Daniel Kish was born in the Los Angeles metropolitan area in 1966, a region with advanced medical facilities and some of the finest doctors in the world. At a very young age he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma – eye cancer – and at just 7 months of age surgeons had to remove his right eye. Usually retinoblastoma in children is confined to one eye, but Daniel was not so fortunate. His left eye was surgically removed when he was 13 months old.
His parents might have treated Daniel differently than they would have treated a son with perfect eyesight. He might have been coddled, and had things done for him that a boy who could see would be expected to do for himself. They might have excused him from expectations of high scholastic achievement, or not expected him to acquire the ability to live independently, or to earn a living. They might have unintentionally taught him fear; fear of getting hurt, and fear of success.
Instead, Daniel’s parents taught him that “Ignorance and fear were matters of the mind”, and, “The mind is adaptable”. They rejected ignorance and unawareness as the necessary fate of the blind. They believed he “should grow up enjoying the same freedoms and responsibilities as everyone else”.
They “knew the difference between love and fear”, as, “fear immobilizes us in the face of challenge”. Daniel was not raised with fear. His parents put his “freedom first above all else, because that is what love does”. Daniel’s parents taught him that he could do anything and encouraged him to use his natural abilities to live without limitations as much as he possibly could.
He found that sound enabled him to visualize the world, and that sound which originated from him bounced back off of objects. He learned to echolocate, a skill he calls ‘FlashSonar’. He makes clicking sounds with his tongue, which echo off surrounding objects. The echoes returning to his ears help him form a mental image of his environment, very much the same way bats and dolphins use sonar.
Using his FlashSonar technique, Daniel can ride a bike and ‘see’ obstacles in his path – he can even tell the shape of the obstacles, such as these posts (columns) at the end of this video (1:15):
Daniel earned master’s degrees in Developmental Psychology and Special Education from the University of California Riverside, and in 2000 he founded the nonprofit World Access for the Blind (WAFTB), which “is committed to facilitating the self-directed achievement and Perceptual Freedom of people of all ages with all forms of blindness. We also advocate for, and raise awareness about, the strengths and capabilities of blind persons in the USA and around the world.” WAFTB has taught FlashSonar to thousands of people across the globe.
Daniel is quite a skilled public speaker as well. This TED Talk he gave (published in 2015) is well worth thirteen minutes of your time, but if you don’t have that much to spare then consider watching at least the first five minutes of the video (13:08):
Too often physical imperfections, disabilities, and the challenges that come with the territory, are seen as tragic or even hopeless. Daniel Kish is proof that adversity in one’s life can actually be an advantage, without which he may not have been driven to be extraordinary. Attitude is everything.
Question of the night: Do you remember the first time you heard an echo? Alternatively, do you have a vivid or favorite memory of an echo?