Human echolocation expert Daniel Kish has been helping visually challenged across the world move around, play sports and even go trekking independently!

Daniel Kish is a freedom fighter — a fighter who has looked to free himself of his dependence caused by lack of sight. What’s more, having succeeded to a considerable extent in his mission through human echolocation, he is now helping scores of visually challenged people around the globe gain their freedom too.

Kish’s story is inspiring. He lost vision in one eye when he was seven months old, and in the other when 13 months old to Retinoblastoma.

“I don’t remember when I started using echolocation, for I have been doing it ever since I was a child. But I would credit my parents for inspiring me to discover it. They were not overprotective and did not treat me like someone who would not be able to achieve what they expected of him. They had primarily three demands. One, they wanted me to move out of their home by the time I was 18 and become independent. Two, pay my taxes (although I don’t like it, I do!) and three, take care of them in their old age,” says Kish, the president of the World Access for the Blind and an expert on human echolocation.

It was only when he was in his 20s that Kish realised he was using echolocation. He did extensive research on it only to realise there was no training curriculum for the subject. “I wanted my project to have meaning and so for my thesis, I recruited 24 blind children. I read every article on echolocation published between 1930 and 1995 only to realise there were no training protocols. I realised what was more important than echolocation itself was the attitude of those seeking to learn it. The children I had recruited for my project were uncomfortable with following echolocation because they had been trained to depend on others. I developed a programme that took into consideration not just the person learning echolocation but also the society and the system he is a part of,” says Kish.

Today, thanks to Kish, many visually challenged kids have been able to play sports such as basket ball and soccer, and go on treks to dangerous cliffs without the support of those with sight.

“Echolocation helps us not just find out if there are objects in our path. It tells us about their nature, structure and texture. We have students who play, trek and even cycle. We haven’t had an assassin yet!” laughs Kish, a busy globetrotter. His calendar is packed with trips to Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and the U.S. for training sessions, with a vacation in Switzerland thrown in.

“Although it is a rewarding feeling, my work keeps me away from home for a long time. I enjoy working with children. After that, I enjoy my solitude,” says Kish, who, apart from training several students also trains instructors and families of visually challenged persons in methods that can help them.

Signs off Kish, “What I can do is not important. What is important is what I can teach others to help them.”

(Daniel Kish can be reached at daniel.kish@worldaccessfortheblind.org)

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What is echolocation?

It is a method through which the visually challenged make ‘click’ sounds to know about objects in their path in a manner similar to how bats use sonar to locate objects.

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On training Vikram

Kish has helped Vikram, who plays a RAW agent in A.L. Vijay’s Thaandavam, play a visually challenged person. On the experience, he says, “Vikram was delightful to work with. To me, he was another student.” On his own experience of acting in the film, he says, “That was easy because I was portraying myself. The person you see in the film is very similar to the real me.”

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The man and his movements

Compared to most other visually challenged persons who do not use echolocation, Kish moves at a much faster pace and with more confidence. The method’s effectiveness can be understood from an incident narrated by director A.L. Vijay. “We were strolling through a park in Kish’s hometown, having a conversation. At one point, a tree branch was in our way, and I had hardly noticed it as I was engrossed in the conversation. However, just as we neared it, Kish deftly avoided the branch. I was stunned.” Says Krish: “I can use echolocation even on noisy streets and can negotiate street furniture. However, it is a little more difficult when I have a conversation on a noisy street as half my attention is diverted to the conversation.”

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Thaandavam show

The team of Thaandavam has chosen to make a version of the film for the visually challenged. Dhananjayan of UTV Pictures, the producers of the film, says, “It was director Vijay’s idea. He wanted the visually challenged too to enjoy the movie.” While the film is to release on September 28, there will be a special screening of the film on September 27 at Sathyam Cinemas, the proceeds of which will go to the National Association for the Blind (NAB).

(Tickets for the show can be picked up from Savera Hotel, Airtel Relationship Centres in Anna Nagar and Kellys, and at NAB’s office — Phone: 2537-6856)