The world isn’t always fair or kind to those who are born with a disability or a handicap. In nature, they call it survival of the fittest, and sometimes it feels like this can apply to people, too. A bird who cannot fly won’t make it very far, and a man who cannot see might be subject to a similar fate.
Thankfully for humans, our brains are superior to that of any bird and when we lose a sense, our other senses become stronger. We also have helpful tools, mechanisms, and even other animals who can assist. But one blind man refused to use any of these, and instead, tried something entirely different that’s now changing the lives of many.
Although life gave him lemons at a very young age, Daniel Kish has overcome major setbacks, created a scientific breakthrough, and has inspired thousands of people with his optimism.
When Kish was still an infant, he developed retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that attacks the cochlea. Before his first birthday, both of his eyes were removed to keep him alive, and he was left completely blind.
Kish never wanted to go the sunglasses route, so to avoid stares from strangers, he received prosthetic eyes. They could not help him see, but he found his own loophole around that.
After one of Kish’s many surgeries, he woke up in the intensive care nursery. The blind boy climbed out of his crib and began to wander the halls of the hospital. Without any type of assistance, he managed not to bump into a single thing…
As a toddler, he once woke up in the middle of the night, got out of bed, walked towards his window, opened it without hesitation, and climbed out of it into the yard. Clearly, this didn’t satisfy his curiosity, because he continued to hop the fence and sneak onto his neighbor’s property.
Although the neighbors didn’t press charges against the blind, 2-year-old trespasser, he did cause quite a ruckus. When a police officer returned him safely to his parents, they couldn’t believe what had happened. What 2-year-old, let alone a blind one, can hop several fences in the middle of the night?
People soon began to realize how exactly Kish was getting around without hurting himself. He was making continuous clicking noises with his tongue as he moved about. Doing this makes an echoing sound in your mouth, but also creates an echo in the environment.
This echo hits nearby objects and walls and bounces back, similar to the sonar of a bat. Echolocation is not common in humans because those who can see can’t hear well enough, but when one loses a sense, the others strengthen.
Kish is a man who likes to be alone, but is also brave and adventurous. He likes to help others, and has fought off quite a few bullies in his youth. The combination of his ability to use echolocation and his similar personality of comic book character Bruce Wayne, has rendered Kish the nickname “bat-man”.
As he practiced his skill over the following years, Kish became more and more independent. He never had a seeing eye dog or a cane but attended a regular school, went on walks, and even began riding a bike, which he learned by practicing in a straight line along a wall.
Perhaps he got a bit too confident or overly excited, because Kish ended up crashing through some trash cans and smashing into a metal pole once. It was a violent collision, but he kept his head up. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the only dangerous activity he would get into.
Kish did experience much success with his education, however. In high school, he was voted “best brain” and “most likely to succeed”. He then went off to college and obtained a degree in psychology and special education at the University of California.
As he got older, Kish’s love for exploring did not die out – in fact, it only grew. With his other senses heightened, he came to truly appreciate scents and sounds, especially those of nature. He even began to take up hiking!
Kish quickly fell in love with nature, and solitude. So in 2003, he purchased a cabin deep in the California woods. From there he could easily hike into the forest. He said the only company there was a family of mice.
Being a bit of a lone wolf, Kish never had any intimate relationships, but he did experience heartbreak of a kind. He had a wood-burning stove built in the cabin, but unsafe materials were used for the chimney, and as a result, his beloved cabin burned down to the ground.
Kish’s spirit seems nearly unbreakable, because despite the loss of his beloved cabin, he stayed positive, and began teaching others his method of echolocation. He often began by holding a glass plate next to his students to teach them how to guide themselves without a cane or service dog.
Most of his teaching was done through Kish’s own organization, called World Access For The Blind — an international, educational, non-governmental non-profit. Its goal is to raise awareness of the capability of blind people, and to support them physically and psychologically.
Certain members of the blind community claim that Kish’s method takes too long to learn with little payoff, and that it could even put some in danger. Others are big fans, and grateful to Kish for his teachings. In 2015, he was asked to give a TED talk, in which he urged everyone to stop fearing the dark and the unknown.
Kish has now worked with many blind children and young adults, who are currently teaching echolocation to others. A method that started with one man has already begun to spread and evolve, and could even become a standard method of getting around for the blind community.
Daniel Kish is currently attempting to find a way to create bat-like sound waves that blind people can hear. What we hear is a bright future ahead for many blind people, thanks to this real-life batman.
Daniel Kish’s method may not be perfect or work for everyone, but he has helped both himself and many others become more independent and less afraid of the dark. There is no doubt that what he has achieved is revolutionary.
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