Daniel walks into a room where there are several groups of people talking. With every step he takes, murmurs extend over the crowd. Whispers of people asking each other, “Why does he have a cane? Is he blind?” can be heard everywhere.
Most would say they’re familiar with the super hero Daredevil. As he saved a man from being run over by a truck, he was blinded by a radioactive substance that fell from the back of the truck. As curious people, we wonder at the fact that Marvel could take someone that society labels as disabled and create a super hero who is saving people from evil in the world.
Daniel Kish is this everyday hero. Through the study of human echolocation, he has discovered a way for the blind to learn how to see. Daniel Kish is the founder of the non-profit organization World Access for the Blind that teaches students who are blind how to “see” by clicking their tongues and waiting for the sound to come back, which they learn to interpret as it creates an image in their brains. Studies from the University of Alcala in Madrid show that the same part of the brain that creates images for individuals with normal sight can also create image, through echolocation, for blind individuals.
As a non-profit, World Access for the Blind has various challenges. There’s not a large pool of finances available for innovations, which many people are skeptical about, like human echolocation. This hurdle has not stopped Daniel and his team, however; to date they have been able to train over 7,000 students in 30 countries how to use echolocation. World Access’s financials show no liabilities and a fair amount of assets. Many non-profits and small businesses have to borrow in order to stay afloat, but World Access has found support.
The organization’s goals are clear in their vision statement:
World Access for the Blind strives to improve the quality of interaction between blind and sighted people by facilitating equal access to the world’s resources and opportunities. We are interested in more than meeting the minimum requirements for functioning and life satisfaction. We believe in mutual respect, consideration, and accommodation of blind and sighted people by society.
Equal opportunity is the main goal. It’s accomplished by giving new education for the blind that was not previously available through the research of Daniel Kish and his colleagues. These are people who can ride bikes, hike mountains, and are just short of scaling buildings due to the innovation of World Access.
Why does this matter?
Those with sight disabilities are becoming better educated and are able to rise above the statistics that predict low academic and professional achievement for the blind. According to the NFB, in 2011 approximately 4,232,100 blind individuals did not achieve a high school diploma. Another huge problem is that the median annual salary of blind individuals is less than $33,000 with over a million blind individuals below the poverty line. Daniel Kish has been able to revolutionize the world’s idea of blind people, and has given these people a better chance at a career that was not possible before. Those who advocate for equality of opportunity must recognize and support initiatives like this that allow equality of opportunity to be closer to reality for individuals with disadvantages.
Kish has discovered a way for a blind person to “see” things like never before. With his discoveries in human echolocation, his work to fund his dream, the goals of World Access for the Blind, and the dehumanization that his innovations overcome, we can cheer for the not-so-superhero Daniel Kish and the his vision to connect the blind to the world around them.
Kabrina Budwell is a senior at Colorado Christian University majoring in Business Administration with a double minor in Communication and Leadership Studies. She has extensive background in disabilities including autism, the blind, and physical disabilities. When she worked for the Walt Disney Company’s Services for Guests with Disabilities she created a pamphlet for children with autism visiting the park.