Alvaro Gutierrez Interviews Michael Hingson president CEO of the Michael Hingson Group

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Alvaro Gutierrez
Michael Hingson
Description: 

Our guest today is Michael Hingson he is the president and CEO of the Michael Hingson group, he is blind, he has a guide dog, he’s a 9/11 survivor, he also is a best selling New York Times author, he’s also a disability advocate, he’s a motivational speaker, and so much more.

Transcription: 

Alvaro Guttierrez: Hello and welcome to project access for all our guest today is Michael hingson he is the president and ceo of the Michael hingson group, he is blind, he has a guide dog, he’s a 9/11 survivor, he also is a best selling New York Times author, he’s also a disability advocate, he’s a motivational speaker, and so much more, and first of all thank you so much Michael for being with us today.

Michael Hingson: It’s my pleasure I’m glad to be here.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Michael I, I have, have the, the pleasure of seeing the interviews that you have had with Larry King and internatonal and people like that, and my first question is how was that very complex 9/11 for you and, and that wonderful guide dog Roselle like?

Michael Hingson: 9/11 was a day that for me validated and proved my philosophy of being blind and, and my philosophy of how to, to do a job. And it also proved that all of us as human beings can do more than we ever thought that we could do. I’ve always believed that blindness isn’t the real handicap that I face the real challenge comes from people’s attitudes about being blind and so I’ve worked in the professional environment and workforce my whole life. On 9/11 I was the mid-atlantic region sales manager for a computer company, and I was in my office, preparing to conduct some training seminars when the building was attacked, I had a colleague from my corporate office from california with me, he was there to, to be a part of the seminar, but it was my seminar to run and that’s as it should be, cause I ran that office and I would be dealing with the people there. So, when the aircraft hit the building, there was no question about evacuating right from the offset, and I have spent a lot of time, consciously and
subconsciously thinking about what am I going to do if there is an emergency. And I learned where the exits were, I learned what I needed to do to escape in case of an emergency, of any sort and I thought about it enough that it became almost automatic and I was able to think clearly about what to do to get out of the tower. First thing was to evacuate our guest them to make sure they were gone. then to do what I could in a short time to do what I could in a short time to prepare, and then to leave the building so within 5 minutes of the time of the aircraft hit we were on our way down the stairs and our guests were already out ahead of us but the important part of dealing with a guide dog it’s not the dog’s job to know where I want to go and how to get there it’s my job I have to direct the dog and the dog is going to look for me to give her good directions and to give her confident directions and that’s what Roselle did. Roselle and I worked as a team to be successful everyday and especially of course on 9/11 and that's what we did it so we were able to get down and get out and survived the attacks on 9/11.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Can you please repeat because I think it is so so so important for our listeners to listen to, because it is an anecdote, when you are like in the 48 floor or 43 or something like that, when you yell something to the people upstairs, regarding something could happen please tell us.

Michael Hingson: Well, I was self serving, I remember thinking at one point, I’m getting a little worried here because we had power and lights on the stairs but what would have happened if we had lost all power and lighting on the stairs,if we did it would have been harder for everyone who could see to get up because they couldn’t see, there were no windows on the stairs so there was no sunlight, so I thought that I have to deal with this as best I can so I
shouted to everyone now I don’t want anyone to worry, if the power and lights go out I am blind I have my guide dog Roselle we're offering a half-price special to get you out today only and I did that make people laugh but I also wanted people to remember that there’s somebody who didn’t care if the lights went out and we would help get everyone down the stairs and out of the building.

Alvaro Guttierrez: That is very very telling and very very true and, you know something that people always think about is how are we going to stay calm in something like this such an extreme crisis, do you have any tips for anyone listening to say in those kind of situations, maybe focus your mind in this, in that, focus.

Michael Hingson: Sure, for me, I focused, I, I prayed a lot, but I also focused on Roselle. I had the advantage that I had a guide dog who I needed to make sure continued to do her job, so I was able to focus on her, and encourage her and keep her focused on guiding us down the stairs. So, we worked together, we helped each other, because if she stayed calm that told me that she wasn’t sensing anything that we needed to worry about, meanwhile she was telling me that just by the way she acted I was continuing to encourage her by remaining calm so that she wouldn’t get worried because if I started to sound nervous she would in turn look at me and be very concerned about whether I was doing okay or not so we worked to help each other. But I think for anyone who's in an, an emergency or in a, an urgent situation the best thing to do is to spend some time now thinking about what am I going to do if there is a fire in my room, make the plan and then think about it often enough and practice it often enough that if there is a need to deal with an emergency that you already have a mindset that will allow you to focus
and not panic. We have the ability to do that, we have the ability to go in, within ourselves and focus, and calm down. We just need to do it, it’s not a magic thing, it’s not a hard thing, but we make it hard because we say it’s impossible to do it. Oh, there’s an emergency, what are we supposed to do? I don’t care what the situation is, we can always focus and be calmer and be more reasoning than we think we can, but it has to start with us making the effort.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Now I know have been collaborating for the guide dogs for the blind, and you did that for many years, can you tell us a little bit about that and the importance of guide dogs for people with visually impaired totally blind?

Michael Hingson: I use a cane and I also use a guide dog. I choose to use a guide dog although a lot of people do not I think for me it’s, it’s an advantage but that’s an individual choice, but what I’m about to say works the same for both. But, but the importance of learning to travel well, the importance is learning how to go from one place to another. A lot of people want to teach us a route oh, we're going to teach you how to walk from your house to the store. That's not what I want to know, what I want to know is when I leave my house and I start walking, I wanna learn the whole areas, I not only want to know when I get to the store but I want to know what’s past it, I want to learn to explore my world. And the advantage that we have is that when we do that we really know what's around us. Everyone else looks at road signs or they look at signs on the walls and if they don’t see the signs, they’re lost. I go by other landmarks to know what's around me and of course now we have good GPS systems and, and that helped. We have programs like blindsquare that help, we have maps on our iPhones and our droid phones and so on and a number of things that can help, but you still need to learn
what's around you and you need to learn to have the confidence to go there. And the fact is nobody can teach you that you have to experience it for yourself people can can help you they can help you gain the confidence, but you have to do it.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Right, right, right. Growing up, how was the support of your family?

Michael Hingson: My family was very supportive. They just decided that I can do whatever I chose to do and sometimes we all have to figure out how to do that but we work together to make sure that I learn whatever I needed to learn to get around and do the things I needed to do, so it was an adventure for my family as much as it was for me, at times but they were very supportive and they didn’t say well you’re blind and you can't do that. They said we’ll figure it out, of course you can do it. If you think you can do it you can do it. So they were very helpful in that regard.

Alvaro Guttierrez: What was the preceding interviews that you have given, as someone who is you know, very positive, optimistic, you know, strong, what what, is the stone of that, what is the rock that gives you that way of life.

Michael Hingson: It’s the self confidence that I’ve learned in my life, and it’s, it’s the sort of conviction of me and my attitude that ultimately, I choose how I want to live, that isn’t something that other people can do for me and that’s no different than it is for anyone else.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Can you tell us a little bit about your book thunder dog?

Michael Hingson: Yeah we have thunder dog which is a New York Times best seller, published in a variety of countries. I don’t think that it has been published in spanish, I would like to get it published in spanish, so we’re looking for an author to do that, or not an author but a publisher to publish it in Spanish. So if anyone out there is a Publisher, it, it is a New York Times bestseller and I think it should be done, and I would love to do that but we also have running with Roselle which is a new book for children. Anyway thunder dog was published in 2011 and it tells the story of what happened to me on 9/11 as well as my life growing up as a, as a blind person. The way the Book is laid out is every chapter begins with something that happened on 9/11 and in the middle of each chapter is really, a section that talks about the tools I learned to help me do the various things that happen in that chapter, then at the end of the chapter we come back to 9/11 and go on so we talk a lot about my life in the various chapters in the book and of course we talk about what happened on 9/11 so it kind of splits between the two and then transitions back and forth.

Alvaro Guttierrez: In the book for children...

Michael Hingson: Running with Roselle is more of a book about me growing up there isn't nearly as much about 9/11 in the book. There is some but it is more about me growing up and Roselle being trained to be a guide dog so it's kind of more teaching a lot about blindness for kids although what’s interesting is more adults are buying it than children.

Alvaro Guttierrez: (Laughter) Your company Michael Hingson group can you tell us about it.

Michael Hingson: Sure. After I left being employed at guide dogs for the blind in 2008 I formed my own company to be the vehicle that did a couple of things one we sold some assistive Technology namely the KNFB reader mobile which was the device that Ray Kurzweil invited to work on Nokia phones which now is on the iPhone so we sold that product here in the US and someone outside the US and in addition to that and now the main thing that I do is we use the company to, to be the way that I get speaking engagements I travel the world, talking about teamwork and trust and moving forward after 9/11 or a change in someone's life so the Michael Hignson group is the company that actually is what’s hired to have me come and speak so people are interested in having me come and speak or want to learn about that they can go to my website www.michaelhingson.com that's www.michaelhingson.com and they can learn about what we do they can contact me through the website or email me at info@michaelhingson.com and we can talk about coming to speak and I do travel the all over the world so I’m glad to go anywerhe, where people want me to come and speak. We do have to charge for it because I do not have the money to do it without charging, but we can, we can always make something work.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Michael I have two, two questioned related to what you just said proportions related to what you just said about your company. One is, you’re talking about an application for mobile phones, correct?

Michael Hingson: Nowadays it’s an app on the iPhone it's a software package that you can buy through the App Store and what it does is it takes a picture of any printed material that you
point the camera at and then it will read that out loud, and it does it extremely quickly so it is a way to read any printed material. It is called KNFB reader mobile.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Can you tell us for what kind of models of the iPhone? 6 and 6+ you would say?

Michael Hingson: It would work on the 4S but probably not as well as it will on the 5 and the 5S and certainly the 6 and the 6+. The 6 and the 6+ are going to be the fastest, the 5S is pretty good in the 5 is pretty good. Those are the best, it will work on the 4 but a little bit slower.

Alvaro Guttierrez: And the other, this is out of curiosity, when you do your speaking events how do you memorize because some people tell me they use their phones and they have like a headphone and they have certain like bullets so they like, tap the phone and it’s going to say remember to talk about this and they they…

Michael Hingson: I meet with whoever is organizing the event ahead of time so I know the things that they want me to talk about and I often times will have notes but I do I do them in braille. I don't read speeches, I deliver everyone as a custom speech I don't like to just do the same speech every time so I really want to customize every talk to the people who want me to come and speak so I will have notes as well as some parts of my book that I will read in the course of the speech and I will use them to keep me on track but also I listen to what the audience reactions are to my speech. I get a good idea of how connected the audience feel so good if I need to make some changes even the middle of the speech I can do that I've had to do
that before or I've gone through a speech where someone arranged for me to come and they didn't give me a lot of information on where was going to be talking about and I had to change on the fly during the speech or right before the speech because somebody didn't give me the information that I requested. It makes it tough, but but I am, I use a lot of notes and I keep those in a, in a binder so everything is in braille. Because I believe every blind person should learn to read braille. It is the only true reading and writing language the iPhone or something else talking to me and distracting me that's what reading is all about.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Do you think it’s important to be a self-advocate?

Michael Hingson: Oh, I think every human being needs to be a self-advocate. And certainly blind people do need to be. I think also it's important that we find other people that we could work with to advocate that is, there’s power in numbers but I believe that all of us should be advocates for what, for what we want.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Do you have a, like a comment about the ADA and 25 that we’re celebrating this year, are you happy what has been done, are you hopeful for the future of this legislation.

Michael Hingson: I think we made a lot of progress, I think we have a long way to go. In some ways we made some good progress but in other ways we haven’t. There are too many people who try to get away with not doing the things that they should do to help us make the ADA more successful, you know, there are, there are just a lot of places where the ADA in the United States and of course, in a broader sense, the treaty for the rights of persons with disabilities
from the UN, is, Is all about putting a mechanism in force that would ensure that we have same rights as everyone else, but we're not there yet but not accepted his first class citizens like most people and, as a result we have a long way to go before we're going to get that kind of respect and support from people as a whole.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Now some of our listeners that may have any disability may be listening right now, may be thinking well he, he says for he has done a lot, he's very confident, but I’m not. I don't able to do so much, he has traveled the world, he has the pride, the dignity, I would love to have it but I don't feel as capable as Michael Hinson is feeling right now. How can we tell them to say to yourself you are as able as as you, as you wanna be? You have so much to give to world but you need to, to start changing that perception of yourself.

Michael Hingson: Well that’s exactly it, Ghandi says be the person that you want to be, and, the, the fact is that, that when people say I don't have the confidence, then, then they won’t. The fact is that I too many people as I say in Thunder Dog let their sight get in the way of their vision. Don't let your sight get in the way of your vision you can choose to be whatever you choose to be and whatever you decide about yourself is what's going to happen. That is a conscious decision that you have to make. Now, saying that and making it happen can be two different things so once you decide that want to be more confident once you decide that you want do more you need to go find the resources and the tools to help you learn what you need to learn. It gets back to making a plan so when I began to speak, publicly that's when I was going to be traveling to a variety of countries, to speak, that wasn’t something I’ve ever done before and I spent some time thinking about it, I spent some time learning to be a better
speaker and getting help doing that and then when the first request came for me to travel, well the first request was to travel to Canada, my wife and I did that right after 9/11, but a year and a half later I went to New Zealand for 21 days so from California to New Zealand is a long way to completely different and strange country, but we made it work. And the fact of the matter is that I, I regarded an adventure, and I’ve been to a number of countries since, we’ve been to Korea been to Japan twice, and the Netherlands and Ireland and a variety of places. It's all about making the decision that you're going to do it. You're not going to get stressed out you are just going to figure out what you need to know and what do and then, and then do it. One of the thing a that, that we’re doing in addition to the Michael Hingson group when we published Thunder Dog, we started Roselle’s Dream Foundation, Roselle is R O S E L L E, so we have a website rosellesdream.org. We are going to start doing a lot of educating about blindness on that website, one of the things that we’ll probably start doing is having sessions, coaching sessions where people can come and ask questions and they can learn about blindness and, and ask questions about blindness, and there will be some charge for doing that, it isn’t going to be toally free but we’re going to make it like people want to do it on a regular basis, maybe $10 a month or something like that, we’ll see and still putting that together, but the idea is that we’ll provide a way for people to get together, I will answer questions and we’ll bring other experts in, and we'll talk about blindness and try to help a lot of people who may not have the confidence to be able to improve and decide and discover that they can do things that, that the rest of us are, just because, they will get the confidence to do it.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Oh how is, when is this starting?

Michael Hingson: I can’t tell you exactly when it's going to start yet, I'm not sure but we're working toward it. It will be in the next couple months.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Oh, that is going to help a lot. So Michael is there a life lesson that you have learned that you say oh, when I was 15 I didn’t know, now I, I have found something that has made my life more, fulfilling and more full of meaning now that I know this?

Michael Hingson: Oh, I think there, there are a lot of life lessons to learn. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned anger, anger doesn’t help anyone, revenge doesn't help anyone, and what I need to do is just be as best as I can be and be willing to help calm and also sometimes ask for help. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things, you know, most of us don’t ever want you don't ever want to ask for help but we can do this. Nothing wrong about asking for help, but ask for help and, and make sure you ask for what you need. I don't want someone to show me how to go from my house to somewhere I want directions I want someone to make sure that I know what I need to know, and they may walk with me a few times but I don't want to depend on someone to get to the store I want to learn how to do that and I will use help to learn it but it's up to me to learn it and not just how to how to get to the store, but how to get to other places around so it's all about learning to be independent and interdependent, that is depending on other people and let other people depend on you too, cause I think that each of us has something to offer as you said earlier.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Now many people in our community, when they lose their vision, they don’t have the mobility training, maybe...

Michael Hingson: Sure.

Alvaro Guttierrez: They don’t know how to do that and is super important to, to get that because it’s going to make as you were saying, independent, and as you were saying, having a guide dog is great, but you have to know where you going and so on so forth, do you recommend any way of getting a good mobility training and how long can it take to get it.

Michael Hingson: I can teach anyone to use a cane in five minutes. Teaching people to have the confidence to use a cane takes months. I believe that no one should get a guide dog until they’ve learned to use a cane and learn to use it well. I think it's important that we learn to explore, get lost, and figure out how we got lost in discover where, how we got lost and discover where, how we, how we find ourselves again when I started working in the World Trade Center I walked around the complex and I didn't want people leading me, I didn’t ask for a mobility instructor to come and help me, I didn’t want to do that because I wanted to learn where things were in the only way to do that is to explore it myself. And that means asking a lot of questions along the way , that means asking about what I’m near and what’s around me and so on, I think it’s absolutely great to get lost so you can discover where you are and people need to do that. Mobility instructors, people who teach mobility, are not a perfect solution and they can only really give you so much information. You need to learn to have the confidence to explore, get lost and discover.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Is there any final thoughts from Michael?

Michael Hingson: Well, you know, in, in Thunder Dog we have a section called guide dog wisdom, and what I’m going to do very quickly how much time do we have?

Alvaro Guttierrez: No we have time, have time.

Michael Hingson: I’m going to read to you guide dog wisdom. I think that it's very important thing to tell people, so I'm just getting it right now, and I think that guide dog wisdom are lessons, there are lessons I learned on 9/11 and here’s, here’s what I wrote. There’s a time to work at a time to play. Know the difference. When the harness goes on it's time to work. Work hard, others are depending on you. And again this section is called guide dog wisdom, lessons I learned from Roselle on 9/11. Number two, focus in and use all of your senses. Learn to tell the difference between a harmless thunderstorm and a true emergency. Don’t let your sight get in the way of your vision. Number three, sometimes the way is hard, but if you work together, someone will pass along a water bottle just when you need it. And some of this is going to be a little clearer, the references are things we talk about in the book. Number four, this is Roselle’s favorite, always but always kiss firefighters because she got to kiss of one of the firefighters as we were going down the stairs. Number five and this gets back to some of the stuff we were talking about, earlier, ignore distractions, there’s more to life than playing fetch or chasing tennis balls. Number six, listen carefully to those who are wiser and more experienced than you. They’ll help you find the way. That get back to asking for help right? Number seven don’t stop until work is over sometimes being a hero is just doing your job. Number eight, the dust cloud won't last forever keep going and look for the way out. It will come. Number nine, shake
off the dust and move on. And number ten, when work is over play hard with your friends and don't forget to share your favorite bone with them. And those are the lessons of guide dog wisdom and I think anyone can follow. It’s in Thunder Dog, and I think it really makes a lot of things clearer and it helps give people a path, just, follow those lessons.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Right, right it really does. So finally Michael remind us how can people get in touch, how can they buy your books, etc.

Michael Hingson: Sure, well they are available anywhere there are books stores so you can go on amazon or wherever and get them. Like I said I hope we can get it published in Spanish, it’s in a number of languages but not in spanish which is unfortunate. But they can visit our website at www.michaelhingson.com that is michaelhingson.com, they can go to rosellesdreamfoundation that’s www.rosellesdream.org, and you know also, if they’d like to get a picture of Roselle there is an artist, Ron Burns, very famous animal artist, who painted a portrait which he sells and they can find the picture if they’d like to get it by going to www.ronburns.com/roselle. They can order the books on our website, but I think that probably the best way to get the book in Columbia and, and other places is through places like Amazon because they have better shipping methods and it’s cheaper than us, us shipping it. But every book that we sell on the website does come completely autographes and pawtographed with Roselle’s pawprint.

Alvaro Guttierrez: And an e-mail?

Michael Hingson: info@michaelhingson.com.

Alvaro Guttierrez: On a final note I want to thank Michael can you remind me what is the person that helps you with the tons of emails that you receive?

Michael Hingson: David Mckinney, yeah he’s our webmaster yes.

Alvaro Guttierrez: Well thank you to, to David for, for helping. And well Michael just keep it up, there is only no more that I can say, it has been wonderful to have you on, one of my idols is Larry King so I say one day I’m going to have Michael on a show and, here we go.

Michael Hingson: Here we go, sure!

Alvaro Guttierrez: It’s been a pleasure and I hope our listeners get that same positive vibe that we all do when we listen to him.

Michael Hingson: People can find us on facebook and tweet us as well, we’re on facebook, Michael Hingson and Roselle 9/11 Guide Dog, and they can tweet @MHingson so we’re on twitter and facebook as well. That’s wonderful to know, and so, thank you so much.

Alvaro Guttierrez: God bless. Thank you. For our listeners, always remember to smile and you can always like us on facebook project access for all, you can follow us on twitter @projectaccessforall and you can also go to our website projectaccessforall.org, and if you
want to be on this show you can email us at podcast@projectaccessforall.org so thank you so much for listening and have a wonderful day.