I love podcasts. There, I said it.
Wrenching on bicycles all day is great. Mostly, because working with my hands leaves my head—and my ear attention—free for distractions. A few of my favorite things to listen to while building bikes and wheels are Radiolab, Stuff You Should Know, and of course, This American Life. The latter is where I first discovered the incredible story of Daniel Kish, who takes “ear attention” to a whole new level.
Daniel is featured in one of my favorite TAL episodes, “Batman,” which is part of a new radio show/podcast series called Invisibilia. The podcast, hosted by NPR’s Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior—things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” While this description may sound incredibly vague, rich stories and genuine curiosity about the human experience makes Invisibilia utterly captivating. I highly recommend giving this episode a listen, ‘cuz it’s totally worth it.
In 1966, Daniel was born with an aggressive form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma; his eyes were removed at only 13 months old in order to save his life. Now as a 47-year-old, he’s been not only coping with his blindness, but thriving in ways that few thought possible. Not only has Daniel managed to live with a “normal” independent and self-sustaining lifestyle, he has also been able to pursue physical passions, including hiking, swimming, and—best of all—cycling.
Daniel is a dedicated and fiery advocate for blind mobility, founding and presiding over the non-profit World Access for the Blind. He also holds Master’s degrees in Developmental Psychology and Special Education, and is the first blind person to become a legally Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) and to hold a National Blindness Professional Certification (NOMC).
B..Biking? How does he do it?!
Daniel has learned to use echolocation as a technique for visualizing the world around him. Much in the way dolphins or bats use sonar to bounce sound waves off of objects to read physical obstacles and boundaries, Daniel developed a special “click” to echolocate; he quickly pushes his tongue against the roof of his mouth and creates a momentary vacuum. A group of Spanish scientists studying Daniel deemed his “click” acoustically perfect for capturing echoes. Even a machine, they concluded, could do no better.
At the cautious encouragement of his mother, young Daniel began climbing trees and bombing hills using this technique. He learned the hard way the limitations of his echolocation, which resulted in more than a few broken bones. Trial and error did pay off. Daniel regularly rides a bike in traffic and on trails alike (always with a helmet, of course).
Interestingly, Daniel says he only performs his bicycle “trick” (as he calls it) in order to bring greater awareness to his mission. That mission is to enable blind people like himself to shed the expectations held by the greater public of what blind people should be able to do. In turn, this freedom will enable a fuller, happier lifestyle.
Our caps off to Daniel, for breaking down paradigms—and to Invisibilia, for delving into a story that, elsewhere, has only been covered on its surface. I hope we all strive for greater things from ourselves, and from each other, to create communities of positive support and fulfillment.
Have any awesome podcasts that you want to share with us? Comment on the article, or shoot me an email.