Sense And Sense-ability

Doing As Well As Can Be Expected


 Huge thanks to Rachael for the inspiration for this piece. 

In response to my 10 January, blog, featuring the video of Ben Underwood, Rachael drew my attention to the story of Daniel Kish.  Featured on This American Life.  

Batman | This American Life


Daniel Kish.  now aged 49, lost his eyes as a toddler, and developed echo location as his primary tool for seeing the world.  With his charity ‘World Access for The Blind, Kish  challenges blind people of all ages across the globe, to “”reach beyond their limits”.     Home | World Access for the Blind 

Also like Ben Underwood, Daniel Kish  participates in what could be described as impressive activities, including hiking, climbing and most dramatically perhaps.  riding a bike. Solo!  But I think what is most significant about Daniel, is his perspective towards his abilities and how they are viewed by others.  For whilst many might describe Daniel’s achievements as remarkable.  Daniel believes they are not.  And the wonder  with which the sighted view and describe his abilities, is in Kish’s view, a product of the low expectations society has for the visually impaired.  And these low expectations are in turn perpetuated by the vast majority of visually impaired people themselves.  Which of course only serves to reinforce the broad social view  that little should be expected of ‘The Blind’.  Making the visually impaired, in Daniel’s words; “Slaves to the perceptions of others”.


But isn’t it inevitable that the social conditions for participation and engagement will be determined by the majority.   That being in this case,  those who comfortably rub along with 2020 vision and who have been taught that this is the essential sense.  So consequently the rules by which the blind are invited to participate are entirely based upon a sighted experience of blindness.  Which at best can only ever be second hand.  So any appreciation of the impact of visual impairment and the capacity of those experiencing it first hand, can only be 

imagined by the sighted.  And what they imagine of course, is a world bereft.  In which they, deprived of the ‘essential sense’ would pale and fail, and spiral into decline.  It is this imagined experience that informs the terms of engagement imposed on the visually impaired.  In which basic day to day functioning is held as a mark of success.    


What the sighted naturally  can’t comprehend is the capacity for the spark of life to always find it’s own course, and the power of perception to expand when unconstrained.  I wonder what might be possible for society, if the visually impaired were encouraged and enabled to pursue their passions, without the fearful  constraints of the sighted.      


We live in a litigious society of course. Also it’s entirely natural for families of the visually impaired  to want to protect their loved ones.   But how far does the fear of the litigiously nervous and concerned families serve in enabling visually impaired people to achieve their potential and make a real contribution to their society.


Picking up the threads from my previous blog; “Learning From Infant Explorers”.   Were we to continuously develop a more balanced sensory experience of the world, from the earliest age. Our capacity to adapt  and evolve to changes in our sensory faculties, would I believe be greatly enhanced.  Both individually and as a society.  It seems to me that while we continue to hail vision as the vital sense and all others as secondary or supplementary to it. We will continue to undermine the confidence  and  potential of those who see the world in other ways.  However, if the sighted of all ages, begin  familiarising themselves with the power of their non-visual senses, I believe  attitudes towards visual impairment might start to evolve.  When you consider that our populations in the West are ageing.  With an inevitable associated increase in the occurrence of sight loss.  It becomes clear that the  expectations and aspirations of and for the visually  impaired will  have an increasingly direct and important impact on our societies and economies.   But what do I say to the concerned loved ones?

  Well its an old adage, but the best way to show someone you love them, is to set them free!. 




     Andy Shipley

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