the magazine of UC Riverside - Winter 2007

Finding his way

by Laurie Williams

Psychologist Daniel Kish, ’88, travels the globe teaching blind people echolocation techniques that allow them to get around more independently -- to rely on their ears rather than on canes, dogs or other people. Kish’s goal for each student is a full life, from getting around town to playing team sports and riding bikes. Blind himself since childhood, Kish found that clicking his tongue and paying attention as the echoes came back gave him a lot of information about the surfaces around him, including walls and doorways, curbs and stairs, and obstacles such as furniture and other people. Blind people have used this type of echolocation for centuries, Kish said, but he has expanded on the idea to challenge many of the limitations a sighted society places on people who can’t see. Executive director of Southern California-based nonprofit World Access for the Blind, and the first blind person certificated on a national level to teach orientation and mobility, Kish has been widely featured in the media and is in worldwide demand as a speaker. He has written extensively, teaches students individually and in groups, and continues to lead other blind people on such expeditions as mountain-biking tours and hikes in the wilderness.

How does someone with such a big job unwind?
I’m really a 24/7 kind of person -- talk about someone who takes his work home . . . I don’t have a specific process for decompressing, but go hiking when I can and keep in touch with my spirituality.

Do you have a hero?
Several of my students fit that description. One is a boy named Daniél I worked with in Mexico. He’s 13 now. He was six when he became blind -- hit by a truck while riding his bike. He was terribly injured, and it was thought that he might never walk again, but he’s made a full recovery aside from his vision. I used an interpreter and learned Spanish to work with him. He had become hard and angry, but in the work we did he was able to begin playing soccer again, able to regain his self-respect and standing in the community. Now he plays soccer with his sighted peers and is at the top of his class in school. It was amazing how well he responded -- even having been so badly hurt, having been so angry, he saw what was good for him and was able to take it in and make it part of himself.

What classes would you like to have taken at UCR, but couldn’t?
More music classes. I studied singing in depth at UCR, and thought about becoming a professional musician, but my psychology studies pulled me down another path. I’ve thought about putting together a CD or two to raise money for the organization -- we’re outgrowing our funding.

What’s the best thing you took away from UCR?
My studies at UCR kindled my interest in the scientific side of echolocation, gave me the background in human perception I needed, and launched me to where I am now in terms of teaching and helping people.

Tell us something you haven’t told anyone else.
Recognizing blindness as a fundamental part of who I am was a considerable struggle -- I carry it lightly now, but didn’t always. For years I wouldn’t let the word “blind” be used around me. I was resentful of how other people treated me as less than human. The conflict took years and years to sort out. But in the end, it helped me understand what other people go through while they are adapting to blindness.

Full Online Magazine

"Sound Equals Sight"
"uCr grad dan Kish teaches the blind to “see” by sensing echoes that bounce off the objects in their environment."