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Daniel Kish has a natural ability that has amazed over 2 billion people on this planet. He is often referred to as “The REAL Batman” because he has no eyes and yet he “sees” the world with sound, much like bats and dolphins do. He has traveled the globe unaccompanied for 25 years teaching tens of thousands to live independent lives with this remarkable adaptation. In this rousing conversation, Daniel shows how this works – and asks us all to let go of our fear of the unknown.

Episode Highlights

About Our Guest:

In a world so full of negative noise and disappointment, Daniel Kish’s ability simply kicks down the door on what we think of as “impossible.”

He clicks his tongue and sends out sound that bounces off surfaces in the environment and returns to him, helping him to construct an understanding of the space around him. 

Even though his eyes were removed before he was one year old, he can ride a bike, hike to his remote cabin in the mountains alone, and has an attitude about “adapting” that we can all use to live better lives.

And once you get to know Daniel and his work, you can use this episode as a touchstone whenever you need the courage to push beyond our own limiting beliefs.

In this episode, we learn why this wonderful expert in adaptation has become one of the world’s foremost inspirational speakers. Simply put, Daniel is a super nice, confident, and kind man, who has devoted his life to making the lives of others better. You will never meet a more approachable person. 

We met 10 years ago when I had just started the Goodness Exchange and a fast friendship has grown over the years. Daniel recently visited my home in Vermont for a week, so one afternoon we decided to record an episode of the podcast, sitting together at my desk.

It seemed the perfect time to ask Daniel a lot of questions that might have seemed awkward in any other situation. But typical of his playful good nature, Daniel digs into his backpack to show us the tech he uses to navigate the world alone,and takes the opportunity to teach us a lot of fascinating insights about how it is to function in a world that has evolved and been built for creatures with eyesight. 

But the wonder did not stop there. Daniel’s work is not just connected to the blind community. He is now talking at conferences all over the world about “Self-Determination,” something that, arguably, we all want a lot more of, and we also had the opportunity to talk about those insights. 

Turns out, we all have the ability to do more, be more, and think about things that are awe-inspiring, once we start mastering self-determination. And realizing the many ways you can adapt may surprise you!  

In this episode, Daniel teaches us the “ACTS” framework that we can turn to the next time we are in a challenging situation. 

Daniel is a, perhaps THE, pioneer of echolocation in our times. And of course, he is an advocate of Independence for the Blind, but now he is a guide for us all in “seeing” much more in our own possibilities.

He is also a wonderful inspiration for any of us who need just a little push to start living into our own full potential. What are you uniquely built to contribute? There’s a good chance that you will come away from this episode feeling like anything is possible for you too. 

If you want more information about how he can help anyone with vision challenges, or do some inspiring public speaking for your organization,  please head to his remarkable, global initiative, World Access for the Blind, where he will almost always personally return your call or email.

[h4] For some other instant connections to the wonder of his work: 

Here is Daniel’s 2015 talk at TED Global has been viewed over 2 million total times. He is described on the TED website as expanding the perceptual toolbox of both blind and sighted humans.

Here is the article I wrote about Daniel with three of my favorite astounding videos included in the article: 

Discover the Man Who Sees Only with Sound! He’s Redefining What’s “Impossible”!

Daniel Kish has no eyes yet he can see the world around him using sound, much like a dolphin or bat, and he’s teaching us all to redefine what seems impossible.

Read Article Watch Video Listen to Podcast

Show Notes

00:00 Intro & Welcome

03:00 Adaptation

  • The brain has an amazing capacity to be neuroplastic.
  • Navigating blindness is similar to navigating any other unknown in life.
  • Daniel is most known for the use of echolocation. 
  • Echolocation allows us to bounce sound off of surfaces around us to create images of what is around us.
  • Daniel makes a clicking sound to navigate spaces.
  • A blind person who has adapted to blindness uses multiple senses to “see.”

9:13 Self Determination

  • Daniel works with blind people to teach the multi sensorial approach to life:
    • Touch
    • Language
    • Building, accessing, and managing your support system
    • Hearing
  • Daniel looks at self determination as the embodiment of three key qualities:
    • Security
      • How physically & mentally secure are we? 
      • How secure do people feel about you and around you?
    • Efficacy
      • How effective and efficient are you at carrying out tasks?
    • Equality
      • What is your sense of equality with others?
      • What is peoples’ sense of equality with you?
  • The ACTS framework offers strategies for navigating the challenges of the human condition:
    • Adaptations
      • Things that help us to function better.
      • For example, bumpy pavements at street corners are designed to indicate to blind people that a surface change is coming.
    • Capacity
      • Your physical abilities or skills as a person.
    • Technology
      • Both high and low tech.
      • An example of low tech would be the cane that blind people may use.
      • A high tech example for blind people might be an iPhone app that announces navigation or compass directions as the person changes direction.
    • Socialization and Support
      • People typically need support.
      • A blind person might need support for visual interpretation.
      • Helen Keller is quoted as saying “Deafness separates us from people; Blindness separates us from things.”
      • Social engagement has to be reciprocal for it to work.
      • Support must be an agreement between those involved.
  • Independence is an ill-defined concept, and only a small slice of self determination.
  • Helen Keller was blind and deaf and worked through challenges to become a high achiever.
  • Self determination is the key to achievement.
  • The domains of resources which we access are also a key part of self determination.
  • There are 5 domains within which we function are:
    • The mental domain
    • The body domain
    • The social domain
    • The symbolic domain
    • The physical object domain

31:32 Daniel’s Upbringing

  • Daniel lost his vision in both eyes due to cancer.
  • Daniel’s eyes now are artificial and designed by an artist.
  • Daniel’s mother did not regard blindness as affecting his well-being in a significant way.
  • If blind children are trusted to be able to find and claim their freedom, their capacities develop, they find the technology, make adaptations, and identify support.
  • When Daniel started clicking as a form of echolocation, his mother supported him.
  • Daniel did woodshop in 7th grade and soldered in electronics shop.
  • Daniel was allowed to build his support network.
  • Daniel rode a bike and navigated using clicking for echolocation.

41:18 Break

44:22 The Donut Story

  • Daniel and his teenage friend rode their bikes, both using echolocation and smelled donuts and decided to track down the smell. When they got to the store it was closed. They were stopped by police on the way back as they looked suspicious riding into a dark parking lot. The police officer noticed they may have been visually impaired and they convinced him that they could see well enough to ride home on their own.

48:52 Daniel as a Teacher

  • Daniel started teaching students his methods in 1993.
  • Daniel worked with 24 blind children as part of his thesis project.
  • We are still giving blind children ‘caution instructions’ rather than teaching them how to navigate the world.
  • The ACTS framework provides a rubric for blind people to navigate the world.
  • Daniel’s parents did not insulate him from the requirement of strategizing.
  • A part of the challenge with blindness is finding things.

55:46 Modern Day Challenges for Blind People

  • Most touch screens are not accessible to blind people.
  • Daniel was on a flight that used only touch screens and he was unable to call a flight attendant.
  • Train stations in England had reduced public announcements.
  • Airports and buses reduced audio announcements because they were viewed as disturbing.

1:00:59 Neutralizing Fear of the ‘What If’

  • We sometimes let the fear of the unknown stop our progress.
  • The two biggest fears for blind people might be getting or feeling lost and looking or feeling stupid.
  • Complex traffic situations are a growing fear among the blind.
  • We can work past our fears.

1:02:47 The Power of Awe

  • Awe is one of our most powerful emotions.
  • A sense of awe opens us up to being childlike again.
  • Awe is a way in to transcending any stuck place we might encounter.
  • Awe is a nice acronym for awareness, wonder and exploration.
  • If we look at our surroundings as brand new every time, it can increase our sense of gratitude.

1:06:07 What Do You Wish People Knew?

  • We don’t know as much as we think.
  • It behooves us to question what we know.
  • The greatest learning happens when we challenge what we think we know.


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