World Access for the Blind president leads lecture at Konover Auditorium

Daniel Kish, president of World Access for the Blind speaks during “Navigating the Unknown: Breaking Out of the Trap of Perceived Limitations” at Konover Auditorium in Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (Allen Lang/The Daily Campus)

Flash Sonar allows blind individuals to neutralize their primal fear of darkness and push the boundaries of human perception to achieve independence, said Daniel Kish, president of World Access for the Blind at “Navigating the Unknown: Breaking Out of the Trap of Perceived Limitations” Monday night at Konover Auditorium.

Kish, who has been blind since he was 13 months old, demonstrated the echolocation technique he has taught to over 600 kids in 40 countries.

Requesting the audience to close their eyes for the full sensory experience, Kish used a system of clicks and hums to navigate the stage based on the types of sound waves created by objects of different distances, materials and locations.

Student participants described a sweatshirt, for example, as having a “deeper,” more “muffled” sound than a plastic binder while close objects were said to return a “sharper” and “more airy” sound than distant ones. Kish, sometimes referred to as “the real Batman,” uses this form of echolocation to do everything from ride a bike to go on self-guided hikes.

“It returns literally with imprints from the surfaces of which it reflected. Very much like a camera flash, the brain becomes the film on which this information is imprinted,” he said. “We know from MRI scans that the visual system becomes active to process this data and construct images.”

One of the biggest factors influencing blind childrens’ ability to use flash sonar in their everyday life is the level of trust parents place in their ability to adapt. 

Kish said his parents’ willingness to follow his lead enabled him to begin using flash sonar early in life. Many families with blind children aren’t aware that they possess this ability, however, and can find it difficult to let go.

“The logic that I give to parents is simply this: you can think of it as an equation, you can fairly accurately predict that if you feed dependency and restriction into a child, you’re probably not going to get independence and freedom out the other end,” Kish said.

Juan Ruiz, now a perceptual mobility coach and winner of the Guinness World Record for “Fastest 10 Obstacle Slalom Blindfolded,” was 12 years old when he began practicing echolocation.

“If you can see with your eyes, we can see with our ears,” Ruiz said in a video at the start of the presentation. “It’s not a matter of enjoying it more or less, it’s enjoying it differently; it’s enjoying it through another lens.”

World Access for the Blind aims to substitute the traditional reliance on guides and memorizing routes to familiar locations with Kish’s form of self-directed navigation. 

“I think that within the perceivable future we will be looking at human perception and blindness very differently. We won’t be asking what can blind people not see, we’ll be asking how much can blind people really see,” Kish said.

For Kish, self reliance is about establishing a comfort zone based on trust and prior experience from which he can draw the confidence to take on unfamiliar situations. 

“I would propose that the real luster, the real richness that can be available to us in the world is when we are able to establish our own course, when we are able to chart our own path,” Kish said. “When we can do that, and when we can reach something of note and value by doing so, then we also have the capacity and opportunity to share that with others who can then take what we know and use that as a fulcrum to establish their own paths.”

“Navigating the Unknown: Breaking Out of the Trap of Perceived Limitations” was presented by the Center for Students with Disabilities and the Student Activities Leadership Office.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.