A Teen Who Sees With Sounds

At Sheldon High in Sacramento, Calif., 14-year-old Ben Underwood is a freshman like all the rest — well not exactly like all the rest. In his first week at school, a lot of people at the school haven't guessed that Ben has a secret.

You probably couldn't figure it out watching him in combat at karate class … or hitting his mark in a pillow fight … or zipping down the street on his roller blades. But in class, you'll notice that Ben takes his notes in Braille. He is totally blind. His piercing brown eyes are made of plastic. He says he lost his site two weeks before his third birthday.

Ben had cancer in both eyes. But he discovered a way to beat his blindness. When he was about 6, he started "clicking," and quickly realized that the sound he made with his tongue bounced off things around him, giving him an idea what was there.

CBS News correspondent John Blackstone says it's amazing to walk with Ben and discover what he can "see" with his ears.

"There's a fire hydrant on this side," Ben says a few clicks into their walk. "And a car on this side. Wait, is that, no, that's a trash can or a, hold on, let me see." After some more clicks: Ben walks up to a recycling can. "That's a trash can," he says, laughing as he gives it a kick. "A trash can or recycling bin, one of those."

Ben has much the same talent as the dolphins he visited at Sea World: the ability to use echolocation — returning sound waves — to sense his surroundings.

His clicks even told him to step around a fallen trash bin, amazing Blackstone. "I don't know how you do that," he says.

But the secret to Ben's success goes beyond his clicks.

His mother, Aquanetta Gordan, insists he should have every opportunity — but no pity.

"Why should he get a break — I can't get a break," she says.

Not even because he's blind?

"No, he's not," she says with a laugh. "I mean, to society he's blind, but that doesn't make him handicapped. He just can't see."

Aquanetta has always told Ben he can do anything.

"Once he said to be, 'Mom, I wish I could see.' And I said, 'But Ben, look at what you can do' I said, 'If we had a blackout right now, everybody would have to follow you.'"

Ben admits that during his first few days at high school, he got lost a couple of times. But, he says, so did every other freshman.

The more Ben manages to be ordinary … the more it's clear that he's extraordinary.

  • John Kreiser

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