Ben Underwood lived without sight since the age of three-years-old.
After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer called retinoblastoma, to save his life, both of his eyes had to be removed.
But although he lost his eyesight, he adapted to his blindness in a very remarkable way. He taught himself how to see. How? The same way bats are capable of seeing in complete darkness.
Using what scientists call echolocation, the Northern California boy would produce brief, sharp clicks with his tongue. In this way, Underwood was able to create sound waves that bounced off every single object around him. He trained himself to hear these faint echoes and interpret their meaning to create visual images in his mind of his surroundings.
At first glance, his disability was not apparent, as he wore two prosthetic eyeballs. The prosthetics were thin convex shells made of acrylic plastic, with brown irises — giving people the impression that he wasn’t blind. Behind that facade, however, there was mostly just scar tissue.
During his life, Underwood never used a cane or guide dog to get about. This self-reliance was instilled into him by his mother, Aquanetta Gordon, who always told him, “Your name is Benjamin Underwood and you can do anything.”
When the media caught wind of Underwood’s unique abilities, he made national headlines, and even an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Sadly, in 2007, his cancer returned. This time, the cancer wound up attacking his spinal cord and brain. Doctors were unable to save his life.
On January 19, 2009, at age of 16, just one week shy of his 17th birthday, Underwood passed away.