“I’m not blind, I just cant see with my eyes.”- The Amazing Ben Underwood
I lost my eyesight when I was 2 years old…my mum says she noticed my right eye had a glow, kind of like the glow of a cat’s eye when caught in headlights. The doctors said it was a tumor, and we began treatment but at a point, it boiled down to ‘save my eyes and lose me’ or ‘save my life and lose the eyes.’ My mum chose to have my eyes removed. When I woke up from the surgery she said I screamed, “Mom, I cant see anymore, I cant see!” And she responded, “Ben, you can see, you can see me with your hands. Smell me and you can see me with your nose. Hear me and you can see me with your ears
Growing up, my brothers helped me a lot. My brother Derius taught me how to look for the seems under my clothing and the heels on my socks, so I could put them on correctly. And my little brother Isaiah was my eyes whenever we went out. When we would go shopping my mum would let me roam around and feel everything. When she was ready to go, she would go to the counter and start snapping her fingers saying, “Okay Ben, lets go.” I learnt to use my ears to find her.
I started practising echolocation because of her. She would take me down the sidewalk and let me echo to see how far it could go. I practised on hearing my environment, and things around me. Pretty soon, I could hear a trash can on the floor and pretty much anything stationary. I play video games, climb trees, ride bikes, roller skate, pretty much anything by ear. I even taught myself Japanese. People think it’s the end of the world when you lose your sight, but I can do pretty much anything I want to.
There was a time a fifth grader thought it would be funny to sneak up on me and punch me in the face. I chased him, clicking until I got to him and socked him a good one…He didn’t reckon on me going after him, but I can hear parked cars, walls, you name it…I’ve learnt to perceive objects by making a steady stream of sounds with my tongue, listening for the echoes as they bounce back. I can gauge distances like that
People ask me if I’m lonely, but I’m not, because someone is always around or I’ve got my cellphone so I talk with my friends. The hardest thing for me though is rejection. I can always tell when someone rejects me in any way. The thing I’m most scared of is water, but if I had eyes, its what I’d like most to see
I tell people I’m not blind, I just cant see with my eyes. There’s a difference.”
Ben’s cancer was in check until 2007, when he developed a tumor in his sinus cavity. Intensive treatment failed to knock down the disease. He died in 2009
Narrative culled from benunderwood.com, ABC News, OWN