Daniel Kitsch lost his vision when he was barely 13 months old.
But the 46-year-old can ride a mountain bike, navigate the wilderness alone, climb trees and recognise a building as far as 1,000 feet away. And he is also the only visually-impaired person to have been awarded a certificate to act as a guide for other people with visual disabilities in the United States.
Mr. Kitsch says he has taught himself to see, and his ears are his eyes. Those who have seen Tamil film Thandavam would also agree he is an inspiration to many. “Blindness is just a condition like any situation we all face. We just need to find ways to adapt to it,” he says. He uses simple techniques to interpret the world around him and encourages people with visual impairments to do the same.
While he walks around or wades through traffic, you hear him make clicking sounds with his tongue at regular intervals. By making these clicks and listening to the rebounding echoes, he says he can “see” the world in sound, in the same way that dolphins and bats can.
The sound of the click that bounces off from an object and the time it takes for the echo to return to him tells Mr. Kitsch the distance of the object and its location. And, these echoes are loaded with other information too, such as the size, shape and texture of an object.
“Our brain has always had the ability to process non-visual images. The techniques I urge people to use are very simple to use but take time to refine,” he says.
Mr. Kitsch has trained himself to hear these slight echoes and to interpret the sounds of echoes bouncing off objects, like cars, trees and poles. He has given a name to what he does — he calls it “FlashSonar” — but it’s more commonly known by its scientific term, echolocation.
Mr. Kitsch, along with a team runs a non-profit organisation, World Access for the Blind, in the US. The institute offers training to persons with visual impairment on how to interact with one’s environment, using echolocation as a primary tool.
Mr. Kitsch was in the city on Sunday to initiate collaborations with the National Association for the Blind, and has been urging people to take to these techniques. “Training people here on these techniques is different. The methods have to be culturally suited,” he says.
“I find many contradictions in the Indian society. While people here are warm and welcoming, as a blind person I feel the society here can be oppressive. Also, the noise levels in India are high, the traffic is chaotic. Those with visual impairments need to be stronger here,” he said.