Blind man’s “superpower” lets him bike, skate and navigate the world | HUMAN Limits

BRIAN: Most people don’t expect a blind person to
ride a bike, but I do. It’s almost like a sixth sense. GLENN: When we were visiting a doctor, they did all these exams on him and basically had a
puzzled look to their face, like, “There is no way that this individual
should be doing this.” BRIAN: It’s almost like a superpower. DR. GOODALE: When I was first made aware of Brian Bushway, I checked him out on YouTube and I must say I was a bit skeptical,
but I was blown away at his abilities. People are heavily dependent upon vision to
conduct their day to day lives. Could you imagine the world with no signs,
no GPS, no screens? I wasn’t always blind. I was 14 when I was playing hockey and my
job was to keep the puck in front of the blue line and all of a sudden, it’d shoot by me. My coach is just, “What’re you doing?! Get the puck! Move to the puck! Are you blind or something?!” and that’s,
in fact, what was happening. The doctors told me that my optic nerves were
deteriorating. It was just sort of this weird fluke and as
a doctor turns off the lights, the lights never came back on. And I remember leaving the doctor’s office
and it was in the middle of the afternoon. I could feel the sun, but I couldn’t see the
sun and I asked my mom, “Mom, like, where’s the sun?” MARNIE: One of the most heart wrenching moments for
me…as a kid, Brian always had a little change jar and it said “car” and he’d put quarters,
dimes, whatever he had in there and one day he said to me, I’m never going to need this
because I won’t be able to drive a car. I was at a loss and I really did feel very limited. I couldn’t find my way out of my room and how was I then going to figure out ways to navigate the world. It was a completely overwhelming thought and
it threw me into an identity crisis of where do I fit in life? What does it mean to be a whole human being? Nobody really wants to deal with you anymore and
so you really feel this tension of exclusion and it happens because we all think, “if we
can’t see, we can’t do anything.” This is the constant struggle that I find
myself, socially, always in, is that people are underestimating my full capacity
of what I can do. The first steps of getting outside into the world was being introduced to the white cane. The cane is great for information up close,
but the cane is limiting to what only the cane can touch. But there was one day when
my life changed forever. I had learned the route to my eighth grade
class and I was walking by myself with my cane and I was just walking down the center
of the hallway, but I could tell that there was a pillar and then an open space and a
pillar and open space. I swear I could see these things and I touched
them to confirm what they were. It was a pillar. What I was doing was passively echo-locating
these objects. It’s human sonar. [BRIAN CLICKING] Echo-location is a term that biologists
use to refer to the ability that some animals like bats and dolphins have, to use sounds
that they produce themselves to create echoes bouncing off things in the world around them
and to use those echoes what it is out there. [BRIAN CLICKING] Echo-location is the human ability to see with sound. DR. GOODALE: Brian can use echo-location to
navigate the world. He can use it to walk down the street without
bumping into parked cars or whatever, but he can also use it to identify objects. For example, a bush from a tree. So he’s sensitive to the nature of the echoes
that are returning from that surface and he can also tell, quite remarkably, the size
of objects. [BRIAN CLICKING]
I notice this object here and I’m thinking sort of the size of it seems more broader
at the bottom and it sort of gets taller at the top. Yeah, we have a tree with all these sort of
bushes here and you can sort of…sparse objects, so you can sort of hear through a lot of the
stuff too, but [CLICKING] collectively, here’s a sort of bushy area. You can hear even how… [CLICKING] how the
path continues up in that direction. It was more than just hearing, I was actually
imaging the world around me. DR. GOODALE: When we tested Brian on his ability
to detect changes in the position of an object, he was absolutely astounding. He could tell if we moved the object only
a few inches, something that I never expected someone who is echo-locating would be able to do. He doesn’t have super hearing or anything
of that kind. He was tested by a clinical audiologist, you
know, someone who tests how good your hearing is. He’s actually normal for his age. What he can do and what is quite amazing is he can attend to these very tiny echoes that we ignore. Echo-location changed my life forever. My world became 3D. I was absolutely flabbergasted to find out
that, indeed, those YouTubes were right on the money. I had never seen anything like that before. Brian was quite amazing. Never in my life could I have imagined that
human beings could learn to see with sound, like bats and dolphins. Like, if human beings can see with
sound, what else is possible? Echo-location gave me a real connection to
my physical environment, which then gave me greater freedom to my social environment. The better I was at mobility, the easier it
was to make friends and to do things with people. [BAND STARTS PLAYING BRIAN: Everybody has something to learn
from echo-location and that is that we all are capable of so
much more than we previously thought. We’re now just discovering in humanity that
a person who is labeled blind can learn to image their world acoustically, like, this
keeps life kind of fresh. We are really living in a new era of exploring
the question what can blind people see. I mean, it’s sort of a temporary state because
now we can actually teach each our brains to image acoustically. People often ask me, “Brian, do you wish you
could see?” and my response is, “I already can.”


  1. Awe inspiring. As a retired Army Officer of 3O yrs we came to rely on our inner senses and hearing ..the sense of presence..touch, etc. to stay alive. I disarmed a massive bomb nearing detonation, a dirty bomb , all in a tight, dim place..had to close myself off and focus on a deeper sense of my self, hard to explain. I knew I was dead so released And found a way with seconds left. We functioned in places where only the light of gunshots lit up the field of battle..we walked in countryside so dark only sound could guide us.

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