Seeing with Sound

Excerpts from “Blindness No Obstacle To Those With Sharp Ears,” All Things Considered, March 13, 2011:

Meet Daniel Kish. He's a man of many talents. He likes to hike, make music and write. He enjoys children and loves nature. He's an avid biker.

He's also completely blind.

How can Kish bike if he can't see? The method is called echolocation — Kish calls it "flash sonar." As he speeds along on his bike, he makes clicking sounds. As the clicks bounce back to him, he creates a mental image of the space around him. He's kind of like a human bat.

"It is literally a process of seeing with sound," he says.

Daniel Kish leads All Things Considered weekend host Guy Raz on a bike ride.

“I think that children are incredibly adaptable and intuitive. We know this. I work a lot with children, especially very young children. What I often tell parents when children lose their sight is — warn and support parents — to try and get themselves out of the way of the adaptation process, become more an asset to it than a liability. Because children will adapt if given support to do so and given space to do so.

…It’s the overall process of being willing to reach out into the environment and discover what is around them. If that discovery process is broken by introducing a situation that is not natural, such as keeping the blind child in a playpen or a crib or in the corner, or such as always guiding their hands around their environment or guiding their bodies around their environment — [you really just have to let them figure it out. Getting hurt] is part of it for any child…It is tough, but there’s still a kind of a priori difference. When a sighted child gets hurt we consider it to be unfortunate; when a blind child gets hurt we consider it to be tragic…We really need to divest ourselves of that double standard.

[At World Access for the Blind] our main focus is supporting individuals to access their environment better…It is about a philosophy that we call No Limits Philosophy which challenges us to challenge what we think we know. To challenge every boundary, every box, every limitation that we’ve either put up ourselves or allowed ourselves to be conditioned to accept.

… Conventional wisdom doesn’t favor blindness. Conventional wisdom basically favors the perpetuation of convention. Blindness is not conventional — it’s anything and everything but conventional. So we tend to challenge conventional wisdom to expand itself and accept that there are situations, circumstances which are not conventional yet which still warrant accommodation, consideration, acceptance, awareness.