confidence to do what they want – whether hiking in the high country or bike riding in rough terrain.  Take a look:

Daniel calls himself a Perceptual Mobility Specialist. I love it.  PMS! This story isn’t just about teaching echolocation – although that is magnificent. It is about teaching people without sight how to navigate and interact with their environment in a way that hasn’t been done before. It is about people becoming confident that they can do whatever they want because the have acquired new skills that allow them to burst through preconceived notions of their limitations. And it is about passion and persistence and leadership. Daniel Kish is a world-class game-changer. This is a WOW! story.

Daniel says that all people struggle with some form of blindness, whether physical or mental. But what he wants to do is help “people learn to perceive and understand their world and themselves better, and to apply their understanding to find freedom in self-directed achievement.”

To learn more about Daniel and the World Access for the Blind spend some time on their website and take a look at this video:

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