Utne Reader visionary
Blind since infancy, Daniel Kish heads World Access for the Blind (WAFTB), a nonprofit that takes a revolutionary approach to managing blindness by emphasizing self-direction and loosening “attachments to the idea we should limit ourselves or be limited,” proving that just about any activity is possible.
As part of perceptual mobility training, Kish and his team teach a tongue-clicking method called FlashSonar, an advanced form of echolocation in which students create active sound cues to navigate and recognize objects instead of relying on passive sonar (listening for cues). WAFTB is working on a series of solo, unguided hikes at the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Mount Whitney, and the Appalachian Trail.
The interesting thing about blind hiking, Kish says, is that most people imagine the challenges would be rugged terrain, cliffs, bears, handling equipment, and so on. “That’s all very manageable,” he says. “The tricky part for a blind person is the wayfinding—it’s making sure that what you’re following is the trail, because there are lots of things that you can follow that aren’t the trail.”
Kish is also quick to point out that while hiking, biking, and playing soccer without sight are remarkable feats, for blind people it’s activities like getting a job, moving out on one’s own, and paying bills that are often what’s truly worth celebrating.
Don’t miss this great video of Daniel Kish using and explaining the echolocation technique. You can also hear Kish explaining echolocation in a podcast with the Royal National Institute for the Blind. Also, there is a wealth of resources on training, techniques, workshops, and initiatives available through World Access for the Blind.
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