Being too tired, not having enough time, worrying what other people might think, fear of failure... The excuses for not getting stuff done are varied, endless and pretty much always just a little bit lame. Some people, though, like Daniel Kish, have seemingly been given the best excuses in the world, such as being blind. Daniel has been completely blind for most of his life, yet he thinks nothing of navigating through woods or scaling mountains on his own. Nor should we. The worst excuse he's ever heard? "I can't see". Interview: Jen Slater
You've been totally blind since the age of one. How did you learn to 'see' with echolocation (tongue clicks that create sound waves as they bounce off objects)
I just learned by moving around, which I was free to do without a lot of busybodies interfering very much. My mother was fierce about my independence. I was held to strict standards, but also allowed a lot of liberty, liberty to learn from consequences.
Is there anything you wouldn't try?
I guess blindness might be seen as a big excuse for whatever, but I have never considered it such. I didn't even know I was blind until I was 5. And I was every bit as active as the other boys, and very competitive. I have no desire to sky dive. I have no doubt I would jump out of a plane without much hesitation if I had to, but see no reason to jump out of a perfectly good plane.
How do you get through tough days?
When it comes to braving the weather, I will brave almost any kind of storm. Storms don't seem to bother me much. I think what allows me to do this is that I have a knack for being able to see things from a bird's eye view. I can usually catch a glimpse of the other side of the storm, and what lies there waiting.
Through World Access for the Blind, you encourage other visually impaired people to achieve things they thought were impossible. How do you do this?
Most blind people have allowed themselves to become conditioned to depend on others to navigate for them, manage activities around them, and foster their capacity to function in the world. We do the following things with our students:
- Explain that our brains lose what isn't used. If we are guided around or things done for us, then those mechanisms in our brains that govern freedom of movement atrophy.
- Sighted guide is suspended for the duration of our training. If we want to go through life as someone else's passenger, then we will never learn to drive our own mobility.
- Get them a proper length cane with more effective training. The canes of most of our students are too short, which doesn't provide them sufficient preview of their environment. It is this lack of preview that often keeps people dependent and apprehensive.
- We discourage tactual dependence on physical surfaces – trailing walls and such, which are commonly taught to excess. These things have their place on occasion, but mostly they're restrictive. Most of the world is made up of open space. Yet, most blind people are tied to physical boundaries, which keeps them bound as well.
- We undertake a very specific process of socialisation so that blind people can resume their interactions with people in a normalised manner that isn't marginalising and isolating.
- We teach FlashSonar to awaken the brain's ability to see through sound.
You've had a few broken bones. Would anything make you stop?
Yeah! Age and wisdom.
Any new activities or challenges planned for the next year?
Well, within the next year I will be taking the stage at TED 2015 in March. I will also be completing a text book on FlashSonar, and submitting a life story book proposal to a major publisher. In the following year, in Comemoration of my turning half a century, I'd like to try my hand at Solo, unguided hang gliding, but that will take some planning and resources. I'll be looking for sponsors. (Did I say something about age and wisdom?)
You can find out more about Daniel and the work he does with World Access for the Blind, here.