A Life Beyond Expectations

Posted on January 22, 2016 by Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

How do the expectations of others affect us? If we were told that there is unlimited possibility in the world, how would we approach life’s hurdles?

Daniel Kish Hiking
Daniel Kish Hiking With His Students, Source: VOLKER CORELL

As a toddler, Daniel Kish had to have his eyes removed because of retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer. Despite that hurdle, Daniel never stopped pursuing his outdoor passions, which include climbing trees, hiking, and riding his bike.   How does he do it?

Daniel gets around by using a form of “echolocation.”  From a young age, he started using sound to navigate. By making clicking noises with his tongue, he taught himself to “see,” and is now teaching this skill to others.

I spent a couple hours on the phone with Daniel last week and I came away knowing I had just spoken with someone who will eventually be known around the world as a “thought leader.” I simply could not believe his insights are not part of every blind person’s way of living in the world.

He was just as nice in person as he seems in the following TED Talk; authentic, extremely smart, and enthused to share his life’s work with anyone who will listen. It was a privilege to get to know him.

Here is Daniel Kish from the TED stage teaching us about the way he sees the world, and how his parents raised him to live freely and fearlessly in pursuit of his passions:

Via: TED 1

This TEDtalk was not my first introduction to Daniel Kish. In fact, he was featured last year in one of my favorite podcasts, Invisibilia. The podcast is truly a worthy listen, so if you have some time to spare, listen to this piece from the show titled “How to Become Batman,”  which details how Kish’s unique upbringing in a world of possibility, instead of fear, enables him to live a life of hiking, climbing, bike riding, and teaching:

How much possibility can we create for ourselves if we defy people’s expectations? Alternatively, can we stop putting expectations on others that limit their view of possibility?

If you are interested in diving deeper into questions like that, I’d suggest starting on the website that Daniel founded. He’s created an organization called World Access for the Blind.

I found the page explaining their unique approach extraordinarily relevant for all of us. Here’s some sound advice…

Image: Father and son on a go cart

Forget Everything
Forget everything you’ve heard about “the blind”, everything you think you know about blindness – even if you consider yourself to be a “professional.” Blind people have plenty to say about “professionals” … Especially, forget anything you’ve heard or read about “Ten Things To Do If You Meet A Blind Person.” This advice will probably just cause more awkwardness. Most of it is made up by sighted people anyway, and doesn’t necessarily represent a blindness perspective.

There’s absolutely no way to second guess the situation by imposing any pre-formed ideas. Even if you’ve known other blind people, don’t think you somehow know what to do with every blind person. The thing that often most sets us on edge is to hear “it’s okay. My (mother, sister, cousin, friend) was blind.” Blind people are as different from each other as any two people on this earth. There are no similarities among us that you can count on. Even the degree of vision or hearing or touch that we use can vary greatly among us. Most blind people do have some degree of vision, and even the very few of us who are totally blind may use our touch and hearing very effectively .. or, we may not. 3

I guess it’s my nature to take the 10,000-foot look on advice like that and see it as important to remember in every interaction we have. We should probably forget everything we think we know about people from any walk of life, artificial category, or demographic.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your own riches but to reveal to him his own.” – Benjamin Disraeli

Image: Tiny girl with a big goatWe probably all had a spark of creativity and passion growing up. Did someone come along in your life and help you reveal that to yourself?

If you know a young person who may feel small in the face of some seemingly big limitations, share Daniel’s story with them.

I know one and I did a story on him last winter that you might also enjoy. In our article called Blind Sportscaster Sees His Future, we introduce you to a freshman in high school who calls the games for basketball and hockey. He does an amazing job and seems to have taken a page from Daniel’s book about not accepting limitations. Take a look at that article next.

While there are perhaps some practical reasons why I didn’t become a Marine Egyptologist, imagine a world where we gave children the confidence to pursue their interests early on, and allowed the doors of possibility to remain open, despite the limitations society would like to impose on us.

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”-Victor Borge

Liesl can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV


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Liesl Ulrich-Verderber is a camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—yoga lover. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV


  1. Kish, Daniel. “How I Use Sonar to Navigate the World.” TED.com. TED, Mar. 2015. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kish_how_i_use_sonar_to_navigate_the_world?language=en>.
  2. Miller, Lulu, and Alix Spiegel. “How To Become Batman.” Invisibilia. 23 Jan. 2015. NPR. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <http://www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/378577902/how-to-become-batman>.
  3. “The Blindness Perspective and Our Approach.” World Access For the Blind. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Jan. 2016. <http://www.worldaccessfortheblind.org/common_questions_and_concerns/index.html>.