Ben Underwood: the boy who could “see” with his ears
Ben Underwood was a remarkable teenager, who loved to skateboard, ride his bicycle and play football and basketball. For the most part, the Californian 14-year-old was just like other kids his age. What made Underwood remarkable was his ability to master these activities despite the fact that he was blind. Underwood had both eyes removed after being diagnosed with retinal cancer at age two. To most people's amazement upon meeting him, he seemed completely unfazed by his lack of sight, defying common stereotypes about blindness as a disability. So how did he do it? The answer is echolocation: the sonar navigation technique used by bats, dolphins, several other mammals and some birds. As Underwood moved about, he habitually made clicking noises with his tongue; these sounds bounced off surfaces and, with each return, added to Underwood's perception of his surroundings.
He was so good at it that he could tell the difference between a fire hydrant and a rubbish bin, distinguish between parked cars and trucks, and — if you took him to a house he had never been to before — he would tell you he could 'see' a staircase in that corner and a kitchen in the other. He could even distinguish between different materials.
An unflinching faith in God guided Ben and his mother during his last few months as cancer spread to Ben's brain and spine. He eventually died on January 2009 at the age of 16.