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