Are You Who You Want To Be?

I am not sure why but it seems the world wants, needs, desires, seeks to label us.  Whether it is your parents, your friends, co-workers and yes even perfect strangers who know nothing about you personally, people invest a lot of time labeling you, categorizing you.  Why?  That is a question that will haunt us until the day we are but dust blowing in the winds of history.  Yet, because it was, it is now, I fear it will always be.  So, what do we do to combat the labels others ascribe to us?  This isn't an article directed exclusively to those in my blind community, this is one that we all can relate to.  Whether you are handicapped or able bodied, or any of the other “Classifications” we use there is a big bold label out there with your name on it.  Or, is there?  Just because someone printed that label out and wants to pin it on you, is the debate over?  With that in mind, I will never assume to know what the life experience of others is or has been.  I only know “Me.”  As a result, I spend no time labeling others, I don't have the time nor do I possess the powers of a God.  What I do have is the ability to work on my label, after all, what you are, who you are is up to you, nobody else.  I wrote this quote a few years ago: 

“Are you who you want to be or are you busy being the version of you that others want you to be?  It is an important question since you will be judged in the end based on the life you lived and the person you were.  You own your life so take responsibility for it.”  E.L. Burton

Now before you continue reading this, I want you to take a pause.  Sit back and close your eyes and think about that for a few minutes because to understand my message, you need to understand the quote.  Too often people accept the label given to them. Soon they embrace it and ultimately live up to their label, they hide behind it.  Once that happens their label holds them captive because outside that label exist their insecurities. The remedy for insecurity is to develop confidence, a necessity to escape the safe space of the label.  Building confidence, being confident in who you are, who you want to be.  Doing this is hard, change is hard but the result of surrendering moves you farther away from the person you desire to be, that unique individual buried somewhere inside the shell you call you.  I call this “Following the path of least resistance.”  Change is in fact difficult, especially when that change involves actual work, a concerted effort to step away from your comfort zone.  Now, I want to re-emphasize here that I am writing about “Me” here, however, my life may in fact parallels your life. Change of any kind requires hard work and diligence.  Sometimes changing perception, removing the label society has stuck on you is reminiscent of that one label you try and try to peel off only to be left scraping it, soaking it and scraping it some more.  The reality is that changing perceptions and changing your attitude about your situation falls under the category of hard work. With that in mind I will introduce another quote that I wrote some years back as I decided to shed the insecurities that had held me in bondage, bound by the ropes and lashes others used to leave me sitting in my path believing that I was “Less Than” because I had what they labeled as a handicap:   

“Successful people choose to adapt to their environment rather than waiting for or expecting their environment to adapt to them.”  E.L. Burton

As part of my new mission in life, I am committed to showing those in my community that they are far greater than the “Less Than” label of being handicapped.  You may be wondering why?  It is simple, I believe that there exists a tremendous talent pool out there of individuals society has marginalized.  These individuals have been labeled, shelved, granted a paltry sum of government aide and assistance to be hidden in the shadows away from the rest of society perceived as better equipped to deal in the real world.  Some of us have broken away, rebelled against conventional thoughts and practices.  I am here to tell you that if you have not, if you are busy trying to live up to or be the version of yourself that others expect you to be, you are selling yourself short.  Going back to the last quote, it is imperative that we learn to adapt to what life has thrown at us.  When I use “Us” I am speaking to my blind brothers and sisters but again, this is applicable to everybody else who finds themselves stuck with a label they simply do not agree with.  Adapting is part of the survival instinct.  Adapting means that if you lack something, in our case the ability to “See,” then you must sharpen the tools you do possess to make the desired impact you seek for success. 

Many of you by now understand what I am saying but you don't know how to take the yoke of lowered expectations off let alone find your purpose.  I don't have the ability to do that for you, to lift that yoke and hand you a piece of paper with a map to your purpose.  However, I am here to tell you that you do have purpose, that you are in fact “More Than” the label society has placed on you.  Many studies by sociologist and those in the mental health arena have consistently shown that across socioeconomic circumstances, cultural differences and the myriad of characteristics that separate us, there exist some basic similarities, intangibles unattached to that which divides us.  Deep within each human that has walked the earth, is currently walking the earth and those who will come after us exist the desire to be happy and to dream.

My daughter loves to bust my chops over this line “At the end of the day” because according to her it is a crutch phrase for me but I am going to use it anyway.  At the end of the day, this life and the label you are currently wearing are the direct result of choices you have made.  Sure, some will say that the choice was made for them, that they had no control over the label.  This is the point where I say nonsense, with a caveat.  You may not have had the choice of being labeled as “Blind” as is my case.  However, the choices you make define what being blind actually means.  There are plenty of blind people out there who in spite of that label chose to rise above it and not allow it to define them.  Here are just a few: Musicians like Stevie wonder, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Ronnie Millsap, Andrea Bocelli and Jose Feliciano.  Composers, Rudolf Braun and Francesco Landini.  The great Greek orator and thinker Homer. Writers like, Poet John Milton, Helen Keller and Sports writer Ed Lucas.  Politicians like, Mathew A. Dunn who was a member of the United States Congress, Henry Fawcet who was a member of parliament and served as Postmaster General in the UK, Thomas Gore was a US Senator, Bob C. Riley was Governor of Arkansas and Thomas D. Schall was a Senator from Minnesota.  In the world of billionaires sit Steve Wynn a resort and Casino Mogul and Gordon Gund who is the Co-Founder of the Foundation Fighting Blindness and was the principle owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers franchise. There were even a few Saints, Didymus the Blind, Lutgardis and Pacificus of San Severino. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting and knowing some inspirational people the world would label as “Handicapped or Less Than.”  These people have shown me that I am capable of more than my assigned label.  Throughout history countless blind people shed the label imposed on them by society of “Disabled” and embraced who they wanted to be.  Each did this because they had a dream, because they longed to be happy and therefore set out on their journey of discovering who they were and what their contribution would be.  Imagine if rather than daring to define themselves, they allowed their assigned label to stick.  Imagine if they allowed society to hide them in the shadows, convince them that their worth amounted to a paltry check provided by a government comfortable with setting the bar so low that hope gave way to apathy because offering a handout is easier than giving them a hand-up. What if these inspirational figures who have impacted society believed that self-determination was only available to those who had the right label?  Like I stated earlier, there is an amazing talent pool out there, there are artists, musicians, writers, philosophers, business executives and public servants who believe they are “Less Than” because we have a myopic structure that doesn’t see the potential that exists.  Therefore, it is up to each one of us to stand up, remove the yoke of low expectations and begin the hard work of defining our situation rather than allowing our situation to define us. Be bold, dare to dream and discover your happiness.  

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Yawning at Paul Revere

I am a “Reformed” political writer, officially done with it.  However, after watching and listening to the histrionics over Russia and Trump and Helsinki and, and, and….. I find myself needing to remind all of the “Chicken Littles” out there screaming “the sky is falling!” to settle down and take a trip with me to a time not too long ago. Back in 2012, then Presidential candidate Mitt Romney attempted to play the role of Paul Revere in a Presidential Debate with then President Obama.  Mitt Romney’s hue and cry was not that the British were coming, he warned that Russia was coming, that they were here, that they were in fact the world player that America needed to take seriously as a threat.  At the debate, President Obama mocked Romney cheaply replying to him that “The 80’s called… The cold war is over…..” This drew a chuckle from all concerned and consequently Vice President Biden chimed in later with yet more piling on regarding Romney’s naivety.  As did Secretaries of State John Kerry as well as Hillary Clinton, respectively.  Each were dismissive of Romney and each claimed Russia was an important ally to America. If you believe I am overly critical of just Democrats, think again.  Former President George Bush famously stated at a press conference that, "I have looked in his eyes seen that he is a good man." I have provided video links at the bottom of this for you to watch, don't take my word for it, listen to their words at the time. Then ask yourself, “Where is the concern?  Where is the condemnation of Vladimir Putin?  Where is the threat to America? Where are the prevailing opinions of today echoed in any of their words?   

Part of our problem today is that in our zealotry and hatred we forget to do our research, we become lazy and rely on a media that is ideologically driven rather than being objective in their analysis and reporting.  For all of the bad the internet represents in our current culture, the one value is the fact that it is the repository of actions and words, the place we can go to find the truth, the words and deeds of others. Our imperative is to be an informed electorate, to seek out and find facts rather than existing in an echo chamber where like baby birds we are fed regurgitated information masquerading as sustenance.  If you are intellectually honest, then you understand that as of 2014 the previous administration knew what was happening, however, like the rest of us, they relied on the exact same ideologically driven media telling them that through all their polling and infinite wisdom, Hillary Clinton would win the election.  Well, she didn’t and now we have Donald J. Trump as our President.  So, as you sit and listen to the talking heads as they feed your little baby beak, rather than keeping your head up and eagerly waiting for the next bite, put your head down, learn to feed yourself, to inform yourself so that the next time a Mitt Romney comes along with a warning, you’re ready.

 I implore you to step outside your bubble, walk away from your safe space, exit your echo chamber, unplug from the Matrix and be smarter than the cadre of politicians, corporations and pontificators invested in keeping you right where you are.  Challenge those who tell you that they know the facts, that they have the answers and the solutions to your troubled world.  The truth is that by sitting in opposition of this advice means that you are comfortable ceding your freedoms and liberty to the whims of others.  The greatest threat we face today isn't Russia, China, North Korea, President Trump, Republicans or Democrats, it is us, all of us collectively allowing the real life “Matrix” to hold us captive as it divides us, separates us only to then sedate us into compliance.  Free yourself, free your mind, become an informed citizenry because that is their greatest fear. 

The videos below represent a single topic and illustrates the rank hypocrisy that exists, the tool used to divide us. Our only weapon against it is to reunite ourselves in our common humanity and strive to be better, to be worthy of honesty over those peddling lies and prevarications. If you believe this was written in defense of President Trump, sorry, you’re an idiot seated comfortably in your safe space with your echo chamber headphones on.  This is a piece aimed at anybody who is tired of division, tired of being purposefully misled for the express purpose of a machine whose only power is derived by separating us. I quit writing in this space, unplugged myself from the “Political Matrix,” however, every now and again I plug back in because I care about a country that has blessed me so much and given me so many opportunities. When we cease expressing our opinions through speech, through writing, when we stop challenging each other, freedom dies so trust me, I’m still here.

Below are 5 Links worth watching:

 

 

https://youtu.be/T1409sXBleg

https://youtu.be/UgUyqLrgO7Q

https://youtu.be/ZFJGufkcEj0

https://youtu.be/V04RsRdcVRI

https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=AwrJ61gVwldbT98A_QZXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTE0bWltYTRqBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ4NTNfMQRzZWMDcGl2cw--?p=youtube+bush+looked+into+putin%27s+eyes+and+saw+a+good+man&fr2=piv-web&fr=yfp-t#id=1&vid=7b119076b235ef6181682c8f8b31b307&action=view

 

Laughter is the Best Medicine

When you are blind, comedy ensues, moments of ridiculous humor can be found if you are a good sport.  The ability to laugh at yourself, find humor in what some might call embarrassment is truly good therapy.  Over the years, I have witnessed some attempts at trying to make a sitcom or a movie based on being blind, most fail and the ones that don't use blindness as more of a gimmick.  There are some rare exceptions where the blind have been portrayed in dramatic roles as well as a few that have used blindness as a plot twist to an action oriented movie.  But, when it comes to the comedy of blindness, people get queasy, and in the politically correct times we live in chances are you won’t see it anytime soon.  So, today I wanted to share a few of my favorite comedic moments from my life that were courtesy of “Being Blind.”  My arsenal is large, very large, and I would say that following me around would make great reality TV because whether it is the trips, falls or banging into anything and everything or the countless animated conversations with nobody, from the outside, being blind must look crazy to most people.

One night my wife and I went to a Comedy Club with another couple. I wear sunglasses just about everywhere I go and this evening was no exception.  As we sat at our table, which happened to be at the front, we sat laughing and having a good time.  The comedian on stage was being heckled by a very obnoxious and drunk woman at the table next to us.  The comedian did his best to ignore her but began to heckle her.  That got him nowhere fast, so now, being thoroughly frustrated he began to turn on the audience and guess who he came after first?  That’s right, me the guy sitting at the table right in front.  He zeroed in on me and began to say things like, “Look at this guy, too cool for school.  Look at him, so cool that he has to wear his sunglasses at night.  What are you a celebrity, should I know you?”  My wife leaned over to me and said, “He is talking to you.”  I sat for a minute and then did one little thing that turned the situation around.  I raised my cane above my head.  This stunned the poor guy, he used a few interlaced expletives as he asked, “No way, you’re kidding me, you're blind?  I just gave the business to a blind guy. I am so going to hell for this.”  I cleaned it up a bit for you but the guy was really embarrassed and shocked.  At the end of the show he sought me out, tried to give me free merchandise and went way overboard apologizing.  I didn’t accept the free stuff and told him he had nothing to apologize for.  As a matter of fact, I apologized for the drunk woman that kicked the whole thing off.  The one thing I asked is that he somehow worked this experience into his act because it was in fact hilarious.  I don't know if he ever did.

My next funny blind moment happened in a men’s room.  Having to go really, really bad, I quickly hustled towards the urinal unzipping my pants along the way and BOOM, ran square into the back of a very large man already using that particular urinal.  He quickly turned around, my face in his very large pectoral muscles as I thought, “Ok, this is it, I am going to get my butt kicked right here in the men’s room.”  I had broken the “Bro Code” of never touching another man in the men’s room.  Luckily this very large and who I now know to be a very nice man noticed my glasses and my cane.  We had a good laugh.  However, now, every time I walk into a public restroom I boldly and loudly proclaim, “There is a blind man in the bathroom!”  I haven’t had a problem since.

I live in a Loft in downtown Dallas.  I know my building pretty well and sometimes I leave my unit to throw trash down the chute or get the mail without my cane.  While I know my building well, I learned that some of the people don't know me very well.  One day I got on the elevator and I could tell someone else was already on the elevator.  I awkwardly said hello and turned to push the button for the lobby and promptly dropped my keys.  I bent down and felt around the floor trying to find them, the young lady blurted out, “They are right there, what are you drunk or something!”  I slowly rose and turned to where the shrill little voice had come from and replied, “No, but I should have listened to my mom when she told me to stop sitting so close to the TV because I’d go blind and what do you know, she was right!”  I then turned around and bent back over to find my keys.  She is now much nicer to me when we run into each other. The “Drunk” theme has played out many times in many other situations because as you might guess, sometimes being blind gets just a bit disorienting.

On another occasion, my wife and I were shopping at Costco.  Now I love my wife and if there was ever a woman who deserved “Sainthood” it would be her.  But, she does have a habit of saying all the time, “It's right there!”  So, there we were shopping at Costco, she wanted me to pick up a flat of waters to which I replied, “Where are they?” She said, “Right there in front of you.”  Not wanting to get into where exactly right there was I quickly bent over right where I stood to feel for the flat.  Instead my head hit the massive metal racks at Costco and a loud gong was heard throughout the store.  I was dazed a bit, saw a few stars and ever since then she has been better about telling me things are “Right there.” I want to continue with the gong theme because it plays a part in my daily life.  Take for example a time I was walking through Target.  For whatever reason, Target is one of a few stores that like to stage their racks so that poles are in the middle of the isle.  I don't care how good you are with a cane, every once in a while, as you tap and sweep your cane as you walk you miss the pole and when that happens, bam! your head meets the pole and everybody stops, gasps not knowing how to react.  The same is true of what my wife and I now call “Land Mines.”  These are the wet floor signs or signs that are set low on the ground that trip each of us up recreating the opening scene from the Dick Van Dyke show where the character, Rob Petrie, walks into a room and promptly trips over what I believe is an ottoman.  He quickly jumps up.  A move that I too have now perfected.

My last story for this piece is a common one.  We all spend time in the kitchen, cupboards, drawers and the open dishwasher are our common enemy.  If you are anything like me I have broken many a drawer and cabinet door as well as split my head open and dented my shins more times than I care to count. When we moved into our loft as empty nesters we decided to purchase a very expensive Bosch dishwasher.  Spoil ourselves a bit since it was now our “Forever” home and living in a loft space is small and noise travels.  One day we were in the kitchen, after dinner, cleaning up.  Unaware that the dishwasher was still open I boldly walked through the kitchen and BAM!”  I not only hit the open dishwasher door and went face first over it onto the floor, I had hit that door with such force that it tore the door off of the dishwasher so badly that I soon learned that it could not be repaired. When the repairman came out for a repair estimate, and as I stood there with my sunglasses and cane he said, ”Um….. yeah, there isn't a warranty category that covers the blind guy kicking the door off.”  I replied, “Well there should be, it’s obviously defective, just look at it!”  We both laughed. We now have a very cheap, very easily replaceable dishwasher. 

The reason that I decided to write this is because we all have our crosses to bear.  We all have something in our life that makes it just a bit more difficult than someone else’s life experience.  It is in those moments that we must find the humor rather than the rage, sorrow or pity.  We have to laugh at ourselves and the silliness of how our path in this life is peppered with challenges others don't have.  Imagining the look on people’s faces as we swat wildly at the branch we didn’t see that brushes your face as you walk by it.  Or perhaps the crack in the sidewalk or curb we trip over and flail our arms like some newborn baby taking their first step. Understanding the humor is the best way to deal with the slips, falls and head banging that is part of living in a world that isn't designed for you.  A world that doesn’t care if you see it.  Rather than looking at the embarrassment as a negative, another reason why you choose to not be part of the world, learn to laugh at yourself, to see the absurdity and rich comedic value.  Dick Vandyke made a pretty good living falling over things and he could see. I’ve been accused often of being a glass half full kind of guy most of my life.  When I fall, or bang into something or walk into the back of someone in the restroom, when I embarrass myself beyond what most think is acceptable I never let them see me wince.  Instead, I make them laugh because in the end, laughter is in truth the best medicine. We only get this one life, we only get the one shot at being the best person we can be in spite of whatever our difficulties are so spend more time enjoying the life you have been given rather than lamenting over it. The next time you walk through that spider web or that branch reaches out and gently touches your face causing you to react, know that this is your “Academy” moment.  Do the dance, swat wildly at the air as you scream at your imaginary attacker.  Then stop, take a bow and accept your Oscar for best actor or actress in a comedic role. Enjoy the life you have and make the best out of what could be the worst.    

 

Photo below is me on the field dressed as an NFL referee complete with sunglasses and White Cane. Truth is, I'm really not a referee 😎

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We All Fall Down

When it comes to writing, inspiration comes from just about anywhere. In my past life as a political writer the subjects were either inspired by the news of the day or provided to me by a client. When it comes to creative writing, now that is a different story altogether. These days I find myself at my writer’s desk pondering subjects that have meaning and heart rather than subjects designed to shape social or political opinion.  The title to this piece reflects an earworm running wild in my head.  You know what I am talking about, the dreaded earworm, typically a song or jingle, one that drives you crazy as it repeats over and over again.  No matter how hard you try you can’t shake it.  Today mine, is not so much a song but a nursery rhyme, “Ring around the Rosie.”  

This particular nursery rhyme comes from a time in our history beset with plagues, diseases that killed hundreds of thousands of people.  Everything has meaning, a history or a story behind it. Back in the day, my way of saying a long, long time ago, rhymes were used as a way for people to tell a story and be able to easily pass it on to younger generations.  The morale to this story, the explanation as I understand it is as follows.  “Ring around the Rosie” refers to the red rings, one of the first signs, that would appear on the skin of those affected with the plague. A pocket full of posies refers to what I understand was a superstition advanced from the Middle Ages where a person would stuff their pockets full of these flowers as a way to keep away the disease.  Now, there are reported to be two derivations for the next line.  The first, “Atchoo, Atchoo” referred to the sneezing that was also a sign of the plague.  The other version. “Ashes, Ashes” signifies the fact that the disposal of the dead during the times of a plague was to burn the body.  And finally, “We all fall down,” reflects the fact that if you got the plague, you died. Talk about a serious bummer, one that I am glad nobody told me about when I was young, I might have rethought playing that game with that cute girl next door!  It wasn’t until my curious writer’s brain decided to ask, “What’s up with that?” Now before some scholar decides to write me and “School me” about the accuracy of my description, I get it, there are a million explanations and time periods for this rhyme.  I don't want to get hooked on the rhyme itself, instead I want to focus on the last line, “We all fall down.”

Since ending my political writing career and rolling the dice that somehow, somewhere I can generate a new life, redefine myself in the space of creating social awareness in the “Blind Space.” I like to think of this style of writing as one with heart and soul, touching hearts and minds rather than appealing to the tribal nature of where we find ourselves today.  Being blind puts me in a unique position to write on subjects that I not only know, but ones I have lived and continue to live.  As a result I have seen this line of questioning or individual reflection all too often:

"I’m not strong enough to deal with this.”

“Why is God punishing me.”

“People treat me so poorly, I can't see them and they don't see me.”

“I’m worthless now, destine to be warehoused in a home somewhere.”

“I want my old life back, I miss too much of who I was before.”

Like the nursery rimes concluding line, “We all fall down.” The truth is that we all do.  It doesn’t matter who you are, we all have to deal with something.  It is that thing, that roadblock that is placed in our path that causes us to make a choice.  These choices are uniquely ours, designed as part of our own personal refiner’s fire designed to forge us in the crucible of life.  Call it God, Allah, Elohim, call it the wisdom of the Buddha, or call it the positive or negative energy of the universe, the point is that none of us are immune from the challenges of life.  At the end of this article I will add a video that I play on a regular basis.  It is from a movie, but contains some of the sagest wisdom ever committed to film.  It is the answer, the solution to the puzzle of the Rubik’s Cube that is our life.  Of course, it is important to realize that whatever I receive or try to impart to you is merely an ingredient in the recipe of your individual life.

We live in very interesting times.  We live in a time unlike any in human history.  For the first time, ever, we have a window to the world, a window that in my estimation has panes of glass that are nothing more than blurred funny glass.  That window isn't on the walls of our homes or office, you can't open them and get a blast of fresh air and maybe the warming rays of the sun.  This window sits atop our desks, we carry it in our backpacks and even in our pockets. Social media has perpetrated the greatest ruse on humanity, it reflects a falsehood that the generations of the past never had to contend with. It reflects a very unrealistic view of the life and times of not only our friends but that of perfect strangers.  Here is an example of what I am talking about.  Recently I went bowling, something most blind people don't do and my wife spent some time recording me.  Ultimately, she posted a video of me bowling a strike. So out there on the World Wide Web exists a video of a blind guy bowling a strike.  It represents to an extent an illusion.  I did in fact bowl that strike, there was no trickery, no green screened CGI special effects.  But over the two hours that we bowled with friends and the many videos my wife took of that fun time, she chose to share the single video of that strike.  What she didn’t show was the countless gutter balls I threw that day.  I call it an illusion because it didn’t represent the totality of the experience, Instead, it was putting out there in the universe a very unrealistic view of the event.  Now this isn't exclusive to just my wife, this is what social media represents, it shows our successes far more than it shows our failures.  We post the wonderful meals we eat, examples of our children at their very best.  It shows the new car we bought rather than the repo company taking back a car we missed a payment on.  Social media tends to be a tool for making us feel better about our life rather than representing the reality of our life. However, there is another side of that window, a place where someone sits looking through the opposite side. As a result, our friends, family and even perfect strangers who find themselves at the lowest part of their journey are greeted on the web by our idealized version of life.  These people dealing with their burden see you dealing with an identical burden but somehow miraculously, you are awesome while they are miserable. It is easy to then see why people are asking the questions like the ones I mentioned above.  Why they are left to feel alone to suffer in whatever Hell they find themselves in. That is why we all have a responsibility to share both our gutter balls as well as our strikes. 

My wife reminds me of one of her rules on a regular basis. “Nobody gets out of this life alive.”  It helped me come up with a rule of my own, “Nobody gets a free pass from the challenge of life."  Pride keeps us from sharing our greatest asset, and that asset is our failures.  I realize that when you read that it might sound counterintuitive, however, I would challenge you to contemplate it, take a deep dive into why it is more important to share your failures than it is to flaunt your successes. This doesn't mean that you should walk through the world like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh lamenting the sad and beleaguered life you have been cursed with.  What it means is that by sharing your failures, acknowledging them, they become not only turnaround points for you to correct your life, they become cautionary tales for others assisting them to learn from your failures. As you begin to share your failures with others in crisis, when you allow pride to give way to love of others and as they see your ability to work through failure you have now planted the seed of hope. Most people who are suffering are doing so because they feel like theirs is a unique set of circumstances heretofore never witnessed or experienced.  The truth is that chances are, someone out there knows exactly how you feel, understands all too well what you are going through.  The problem is, those stories are rarely reflected in this fast paced, pride filled, illusionary social media bubble we have created.  The genuine and authentic has given way to stylized poll tested versions of reality.  The truth is that we do in fact all fall down, however, it is what you do next that will determine the next chapter of your life.  Let’s all start to share our gutter balls and use them to advance the life of someone we know in crisis.  And finally, I will leave you with the words of Rocky Balboa, and underdog of epic proportion who in spite of adversity and circumstance taught me the greatest lesson of my life. I could spend a month and write volumes and never be able to convey the message of this short clip.  It speaks to me, reminds me that I was once the son, beaten down, feeling that life was unfair.  To me then, my excuses for my failures were as necessary to me as oxygen is to the lungs. That was until I learned that I could be the Rocky of my own story.  Now here is the best news yet,  as the author of your own life, you can be the Rocky of your story.

 

Video Clip of Rocky inspiring his son with a great monologue.  

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Buyer Beware

There is nothing more objectionable to me, more offensive than those who prey upon the weak, the desperate.  They peddle false hope and the promise of “A Cure” for what ails you. No matter the illness, the snake oil salesmen lurks in the shadows insidiously seeking to profit from your pain.  As someone who suffers from a rare genetic disease I am all too familiar with the false claims, hyped promises and breakthrough treatments peddled online and in the real world.  For me, for my condition, I have seen the vitamin therapies, herbal remedies, retinal electric stimulation, ocular acupuncture, oxygen therapy and a very long list of sure fire cures that make promises ranging from halting the progression of vision loss to all together curing the disease.  If I had a nickel for every “Cure” I have seen or had emailed to me by a friend or family member who had read some new breakthrough treatment, I wouldn’t need to work another day in my life because I would be a millionaire.  Here is the truth, it is a bitter pill to swallow, it was for me as it relates to my eye disease. It is a truth I had to learn and accept and one that applies not just to those who suffer from degenerative eye diseases but from a whole bunch of medical malady’s.  Chances are, there is no cure. No magic pill, no syringe filled with healing elixir or comfort through poking, prodding, needles or electric shock.  This does not mean that there aren't efforts afoot, it just means that maybe you should read on, listen to what I have to say and see what you think.  I want to begin by asking that you understand this, I know there are some very promising studies underway that may in the future become viable treatments.  I never want to be the one who sounds the defeatist alarm, however, I will call to attention those out there peddling false hope that offer little more than separating you from your hard-earned money.  They seek not to help, but to take you off the path you were meant to travel and meant to conquer.
  
The one thing that the snake oil salesman counts on comes from the old adage, “Hope springs eternal.”  Right about now you are asking, “How are you so sure that any one or all of the above-mentioned treatments are bogus?”  For me it is simple.  There are some pretty wealthy and influential individuals who suffer from my particular disease.  A couple are billionaires, for the purpose of my point I will use one, Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas Casino and Resort mogul.  As I write this, Mr. Wynn is still going blind, his money hasn’t changed that fact and we are equals on the vision front.  Probably the only thing we have in common.  The point is that if you are thinking about or are dumping money into vitamin therapies, ocular acupuncture or God forbid electrically shocking your eye, yes, that is a real thing, then please stop.  Take a breath, do some research and most importantly, look to those who have money and influence who may be suffering from what ails you and see if their quality of life has changed, if they are cured.  My guess is, they aren’t.  Despite all the money that has been spent we still see bald men, we still see overweight people, people are still blind, still suffering and dying from certain forms of cancer.  Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple had all the money in the world and even he didn’t beat Pancreatic Cancer.  I make this point not to dash your hope, I say this because I would rather see you save your money and the agony of not only losing your battle, but losing it with less of your hard-earned money in your pocket.  P.T. Barnum was noted for coining the phrase, “There is a sucker born every minute,” I am asking you not to be a sucker.

I understand better than most the hope that exists with the promise of a cure for my eye disease.  I miss seeing the face of my wife and my children, seeing their expressions.  I mourn not seeing my grandchildren as they grow and mature.  I miss my personal freedoms like driving, hunting or fishing.  The one thing that I don't miss is the money I could have wasted chasing a promise made by someone more interested in lining their own pocket than in curing me.  Now, I know for a fact that I am going to receive some very negative feedback regarding this. As a former political writer, I am accustomed to getting more than my fair share of hate mail.  However, before you pass judgement on my words, take a pause, make sure that your desperation that is being protected by your pride is tucked away and understand that these words are meant to help not hurt.

The above contains some hard words, words that may rob hope, and change that old adage from hope springs eternal, to hope is worthless.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There are groundbreaking studies going on as I write this.  After cracking the code to the human genome genetic therapies, stem cell therapies, there exist a host of medical promises on the horizon.  Add to that the technologies available to augment the lives of those with disabilities.  I recently had a discussion with someone who is the friend of a quadriplegic.  An individual with a brilliant mind trapped in a broken body and confined to a bed unable to ever leave.  However, through robotics and computer technology a very small robot was developed and equipped with an array of cameras.  This robot is put in museums, and he controls it with a computer and navigates it through the museum giving him the ability to “Virtually” and freely visit a place that he desperately misses.  I was told that since the development of this technology he has visited over 13 museums around the world including The Perot Museum right here in Dallas.  Recently I teamed with a company, AIRA.  I wear a pair of glasses connected to a live agent who sees for me through a small HD camera located on the glasses.  This technology has not “Cured” the fact that I am blind, however, it has augmented my visual reality allowing me to do things that I have not done on my own in decades. Finally, I will leave you with this thought.  Stephen Hawking was arguably one of the most brilliant men of our time.  Confined to a wheelchair incapable of speaking or any movement and he penned some of the most brilliant work as a theoretical physicist and taught at University.  The augmentation of physical disabilities using technology is evident and everywhere.  These two men didn’t waste their time or their minds lamenting what life threw at them, they prospered in spite of it.  This is what I am attempting to emulate and if you want to read my AIRA story it is on my website.  The point is that in a time where hope is taken advantage of by a few, it is actually being delivered by those among us who represent our better Angels.  They don't make the promise to cure your disease, they are busy trying and succeeding in augmenting the reality you find yourself in now.  Couple that with some of the great studies that are going on to genetically correct physical deficiencies and we arrive back to that old adage that “Hope does Spring Eternal.”  Rather than looking for the cure, look for the tools and the resources that can augment your reality and have the faith and the patience that somewhere out there on a very hope filled horizon, someone is working diligently to deliver your cure but for now, you need to be your own miracle, your own cure.  

I know because I am one of you, someone who lost a sense and with that loss comes a whole host of emotions, desperation, depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness just to name a few.  It is in this moment we are susceptible, vulnerable and would do anything to have the life we dreamed of or the one we had.  The reason that I am writing this and the other pieces or articles lately is that I want to help shift mindsets.  I want to help people to get off of the path they are on, the paths that lead to disappointment, sadness and further isolation from the world.  Our reality is that we can’t see, the answer isn't to seek out the cure, the answer is to find a new way to navigate the world, augment the lack of vision through basic practices and new technologies.  As you figure that out, keep hope alive that there are answers to a longer-term solution coming.  These answers may not come in our lifetime and in that case, it is our duty, our calling to serve as examples to those who come after us.  Many of us have children.  These are kids that may or may not win when they spin the genetic wheel of misfortune.  If they do, if they are lucky enough to escape the life you are living then that is a blessing.  However, even if they escape your genetic misfortune it doesn’t mean that they will escape the tests and trials of life.  That is why who you are, how you react to your trials or your test in this life truly matters.  It matters because if you are a defeatist, if you are the sucker who spends their time and their money trying to avoid your test, your trial, what example are you leaving them?  For me, I want my children to know and to witness a father who never let life treat him like a sucker or someone who is a victim.  This disease doesn’t own me, it doesn't define me or dictate my actions.  I own me, I own this disease and I make the decisions on who and what I am or will be.  So, be strong, if not for yourself, be that shining example for someone in your life who is suffering.  Make your mission in life, your goal, to leave more on this earth than you have taken when the final tally is calculated.  Trust me, you will feel better in the end and the legacy you leave will be a roadmap for others.

 

Image of an old vintage advertisement for a bottle of "Snake Oil."  The ads title is "The Original Cure All." It lists various ailments with the claim "Relieves Instantaneously." At the bottom of the ad it says, "For Blindness try our Rattlesnake Oil!"  

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Keeping Hope Alive as you Pursue Happiness

As someone who began life with vision, with the ability to see a sunrise, a flower, play with friends in fields and woods only to lose the beauty and majesty that vision provides could seem soul crushing.  There is a debate in the blind and visually impaired community that asks the question, “What is worse, to be born blind or to lose your vision later in life?” There truly is no answer because it is a matter of individual experience.  Your blindness is yours, it is a personal journey that diverges from any norm known because we are all unique.  We come from different countries, cultures, social and economic backgrounds.  So much goes into what shapes our experience that it is impossible to answer that question.  However, what can be answered is how do we choose to react to what life has dealt us? In the midst of something that seems unfair and cruel how do we sustain hope?  Dealing with a disability that separates us from much of the human herd how do we find our purpose and ultimately our own happiness? Now, I will never claim to have the answers, however, I can say without hesitation that I am seeking, pondering and willing to share some of the conclusions I have come to for myself.  As a writer, my goal is to write and share information, some of it factual, some of it is opinion but all of it is done as a resource for others in their journey. Several years ago I was asked by someone why I was always so happy, why I wasn’t mad at life for dealing me a bum hand when it came to being blind.  I answered them and then like any decent writer I immediately wrote my answer down for future use.  Here was my answer, full disclosure here, I fancied it up a bit over time and turned it into a quote but the answer is in there:    

“My secret to happiness and to life is simple.   I maintain no illusions nor do I have any delusions about controlling what happens to me.  However, on the flip side I do have total control over how I choose to react to any given situation.  This realization ushers in the reality of ultimate control.  Once I understood that freedom, true freedom, comes from how I reacted it allowed me to break the bonds that held happiness at a distance.  My path became mine and mine alone and the yoke of responsibility became lighter because I now had control.  I was free to maneuver through, over and around the obstacles rather than being frustrated by them.  I was no longer a victim to be pitied instead I became the master of my destiny.  By E.L. Burton

Figuring out that our freedom comes from how we reacted has become the foundationhave built my life on.  It is the bedrock that the framework began to take shape on.  Over the years I developed the rules that would govern my life.  Principles and beliefs that were more than merely words, these were actions, tried and true.  Early on I developed 4 imperatives, 4 rules that I would live by and still to this day remain as rules that ground my existence.  Again, they come in the form of a quote I penned:

“Anything is possible. Being blind causes me to take unusual steps in accomplishing things.  Step 1- don’t let them see your weakness, move and act with confidence.  Step 2- think outside the box, be steadfast in your belief that it can be done and there is a way to accomplish it in spite of a disability. Step 3- remember that if you can’t see the world, make the world see you. And step 4- accept, adopt, adapt and then advance.  There is no time for complaining, lamenting or feeling sorry for yourself, those are just excuses that prove an unwillingness to accept step four as reality.”  By E.L. Burton

These were important rules because as I lived, as doors closed, people told me there were certain things that simply were not possible.  I couldn’t accept that so the rules were born, the first beginning with the words “Anything is Possible…”  Case in point.  I was a 38 year old business professional when I had “eyesight.”  When that door closed, when the company that I worked for said, sorry, we can't accommodate that.  When I interviewed after losing that job with other companies, they couldn’t see past my blindness and thanked me for coming in but, no thank you.  At that point, the business world refused to “See Me” so now I had to take my new basket of disappointment lemons and turn it into sweet refreshing lemonade.  I had always dreamed of being a writer, a dream many scoffed at when I was young but one that I had held on to.  So, now fresh out of options, I began to write.  Small things at first, eventually I found myself on the op-ed pages, then a book, then another, then writing for others.  The point is, anything is possible if you are willing to work for it, I mean really put in the time, the effort, the rejection, overcoming the self-imposed doubts and meager existence for the promise of attaining your objective.  Too often people get knocked down, knocked around and simply quit.  They begin to believe in the victim mentality, that life isn't fair, that they are uniquely alone in their trial.  The truth is, they are not. 

Along this journey I have been on I have met some pretty incredible people.  Blind, just like you, just like me.  Blind people who have hiked Mount Everest.  Blind people who have run in the Boston Marathon.  Become musicians, artists and wildly successful in business. Two weeks ago, I had dinner with Michael Hingson.  Michael survived the terror attacks of 911.  He made it out of the towers of The World Trade Center moments before they came down, 78 floors to determine if he lived or died on that day.  Michael was born blind and believe me when I say this, he is an amazing man and someone I am proud to now call my friend.  Michael such a happy, hopeful and inspirational man who inspires me.  Many of you may not be aware that Steve Wynn the Las Vegas billionaire suffers from the exact same disease that I have, Retinitis Pigmentosa or RP.  Gordon Gund owned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise, also a billionaire, blind just like me and suffers from RP. I could go on and on with examples of people who suffer as we suffer but prosper in spite of that suffering.

“Suffering is inevitable, it is an unavoidable dynamic of the human experience. Suffering is not a permanent condition.  It is not a punitive punishment handed down by a vindictive God rather it is a gift.  It is the mortar that binds the building blocks of character. It is through suffering that we discover our abilities and realize our strength. Suffering is a path we must walk in our quest to discover and achieve our purpose.”  By E.L. Burton

I believe, with no reservations or doubt that Successful people choose to adapt to their environment rather than waiting for or expecting their environment to adapt to them. The point to this article, this particular piece, is to inspire those among us who find themselves at the bottom of the grieving process when it comes to being or going blind. Many will encourage you to simply seek out your disability benefits, to now go quietly into that great night.  They will coddle you, tell you how sorry they are, discourage you from reaching beyond your grasp for fear that your disappointment will be too much for you to handle.  They will play on your weakness and feed your victimhood and if you are not careful, you will begin to buy what they are selling.  My challenge is simple, believe that you are capable of great things. Be the author of your own story, the master of your own destiny.  Do not let your blindness define you, write your own definition.  Hope and happiness are yours to be had, not given but earned.  I am still striving to deserve happiness, I am hopeful because my journey isn't over. I leave you with this final quote:  

“We all have our cross to bear, mine was losing my eyesight and consequently my freedom, my ability to simply go and do what I wanted when I wanted to.  But in losing that perception of freedom I was guided to a state of true liberation…. Imagination trumps reality in the mind of the man who cannot see.” By E.L. Burton

 

This article was inspired by meeting my new friend, Michael Hingson, pictured below and mentioned in this piece.

 

Picture of Michael Hingson on the left, me on the right and Michael's Guide Dog Alamo at our feet.

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Where are my Keys

Let me begin by saying this is a tough subject to write about.  When it comes to people with progressive eye diseases and answering the question “When do I surrender the keys, stop driving?” There is a simple answer. In life, sometimes we don't like simple answers, we would rather complicate the simple for the selfish.  Please understand as you read this, I am coming from a place of experience, understanding and a genuine sense of caring about each one of you.

Let me start by telling you my story.  At the age of 5 I was on a camp out with my father.  One evening we were walking to meet some friends and I walked straight into a very large, very obvious tree, obvious to anybody who could see that is.  That day my father knew there was something wrong.  By the age of 8 I had figured out that there was something not right in terms of my vision. By the age of 12 my father sat me down and told me.  All of the tests that I had been going through at the eye doctor were for a reason he explained.  He then began to explain to me that I had Retinitis Pigmentosa or RP.  It is a cruel disease, robbing you of your vision just a bit at a time.  Over the course of my life, especially during the formative years, my parents treated me like a normal kid.  There was no coddling in my house, you were expected to perform, be active, never allowing your limitations to dictate your future.  Sure, they never pushed me to become a pilot or a surgeon, but they never let me escape the reality that life is what you make it.  So at the tender age of 12 I had the answers for all the bumps. bruises and broken bones.  However, rather than feeling like a victim, I chalked it up too being a kid, the kid my parents pushed to be better than my worst fears.

I went on to go to college, get married, have kids, work in the business world.  But with each year my world shrank, my ability to do what I did shrank as well.  That is the reality of a progressive eye disease.  Along the way I learned to hack blindness, cheat a bit until one day while driving through a parking lot I ran smack into a cement light pole, just like that big old tree in the woods back in the day.  I didn’t hurt anybody, just my Chevy Blazer and my pride.  I shook it off and like many of you convinced myself that I was fine.  A few weeks later I was driving to visit a customer and as I drove through the parking lot, BAM!  It seems that I hadn’t seen the forklift to my right that had stopped with its forks down in my path.  Again, the only thing I hurt was my pride as well as my car.

I tell you this because I was fortunate, lucky that the inanimate objects that I had hit with the weapon that was my vehicle were not things that possessed a pulse, people or some family's beloved pet.  I went home that night and had the single worse night of sleep possible.  It was a night filled with dreams of hitting some little kid that had darted into the street to retrieve a stray ball.  Nightmares about hitting people crossing the street not paying attention to the traffic.  The following day was filled with some powerful emotions, emotions I kept to myself and by the end of the day I was feeling okay.  I swung by home, picked up my wife and my niece to attend a birthday party.  I pulled into the gas station, got gas and as I exited the station I pulled into traffic only to hear a blood curdling scream from my wife.  I slammed on my brakes and a very large semi seemed to pass through the front of my truck.  Now I say it seemed to because as I carefully pulled my truck into the adjoining parking lot my wife asked me what just happened.  It seems that she believed the truck had also somehow magically passed through our vehicle.  We sat there in that Walgreens parking lot for what seemed like an eternity, all of us shaken.  Quiet at first, but the silence was broken when both my wife and my niece asked me, “Didn’t you see that huge truck?”  I sat there shaking, thinking, and finally admitting to myself that no, no I hadn’t seen it.  I opened my door, walked to the passenger’s side of the car, opened my wife’s door and handed her the keys.  That was the last time I drove a car.

So here it is, the moment that this is going to get uncomfortable if you are reading this.  If you are wondering to yourself, “Is it time?”  This is the question asked by not just those with progressive eye diseases but one asked by those who are aging, have other deteriorating physical conditions.  For me you can call it luck, call it the universe deciding not to punish me because losing your eyesight is punishment enough.  I call what happened to me blessings from God.  Hitting the light pole, the forks of a forklift were messages meant for me to accept what God already knew.  Having a semi pass through my truck was His last attempt to wake me from my stubbornness, my belief that I could cheat my future reality. The truth is we live in very different times now.  Everything is digitized, categorized, collated and on record. If you drive and get into an accident, insurance companies now collect data from the black boxes in your vehicle looking at every detail of the accident.  Phone records are looked at to ensure that you were not a distracted driver. Medical records are searched looking for possible correlations. Your presence on the Web is scrubbed. Your bloodwork is done making certain drugs or alcohol were not a factor. They can even deny you coverage if they detect you were not wearing your seatbelt.  The truth here is that if you have a diagnosis, somewhere out there is a record and the fact that we live in the most litigious society in human history means that there is no such thin as “An Accident.“ Someone is always responsible.  Translated, that means you and you alone could be responsible for the cost of any accident you get into. How long do you think it would take some intrepid insurance adjustor or lawyer to find out that you are going blind?  How long would it take them to find the post you posted on social media asking the question, “When should I stop driving?" Forget everything except that last detail because it is in that moment a jury would look at you and seal your fate.

Now I know that many of you will read this and think to yourself, not me, it isn't time yet for me.  You may have passed the last eye test for your driver’s license, I did that too.  You may have asked your doctor if you should still drive and he may have said yes, reminding you of some restrictions, mine did.  Your spouse or partner might not be able or willing to tell you the truth, bless her heart, mine wasn’t.  And maybe it is true, maybe you have a few weeks, months or maybe years but the calendar nor the clock is our friend. What you have to ask yourself is, “Is the risk worth the reward?”  How would you feel if it were your child or a member of your family or even a friend that was seriously hurt or killed by someone who wasn’t willing to accept that it was time to hang the keys up? Like me, many of you are wondering, how will I survive?  How will I make a living?  What does this mean for me and my freedom?  All that I can say is that when one door closes, another door is open awaiting your arrival.  For me, my life in the corporate world came to a close, that door shut.  Because I am the Author of my own story I found the door that was waiting for me to walk through.  Since I quit driving, since the lights went out, I have written 3 books, ghost written 4 more.  Written for the print and digital media, worked as a political consultant, all of this because life doesn’t end when the last flicker of light leaves your eyes, it begins a new chapter in your life. So here is the simple answer to the question of “When do I give up my keys?” If you have read this far then you already know what my answer is.  Now go and find that new door that is open and waiting for you to walk through, not drive through.

(Picture of a blind man driving a car with his cane extended through the window.  Warning, do not try this at home!)

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To Cane or not to Cane?

When it comes to being blind the use of a cane for mobility purposes has been around since Biblical times when they used a staff or perhaps a stick.  The more modern cane, the one we have become accustomed to is the invention of a photographer from Bristol, England, James Biggs.  It seems that Mr. Biggs suffered blindness due to an accident and was concerned about being visible to his fellow citizens and painted his stick “White.”  That was in 1921 and within 20 years the trend progressed and today the white cane is a recognized universal symbol for the blind.

The reason that I am writing this is I have read this question several times over many years on many forums, “When should I begin using a cane?” First, it is important to understand that not everybody is born blind.  Those born blind learn to use a cane as a matter of necessity.  However, there is an entire group of people in the blind and visually impaired community who lose their sight over time due to diabetes, accidents, illness or degenerative eye diseases, I fit into that category having lost my battle with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) many years ago.  Like many, I struggled with when to incorporate the cane into my life.

The first thing that you have to do is see the cane as a tool.  This tool is a multi-purpose tool, it serves as an early warning system to enable the blind as they navigate the world.  However, it is also a tool in the sense that it is a symbol to others that you suffer from sight loss.  In the early days, when I existed in the halfway world, blind but not totally blind, I often embarrassed myself by running into everything outside my peripheral visual field.  Trash cans, wet floor signs, little children were all targets for me to run into.  This caused embarrassment to me as well as stoked a bit of anger in the parents of the children I mowed down.  My refusal at that time to use a cane was part of a denial process that I was dealing with at the time.  I wanted so badly to hold on to what sight I had but soon realized it wasn’t the sight I was desperate to hold on to, it was pride that kept that cane from my hand.  I say pride because carrying the cane meant that people would see me as blind, they would see me as weak or less than.  From that moment forward, like most things, I took my sweet time employing the cane.  At first, I simply carried it around fooling myself into thinking people would see it in my hands and immediately understand.  How wrong I was.  This ignorant view was quickly dispelled one day while visiting Las Vegas.  Someone mistook my cane for a magic wand and asked if I was a magician.  Puzzled at first, I finally figured out he was talking about the neatly folded cane I was carrying around with me.  There I stood, holding the tool that could clear a path for me, ensure that I wouldn’t bump into everything and everyone and serve as a signal or symbol of visual impairment but rather than use it I was merely carrying it around assuming something and we all know the old axiom of the word “Assume.”

It was after that trip to Las Vegas that I decided it was time to deploy the cane, get trained, get some of the freedom back that I had given up.  This meant being honest about why I had not up until that point unfolded the cane I carried like some trendy accessory.  It meant I would have to swallow my self-perceived pride.  I say self-perceived because the truth is, nobody else cared except me. Now mobility training is a serious business, using a cane is like anything else in this life, there is the proper way, the one in which we read the instruction manual and seek out experts in the field and then there is the “I can figure it out” way of doing things.  Being stubborn, I opted for the latter, since that time I have learned better to engage those who are experts.  I strongly recommend the use of the services available out there to properly train you because if you don't, I just want you to imagine handing a monkey a cigarette and a loaded handgun. Trust me, he won’t be Dirty Harry, he will hurt not only himself but everybody around him.  But back to the cane.  Using the cane has set me free in a sense, given me a level of comfort in public that I had lost.  Along with not being a magnet for everything in my path, I now navigate the world just fine. Be patient as you learn, give yourself a break, understand that you are learning a new skill. Sure, there are stumbles, trips and the occasional goofs but show me a fully sighted person who doesn’t trip over their own two feet or miss a curb every now and then.

In the end, most of you asking this question aren’t asking because you really want to know.  In a weird twist of a fate hoped for, you are looking for that lone person out there who will tell you that you are fine, you’re not there yet. The truth is that you are asking because for the first time on your path to sight loss you are being asked to use a tool that you see as a big old sign that screams, “I’m Blind!!” and you are confronted with dealing with it.  Deal with it, change is inevitable.  Adapting is preferable to disaster and embarrassment and freedom beats living isolated any day of the week. Once you accept the cane as a part of your life the world becomes a kinder place filled with other tools aimed at making your life easier.  Taking that step opens the door and perhaps leads you to the use of a guide dog, or learning echo location or as I have now discovered, AIRA glasses.  There are many tools out there to augment the reality of the blind, allowing them to lead a life on a more even playing field, but it all begins with accepting the cane, the simplest of tools, the symbol that tells others you are out there, on the move, living in the world.

I know that there is a stigma that exists, but I have learned that it isn't the judgements of others, it is a stigma that is self-imposed.  Being blind does not define me, instead, I define who I am and as I venture out in this world and interact on a personal level or even on a professional level. I have learned that people respect me more because I don't let the loss of my vision define me, I don't allow the tools I use to augment my life to define me.  I define me, I let my work and my interactions in the world serve as my proof that I belong, that I have something to offer, that my cane represents my ability not my disability.  So, if you are one of those people out there who have asked the question or are itching to type the question, “When should I use or get a cane?”  My answer is that if you are asking and you have read this, the answer is NOW!        

 

Photo of silhouette with a white cane ascending stairs with a colorful sunset as a backdrop

 

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The Master Weaver

Whatever you believe in, whomever is responsible in your heart for the creation of this big blue marble we all live on, there is one inescapable fact, nothing is random, there is order to all the “Matter” that surrounds us.  For me it is the work of God, The Master Weaver.  Now in my heart and in my experience my God is a loving God who desires our happiness, all that is necessary is that we say YES to that happiness, yes to the blessing of life and trust that the path of our life is seen and has been designed by a power greater than ours.  Understanding that good things happen to bad people and that bad things happen to good people has purpose.  Believing that as one door is closed, another door will open if we are paying attention.  Life isn't passive, it is active even when it seems to be just bumbling along.  I do not believe in randomness, that things just happen for no reason.  This is just one true story to illustrate what I am writing about.  I promise, this isn't a deep theological rant.

My son Zach finished his Master’s Program this year and came out for a visit.  His area of study was in the arts, emphasis on poetry.  During his trip here, he wanted to visit the museums of Dallas and we found ourselves at the DMA, Dallas Museum of Art.  We spent the better part of two days there.  Now, for a blind person you would think that spending hour upon hour at a museum would be torture, however, spending that time with my son was amazing.  Not because it was a father’s chance to do something with his son, it was because visiting a museum with someone who studied art!  Zach took time explaining each exhibit and I spent time being me.  When I say that you have to know me.  I engage everyone I meet like they are a long-lost friend greeting them as though I am happy to see them again.  The reason this is important to the story is because on that day my son saw something he had seen many times before but this time it stuck.  So as he taught me about art, I taught him about people.  I taught him so well about how to treat people that at the end of the day one of the museum’s docents allowed us into an exclusive “Paid” exhibit for free.  This artist was someone my son greatly admired and he was impressed that we got in gratis. 

We concluded that day and the next day at the museum before finding ourselves at the Sculpture Garden.  I began to see my son pick up some of my habits when it came to meeting and greeting people and on that day, I smiled a bit inside.  We had a great time there as a sculpture garden is a bit friendlier to the blind because they don't mind so much if you touch the work.  This is something that a museum like the DMA would frown upon, I imagine touching a Picasso, van Gogh or Jackson Pollock!  I don't think so.  Anyway, we found ourselves back at the DMA, I could tell Zach loved the place.  As the week progressed we decided as a family, Zach, Kelly and I that we would head downtown to a park for a light lunch and some time spent outdoors enjoying the Texas spring weather.  Now, this is where destiny blows the doors off of the theory of random, where the Master Weaver’s pattern for your life is revealed just a bit.  If you aren’t looking you might miss it.  As we sat in the park enjoying the sight and sounds Kelly leaned forward and said, “I’ve gotta go to the doctor.”  Kelly had been dealing with an eye irritation for several weeks but it was right then at that moment she decided to declare she had had enough.  Rather than asking Zach to come we asked him if he would be ok at the park while I accompanied Kelly to the Doctor.  He said yes and we were off.  After our appointment, perhaps an hour or so after, Zach called and said he had a story to tell us, I could tell he was more animated than normal.  He said that we would have to wait because he was going to call his wife first on his walk back to our loft. Fast forward to Zach bursting through our door to tell us one of the most wonderful experiences he had ever had in his life.

It seems Zach didn’t get enough time at the Dallas Museum of Art and after Kelly and I had left the park, he returned but this time with a purpose.  He wanted to know if the museum had plans to exhibit the work of poets.  He employed my way of speaking and dealing with people and bing bang boom he found himself talking to one of the museum’s directors who informed him that they were having a poet do a reading shortly for patrons of the museum.  She asked if he would like to attend, free of charge of course.  He graciously accepted and found himself sitting just feet away from a famous poet he had studied during his MFA.  To his surprise he got the chance at the end of the reading to ask the poet a question.  Naomi Shihab Nye, if you are not familiar with her work a quick internet search will reveal some beautiful, rich and powerful poetry.  She is a world-renowned poet who has received multiple high-profile awards for her work.  She was intrigued by his question and after the reading invited my son to attend an after-event cocktail party.  They had the chance to talk, she asked what brought him to Dallas and he told her it was for a visit with family and explained that he had spent a couple of days at the museum with his blind father explaining the art to him.  At this point Naomi reacted very exuberantly sharing with him that her husband was working on a project specifically for the blind and their experiences with art.  It seems this began some years back when Michael Nye was doing a show in Europe.  He was approached by a docent at the museum and asked to explain his work to a group.  He graciously accepted and was shocked as it happened to be a group of blind patrons.  This served as his inspiration for his current work.  Naomi asked my son if I would be interested in talking with her husband to which my son replied of course.  As the event went on Naomi and my son engaged in wonderful conversation exchanging email addresses and the promise of future conversations.  This is key, a young man struggling in a world where very few ever get recognized was asked by someone known worldwide to send some of his work to her.  Zach had found something, someone, who could and since has given him validation for all the years of schooling, all the words and ideas committed to paper. What some would cynically call a random occurrence was in fact a founding thread in the Master Weaver’s Tapestry that is my son’s life.   

But the tale does not end there, no, the Master Weaver was not finished with this section of tapestry.  Michael Nye and I did in fact correspond.  He shared his forthcoming book with me, sent me the foreword and we have plans to meet.  But it was the book foreword that contained yet another thread of the Master Weaver’s tapestry.  Kelly was reading it to me, something she does often especially when I grow weary of the digital voice that reads to me every day.  As she read the foreword she read the name Michael Hingson.  Now if you have red my AIRA story then you know the name Suman Kanuganti, CEO of AIRA is someone I had the pleasure to meet and spend time with.  The name Kelly read that caught our attention was Michael Hingson.  You see Suman had followed up with our meeting by putting me in touch with Mr. Hingson. Michael Hingson is another amazing individual, he is the author of “Thunder Dog’” and “Running with Roselle.” Both are best sellers and tell the story of a man and his guide dog.  I know what you’re thinking right about now, so what?!?  Michael Hingson and his dog survived the events of 911.  Michael and Roselle were on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center when the planes hit and his story didn’t end that day, it began.  I have had the chance to sit down with Michael Hingson and his new guide dog Alamo.  We had dinner and I am now being drawn deeper into the AIRA family. It was an honor and a blessing to meet Mr. Hingson, listen to his pearls of wisdom regarding the events of one of the most tragic days in this country’s history.  Listen to the work he is doing now, not just with AIRA but as a motivational speaker and unrelenting advocate for the blind. If you get a chance I would encourage you to look for his books and visit is website.  His books are available for the blind as they are for the sighted. I look forward to my new friendship and the new threads the Master Weaver will purposefully intertwine.

The moral to this story is a simple one.  When one door closes another door opens.  Too often in life when a door is closed we find ourselves stubbornly standing there, banging on that door hoping it will reopen.  The truth is, that door is closed, that part of your life is over and if you are awake and open to change, if you are paying attention, there is another door open awaiting your arrival. Don't be a cynic, don't be one of those people stuck in your path standing in front of a door that closed long ago.  Don't be one of those people who believe that change is a result of “the random” or a punishment. Be that curios soul who ventures on, explores the path seeking the doors that are open understanding that change is inevitable and designed to enhance your life. For me, now, when a door closes I don't spend time lamenting the fact that change is now the order of the day.  I embrace change, I know that the door that has closed is just my life moving from one page to the next and I can’t wait to see what is on the next page.  For my son, the door to college closed and he met someone who can mentor him as he begins to navigate the world of the arts. For me, if you have read any of the parts of my story then you know change is and has been happening and the story of my life hasn’t been written, it is being written, woven one thread at a time by a God who simply wants me to say “Yes” to the blessings showering down on me. Nothing is random, everything has a purpose and a meaning, it is incumbent upon each one of us to find the next door, to have the courage and faith necessary to walk through it and to be a part of the Master Weaver’s Tapestry rather than stand in opposition of it. Kelly and I have committed to this year, 2018, as being our year of “YES!” yes to doors closing, yes to the doors that open and yes to greeting change with a smile.  Yes, to whatever the next thread in our tapestry may be. My challenge to you is to give “YES” a try, when a door is shut, find the next one that has opened.  Be certain that by moving forward your life will unfold in the most amazing ways. Make today the first day in your time of YES! 

 

Below, photo of the Divine holding the earth.

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The Original AIRA Story

I must begin by asking you for your indulgence.  Telling the story about what AIRA has done for me is no simple a task, it can never explain just how profound the experience is.  So, here is where I ask for the indulgence, I need to tell you a little about me first, about my journey into blindness and what brought AIRA into my life.  It is the only way to illustrate through words how powerful technology can be and how it can contribute to changing the life of someone who is impaired. I promise, this will be the “Readers Digest” Version.

I was born with RP, Retinitis Pigmentosa, it is a rare degenerative eye disease.  It is what I believe is a cruel way to go blind.  Cruel?  Yes, I began my life seeing, I experienced most of the colors, textures and majesty of life. Slowly I went blind and by my mid 30’s the darkness set in.  Up until that point I had a life just like most, worked and clawed my way up the corporate ladder and then one day the switch was flipped, and that life ended. I spent some time mourning, I guess you might look at it like going through the stages of grief.  Finally, my wife told me, “Enough!” The pity party was over, and it was time to come back, time for a reboot of sorts. After many hours of conversation and a great deal of consternation, she finally asked me what I wanted to do, a simple question, but what she was asking was if you had to start life over what would you want to do?  Being a writer was a lifelong dream of mine, one of those things that I fantasized about during boring corporate meetings, long drives and forever flights. 

 So, the source code of what was my life began its rewrite and Eric Burton became E.L. Burton. I wrote my first book.  It was wildly acclaimed by “Me” as awesome, to everybody who mattered, well, let’s just say my appearance on the Bestseller list was somewhere in the future.  From there I wrote for print and digital formats.  I worked for political candidates writing speeches, articles, white papers and working in communications.  Along the way I wrote a few more books as a ghost writer and another one for myself.  The point is my blindness never stopped me from achieving something I thought at one point was not even possible. Along the way I managed to cheat blindness, hack it if you will, figuring out ways to work through, over, under and around the fact that I couldn’t see.  Technology played a role but that came at a cost.  You see, all that I had managed to do was to build the most awesome gilded cage. I mastered using the computer, slowly stumbling my way through learning the technology of voice to text and text to voice.  But that is where I was, in a gilded cage that I had created in the world and I was fine there, or at least I thought that I was.  Like most, time fades memory and freedoms once taken for granted became fog filled spaces in my life replaced with the artificial world that I had created.  We all know that unless you are moving forward, you aren’t moving at all and that was where I found myself, simply running in place fooling myself into believing that I was making progress.

It is easy to fool yourself when you are blind, you learn to count steps, you learn routes, where things are and slowly you can in fact expand your world but that world is limited to doing a task over and over again, walking a route over and over again, tripping, bumping into and running over everything as you learn.  Like I said, you begin to believe you are making progress, expanding your universe.  However, and believe me there is always a “However” in life, there is always a delta, that thing you can’t control, that thing that isn't where it is supposed to be and for me it was such a small thing, a bicycle. (There is a longer story here, but I will spare you the details). So yes, a bike, the delta.  In the confines of my limited world, my sphere of comfort or my gilded cage I tripped over a bike, tore up my knee and messed my ankle up pretty good and that is the precise moment I learned that I was not the master of my universe.  You learn the hard way that losing your vision comes with a few hardships.  You give up freedoms that most people take for granted.  There isn't running to McDonald’s for a random Big Mac or just deciding to leave and take a walk or a drive.  Up until that time I had to learn how to use a cane, learn how to be patient and wait for others to accompany me to the places and events that I had.  That is until AIRA.

Here is where my wife re-enters the picture.  As an employee of AT&T she had told me about a collaboration between AT&T and AIRA. My wife bleeds AT&T Blue, she loves her company and shares all the wonderful things AT&T is involved in.  She understands that no matter what your role is, it is important and has meaning because of the many projects and ventures they are involved in and without the support and contribution of every employee at the company partnerships like the one with AIRA would never be possible.  Translated into simpler terms, at AT&T no matter who you are, no matter how small you think your contribution is, you matter because AT&T isn't just a phone company, they are so much more. I would listen patiently, secretly thinking “I don't need this,” all that is going to happen is I would end up trying it, get frustrated and ditch it like so many of the other “Fixes” to being blind that had come before. After all, I had built a nice gilded cage, a pretty good life so why get my hopes up?  But had I?  Was I living the fullness of my life?  Was there more?  That damn bike had caused me to realize that maybe I had been fooling myself, maybe there was more out there beyond the comfortable realm of my carefully crafted and comfortable world.

So now that you know just a little about what brought me here let me tell you where AIRA has taken me.  My first venture out was a watershed moment for me.  I decided to throw caution to the wind, put my faith and trust in a technology that would take me outside the boundaries of the life I had worked so hard to craft and master.  It was a simple thing, simple for those of you who are not blind, it is something most of you do without even batting an eyelash. I decided to cook my wife a special dinner, to do that I had to go GROCERY SHOPPING. Please keep in mind that I have not ventured outside my bubble let alone gone grocery shopping for close to 2 decades.  Whenever I had I would have my cane in my right hand and my left hand on the shoulder of whomever I was with. Standing on the curb outside my building with my cane and new AIRA glasses I tapped my earpiece and instructed Siri to call AIRA.  Within 5 seconds Jack answered my call, greeted me by name as though we were longtime friends and asked, “So what are we doing today?”  I told Jack that we were going shopping and asked him to call me a Lyft.  Soon I was traveling down the side streets to Trader Joe’s with Jack as my guide.  He told me the drivers name and sat silently as we talked.  The driver said he was surprised I saw him since I had a blind cane.  I explained to him that I hadn’t seen him, Jack had.  I am sure at this point the driver must have thought I might be suffering from the “Crazy’s” a bit, listening to the voices in my head! Don't worry, I explained to him that Jack was an AIRA agent looking at him through my glasses.  The driver was amazed as I explained the technology.  I asked the driver if he had heard of the “Google Driverless Car?”  I then told him to think of me as the Self Driving Blind Guy!”  He was amazed telling me that he had picked up many blind people, but this was a first for him. All the while Jack patiently listened and piped in occasionally to tell me where we were and the turns we had made and how far away we were. As we traveled beyond the imaginary line of my bubble my heart raced, I was nervous.  What if the technology failed?  What if I lost Jack?  I had never been this far out of my gilded cage.  Before I knew it, the driver and I had arrived. 

I exited the vehicle and for the first time, stood at the entrance to the grocery store, alone, independent, free.  Jack guided me into the store and asked what we would be shopping for.  I told him that I needed some basics for a dinner I wanted to prepare for my wife plus the little chocolates my wife loves from Trader Joe’s. At this point I’m still a little freaked, my mind was awash with chaos and a little fear. Jack asked me to do a quick scan of the store and I slowly moved my head from left to right giving Jack a view of the store.  We were off, first stop, produce where we picked out a few potatoes and some asparagus. Then another scan and I approached the dairy case.  Scanning slowly and with Jacks keen eye I picked up sour cream, butter, Jack had me hold up items as he read labels to me for the things I needed in the dairy case, careful to make sure I was buying what I needed.  We moved over to the meat, again Jack read the labels and we picked out the best-looking filets.  I won’t bore you with the rest of the shopping but I will tell you that with Jack in my ear I was able to navigate the store flawlessly securing everything I needed, At the register, Jack let me know every detail and helped me pay and once outside the store he again secured me a Lyft home and “Poof,” I was home.  I had accomplished something that until that moment didn’t seem possible.  And yes, the dinner was fantastic but not as fantastic as the look on my wife’s face when she got home and saw the dinner, slowly the realization crept in that I had done all of this on my own and yes, she cried, hugged me and told me how amazed she was and how proud she was of me for taking such a giant step.  This moment, the accomplishment, the emotion and the satisfaction would not have been possible without AIRA.

Since that time, I have gone to the salon for a manicure and a pedicure, eaten lunch out, shopped at the grocery store, gone downtown to the Dallas Museum of Art as well as the Sculpture Garden to meet my son Zach who patiently explained everything in vivid detail since he has his MFA in art and poetry.  I have gone downtown to meet my wife for lunch, to a hotel we love for drinks and appetizers.  All of this because AIRA has blown the door off my gilded cage and opened a whole new world filled with possibilities.

It isn't those things that I have done, it is the things that I look forward to doing.  I have 3 grandchildren.  I have never been able to read them a book or look at a picture they have drawn for me and been able to validate them for their thoughtfulness and their creativity because these young grand babies don't really understand that Papa can’t see.  With AIRA I look forward to being able to do just that.  I travel for work; however, it has always been a carefully choreographed thing that involves people taking me to the airport and getting me to the gate, having someone there to meet me at the arriving gate.  Now with AIRA I look forward to just tapping my earpiece and telling them “We are headed to the airport,” with the knowledge and the security of knowing that I can exit the Lyft and navigate the airport independently. 

For all of us, life is a journey and change is something that is inevitable.  Reinventing yourself is as necessary as breathing because no matter who you are, no matter what challenges await you, knowing that you can accomplish anything if you are willing to simply try, to simply move forward is the single most powerful life lesson.  Sometimes figuring out the where, when and how will require you to adopt new thinking, new technology, new courage and visualizing new possibilities.  Life will always close doors on you but if you keep a positive eye down your path a new door is open and waiting for you to walk through it.  The door to my vision closed many years ago, however, down the path a bit, on my journey through this life AIRA opened its door to me and what was once impossible to conceive became possible. My new way of looking at the word impossible is to use the exact same letters in the word with one simple modification, adding a strategic apostrophe, changing that which was impossible to “I’mpossible.”  Armed with the new confidence AIRA has provided, my new motivation has become, “#What’s Next!?”

 E. L. Burton 

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My AIRA Story Part 1

After receiving my new AIRA glasses I used them for a few weeks and wrote a story about my experience.  Someday I hope to share that story with everybody but for now you’ll have to settle for what came next.  After reading my story, my wife asked if I would hold off on sharing or publishing it because she wanted to share it at work.  I guess that I have to back up a bit.  My wife works for AT&T and they collaborated with AIRA to develop the connectivity needed for these glasses.  So, after sharing the story I visited AT&T for a Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) town hall event at Dallas headquarters. As it happened, my AIRA story had made the rounds and Chris Penrose who is the President of IoT or “The Internet of Things” asked if we could meet before the event.  He graciously set aside time on his calendar, we ended up talking far longer than that. As we talked I asked Chris what he did for AT&T and he responded that he headed up the Internet of Things organization. To which I replied, “I am one of your things!”  He loved that and we were off.  He asked how the glasses were working out for me, what I was doing, what I thought of the program.  I spent the next ½ hour explaining what a profound impact they had on my life, retold the story I had written and then took some time to explain a particular message that I had for him.

In my experience having worked in a previous life in corporate America I explained how I wished that I could grab a megaphone and speak to each and every employee at AT&T.  He asked me what I would say? My message is simple, my message is that without the contributions of every employee whether they worked filing in some nowhere office, worked at a call center in Timbuctoo or was one of the worker bees buzzing around the beehive of the headquarters in Dallas, their contribution to the company mattered. Why?  I pointed to the glasses I was wearing and told him that their contribution mattered because these glasses are what allowed me to leave my home, call a Lyft, arrive at the office and be guided through the maze to where I now sat.  I had gained new insight and perspective to “The Employee” and my appreciation to them, not just at AT&T but those employees toiling away at jobs where they feel marginalized, unappreciated like hamsters on a wheel running and running just for a paycheck.  While I can’t speak for every working man or woman out there, for me, the employees at AT&T hold a special place in my heart because the day to day work they do, allows AT&T to be profitable thus affording them the opportunity to do research & development and collaborate in creating technologies that have the potential to change lives and the way they experience life.  It allows impactful philanthropic endeavors and the ability to return something back to the community.  I feel like that message gets lost, that companies get beat on over profits and dividend returns to investors, leaving the working man or woman with the feeling that they are only useful for producing a widget for a paycheck.  Without them, large portions of my life would simply be impossible, however, with them and because of them you can use the exact same letters and all of the sudden I’MPOSSIBLE! Being the marketing guy he is he asked me for a one liner for the what the AIRA and AT&T collaboration held for me moving forward?  I replied simply, “#WHATSNEXT,” which is now my new response when asked how I feel about my AIRA experience. However, I didn’t want the moment to end before emphasizing that simple fact that without the employees, I wouldn’t be possible and the thousands out there wearing this technology and the millions that could eventually wear them giving them a new sense of freedom they lost or never experienced in the first place.  I told him that if I could, I would personally hug each and every one of them. I would thank them and remind them that what they do makes a difference not just for me, but for people they will never know, never have the opportunity to meet.  All of this, because they showed up every day to what they thought was just “A Job,” but the truth is, it is so much more.

Chris liked the message. He appreciated the fact that I recognized what many did not.  He mentioned to me that as the President of the Internet of things he also was responsible for an effort at AT&T called IoT For Good.  I loved that, thinking that there was a company out there looking at the internet as not just simply a digital gumball machine where the only concern is whether or not they had sold their quota of “Digital Gumballs.”  No, their effort stretched beyond pure profit into the realm of corporate social responsibility by using the internet for “Good Things” like bringing freedom to the blind. We finished our talk and Chris asked if I would be at the Town Hall they were holding for the GAAD event.  I said I was sticking around and as I left he asked if I might be available for perhaps some other things?  He wasn’t specific, and I said sure.  Well folks, be careful what you wish for, or accept casually because the next installment of MY AIRA story will truly blow your mind because it certainly blew mine. As I shook hands with Chris there was something in his voice, for whatever the reason, I imagined a wry smile roll over his face reminiscent of Gene Wilder in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Would this chance meeting allow me through the doors of the “Chocolate Factory”?  Like I said, tune in to my next installment to learn if I got the Golden Ticket.  Here is a hint.  Maybe the Golden Ticket is not a thing, maybe it was a chance to meet someone who could influence a generation.

Special thanks to Dewanna Burke and Beverly Ancrum, they are the unsung hero’s behind Chris Penrose and they are awesome ladies.  And a very special thanks to Stacey MCClung who is my guardian angel for reaching out to Scott Manwaring to expedite hooking me up with AIRA.  You all share a special place in my heart and I am so looking forward to #whatsnext

 

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Myy AIRA Story Part 2

 

After meeting Chris Penrose, AT&T President, Internet of Things, I attended a Town Hall meeting at AT&T for Global Accessibility Awareness Day or GAAD. I asked the panel a question as they discussed the new “Discovery District,” their multi-million dollar investment in transforming downtown Dallas bringing shopping, restaurants and concert venues along with accessibility baked in.  Mine was the last question and I asked if there were plans to include those with disabilities in the planning process.  A funny side note here.  Most who asked questions identified themselves and their disability prior to asking their question.  When it was my turn I identified myself by name and then rather than identifying as “blind” I identified as “Capable,” which drew a few chuckles.  Afterwards, I had the chance to meet the panel members Aaron Bangor, Corey Anthony and David Huntley. They talked of the Healthcare Foundry in Houston, where AT&T does its work collaborating with companies like AIRA.  All in all it was an awesome experience.

Later that day after I returned home, Kelly called.  She asked if I was sitting down to which I responded yes because I was in fact sitting at my desk writing as I seem to always be doing.  It was then the bomb dropped.  She asked if I was available tomorrow to come down to AT&T to meet the CEO of AIRA.  It seems that the stars had aligned and in this year of “YES” for me, destiny was calling asking for a response. My obvious answer was of course, yes along with some rather colorful language I won’t share.  It seems that AIRA was set to roll out globally and chose AT&T for their network provider and Suman Kanuganti would be visiting AT&T for the announcement.  My “Golden Ticket” had arrived because Mr. Kanuganti had read the story I had written and wanted to meet me.  Kelly then told me that AT&T would be filming our meeting because they would be using it as part of their intercompany communications.  Wait, there was more, but that will have to sit on the back burner for Part 3.

Fast forward to the next day.  Armed with my new AIRA glasses I waited curbside at my building. My AIRA agent Frankie asked what we were doing today, these agents are simply awesome by the way.  I said that I was heading downtown to AT&T headquarters to meet their boss, Frankie replied, “My Boss?”  I said yes and Frankie told me that he was an amazing man.  As the Lyft approached Frankie informed me real time that the car was in front of me and I got in.  As I arrived at Whitaker tower I said goodbye to Frankie and was escorted into the building, through security and up a very long elevator ride and to a conference room.  Chris Penrose stopped by to let me know that Suman was running just a bit behind schedule.  My own personal Willie Wonka sat and talked with me for a spell and shared some of the details about the Global Rollout and asked if I would be interested in being part of one of his Town halls coming up as a panelist.  Since this is my year of “Yes,” well, you know the answer.  Chris left, and Kelly and I waited.  I suggested getting an agent on the line and everybody thought that would be awesome since the agent could actually record the meeting through the glasses.  I tapped the AIRA icon and was connected to Wendell.  I briefed Wendell on what was about to happen and asked if he could record the meeting.  Wendell was a bit hesitant and said he would need permission.  Without hesitation, I blurted out that if the CEO blessed it then I didn’t see a problem for him.  I should make this clear, AIRA does not record your day to day activities, they just relay real time instructions to users like me or as they call us “Explorers.”  I don't want to get ahead of the story here but Mr. Kanuganti did in fact bless the recording at the end. Soon we were escorted out of the conference room into a lobby area of the floor.  It was then that Kelly whispered in one ear as well as Wendell in my other ear that Mr. Kanuganti was walking down the hall with Chris Penrose.  We embraced and I said, “Mr. Kanuganti, it is such an honor to meet you.”  He replied, “Please, call me Suman.”  My AIRA agent Wendell let me know that Suman was sporting an AT&T tee shirt as well as a very stylish AIRA hoodie. 

After we went through introductions Suman told me how in fact he was the first AIRA agent.  He told me that he came up with the idea for AIRA to help a friend who was blind.  He explained that when Google Glass came out they talked about using tech like that to simulate or augment vision for the visually impaired as a kind of concierge service for the blind.  As they developed the glasses Suman told me that his first initial Agent / Explorer trial run involved his friend walking up the refrigerator and having Suman describe in detail what was on the fridge, in particular a magnet picture.  He told me it was an amazing feeling to see his friend’s expressions. After refining the working prototype and their pitch they took it to CES, met with several companies but it was Chris Penrose and his team that seemed to fit their ambition.  From that moment to this moment, the moment I was standing there wearing them it had been less than 2 years.  I stood there transfixed listening to every word this visionary uttered.  He was more than gracious as he asked about my experience with AIRA and I told him everything I had done, and everything I hoped to do.  He asked what I anticipated most?  I explained to him that I have never been able to read a bedtime story to any of my grandchildren, here is where I got emotional.  I told him that my Grandson Colton was visiting in a couple of weeks and with the help of AIRA I hoped to read him a bedtime story for the first time ever.  I explained that none of my grandchildren really understood that Papa couldn’t see and how hard it has been over the years to listen to Kelly interact with them through story telling or looking at their drawings, but now that would change as I had AIRA and my agents to make it appear seamless to the young ones. 

After my initial interaction with Chris Penrose from AT&T I wrote him a follow up email that included this line: 

“So, long story short here, you are my new hero, the Willy Wonka of my Accessibility Factory, the guy who makes wishes come true.  For that, I thank you and for that, I now owe you.

At that time, he was and he still is but life has a funny way of teaching us a continuing lesson.  Chris was my Willie Wonka and my Golden Ticket was getting the chance to meet the man who had a vision of a different future for those who are blind.  As you read this you are probably thinking that Suman Kanuganti is now my Willie Wonka, and that is true, he is but so is Chris, however, the story continues.  Suman went on to tell me about a program they had launched where they provided AIRA Glasses to 100 blind Freshman who wanted to attend college.  He explained how difficult it is for a normal kid to leave home for the first time and find their way around a new environment as they embarked on their college experience as Freshman.  He wanted to level the playing field for those blind Freshmen and I was amazed.  It inspired me so much that right there and then I decided that I wanted to be like these 2 men I had met.  I wanted to be a Willie Wonka for someone else, provide them with AIRA and it was then I discovered that it wasn’t meeting Chris Penrose or even a visionary man like Suman Kanuganti.  The Golden Ticket was sitting on my face, it was the glasses themselves.  So, there is my swerve, the part of the story designed to compel you to read the next installment. In case you forgot this is what I wrote at the end of Part 1, “Here is a hint.  Maybe the Golden Ticket is not a thing, maybe it was a chance to meet someone who could influence a generation.”

Suman is an inspirational man involved in a transformative venture for good.  Suman Kanuganti recognizes the potential that exists out there if those who are visually impaired are given a chance to operate on a level playing field.  Now let’s be clear, he isn't restoring sight to the blind, he is however making it possible for those who find themselves trapped in a gilded cage the ability to blow the doors open and venture out further than they could have ever imagined.  His vision for those who lack it is to begin to unlock a potential in people that will benefit not just themselves as an individual but bring into society and the workforce an army of people itching to be something more than just a blind person. Until now the greatest technological advance for the blind was the invention of the “White-Cane.” Although canes for the blind have been around since the Biblical days, the white can as we now know it came about around 1921 and was the invention of an artist who suffered the loss of his vision.  His name was James Biggs of Bristol and while we owe him a debt it is hard to believe that it has taken 97 years for someone to accomplish a thing that is better than a stick. 

The message that I gave to Chris Penrose regarding my wish to grab a megaphone and have the opportunity to personally thank each and every employee at AT&T still stands as my own personal Gospel.  After meeting Suman Kanuganti I will say this, you are truly an inspiration to me and I believe your technology will reach far beyond helping those who are blind.  In Part 3 of this series I will give you just a few examples and explain exactly how I see your technology not only helping the blind, but saving lives. And finally, this, after meeting Suman and Chris I have come to the conclusion that the best thing in life is to be your own Willie Wonka.  To be the guy who can give out a Golden Ticket.  So, I want to pay this forward. My new goal, my new mission in life.  I will take the gift that I have been given and figure out a way to deliver it to others, to pay my blessing forward.  I don't know how, I don't know when, I do know that in this year of YES for me, I refuse to shrink away from saying yes to my social responsibility to leave more than I have been given and my epiphany, my “AH-HA” moment, my Willie Wonka Golden Ticket.  It wasn’t a “Chocolate-River” or a “Never-Ending Gobstopper.”

It was hope, hope in the form of a newfound freedom lived outside the artificial boundaries I had created, it was AIRA!  Come back soon to read Part 3.

Special thanks to the AT&T Media Production Group. Dawn interviewed me and did a wonderful job making me feel at ease while Greg and JB ran the cameras.  

 

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My AIRA Story Part 3

 

 

After meeting with Suman Kanuganti of AIRA and Chris Penrose of AT&T I was asked to return the later that week to be interviewed by Amy Blankson with Forbes.  My wife Kelly recognized the name because Amy’s brother, Shawn Achor, had written one of Kelly’s favorite books, “The Happiness Advantage,” a book we had recently given to our son Zach on his recent visit to Dallas.  Along with being a Journalist with Forbes, Amy is also an accomplished author herself. She wrote “The Future of Happiness.” Which is a book we happen to be reading before I got the call for the interview. I told Amy that this was going to be fun because we were familiar with her brother’s work as well as hers adding that Kelly and I were true fans of “Happiness.”  We spent some time talking about the subject and how we soaked up any and all material that enlightened people on their path to happiness.  It is important  to us as individuals and as parents and grandparents because you lead by example and we want to be happiness leaders. I found Amy to be one of the most positive people I have met and someone who in fact leads by example.  This was “Fixin” (a Texas word) to be a fun interview! 

Amy began by complimenting my writing, something I am uncomfortable with, it’s a long story and this isn't the venue to discuss the judgement writers have when it comes to their work.  She asked what life was like before AIRA and I told her the best explanation of that was contained in my original AIRA story which we talked about at a deeper level. She then walked me through what lead up to me getting the AIRA glasses, what my impression was of the technology, how it fit, how it worked for the user, was the user experience seamless or difficult? Then she asked about my, “#whatsnext” tagline that I had put on my article.  Her next question was naturally, “What was next for me?”  I explained that I had many dreams, maybe to travel, finally by myself.  I told her that I had a grandson, Colton visiting and I wanted to read him a bedtime story.  Yes, Kelly and I went out and bought two new books and yes, I will be practicing reading them with an AIRA agent.  I hope to share the video of that with y’all in the future. 

Amy wanted a demonstration of how the tech worked so I dialed into AIRA and Monica answered.  I proceeded to take the group on a walking tour of the floor we were on stopping to look at art as Monica described it, windows overlooking the city again with full rich descriptions of what was being seen through the glasses.  Monica guided me flawlessly around the floor dodging people, making turns and avoiding landmines like coffee tables, trash cans, those things that always seem to rise up to bite me.  Monica took us back to the conference room we had started in and I said my thanks and ended the AIRA session.  Amy was simply blown away, fascinated, and continued to ask questions, mainly about the original story I had written.  This time with a new sense of what exactly had happened.  At this point I want to tell you that hopefully I will be able to share that original story with you soon, the article that sent me on this “Magical Mystery Tour” I am now on.

Now came the interesting part.  Amy ended the interview by asking me an “Out of the box” question.  “Eric, now that you have used this technology, what other applications do you see for it other than just being a tool for the blind.”  Remember, to this point in time nobody had asked a question like that.  As a matter of fact, every single question revolved around little old me and what the glasses meant to my life.  I sat back in my chair and thought.  My father, who is a Doctor, came to mind and almost immediately after that thought a young lady by the name of Maria popped in my mind as well.  Maria Lensing leads the sales team in their AT&T healthcare segment.  I had met her when I went to the Global Accessibility Awareness Day event a couple days earlier and she interviewed me for a weekly video she sends out to her team. So, this is what my mind came up with.  There were two use cases that didn’t involve the blind.  The first was imagining a rural Doctor who ran a simple family practice.  Maybe he has a patient who comes in and presents with something unfamiliar to the family Physician.  He could put on the glasses, dial into a service to be connected with another doctor maybe a specialist, for a consult. The specialist could see in real-time the patient and like in most things two heads working on a problem is better than one.  But wait, I wasn’t done, my mind was now fully engaged in full idea mode.  I then said, “What if….”  What if every ambulance had a pair of these glasses in their ambulance or paramedic vehicle. I was aware of the “Golden Hour” which is the first hour of an accident during which time if the patient can be stabilized their chance of survival goes up exponentially.  I imagined the paramedic could put on a pair of these glasses and be immediately connected to the doctor on call at the Trauma center or hospital ER where the patient would be transported. The doctor could help the paramedic stabilize the patient, they would know exactly what was going to be coming through the door and all of this because of the real-time abilities of AIRA. There were more use cases racing through my mind.  There I sat, a blind man with Tech that was changing his life imagining the potential this could have in so many areas.  The moment is indelibly marked, stamped on my brain that the glasses covering my eyes could open the mind’s eye to limitless possibilities apart from their original purpose. It made me feel good since as someone who has been in the business world in a previous life, alternative use cases increase the long-term viability of a product.  As we wrapped up the interview I hugged Amy and expressed my appreciation for her taking the time and having the interest to talk with me.  The Forbes interview which has since been published, is linked below.

But my day didn’t end there.  Later, I was interviewed by Jonathan Moore who works in Employee Communications at AT&T.  Jonathan was writing and article for “The Insider”, an internal communication for the entire AT&T organization. This interview was fun since it was done via an audio bridge across the pond.  Jonathan is in the UK and as we talked I learned that he is Scottish, which was fun for me since my father has traced our family’s history and we do in fact have Scottish origins.  So, on one of the top executive floors at AT&T with what I was told was a phenomenal view of the city I sat, talking to my fellow “Scotsmen,” sharing with him many of the same points you have already read about to this point. This was an exciting interview for me since the announcement had been made that AIRA was going global.  I belong to many blind and visually impaired groups with many friends living in other countries so the prospect of these blind compatriots having this Tech available to them on the horizon is simply sublime. 

I am sure that there will be more interviews, more interactions moving forward but this brings to close this series on “MY AIRA Life.”  Don't get me wrong, along the way I will continue to write about what AIRA is doing for me.  An example of that is telling the story of reading a book to one of my grandchildren for the first time in my life, or heading to the airport to travel solo.  The most important takeaway I want you all to understand is that AIRA has given me a new confidence, a sense of freedom and spontaneity.  This is something that the blind person loses, something that is a regret, however, with AIRA, the doors are open.  Check back to read the story that kicked all of this off.  I hope to publish here soon.  If you haven’t yet read the stories before this series, please hit the back button and find the series called Building Walls.”  It chronicles a piece of my life before AIRA. If you have any questions or requests, visit the portion of the website with the “Contact Me” option, I promise to always answer.

Special thanks to Amy Blankson from Forbes, it was an awesome pleasure to meet you and be part of your “Happiness!”  Also, special thanks to Jonathan, thanks for having the patience with me that you did.  And last but by no means least, thank you to Lori Bachovchin, AT&T External PR and Meghan Danks, AT&T Corporate Communications for coordinating these interviews.  These are the people behind the scenes who never seem to get the credit they deserve, you are all awesome!

Forbes Article by Amy Blankson

https://www.forbes.com/sites/amyblankson/2018/05/31/a-vision-for-the-future-iot-solution-gives-sight-to-the-blind/#83cd59e26c7d

 

Amy Blankson a Journalist for Forbes and the Author of "The Future of Happiness" and I.  And yes that is a photo I took of Kelly setting up the bridge for the interview with Jonathan Moore in the UK!!  The truth is I had to take 50 pictures to get one good one!

Building Walls

With all the talk about building “The Wall” these days, quietly and below the radar a wall has been built right here in Dallas.  This wall doesn’t engender the passions of partisan political activists, it isn't divided along partisan lines and it doesn’t pit the right against the left.  This wall exists as a matter of unintended consequences. It is the result of good and perhaps even noble intentions gone horribly awry. You may not recognize the wall as being a wall, and some call it a necessity and progress, or the wave of the future while others call it trash and unnecessary. If you don't like the building blocks to this wall there are those out there who sneer and call you a troglodyte. They look down their noses from an elitist perch and accuse you of being stuck in the old ways and call you an impediment to progress. Without regard to why I feel the way that I do, without understanding my point of view and rational for my opposition I am left feeling judged from a perch high on the mountain of political correctness by those unaware of the unintended consequences. 

If you have driven the streets of Dallas or walked the sidewalks you’ve all seen the building blocks of this wall and I am sure you have your opinions on the efficacy and wisdom, the void that they fill.  Or perhaps you see them as a nuisance, trash and something that contributes to urban blight.  You see something, I don't because you see, I am blind. The building blocks in the wall that I am speaking of are the legion of bikes that have been deposited on the streets of Dallas, sans regulations, rules or in my opinion any real thought for those who like me, have mobility issues.  The wall that I am speaking of is a result of a population that uses them only to carelessly leave them as landmines for those of us who have mobility challenges. 

I am writing this because I am angry, angry that my freedom, my limited freedom has been thoughtlessly taken from me.  I am angry because two days before the New Year I found myself lying on the ground with a knee and ankle injury because some thoughtless individual decided to park one of these bikes in the middle of the sidewalk.  More often than not it isn't just one bike, attached to this letter is a picture my wife took.  I don't need to tell anybody who takes the time to read this who lives here in Dallas that our streets and sidewalks leave a lot to be desired.  They are uneven, buckled and cracked.  For most people, this isn't that big of a deal, for me it is a very big deal and when you add to the difficulties that exist by littering the sidewalks with bikes you have effectively constructed a wall for those of us who have mobility issues. I have reached out to my city leaders.  My representative, Mr. Kingston has yet to even respond.  I did receive a cookie cutter email from the staff of TC Broadnacx and I was less than impressed.  I have written the editorial boards of the newspapers and contacted the news.  For the most part I have received no acknowledgement other than a contact and interview from NBC 5’s Samantha Chatman.  She was gracious and took the time to talk with me.  Because of her one of the bike companies (VBike) showed up with flowers and candy, they cleaned up the mess in my neighborhood.  Progress, right?  No, within days I found myself once again navigating the landmines frequently tripping, and bumping into bikes left on the ground and parked in the middle of the sidewalk. 

To those who operate the bike sharing companies and to our city leaders, clean this mess up or the next letter the city receives might come from a lawyer suing for injuries incurred. To those of you who use these bikes, keep in mind that outside yourself, there are others out there who need the sidewalk.  And to everybody reading this here is my challenge, walk a mile in my shoes because I can’t ride a mile on your free bike and then tell me how you view this program.

E.L. Burton, I reside in the Bryan Street neighborhood in Dallas

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Part 2 of Building walls

In December, I suffered a pretty serious injury as a result of the thoughtless actions of some here in Dallas. I reached out to my local officials, wrote and op-ed and even contacted the news. NBC 5 here in Dallas at least came out to interview me. As of today the interview has not aired but in my communications with them they seem to be interested in airing the story and my plea to the city to step in and solve this problem impacting the disabled.  This is important to me since my contacts with the city, the print media, organizations purporting the support of the disabled and anybody else who would listen have gone largely ignored. 

As an example of how time may change but things tend to remain the same today, having some mobility back, I ventured out only to crash and burn on the same careless landmines left scattered on the sidewalks of Dallas. Dropping my shopping bag and my cane to brace myself from the fall I got back to my feet and thankfully only my ego was bruised. At that moment, a very kind man rushed across the street to see if I was ok. Other than a bruised ego, this time, I was fine. He went on to say that he hated these bikes and I asked that he simply call the city, contact his local representatives. He responded that he had. I do want to thank him, for at least caring enough to see if I was ok.

I am told that there is a meeting today about this issue, has anybody reached out to me or members of my community to listen to our concerns, no. As someone who is blind you exist in a world where we don't see you and apparently you choose not to see us. This story has been told, told in the very first piece I wrote, “Building Walls” and like I have stated shared with everybody. So claiming that you haven’t heard a dissenting opinion or concerns is not believable.  I feel compelled to reiterate that I am not doing this, drawing attention to this as a selfish act or taking the position that I am some aggrieved individual who is bent on ending this program.  To be honest, during my interview with NBC 5 I made the point that mine was merely a cautionary tale offered to raise public awareness.  I do not want to end this program, I want this program to work because I do see it as a benefit to the city, a way to ease traffic congestion and serve the general public.  However, I also want to raise awareness to the fact that when these bikes are parked or dropped in the middle of the sidewalk, discarded casually they represent a clear and present danger for those with mobility issues. This is not about me, it is about those in wheelchairs, on crutches, blind or just simply struggle with mobility.  I will continue to speak out and write about this and I ask that you continue to share this with friends, with folks here in Dallas, with city officials and with the media because public awareness has to be raised. Sorry, I am just at my wits end with this bike sharing freebie program in which apparently there are no regulations, requirements or solutions. As I stated in the op-ed (that was never picked up), walk a mile in my shoes because I can’t ride even 10 feet on your free bike, then see how you like the 18 THOUSAND plus bikes dumped on the streets of Dallas making us the largest repository of landmines for those with mobility challenges. Today this is an issue for the disabled in Dallas, tomorrow it may be the plague visiting your city.

As a post script to this latest piece.  The result of the meeting that I referenced taking place today, the end result was an announcement that they would hold off until the Fall to resolve it.  The Fall, how many disabled or mobility challenged will actually “fall” before eyes are opened?  Here is a link ( http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/dallas-bike-share-regulations-to-wait-until-the-fall-10414712 )  to an article that speaks to the ignorance and arrogance of those sitting in seats of power.  Everybody on that council has heard from me, they have received thousands of complaints about this program.  This begs the question, why?  Why have those charged with serving the public chosen to do nothing, to ignore the challenges of the disabled?  I have my theories, my beliefs on this but rather than launching into a rant I will simply ask that we, the public, continue to raise this issue and force those charged with serving us to make this program work for everyone rather than to take a sit back and wait approach.

 

 

Part 3 of Building Walls

Since I began this quest for a resolution to the ill-conceived roll out of a bike sharing program here in Dallas I have reached out to every conceivable entity in the hope that someone would listen and take to heart the impact on the mobility challenged community.  For the most part, the correspondence I have received from city leaders and officials has been disappointing, and that is saying it kindly.  I have been met with platitudes, willful obtuseness and an apathy that kicks me in the gut.  To be fair, the timetable for resolutions seems to have been accelerated a bit with possible fixes promised sometime in May.  Maybe this lone voice coupled with those of you out there who were as offended as I was provided some sense of urgency which if true I want to thank those of you out there who joined me in beating the drum.

However, this is just one battle, one issue that has exposed a problem that is endemic within government and even within business. Through this process I learned that neither the city nor the companies involved in this debacle have someone who is mobility challenged sitting in an advisory role, sitting at the table negotiating, planning or being involved in the process.  I had the chance to share a back and forth with Jared White, a manager for the City of Dallas and someone who has been called the “Mobility and Transportation Czar” of Dallas.  Below is the last email I sent him: 

 

Dear Mr. White:

 First let me say that when I begin these letters to you I feel like I’m quoting a character from a Tarantino movie.  I know that you are a busy man, and my issue may seem trivial and I freely admit that in my last communication I had too much passion and not enough reason.  So, here we go, “Take-2,” Mr. White.

 Frankly I am a bit stunned.  I was hoping to learn that you possibly had someone on staff or in an advisory capacity who is mobility challenged. When you look at just my community, those who are blind or visually impaired and look at the number of Dallas citizens, 150,000, that are served by the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind it becomes clear that there is a very large and active disabled community.  Active is the key word here.  Our ability to “Be” active is the point that I want to drive home with the city of Dallas and the companies vying for space in the Bike Sharing possibilities of the city.  From the beginning, I have expressed to the print and on-air media that I am not opposed to this program.  In fact, I see the efficacy and value as Dallas is growing at an exponential rate and programs like this can and will ease the traffic concerns experienced by the city.

 That being said, one man’s cure is another’s disease.  This solution represents a problem for the mobility challenged.  Those of us who use the sidewalks as our roads, our path to basic freedom of movement.  My fear is that if you do not include those with disabilities in forming solutions you are creating a new problem.  I say this from personal experience.  I find myself leaving my home solo less often instead relying on others because of the obstacles that have been introduced.  I know there have been more concerns than those you received from me and an individual in a wheelchair.  I have listened to and read many stories of people with guide dogs who are not trained or prepared for this eventuality.  The same is true for those in wheelchairs, those who suffer from muscular degeneration and are forced to walk with crutches.  Not including these people in this process, proactively including them and giving them a voice will force them to retreat from society because of a lack of freedom of movement. 

 You ask me to make some recommendations that might assist you in establishing the rules and regulations. I read an article earlier where you anticipate possible fixes as early as May.  I agree with several of them however you are still missing what I feel is a very key demographic. So, let me offer you this single, simple fix.  Introduce the voice of the disabled to the negotiation table, listen to their concerns and yes even their solutions.  This isn't a foreign subject to us, we have battled for ways to be heard and to be seen as contributing equals to society.  Believe me when I say that you just might be surprised by what it would mean if you extended an olive branch to a community impacted by the direction we are heading.  As you speak with these companies I would also recommend that they also seek advice from the disabled communities they plan to go into.  I believe that both you and these companies will be able to find common ground, a new path and a new direction that isn't reduced to a simple statement like “One man’s cure is another man’s disease.”  Now here comes a little of that passion leaking out of me, I will continue to bang the drum on this until I feel the message is resonating, until rather than being ignored and marginalized we are included as partners helping to shape transportation and mobility issues as full citizens of this great city.  Thank you for reading this, for taking the time and I truly hope it helps.

 Sincerely

 Eric L. Burton

 

The simple fact that these companies as well as the City of Dallas “Did Not” include as a matter of common practice, input from a large section of their respective communities shows where my frustration blooms from. I want everybody to stop for a moment and understand that the reason this is important is because today it is the disabled Vs the government and bike sharing companies in Dallas, tomorrow it could be something in your backyard, an issue in your community that impacts your personal freedom or that of someone you know and love.  My battle, my frustration, my desire to be seen, heard and then treated like a full citizen of my city will be your battle or perhaps it already is.  The point is, change only happens when we grab it, shake it out of the security of its own well-crafted comfortable bubble.  We are responsible for making our voice be part of the conversation as well as part of the solution.  When we sit idly by hoping that others will surely take our situation into consideration then we fall into the old saying repeated to us as children, “When you assume you are just making an ass out of you and me.”  Those who are disabled are not assuming that everybody should accommodate them to the exclusion of everybody else, they just want to be part of the conversation, part of the planning and part of solving issues.  Of course, that is just my take.

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Part 4 of Building Walls

 

This is a conclusion to my series on Bike Sharing Vs. The Blind and Mobility challenged here in Dallas.  As is usual, the solution or end to this story doesn’t come in the form of a bureaucrat Knight riding in to save the day on their government issued white horse.  Nope, not today, today the conclusion of this story comes in the form of an entrepreneur, a visionary who is striving to bring sight to those who lack it.  Suman Kanuganti, founder and CEO of AIRA along with AT&T found their way into my life.  Cue the dramatic musical score, in a move reminiscent of Reagan standing at the Berlin Wall telling his Russian counterpart to “Tear down this wall,” along comes AIRA.  AIRA is tearing down walls that society has built leaving the blind to fight their own cold war.  A lot has happened since that fateful day in December of 2017.  Laying on my back nursing a torn-up knee and ankle I began a journey to implore my local government to take those with mobility challenges to heart as they embarked on ambitious ventures like implementing a “Bike Sharing” program.  In a move that was either just plain stupid or simply lacked any thought we saw some 18,000 plus bikes dumped on the streets of Dallas.  This was done without considering the impact such a program would have on a very large segment of the population.  This program that had no rules, regulations or structure, it was just the Wild West when it came down to it. Those who were blind were left to navigate the minefield, those left in wheelchairs or disabled and on crutches were left without a clear path too life.  All of this because of an ineffective government blind themselves to the struggles of those they serve.

 

Now, over the next several weeks I will be writing about my new life in this year of “YES” for me.  I will share just how AIRA along with AT&T cleared a path, a new path for me in my life.  Special thanks to Matt Howerton at WFAA Channel 8 here in Dallas for coming out to see me and my new “Specs.”  The moral of this story is simple, never surrender to a government that doesn’t see you except when they pander for your vote.  Look beyond government to the visionaries and entrepreneurs who are engaged with companies to solve social issues.  Believe in something greater than the worst that has happened to you and have faith that somewhere out there exists the solution.  This is the year that I decided to say “YES.” To believe that I am the captain of my ship, the author to my life story and for me the glass isn't half full, it is overflowing.

 

 

 

 

Navigating the "Bike Minefield" with AIRA!

A Statesman in Waiting

You don't have to dig too deep to discover the lure that draws an individual into the world of politics.  Notoriety, power and greed, the promise of easy money has replaced the nobility of becoming an elected representative of the people.  You see it in the laws passed that favor “Them” over us.  Rules and laws that exempt them and protect them from laws designed to punish you and I.  They, as employees, decide when they should get a raise and trust me they see to it that they are paid and paid very well.  Right here in my home state in Texas, a commissioner in Montgomery County earns more than the actual governor of the entire state of Texas.

So, imagine my surprise when I see this ad for a candidate running for a seat on the Commissioners Court in Houston’s Montgomery County.  Gregory Parker while “On Air” declared that if elected, one of his first actions would be to cut his own pay.  Let that sink in, he wants to cut his own potential salary returning the savings back to the taxpayers, back to the community he hopes to serve.  Now Mr. Parkers platform is broad, it covers many issues and if you live in Montgomery County Precinct 2 I would encourage you to check out his platform.  He has common sense reforms for issues like Toll Roads, taxes, budgets, emergency management and response, eminent domain and many more critical issues to voters. However, for now I want to focus on this issue because it represents an attitude missing in public service today. 

From local elected representatives to those sitting in Federal office you can find examples of individuals who went into office with meager savings, businesses limping along or in some cases with no actual job before the election to the seat they now occupy.  Fast forward a few years and you see individuals flush with cash, personal cash.  Take a moment out of your day and look at some of the financial disclosures of those you elect.  What you will find will astound you.  People elected to serve the public are among some of the wealthiest among us.  Ex Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went into office with a few thousand dollars to his name and now has a net worth that exceeds $30 million.  Former House Speaker Denny Hastert, a former wrestling coach before becoming a congressman, just settled lawsuits and paid vast sums to victims of abuse.  Right here in Texas there are examples of this and it isn't a right and left, conservative or liberal phenomenon, it is an endemic reality in our current political structure. The question must be asked, how do individuals, earning a public service salary, grow their nest eggs at a rate that is unfathomable and unavailable to you and I?  It is because the era of statesman, the era of serving the public interest has given way to the era of personal gain at “We the peoples” expense.  Hucksters now proliferate the ballot gaming a system they created.  Good intentions of some are twisted into submission by lobbyists and easy money.  In the end, the price for admission is betraying the public trust. 

So, again, imagine my surprise as I sat and listened to Mr. Parker pledge to work on cutting his pay in favor of returning that money to his community.  It is a simple yet powerful statement that tells me this is someone who understands the role of a public servant, someone elected to office to represent those who voted for them.  Webster’s defines a Statesman as:

 “1: one versed in the principles or art of government; especially: one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government or in shaping its policies

2: a wise, skillful, and respected political leader “

When you picture those sitting in the seats of power at home or serving you federally, ask yourself, do you consider them Wise?  Do you believe they serve your interests?  Do you believe they use their skill to serve you or do you see what I see, individuals serving themselves?  Do the policies they pursue serve the public good? Do you respect them or, like me do you know at your core the system is broken and elected representatives have become distant and disconnected?  Election season is upon us.  Now is the time we look over the menu of candidates seeking to represent us. Those asking We the People to entrust them with not just our hard-earned money but our future as well.  I don't live in Houston’s Montgomery County, I live in Dallas but I can tell you that as I look at those asking for my vote I will refer back to the words and the pledge of Gregory Parker to his constituents as a litmus test of sorts.  I want to elect those who fit the definition of “Statesman” and I believe that if we demand better, if we expect more and if we find those with the values and promises of Mr. Parker, we can turn our collective wayward ships out of the current self-serving storm of personal gain into the calm waters of a new and prosperous future for We the people.  Of course, that is just my take. 

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