This is the miraculous story of American teenager Ben Underwood, who has been completely blind since the age of three when he lost both eyes to retinal cancer. Yet, Ben zooms around on a skateboard, shoots basketball hoops, and dodges lamp-posts and parked cars unaided. How does Ben do all this without the use of his eyes? Incredibly, Ben has taught himself to see with sound, using an extraordinary technique he has created. Ben makes a sharp click with his tongue from which the echo bounces off the object right back at him, allowing him to know precisely where objects are located.
The technique, called ‘echo-location’, is not dissimilar to the way a bat or dolphin uses sound to see. Ben was able to distinguish objects with his clicking by noticing that objects ‘sounded’ different. Driving along in the car for example, Ben noticed that the side streets sounded different to the buildings, something his family, and the scientists at the University of California in Santa Barbara who are conducting tests into Ben’s amazing ability, find astonishing. Seeing with sound has transformed Ben’s life.
His mum lets him play in the street, just like all the other kids, because his sound pictures seem to make him more aware of danger than his sighted friends. He can even rollerblade quite easily and do chores around the house. Ben refuses to let society label him as disabled, so when he meets another blind man who also uses echo-location with the extra assistance of a white cane to help him get around extra tricky situations, Ben finds it hard to take up the use of a tool he sees as not for him – a young boy who has relied on his own extraordinary ability to allow him to see in his own way for so many years.