As vital and biologically astounding as the sense of sight is, people who have great vision completely take it for granted. When you actually imagine what it’s like to lose the ability and live in a disorienting world of total darkness, it’s terrifying. Millions of people, however, do it every day.
For those with healthy eyes, it’s impossible to know the struggle blind people can face when completing even simple tasks. So one Londoner actually figured out a creative way to show the world just how difficult it can be.
Oliver Gibbons lived in the coastal town of Devon, England, where he frequently took walks through the town’s market area with his dog, Sydney. Sydney wasn’t just a loyal dog; Oliver’s well-being actually depended on her.
You see, Sydney was well-behaved and spent most of her life with Oliver. She was his seeing-eye dog. Oliver was blind, and Sydney helped him navigate the world he could not see.
All too often, blind people don’t get enough exercise because they’re hesitant to make their way around, but it’s important they do explore the world. Oliver took frequent walks, but on one afternoon, he faced an unfortunate dilemma.
When Oliver and Sydney took their strolls through downtown Devon, they usually stopped at a small eatery or coffeehouse before heading back home. Places in Devon were usually great about letting dogs hang out with their owners.
So why, he figured, would local coffee chain Caffe Nero be any different? Well, when Oliver asked for a bowl of water for Sydney, the server refused. Oliver immediately left, feeling completely disrespected and embarrassed.
When he returned home, he told the whole awful story to his good friend, Helen Fox. Helen helped Oliver with day-to-day living, and she was irate when she heard how Caffe Nero treated her friend. So she paid them a visit.
She expressed her disgust with the manager, and while they did understand her frustration, they explained having dog bowls in the restaurant was a health violation. This didn’t fly with Helen.
She took to social media and shared her anger. Eventually word reached the RSPCA, who contacted Helen. They were exactly the kind of people Helen needed on her side. They wrote a very concerned letter.
“It’s extremely concerning to hear that a coffee shop refused to provide drinking water for a service dog whose handler was a customer,” the letter read. “We would expect all businesses to show kindness and compassion towards all animals, but particularly to service dogs.”
Caffe Nero was lucky Oliver didn’t take them to court over the incident, because he had every right to. Unfortunate instances like this happening to blind folks all over, but communities never really found out. One man sought to change that.
His name is Amit Patel. The 37-year-old London resident was a doctor up until 2012, when he lost his vision due to a degenerative disease. He, too, has a trusty dog to help him.
Her name is Kika, and she helps him navigate his way through the bustling London subways almost every day. As talented and knowledgeable as Kika is, their journeys together are rarely problem-free
Even though it’s obvious Amit is blind, people are so concerned with themselves they don’t take the time to understand he does things a bit slower. Commuters are often quick to get impatient with them both.
So Amit had a great idea. People truly had no idea what he and Oliver Gibbons went through on a daily basis, so he got himself a GoPro camera. With the help of his wife, he strapped it to Kika’s back.
Then they were off for their morning adventure! Not only would Amit now have the chance to show the world the struggle of blind people, but he also hoped it could lead to more compassion.
Just as expected, the camera picked up footage of people bumping their way past Amit with no regard for his safety. Some were even rude to Kika! But there was something else that actually brought Amit to tears.
At one point, he entered a crowded subway, and believe it or not, not a single rider gave up their seat for him. Amit was forced to find something to brace himself on, and it was even worse for Kika.
Usually the dog would sit underneath his legs so she wouldn’t bother anyone, but she had to sprawl out in the middle of the subway car, which only further annoyed people. It was a shocking experience to say the least.
Luckily, Amit made it home safely. He put the footage on YouTube, and just like he expected, people were upset over what they saw. He hoped the experiment brought about a more patient and inclusive attitude for him and others like him.
Service dogs do wonders helping the blind go about their day without the fear of suffering an accident. But, one blind man named Daniel Kish actually taught himself something that completely alleviated his need for a dog.
Although life gave him lemons at a very young age, Daniel Kish has overcome major setbacks, created a scientific breakthrough, and has inspired thousands of people with his optimism.
When Kish was still an infant, he developed retinoblastoma, a type of cancer that attacks the cochlea. Before his first birthday, both of his eyes were removed to keep him alive, and he was left completely blind.
Kish never wanted to go the sunglasses route, so to avoid stares from strangers, he received prosthetic eyes. They could not help him see, but he found his own loophole around that.
After one of Kish’s many surgeries, he woke up in the intensive care nursery. The blind boy climbed out of his crib and began to wander the halls of the hospital. Without any type of assistance, he managed not to bump into a single thing…
As a toddler, he once woke up in the middle of the night, got out of bed, walked towards his window, opened it without hesitation, and climbed out of it into the yard. Clearly, this didn’t satisfy his curiosity, because he continued to hop the fence and sneak onto his neighbor’s property.
Although the neighbors didn’t press charges against the blind, 2-year-old trespasser, he did cause quite a ruckus. When a police officer returned him safely to his parents, they couldn’t believe what had happened. What 2-year-old, let alone a blind one, can hop several fences in the middle of the night?
People soon began to realize how exactly Kish was getting around without hurting himself. He was making continuous clicking noises with his tongue as he moved about. Doing this makes an echoing sound in your mouth, but also creates an echo in the environment.
This echo hits nearby objects and walls and bounces back, similar to the sonar of a bat. Echolocation is not common in humans because those who can see can’t hear well enough, but when one loses a sense, the others strengthen.
Kish is a man who likes to be alone but is also brave and adventurous. He likes to help others and has fought off quite a few bullies in his youth. The combination of his ability to use echolocation and his similar personality of comic book character Bruce Wayne has rendered Kish the nickname “bat-man”.
As he practiced his skill over the following years, Kish became more and more independent. He never had a seeing eye dog or a cane but attended a regular school, went on walks, and even began riding a bike, which he learned by practicing in a straight line along a wall.
Perhaps he got a bit too confident or overly excited because Kish ended up crashing through some trash cans and smashing into a metal pole once. It was a violent collision, but he kept his head up. Certainly, it wouldn’t be the only dangerous activity he would get into.
Kish did experience much success with his education, however. In high school, he was voted “best brain” and “most likely to succeed”. He then went off to college and obtained a degree in psychology and special education at the University of California.
As he got older, Kish’s love for exploring did not die out – in fact, it only grew. With his other senses heightened, he came to truly appreciate scents and sounds, especially those of nature. He even began to take up hiking!
Kish quickly fell in love with nature and solitude. So in 2003, he purchased a cabin deep in the California woods. From there he could easily hike into the forest. He said the only company there was a family of mice.
Being a bit of a lone wolf, Kish never had any intimate relationships, but he did experience heartbreak of a kind. He had a wood-burning stove built in the cabin, but unsafe materials were used for the chimney, and as a result, his beloved cabin burned down to the ground.
Kish’s spirit seems nearly unbreakable, because, despite the loss of his beloved cabin, he stayed positive, and began teaching others his method of echolocation. He often began by holding a glass plate next to his students to teach them how to guide themselves without a cane or service dog.
Most of his teaching was done through Kish’s own organization, called World Access For The Blind — an international, educational, non-governmental non-profit. Its goal is to raise awareness of the capability of blind people and to support them physically and psychologically.
Certain members of the blind community claim that Kish’s method takes too long to learn with little payoff and that it could even put some in danger. Others are big fans, and grateful to Kish for his teachings. In 2015, he was asked to give a TED talk, in which he urged everyone to stop fearing the dark and the unknown.
Kish has now worked with many blind children and young adults, who are currently teaching echolocation to others. A method that started with one man has already begun to spread and evolve, and could even become a standard method of getting around for the blind community.
Daniel Kish is currently attempting to find a way to create bat-like sound waves that blind people can hear. What we hear is a bright future ahead for many blind people, thanks to this real-life Batman.