Watch Echo: A Pioneer of Echolocation for the Blind | The New Yorker Documentary

By admin Dec13,2023

[soft music]

I wanna get 3D-printed eyes that glow.

[Nathan] Ah, glow in the dark.

[Ashton] That’s cool.

[Daniel] Like, actual glowing eyes.

[Ashton] How would they help?

Because glow in the dark normally helps you,

like, see better in the dark.

[Daniel] LEDs. Oh.

[Daniel] LEDs inside the eyes.

[Ashton] LEDs? Yeah.

All right, so I’m gonna remove the right one.

I’m swiping it off.

So Nathan, I’m gonna hand that to you.

There it is.

And then Ashton, you get the left one.

I’m just wiping it off for you.


there you go.

Does it feel weird with your eyes out?

Yeah, it does.

But can you blink?

Not really.

Oh, okay. That’s all I can do.

[Nathan chuckling]

I’ll take the eye, I’ll take that.

And I’ll take that, thank you.

[Nathan] My hand is kind of dirty, though.

Oh, that’s all right.

As long as you haven’t picked your nose.

[Nathan chuckling]

[Daniel clicking]

There’s a whole dimension of experience

available to the perceptive blind person.

[Daniel clicking]

If I click at a surface, it answers back.

It’s like asking a question.

What are you and where are you?

[Daniel clicking]

I can get, through echolocation,

a really rich, palpable, satisfying,

three-dimensional, fuzzy geometry.

There’s hardly a richer tapestry of sound and essence.

[soft music]

[Daniel clicking]

If you can learn to manage and function

as a blind person, you’ve overcome

one of the greatest challenges to befall anyone.

[Daniel and Nathan clicking]

Echolocation leads to greater freedom.

[both clicking]

[both chuckling]

See if you can find a high point of the ceiling.

Where does it seem like it’s the tallest?

Right about, eh…

Maybe a little more.

Ah, there.

Okay, what does it seem like it does up there?

[both clicking]

Man, you can’t really tell

if there’s, like, a hole up there

because it’s not that clear.

[Daniel] Can you articulate what that sounds like?

How is this click coming back different from, say,

if you were standing closer to the wall?

‘Cause it’s coming back so quickly

that it’s a little more in-your-face-feeling.

[both clicking]

Hi, I’m Daniel Kish.

I’m the Executive Director of World Access for the Blind.

World Access for the Blind is a nonprofit corporation

dedicated to equalizing opportunities

for the success of blind people

by providing innovative technology and strategies

to enhance or replace vision.

[soft music]

I started working with students in 1993.

Nearly half my life.

[student clicking]

It’s an honor to share something fundamental,

something sublime, something really seminal.

Juan was the first, really,

he was my first full-time student.

[both clicking]

Remember that one time you and I

had to pretend to see when we were riding a bicycle

when we got stopped by the police?

[both laughing]

Yes, yes, that’s right.

We were riding in the neighborhood,

and it was late, to be fair, it was quite late at night,

and we smelled donuts, and we were looking for the donuts.

Where are the donuts, where are the donuts?

And the donut store wasn’t open, the police caught us there.

And his first question is,

What were you guys doing in this parking lot,

in this dark parking lot?

So I’m thinking, I didn’t know it was dark.

[Daniel] Yeah, we have no idea what’s dark and what isn’t.

I said, We can see well enough, yeah.

And fortunately, we were able to pull it off.

We were able to pretend that we could see. [laughs]

That was pretty crazy.

[Daniel clicking]

I think Daniel was an example of

what somebody could do as a blind person.

Daniel was the answer to how.

[Daniel clicking] [people murmuring]

[soft music]

[automated voice speaking rapidly]

You had to really do it on your own.

And you had to struggle a little bit,

and it was important to struggle.

[skateboard rustling] [Nathan clicking]

[skateboard clattering]

[Nathan] I lost my skateboard.

[skateboard rustling] [Nathan clicking]

[skateboard clattering]

[Daniel] A lot of students don’t get the chance

to learn to skateboard because

they’re just told that, You can’t do that,

you shouldn’t do that, we’re not gonna let you try this.

So you don’t really think anyone

tried to say you shouldn’t be doing that?

Well, usually, if they say, You shouldn’t do that,

I’d say, Screw you, I don’t care,

’cause there’s no way to stop me.

[soft music] [Daniel clicking]

We’re still back in the dark ages of cautiously designed,

cautiously implemented systems of instruction

for blind folks.

That’s not the way you learn echolocation.

[Daniel clicking]

[Juan] It’s really quite simple.

You learn from the people

that have that similar experience, right?

You don’t send a mechanic to a mathematician

to go learn about cars, right?

So, [cat purring]

when it comes to blindness skills,

you want to learn from the blind people that have, you know,

mastered those skills already.

And people who are sighted cannot master those skills,

it’s just not possible.

[Daniel] It doesn’t make sense.

Sighted people are deemed most appropriate

to teach blind people how to be blind.

[crickets chirping]

[dog barking distantly]

It’s hard for me to characterize

the last 25 years or so.

There’s a personal toll, there are sacrifices.



Hopeful, but tired.

[soft music]

There’s a parallel universe somewhere

where I’m not doing this at all, I’m on stage.

[audience applauding]

♪ Here we stand all together ♪

♪ Face to face and arm in arm ♪

♪ Here we stand upon the threshold of a dream ♪

♪ No more outcasts, no denials, no restraint to liberty ♪

♪ It’s a powerful idea and I know its time has come ♪

♪ I want to live, I want to grow ♪

♪ I want to see, I want to know ♪

♪ I want to share what I can give ♪

♪ I want to be ♪

♪ I want to live ♪

♪ We all want to live ♪

I did not want to be a starving artist,

so I became a starving instructor instead.

[razor scraping]

[hair rustling]

[coffee bubbling]

[soft music]

Yeah, I gotta give him a new name. [clears throat]

Well, I don’t know, they called me Little Daniel for…

For a long time. Ever, yeah.


Danny, they, you know what?

They didn’t call me Danny that much.


Daniel has been a, definitely a mentor.

He’s also known as Uncle Daniel.

[Daniel] To everyone. To everybody.

[both chuckling]

But, you know…

It’s kind of difficult to say, but [clears throat]

sometimes even closer to a father.

[Daniel sighing]

[Daniel] Doors aren’t open to blind kids

in this society, almost any society,

the doors are shut, barred, locked.

You have to kick down that door

because we’ve spent millennia being kept in the dark.

[both clicking]

[skateboard rustling] [both clicking]

It makes a teacher proud.

[skateboard rustling] [both clicking]

[soft music]

[skateboard rustling]

[birds chirping] [wind blowing]

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