Michael Hingson talks about his employment journey and how everything he has done in his past has led him to Aira. And that is what Michael brings to his new Strategic Sales position at Aira. He is not new to Aira as he has been involved for over 2 and a half years and understands completely how Aira brings instant access to information.
Michael is well known for his Best Selling book titled, Thunder Dog. Telling the story about his experience surrounding the escape from Tower 1 during the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Join Michael Hingson at the National Federation of the Blind convention in Orlando Florida and hear about what led him to the 74th floor of Tower 1 and his journey to Aira.
You can read more about Michael Hingson on his web site and join his newsletter as well as find links for his books and news releases.
You can find out more about Aira on the web and follow Aira on Twitter @Airaio
See Complete transcription below.
Michael Hingson – Bringing the Thunder to Aira
Everyone just turned and ran as we heard this rumble that became this deafening roar in like about a half a second, which was tower to collapsing, about a hundred yards away from our position.
Oh my God Mike, there’s no World Trade Center anymore, and again I asked him what he saw, and he said “All I see are fingers of fire, and flame hundreds of feet tall, and pillars of smoke, the towers are gone.
The airplane hit 18 floors above us on the other side of the building, we had no clue what had happened.
When people talk about diversity, you very rarely ever hear disabilities mentioned, so I have a speech that’s entitled “Moving from Diversity to Inclusion.”
But people are gonna say “Oh now blind people can see, or now blind people can do this, blind people come do that.”
And yeah, there are gonna be a lot of things that blind people can do that we couldn’t do before, and it isn’t that we couldn’t do them, is that we didn’t have the information to do them.
What AIRA will give us, is a means to get that information.
AIRA, instant access to information presents Michael Hingson, his journey to AIRA, bringing the Thunder to AIRA.
A Blind Abilities production.
With AIRA I can just go into the store with a trained AIRA agent who describes, I’m able to quickly go find the things that I want, it’s so much more efficient.
And I use the word see very comfortably because the dictionary defines in part, to see is to perceive, it doesn’t necessarily have to be with your eyes.
‘m Michael Hingson, H I N G S O N.
So I want to kind of start by going backwards a little bit, actually I want to start by by just talking about now and then, then jump back.
I was recently hired by AIRA after being involved with the company for about two and a quarter years.
I am now the director of strategic sales and my job is really an exciting one because I get to go find corporations and others that we can establish relationships with to try to get them to buy into AIRA, both for employees, but also for users.
So take a grocery store chain, typically today a blind person goes into a store and I do this all the time, my wife is in a wheelchair, and although she shops and can shop, when we go to the store and it’s a quick trip, it’s just easier for me to go in, so she drives I shop it works out well, and we’ll go to the store, I’ll go in I have to find someone who works for the store, usually it’s kind of the low person on the totem pole, they don’t even necessarily know a lot about any of the products.
If I want to find good vegetables, usually anyone I find is lost.
Or I want to go shop for milk or other things like that, anyway, so I go in and I find somebody and we shop and eventually get it done.
With AIRA, I can just go into the store with a trained AIRA agent who describes, I’m able to quickly go find the things that I want, and I’ve also learned let’s go back to vegetables and fruits like strawberries, I can get the agent to get us to the strawberries and say I want good fresh strawberries and the agent may know a lot about strawberries or the agent may not know a lot about strawberries.
But I can ask questions like, do they have white shoulders?
Because if they don’t and they’re not really ripe that I’m not interested in them.
So I still can get the information I want, it’s so much more efficient.
The problem either way is, it costs money that is to say, if I’m using a store person, I’m taking them away from their job, for which they’re being paid, it will end up taking longer, which means more of their time is being spent doing something other than their job, and I may or may not get everything just the way I want because they don’t know how to describe.
I believe and we believe that it’s much more economical for me if I can use an AIRA agent and it would be economical for the store to actually buy into the concept of paying for AIRA’s time while I’m in the store.
So since AIRA knows where I am because of GPS locations and so on, if I walk into a store and they’ve subscribed to the AIRA concept, then what I can do is automatically not be billed for the time, and the store out of whatever fund they create, actually pays for my time in the store.
It’s cheaper than the alternative and it certainly is a whole lot better experience all the way around then the alternative, and it creates goodwill for the store.
So my job is in part to find and create those relationships which is pretty exciting.
S for me I’ve been involved with AIRA for over two years as I said because I’ve been on the Technical Advisory Council and started that in 2015, and I was approached because I had a pretty visible story.
It was a story that was very visible in the media, namely that I was in the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001.
In a sense that’s kind of a jumping off point because for me it all began when I went to work.
I went to the University of California-Irvine, I have a master’s degree in physics, and started as a first job working for the National Federation of the Blind back in the mid 1970s in 1976 actually to be specific.
Ray Kurzweil, inventor of the Kurzweil reading machine the forerunner of the knfb reader mobile.
Ray developed a product called the Kurzweil reading machine, a machine that would read print out loud, and the National Federation of the Blind and Ray worked a joint project to get five of the machines in the hands of blind people by putting them in agencies, and in various public places like the New York Public Library so that we could test the machines, have blind people come in and use them, learn what they could do, help us develop a feature set of recommendations that needed to go into the final production version, and the bottom line of all of that was that when the project was over in June of 1978, we created a set of recommendations that became the report that Ray used to develop and release the first Kurzweil reading machine for the small modest price of fifty thousand dollars in early 1979.
So I was involved in assistive technology development and creation in that event and others.
I went to work for Ray after the project was over but after about six months I was called into the office and invited to leave the company because they were laying people off.
Since the company had grown too fast and hired people.
I was doing the same thing I had done prior with the National Federation of the Blind and the company decided that there really wasn’t a place for me, and they were laying off a number of people because it grew too fast by hiring too many people and not having the economic infrastructure behind it to make all that work.
I was given the option of going into sales, but not to sell the Kurzweil reading machine for the blind, but rather the commercial version of the machine which was a hundred and twenty five thousand dollars.
One hundred twenty five thousand dollar machine that would scan print literally extremely accurately up to a hundred percent accuracy, because the user could correct on the fly, and look at material, and look at what was being scanned to make sure that it was being scanned correctly.
And that was a machine that was used by banks, lawyers, anyone who needed to create a database of printed material, book publishers and so on.
I did that until Xerox bought the company and that I was invited to leave in 1984 as all the pre Xerox salespeople were invited to leave, because what Xerox really wanted was the technology and that was it.
I started my own company selling computer-aided design systems to architects, talk about a job for a blind person with the most highly graphical technology available, but as I learned I didn’t need to work the machine, I needed to know how to work the machine so I could describe it and help others operate it.
I did that for four years and then went back into the workforce working for a company that made a variety of different kinds of high-tech computer products that eventually took me to New York and that eventually led me to work for Quantum corporation where I was working on the 78th floor of Tower one of the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001.
On that day we were going to be holding some seminars, teaching some of our partners how to sell our products.
What we’re going to be doing was telling them what they needed to know to sell the products, making sure they understood that I was a point of contact, my sales staff was not in the office that day because they knew how to sell this stuff already and it was really my job to be the main interface so I was in charge of training.
We had someone in from our corporate office in California who was there to talk about pricing and so on because he was involved in the distribution model that we operated under.
So he talked about pricing, I did the technical stuff and we were all set to go when suddenly we heard a muffled explosion, the building sort of shuddered, and then literally it, it began to tip.
If you imagine having a spring taped to a table and then you push the top of the spring over, that’s what the building did, because tall buildings like that literally are springs.
They have expansion joints that allow them to be flexible and tip.
So the building tipped and tipped, we moved, I estimate maybe as much as 20 feet, at least that’s what it felt like to me, and then we came back to a vertical position, and at that point I, who had been standing in the office and had moved to the doorway, between my office and the next office, so standing in the strongest part of the building, as if it really mattered being 78 floors up, but I went back into the office, I met my guide dog Roselle who was coming out from under the desk.
I took her leash, I told her to heal which meant to come around on my left side and sit, and just after she sat the building dropped straight down about six feet.
Because as we learn later the expansion joints were going back to their normal configuration.
After that my colleague David Frank, who was the person in from our corporate office turned and looked out the window and started shouting “Oh my God there’s fire smoke above us, we got to get out of here right now, we can’t stay here the buildings on fire!”
And I could hear debris falling outside the window, of course from his description I understood why.
We had guests in our conference room and then they began to scream because they started seeing the debris and they heard David yelling and they started moving out of the conference where we were going to be holding the seminars and moving into our main office.
And I kept telling David to slow down, slow dow,n and he kept saying “No you don’t understand the building is on fire!”
And I said slow down David, the reason is, because I was observing something that David wasn’t,
When we revert back to type, the sighted people really believe ultimately that eyesight is the only game in town.
We are recording this at the National Federation of the Blind Convention, the 77th convention of the Federation that’s being held in Orlando and we just heard a report from the President of the Federation, Mark Riccobono, talking about the various ways that society has been challenged by blind people, and the ways that blind people have had to fight to gain, or work toward gaining our rights in society.
Things like parents who happen to be blind whose children are taken away just because society thinks they can’t do their job as parents because they’re blind, or a blind man who was elected to a California School Board who was denied even the opportunity to bring a reader to a public meeting and the Federation had to litigate on his behalf, or Uber that had to be sued by the Federation because they were not doing what they needed to do to enforce a blind person with a guide dogs right to be able to travel on an Uber car, and so many other things.
And so when I kept saying David slow, down don’t worry we’ll get out, and he finally said “No you don’t understand you can’t see it!”
The problem is David didn’t see what I was seeing.
And I used the word see very comfortably because the dictionary defines in part, to see is to perceive, it doesn’t necessarily have to be with your eyes.
So what David wasn’t seeing was that I had a dog sitting next to me who wasn’t reacting at all.
Roselle I knew was afraid of thunder, and if there were something going on that bothered Roselle, she would not have been sitting there wagging her tail and yawning, and being very bored.
I knew that whatever was happening wasn’t so imminently going to affect us that we had to panic to get out of that office and get to the stairs and start down, and obviously wherever the fire was above us, it was above us and we weren’t feeling heat, we weren’t even smelling smoke, so we could try to evacuate in an orderly way, and I had spent a lot of time learning what to do in an emergency and learning how to evacuate.
So I finally got David to focus.
I asked him to get our guests to the stairs and start them down and while he did that I called my wife to let her know that we were evacuated in the building.
It hadn’t even shown up yet on the television so she got an advanced report.
I love to joke about the fact that I’ beat Good Morning America to the story by eight minutes, and I still haven’t gotten a Pulitzer for it but you know, we, we do what we can.
In all seriousness about the time I hung up with my wife, David came back, we swept the office to make sure no one else was there and then we went to the stairs and we started down.
So as we went down the stairs I started smelling something that I eventually realized was burning jet fuel.
I’ve smelled it a lot as I traveled through airports.
So I observed that to others and they said yeah that’s what it is, because none of us knew, the airplane hit floors above us on the other side of the building we had no clue what had happened.
When we went down the stairs along the way we met others and there were a couple times that people almost panicked.
I had along with us to work to get people not to panic, my friend David panicked at one point.
I finally said stop it David if Roselle and I can go down these stairs so can you, and he was then able to continue down, in fact did something I thought was one of the most incredible things I saw that day, he walked a floor below me and started shouting up “Hey Mike I’m on the 48th floor everything is good here, 47th floor, we’re all good!”
And he was doing that because he said “I wanted you to know what was going on and that it was okay below us.”
But you know did I need that?
No I didn’t, but it was nice.
But more important to me, and why I think what he did was so incredible, was that as he was shouting, he became a beacon for anyone in the sound of his voice, floors above us, floors of below us, way above us, and way below us who heard someone saying everything’s okay where we are.
That had to bring comfort to a lot of people and so that was also his way of putting his mind on something else so that he didn’t panic, but we continued down we met firefighters along the way and eventually we got to the first floor.
We then left the elevators, went through with the help of, there were police, and FBI, and Port Authority police, and Fire Department of New York people, this FBI came up to us and said follow me I’ll get you out, and he ran and we followed him to the revolving doors that took us out into the central part of the World Trade Center on the first floor which is a shopping mall.
We ran through the mall, up an escalator, and then finally out a door as far away from the Twin Towers as we could be.
Not knowing what was going on.
We got outside and David looked around and said “Mike there’s fire in tower two.”
And we had no idea how it got there.
We thought it was just as likely that because Tower One had flexed and moved toward Tower Two, maybe somehow the fire jumped across, we had no clue.
So in any case we were told to leave the area and we did.
We walked over to Broadway and started going north on Broadway on the left or west side of the street.
We got to Fulton Street which was one of the main streets going east and west and then got to the next street which was Ann Street going to the right and Madle lane going to the left.
We stopped there because David wanted to take some pictures of the fire that he could see high up above in Tower Two.
He had just put his camera away, I had tried to call my wife Karen and I couldn’t get through because the circuits were busy.
Later as we learned because people were saying goodbye to loved ones.
I had just put my phone away when suddenly a police officer yelled “Get out, it’s coming down!” and “Get out of here, it’s not going to stay up, get out of here!”
And everyone just turned and ran as we heard this rumble that became this deafening roar in like about a half a second, which was Tower Two collapsing about a hundred yards away from our position.
Tower Two is over 400 yards tall, so if it had tipped, then we would have been under the building but it pancake straight down.
It did everything that the designers could have expected it to do.
Someone on a television show once asked “Why did the buildings come down so quickly?”
And an engineer who was being interviewed said “No that’s not really the question, the question you should be asking is why did they stay up so long?”
And the answer is because of the designs of the buildings, they did a great job.
Everyone turned in ran, I turned with Roselle and ran going back the other way, and we ran back to Fulton Street, turned right on Fulton Street.
David had run without even waiting for me or anything but I caught up to David and then we ran together and found shelter in the Fulton Street subway station because by that time the dust cloud had begun to spread and we were in the dust cloud.
It was so thick you couldn’t see your hands six inches in front of your nose, and as I describe it, with every breath I took I could feel the dirt and debris just going down into my throat and resting in my lungs.
So we ran into the the Fulton Street subway station where we stayed until the police officer came and told us to leave the area because the air was a little bit clearer up above.
Well we went up in the air was a little bit clear, not much, but it was a little less dusty.
We got outside, David looked around and said “Oh my god Mike, there’s no Tower Two anymore.”
I asked him what he saw and he said “All I see are just pillars of smoke, hundreds of feet tall, there’s no Tower Two.”
And we stood there for a moment and then we just turned and continue to walk west on Fulton Street leaving the area.
We walked for about ten minutes, then we were in this little plaza area, when suddenly we heard the same sound that we heard when Tower Two was collapsing.
I describe it as kind of a combination of a freight train and a waterfall, you could hear the glass breaking and tinkling and metal crashing and then this white noise sound of the building collapsing.
We knew it must be our Tower.
David looked and saw another dust cloud coming our way so we ran to the side to get out of the way.
And we did get out of the way of most of it, just kind of hunkered down and waited till everything passed, and then stood up and David looked around and said “Oh my God Mike, there’s no World Trade Center anymore.”
And again I asked him what he saw and he said “All I see are fingers of fire, and flame hundreds of feet tall, and pillars of smoke, the towers are gone.”
It was only after that that I finally was able to call my wife and she was the first one to tell us how two aircraft had deliberately been crashed into the towers, it was a terrorist attack, an airplane had been crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth was still missing over Pennsylvania.
Later I got home and we started to kind of think about it, it was like 7 o’clock at night.
The next day my wife suggested that I ought to call guide dogs for the blind where my dogs have all been from, and I called guide dogs among others spoke to Joann Ritter who was the director of public information, and she said gee do you mind if we put out a little story, and she did a little interview, and kind of really I don’t know, I was in shock but I wasn’t really thinking, I just said sure.
Within a couple of days a lot of things happened, well another thing that Joann the public information officer asked was, “So what TV show you want to be on because I’ll bet you can be on any show you want?”
And I said just flippantly, ok, Larry King Live.
And two days later we got an invitation to be on Larry King Live.
So it was the first of five interviews that we’ve done with Larry over the years.
After that the media really got the story and we’ve become very visible in the media, talking about this, and also I began getting requests to speak to organizations, and so I’m a full-time public speaker traveling and talking about teamwork and trust, leadership, unity, talking about inclusion, because I don’t believe diversity works for people with disabilities if you watch and observe when people talk about diversity, you very rarely ever hear disabilities mentioned.
So I have a speech that’s entitled “Moving from Diversity to Inclusion”
And because that’s what it’s really all about.
And I publicly speak wherever the opportunity arises and people invite me to come, and pay me to come and all that, I have not made what Hillary Clinton makes when she goes and speaks at Goldman Sachs, but but you know, we eeked out a living.
And now that credibility has come to AIRA.
I think my story is all about blind people can be anywhere anytime just like anyone else, you never know what might happen.
We ought to have the right, and ought to be expected to be able to be in the world.
Blindness isn’t the problem, blindness isn’t what holds us back, it’s people’s poor attitudes and misconceptions and low expectations about us, and my speaking and my being visible in the world as far as I’m concerned, is one way to help people see that in fact, we’re just like anyone else, we may not do things the same way that other people do them, that is to say I’m going to use Braille, and every blind person should learn Braille, I believe.
Seniors and so on who become blind much later in life may not want to take the time to learn Braille and I understand that, but still blind people, students especially, and people who are young enough to do so ought to learn to read Braille, because Braille is the only reading and writing language that we have.
If people say well you don’t need Braille because you’ve got electronic ways of reading, you can listen to things, you can use screen readers, and we’ve got recordings and so on, if you believe that, then why do we still teach sighted kids to read and write when we got such great things with TV starting with cartoons and going from there.
We don’t do that.
We insist that sighted kids learn to read, why shouldn’t blind people and blind children especially learn to read.
Only reason not is that people don’t really have high expectations of what we can do.
So if my story will help people understand that in reality blindness is that the problem, it’s their perceptions, then I’m accomplishing something, and I’ve talked to people who have read Thunderdog, which is the book that I wrote about my experience, Thunderdog was a number one New York Times bestseller.
They’ve read it, and it really hasn’t hit home to them that what I’m saying is that we’re just as capable as anyone else, they say the words, but when it comes down to it, then they say “Oh well let me take you where you need to go, let me lead you.”
It still is that they don’t truly get it because it’s so ingrained in our society that blind people are not capable.
We’re so stuck on that that we have to spend a lot of time and it’s like, how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
How do you deal with getting society to accept blind people?
One incident at a time, whatever it happens to be, whether it’s litigation, whether it’s through strong education, whatever the case happens to be, it’s gonna be a long time before people truly understand that we’re as capable as anyone else, and I know how a lot of people will view AIRA.
Which by the way is spelled a AIRA and the website is www.aira.o, but people are gonna say “Oh now blind people can see”
“Now blind people can do this, blind people can do that,.”
And yeah, there are going to be a lot of things that blind people can do that we couldn’t do before, and it isn’t that we couldn’t do them, it’s that we didn’t have the information to do them.
What AIRA will give us is a means to get that information.
So my favorite story is putting together a laundry cart that I purchased in October.
I wasn’t able to do it independently because the laundry cart instructions were all pictorial, there was no text.
So I called AIRA and spoke to an agent named Patrick, and and Pete with this podcast kind of has a a parting relationship with Patrick, sort of father-and-son you know, they’re sort of connected somewhere, but Patrick and I, because he got the information and then gave me the data, we put the laundry cart together in an hour.
He didn’t tell me how to do it, he told me what the instructions couldn’t tell me, because they were not in text.
I came to Orlando last Saturday, I land at the airport, I walk out of the airplane, getting off an airplane is easy, nobody can get lost on a jet bridge, at least if they can then there’s a serious problem with them, but it has nothing to do with blindness.
Maybe’s how do people get lost on jet bridges, I don’t know maybe there are signs that confuse people.
But anyway I got off the airplane, got off the jet bridge, activated AIRA and told an agent I needed to get to baggage claim.
So what did the agent do?
The agent looked around and saw the signs that said baggage claim this way, also the agent pulled up a map of the airport on her dashboard, so we could follow along with that as well, but the bottom line is, however they did it and however she did it, she got me to signs that said, here’s the train to go to the main airport area.
We got on the train, we took the ride got off, followed the signs to baggage claim, to carousel and I got my luggage.
I could never have done that independently because I couldn’t read the signs.
I would have had to find an airport person, which might have taken forever, but along the way I also asked other questions about things that were around us, like where the restaurants were, and what they were because I wanted that information in case I could use it coming back on Sunday when I leave to go home.
So the AIRA agent gave me the information.
The AIRA agent didn’t tell me how to get there, the AIRA agent is essentially a pair of eyes, but not a brain, and so between the information that I got from the agent and my own skills, in knowing what to do and how to do it, we were able to assemble the laundry cart very quickly and move on to the next thing.
And that’s what it’s really all about is that people think that if you’re blind you can’t do stuff, but in reality you can, and it’s all a matter of us recognizing that we’re all part of this same world, we’re all on this planet together, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re blind or sighted or not, one has nothing to do with the other, what it really matters is that we care enough about what people can and can’t do, that we recognize that if you’re blind you’ll use different techniques but you’ll still accomplish the same things.
Be sure to check out AIRA on the web at aira.io, on Twitter at AIRAIO.
This AIRA presentation was produced by Blind Abilities from their Blind Abilities studios.
Check them out on the web at www.blindabilities.com, on Twitter at BlindAbilties, and download their free app from the app store.
That’s Blind Abilities, two words, blind, abilities.
We would also like to thank Chee Chau for his wonderful music.
You can find Chee Chau on Twitter @lcheechau