For Brian Bushway, that world is a reality. In seventh grade — after realizing that he couldn’t read the board at the front of the classroom — Bushway covered his right eye with his hand and discovered that he didn’t have any light perception out of his left eye. From there, his vision deteriorated quickly. By the beginning of eighth grade, he was completely blind.
“I woke up one morning and just couldn’t see anything anymore,” he explains. “I experienced the whole field of vision loss — I was low vision before I became totally blind.” Bushway, once able to see, had to learn a new method for making his way in the world.
He’s come a long way since eighth grade. With the help of his mentor and friend Daniel Kish, Bushway learned the skill of echolocation, and now teaches it to others as a lead instructor at the nonprofit World Access for the Blind. We had a chance to chat with Bushway about echolocation, and the social obstacle of being visually impaired.
How did you discover echolocation?
I had experienced the phenomenon passively, but I didn’t understand it, and no one could explain it to me. And then I ended up meeting Daniel Kish, at age 14, and he became my mentor. He taught me how to really refine the skill for orientation purposes — for getting around.
What is echolocation, exactly?
There’s really two types of echolocation. There’s what we call “passive echolocation” and “active echolocation.” Active echolocation is the use of a tongue click, and passive echolocation uses any of the ambient sounds already out in the environment — they’re still bouncing and reflecting off of things. Pretty much all blind people are using passive echolocation at some level. We just don’t know it, or aren’t consciously using it in a sophisticated way.