Superheroes of the Real World: A Tribute to Ben Underwood


They called him a superhero and named him “Captain Sonar” and “The Boy who Sees without Eyes”, yet his super-heroic powers where not a fortunate act of nature, or a lucky gene passed to him by his parents; it was the result of his unsurpassed determination and his intense will to live life to the fullest.

After tragically losing his sight to cancer at the age of three, Ben did not succumb to live the life of a blind person; instead he worked hard to develop the ability to “see” with sounds, using a technique known as echolocation.

Much like bats and dolphins, Ben was able to use sound to identify objects by the echoes they produce. By making a steady stream of clicking sounds with his tongue, then listening out to their different echoes, Ben was able to identify all objects around him and navigate his world entirely without assistance. His ability was so far developed that he could practically do almost anything a person with vision can do.

Watch this to see Ben hit his mark in a pillow fight, roller-skate like a pro, zip across his neighborhood on his bike, shoot hoops and win foosball games. 

Sadly, Ben passed away a week before his seventeenth birthday, by the same cancer that first took his eyes. Although his life was short, he left behind a legacy of hope, courage and inspiration only a few can match.

Due to his success in beating his blindness, many organizations were encouraged to teach his technique to blind children around the world, who are now learning how to build up detailed images of the world around them by clicking their tongue and interpreting the sound as it echoes back, just like Ben did.

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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