Daniel Kish has been sightless since he was a year old. Yet he can mountain bike. And navigate the wilderness alone. And recognize a building as far away as 1,000 feet. How? The same way bats can see in the dark.
Kish and a handful of coworkers run a nonprofit organization called World Access for the Blind, headquartered in Kish's home. World Access offers training on how to gracefully interact with one's environment, using echolocation as a primary tool. So far, in the decade it has existed, the organization has introduced more than 500 students to echolocation. Kish is not the first blind person to use echolocation, but he's the only one to meticulously document it, to break it down into its component parts, and to figure out how to teach it. His dream is to help all sight-impaired people see the world as clearly as he does.
It was never Kish's goal to run a foundation dedicated to the blind. He planned to be a psychologist. But he could not ignore the fact that few blind people enjoyed anything close to his freedom of movement, and he had grown weary of society's attitude toward the blind. "I am belittled, patronized, disrespected, invaded, restricted, and presumed weak, vulnerable, or otherwise incapacitated," he wrote in his journal. It still drives him crazy when he's congratulated for simply crossing the street or preparing dinner.
Young people, says Kish, are especially hard-hit. "Most blind kids hear a lot of negative talk. 'Don't do this, don't do that, don't move. No, here, let me help you.' The message you get, if you're blind, is you're intellectually deficient, you're emotionally deficient, you're in all ways deficient." A few sighted people have commented to Kish that they'd rather be dead than blind.
So in 2001 he started World Access for the Blind. One of its missions is to counter every no that blind people hear. Blindness, Kish says, should be understood — by both the blind and the sighted — as nothing more than an inconvenience. "Most of my life," he writes, "I never even thought of myself as blind. In fact, I saw myself as smarter, more agile, stronger, and generally more capable than most other boys my age."
World Access doesn't turn anyone away for lack of resources. But there are a couple of reasons why the organization hasn't trained more students. The first is Kish's general ethos about how blind children should be raised. "Running into a pole is a drag, but never being allowed to run into a pole is a disaster," he writes. "Pain is part of the price of freedom.
Emphasis mine. That is an important bit of wisdom for anybody: