Daniel Kish and his parents
Daniel was born with retinoblastoma – cancer of the retina – and by the time he was 13-months old, he had both eyes removed. From the time he was very young, he relates in a profile of him on the TED Radio Hour on NPR, he says his parents expected he would be self sufficient, and allowed him to explore the world in ways that made sense for him. He eventually became expert at “seeing” through a variation of echolocation – a system of clicks he makes with his mouth, that upon bouncing off targets lets him know how big an object may be or how close it may be.
Kish believes that echolocation produces images similar to sight, and allows the visually impaired to transcend the expectations of society. You can watch his TED talk here.
He’s an amazing person without question. He’s taken his skills and used them to make the world a better place for many sight-impaired and blind people, but for fully sighted folks as well. He’s made it his life calling.
But in listening to his story, I think of his parents. Imagine being told your baby has retinal cancer and has to have his eyeballs removed. To have the personal strength to impose your expectations on him that he will contribute to society, he will have his own life. That you expect that he will develop his own tools to navigate the world, and that he will live on his own. From those expectations, and humble beginnings, he’s built the World Access for the Blind – an organization dedicated to creating opportunities for freedom and sensory perception for blind people.
And then, to have those expectations come to fruition. His parents never tried to dissuade him from clicking, perhaps not knowing what he was doing, but allowing him to be himself. And because they didn’t fall victim to the allure of being helicopter parents, to keep him “safe” from the world, they gave him every opportunity to succeed in it.
So this is inspiration at two levels: a family with every opportunity to keep their loved one “safe” and wallow in their (and their child’s) bad luck, and instead pushed him to reach his potential; and Daniel who took his good fortune of having been born to the right family and using his gifts to enrich the lives of others.
Sometimes the story of amazing people doing good work, is more about the story of the even more amazing people standing behind them.