Born with an aggressive form of cancer called retinoblastoma, which attacks the retinas, Daniel Kish has been blind since both of his eyes were removed when he was 13 months old. Now 44, his adaptation to a world of darkness has been so remarkable that some don’t believe that he is blind.
He can ride a mountain bike through congested streets and on dangerous dirt trails, navigate through the wilderness, camp out by himself, swim long distances, cook gourmet meals and recognize a building as far away as 1,000 feet, all by utilizing sonar as bats do.
He has given his own name to his technique, which he refers to as “Flash Sonar”, but it is a phenomenon with a scientific name known as echolocation. By clicking his tongue, he creates sound waves, which travel at a speed of more than 1,000 feet per second. These waves of sound bounce off every object around him, and return to his ears in the form of slight echoes. Kish has trained himself to hear these echoes and to interpret their meaning.
These readings allow Daniel to decipher information that on the surface would appear impossible for a blind person. He can be incredibly precise about the distance between two trees on a lawn and how far away from a curb a car might be parked. In addition to bats, Beluga whales and dolphins interpret sound in the same fashion.
His mantra is complete and unfettered independence and his mission is to change the way the world views blind people, and the way blind people view the world. He runs a non-profit organization called World Access for the Blind, which is headquartered in his home. There he offers access training on how to utilize echolocation to interpret the environment, and so far, more than 500 students have benefited from his teachings.
Dan may not be the first blind person to use this technique, but he is the first to document it, break it down into all of its parts and to develop a method for teaching it to others.
Here’s to Dan Kish, a man with a very special vision indeed!