U is for Ben Underwood: Seeing Without Eyes

Ben lived a remarkable life. A healthy baby, at the age of two he was diagnosed with retinal cancer. Both eyes were removed when he was three.

Encouraged by his family, Ben learned how to apply human echolocation. This is the ability to sense objects by hearing echoes from them. Here is how echolocation is described on the site devoted to Ben.

This ability is used by some blind people to navigate within their environment. They actively create sounds, such as by tapping their canes or by making clicking noises with their mouths.

Human echolocation is similar in principle to active sonar and to the animal echolocation employed by some animals, including bats and dolphins.

Ben’s mother takes up the story.

I believe Ben started clicking probably right away. He was playing video games, riding bikes, skating, climbing trees, and doing everything he always did as if he never lost his sight.

I treated him as though he could see and spoke visual. I don’t know if I was in denial, but I made sure he saw everything.

When Doctor Ruben saw Ben playing his game boy, he was totally amazed.

The doctor said, “How the heck does he play video games” and I replied, “He does everything, ride bikes, rollerblades, electric scooters, you name it, he will try it.”


Ben amazed people with his attitude and abilities. He died aged 16, but his courage and creativity continues to inspire people.

Ben Underwood

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