The Blind Man Who Taught Himself To See

“Men’s Journal » The Blind Man Who Taught Himself To See”: A terrific, stunning article about Daniel Kish, a blind man who has mastered echolocation to live his life autonomously.

Like most people, I don’t know many blind people. There were none in my neighborhood, there still aren’t even though my neighborhood has changed a few times in the last two decades. Here in Munich you see a good number of white canes (as in any other bigger city), but I do my best to not treat blind or handicapped people any differently. Why would I? They are just other people, living their own lives, they’re not helpless victims. If they need help with anything, they’ll probably ask.

Actually, up until a few years ago, I merely tried to ignore them, tried not to stare, out of fear to misstep — the usual behavior, I’d say. That changed for the better when I was working at Yahoo!. There was a London-based engineer, Artur Ortega (really nice guy, BTW), who one day came to our office to tell us a bit about the way blind users navigate the net. He showed us his setup (laptop, screenreader etc.), and those few hours really were a eye-opening experience for me. (Pun not intended.)

I’ve learned a lot about accessibility that day, but also about seeing with your ears. His screenreader was yelling at us while he hopped around websites and his machine, and holy shit, that thing talks fast. And I mean short- incomprehensible-burst-of-vaguely-speech-like-static fast. And Artur stood there, in the middle of it all, grinning and working and explaining. Combine that with the fact that he is constantly traveling around different Y! offices all over the World for talks and work, and all of a sudden it finally hit me.

He’s just another guy doing his job. Yeah, so blind people can’t see with their eyes. Big deal. If it’s awkward, then it’s mostly awkward for us, the sighted people. Because frankly, most of us have no fucking clue how to approach a person who’s blind or deaf or different in the first place, because we were never trained for that. Political correctness isn’t always helpful either. (“Is it ‘blind’? Can I say that? Or is it ‘visually impaired’? Damn, I don’t want to say anything wrong! Forget it, I just walk away, maybe he didn’t see me… OMG, what, no! I’m a bad person, what is wrong with me?" etc. It may sound funny if I say it like that, but really, it isn’t.)

Anyhow. Great article, go read. It just reminded me again of Artur and that one afternoon, even though we didn’t speak much a since then, and I felt like scribbling it down real quick.

Being blind means just another way of living your daily life, I guess. Nothing else. I briefly met other blind people since then, and they all appeared to be rather confident, which makes sense. Absolutely no need to feel pity. Different people, different stories.

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Carlo Zottmann @czottmann