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Ben Underwood Sees Without Eyes

While reading a column on TimesOnLine earlier today, I came across the story of a most remarkable person. His name is Ben Underwood, and I don’t want you to miss learning of this phenomenal young man. This account is one of the most remarkable and touching I have ever read.

Ask people about Ben Underwood and you’ll hear dozens of stories like this – about the amazing boy who doesn’t seem to know he’s blind. There’s Ben zooming around on his skateboard outside his home in Sacramento; there he is playing kickball with his buddies. To see him speed down hallways and make sharp turns around corners is to observe a typical teen – except, that is, for the clicking. Completely blind since the age of 3, after retinal cancer claimed both his eyes (he now wears two prostheses), Ben has learned to perceive and locate objects by making a steady stream of sounds with his tongue, then listening for the echoes as they bounce off the surfaces around him. About as loud as the snapping of fingers, Ben’s clicks tell him what’s ahead: the echoes they produce can be soft (indicating metals), dense (wood) or sharp (glass). Judging by how loud or faint they are, Ben has learned to gauge distances.

From People Magazine More here.

My respect for such people is profound, so that I would feel humbled to even stand beside Ben Underwood. And that mother, Aquanetta Morgan,–a mother who made the decision, remove my baby’s eyes–is a gleaming picture of sheer grit, of courage and of faith.

EDIT: 2/10/8 6:20 pm    I just found more information about Ben, and it seems cancer has attacked him again. This is a link to his website.

I’m printing part of the Timesonline article I mentioned in the first paragraph which tells that this strategy of echolocation is now being taught to children in England.

BLIND British children are to be taught a pioneering bat-style echolocation technique to visualise their surroundings.

The children are learning how to build up detailed images of the world around them by clicking their tongue and interpreting the sound as it echoes back.

The technique is used by animals such as bats, dolphins and whales to navigate and hunt in the dark.

Bats are able to manoeuvre around caves and catch tiny insects on the wing by emitting short bursts of high-pitched noise and reading the sound waves as they bounce back to their highly evolved ears.

There is emerging evidence that blind people can harness their sense of hearing – which is often more acute – to interpret reflected sound and create detailed mental images of their surroundings, including the distance, size and density of objects.

The technique is being piloted in Glasgow, where 10 children aged five to 17 are being taught by staff from Visibility, one of the city’s oldest charities for the blind. The children are learning how to make the clicking sound and how to use the technique even in noisy urban areas, including the underground system.


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