My Aira Life, The Inaugural JAB Fund Scholarship

Here is the video for the first ever JAB Fund Scholarship winner, Kimberly Aguillard. Kimberly is an accomplished person in every way and we are proud that she is the first to represent the Jab Fund and the mission we have to level the education field for those who are blind or have low vision.

Below is the video of that event. Special thanks to AT&T for hosting the event and to AIRA for transforming the life of those with visual impairments. Please help us to continue to strive to give those with visual disabilities by donating to the JAB Fund, give someone a hand up, not a hand out.

Watch The video by clicking this Link

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My AIRA Life, Random or Destiny?

My Aira Life has been a fantastic journey.  From the mundane grind of the day to day all the way through to the sublime. I write about my experiences because it is my hope that through reading, people can identify with aspects of them, pull nuggets from them, apply them to their life and begin to see the world through a new lens.  It is important for me to emphasize that these are my stories, my experiences and my observations.  These are not templates for others to live by or expect the same results.  They are just one man’s journey written down to bring hope where despair, sadness or just plain apathy exist.  

 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, Fish finished his Master’s Program last year and came out for a visit.  His area of study was in the arts, emphasis on poetry.  During his last 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.  Fish 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 would result in your expulsion from the museum and a polite request to never return.  Anyway, we found ourselves back at the DMA, I could tell our son loved the place.  As the week progressed we decided as a family, 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 our son 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, our son 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 old professor first on his walk back to our loft. Fast forward to Fish bursting through our door to tell us one of the most wonderful experiences he had ever had in his life.

It seems our son 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 our 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.  Now this is the point random gives way to what I believe is manifest destiny. It seems this began some years back when Michael Nye was doing a show in Europe.  He was approached by a docent at that particular 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.  our son 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 made 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, President of AIRA is someone I had the pleasure to meet and spend time with, someone who has become a good friend.  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.

 Since this experience with my son, I traveled to San Antonio for the opening of the Michael Nye exhibit, “My Heart is not Blind.”  It seems that the Master Weaver wasn’t finished intertwining the events of the past into my future.  Through the power of this amazing technology, Aira, I “Live Streamed” the exhibit opening ceremony and tour of the exhibit. The artwork is a series of photographs of his subjects who are all blind.  As you stand in front of each portrait there are headphones you put on and listen to the voice of each subject as they tell their story.  Mr. Nye traveled the world interviewing dozens of individuals and their unique stories.  It is a compelling and enthralling work. After the show, I was asked to speak to those featured in the book who had traveled there for the opening. It was a humbling and rewarding opportunity to be in the presence of so many wonderful people who shared their rich blind lives and the artist and author who took this labor of love to heart and shared it with the world. One poignant moment was when the AIRA agent read me the name of Michael Hingson and I put on the headset and listened to Michael tell his story.  The agent described the portrait in beautiful and stunning detail. Now, back to the theme of nothing being random.  I believe that there is an order to things, a purpose for everything.  I also believe that sometimes we get stuck wondering why something “is” in the moment rather than daring to look beyond that moment.  Viewing beyond allows us to imagine the possibilities that the moment is nothing more than a single thread in a rich and vast tapestry.  For me, I decided to not focus on single moments or single threads. For me, I trust that there is a purpose to my life and like the story above, focusing on a moment means that I would have missed out on the many threads that crisscrossed my tapestry to form brilliant connections in my life. Don’t lament a thread if it feels like it doesn’t belong or it isn’t fair. Understand that it has a purpose, a place, a meaning. Move froward and allow the threads of your life to crisscross, intertwine so that when your life is done, your time is up, you can witness the majesty of a life well lived.

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

Photo accompanying article is me standing in front of the entrance to the Michael Nye Art Exhibit “My Heart is not Blind.” holding my white cane as an AIRA agent provides me with an audio description of this and the entire exhibit 

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My AIRA Life, Big Fish

Losing your eyesight, living with the prospect of it, can cause a shift from who you are, who you want to be, towards a much darker outlook on life.  My life has been complicated.  Perhaps when I write the book, the entire story will be told.  Suffice it to say that when I was young, I was angry. At the time, I didn’t know exactly why. However, with time comes wisdom and with wisdom comes a reckoning.  Because of some poor choices and a very poor temperament, I lost contact with my children when they were young.  But, life is filled with grace, if you look, if you accept and if you strive to leave the past in the past. We correct the mistakes by first acknowledging them.  We then go through the process of being humbled, accepting your role and responsibility.  This is followed by an unwavering commitment to never returning to the person or the behavior that caused you to wander from your path. Some years later I was blessed to begin again with the children I had lost, a gift from a power greater than myself. Thanks to a mother who provided them with the needs of a child, they returned to me and I received the rare gift of a second chance.  I tell you this as a way of setting up the story that is to come.  For some of you, what I described above and the sentiments and substance of this story will ring true.  In the end, I hope the message of redemption and the promise of a brighter future is your takeaway.

 One of the life altering realities of AIRA is the power it has to fill in the blanks, correct deficiencies in our genetic code through augmented technology. As a parent, we live to see the world through the eyes of our children.  We stand in awe as they progress through life capturing each and every moment with pictures or video.  For some of us, pictures and video are as useless as trying to put out a fire with gasoline.  Until now, I have relied on the kindness of others, a loving wife, a caring family or close friends to paint the picture of events.  They have always done it with grace, however, the truth is that when I ask them I am robbing them of living a particular experience.  They are unable to immerse themselves in whatever they are doing because of their love and commitment to ensuring that I am included. This is just one of the harsh realities in the life of those living with blindness or low vision.

AIRA has leveled the field for me, given me the opportunity to participate in the lives of my children and my grandchildren.  Recently my son called to share some amazing news.  He is a Professor who teaches Poetry and Creative Writing at University and they had just sent him his rating and student reviews.  He was excited to share it with me and asked if my computer would be able to read it to me.  I told him to send it on over and we would see.  My computer breezed through the student reviews.  Because I am so proud of him I will share a few:

“I am so grateful that I took this course with Fish. The class was about writing, but more, it was about developing ourselves as writers and asserting our views into the world. I like that we were able to explore who we are through learning how to write. I feel like this is one of the first classes at this University that actually strengthened who I am and my ability to be confident in putting my work out to the public, and questioning the work that I receive.”

**

.       “Such a great professor! I view writing in a whole different way now. I was a good writer before this, but I didn't enjoy it. All that has changed.” 


**

.        “Fish, is an absolute legend. He has established a strong connection with the entire class which allows him to clearly and effectively communicate ideas and teach important lessons. He has helped me become a more critical thinker, and appreciate the beauty in writing as a form of expressing myself. Through his class, I have learned how to better voice my opinion and become a better writer. He has taught me so much not just in writing, but also about life and how to be resilient no matter what comes my way. He truly is an inspiration”

**

 “I have been in very few classes that have taught me more than this one! Professor Fish was very honest and taught us according to our needs. I felt like he helped me every time I needed help.”

**

 “He is the absolute best. easily my favorite class of this whole semester. He is so cool and good at connecting with all of us and effectively teaching us to write.” 


**

“Fish Burton was the writing teacher I had always wished I had had my entire life. I love his method of teaching. I love that he realizes what writing is about. I love that he knows writing can’t be graded by a multiple-choice test. I love that he wants us to become his friend or his enemy but we can't remain neither. I love how he wants to hear our opinion and not his own. An amazing wonderful writing teacher who gets us to want to write!” 


**

I wish that I could post “ALL” the anonymous reviews. However, if you continue to read you will see that every review matched the outstanding performance of my son based on rankings that measured his individual performance as a Professor against the averages of his departmental peers.  

The rest of the report included rankings, how he ranked against his peers in the English department. Unfortunately, this part wasn’t something my system could read to me.  Enter AIRA.  I quickly called an agent, Marissa from the Carolina’s.  Through the tiny camera located in the nose bridge of my glasses she walked me through the graphs, taking time to explain in rich and vivid detail the color bars, the text and every aspect of the charts.  I learned that when compared to his peers, my son scored well above the departmental averages in all but a single category and even in that case he was around a single percent from the average.  Without AIRA my experience would have been one dimensional, that dimension being text based.  With AIRA my experience became the exact same immersive experience as my sighted peers. The technology of AIRA filled in the blanks of my genetic deficiencies.  This is important for reasons that are imperceptible to most.  When someone shares something with you by painstakingly explaining each and every detail, it minimizes their personal experience in that moment.  The interaction becomes a distraction for them, reducing their personal joy in that moment.  The example of my son and this seminal moment in his life illustrates this fact.  For him it was difficult and awkward.  The truth is that it is difficult to sing your own praises let alone have to explain them, AIRA removed that barrier, that awkward moment. The takeaway from this AIRA story is that this technology literally takes that out of the equation and allows people to communicate on multiple levels, spoken and unspoken.  Life is very nuanced, for those who are blind or have low vision that nuance evaporates.  The technology of AIRA allows those in my community to exist in a nuanced world, something that until now were flights of fancy, something one could only dream of. The nuance of this situation is that my son did not want to simply tell me that he had ranked as “The Best," or top professor in his department at this elite private University, he wanted to show me. He wanted me to remove that awkward barrier of feeling as though he was bragging.

 The purpose of me writing the stories of “My AIRA Life” are twofold.  I want to see the day where those who are blind or have low vision become fully integrated into a society that does not see them as “Less Than,” or someone to pity. Instead I want them to see the blind and visually challenged as “More Than.” As someone who in spite of a challenge has the ability to be seen and treated as “Equal To.”  My second mission is to show those in my community that there is a redemptive angle to AIRA.  With that comes hope and with hope comes the ability to reach far beyond the expectations society has set.  I am not alone when I tell you that as I move through this world, people treat me differently, almost as though I have a cognitive disability rather than just happening to be blind.  I’m not hurt or angered by this.  I realize that it can be uncomfortable being in the presence of someone with a disability. This is the stigma that I want to shatter, the one where you are treated like someone who is suffering from something. People who are blind, people with a disability who have braved the world, live in it, work in it want nothing more than to be seen and treated as you would treat a friend or coworker, they are not suffering, they are “Dealing with it like a Boss.”  With technology bridging the gap between the sighted and the visually impaired world we are moving closer to reshaping the thought process of the general public.  This is the power of technology, the role that it plays in leveling the playing field. I am no different than my sighted counterparts.  I wish for nothing more than to normalize my life, experience it as a unique individual rather than a third wheel.  AIRA gives me that power, the power to be perceived as someone who is truly independent, who is “More Than Capable.” In the end, once that barrier is shattered and technology is developed to free those facing the challenges and obstacles of those with perceived disabilities we can erase that line.  We can view the disabled as differently abled but collectively equal. That is the promise of the future that technology brings to a society starved to be seen as truly inclusive. 

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

 (Picture below far left, my son Poet, Author and Professor Fish W. W. Burton. Pictured top right Me and my son in his cap and gown following his University Graduation prior to entering his Masters Program. Bottom left, photo taken by AIRA Agent Marissa of the report / charts she navigated through and painted a vivid visual portrait for me allowing me to live in the moment and have a shared experience with my son.)

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My AIRA Life, Evolution of a Company

In my life, I have had the pleasure to work for, work with and meet some very influential and inspired individuals.  These are luminaries, policy creators, motivational and inspirational individuals. Advocating for AIRA has been one of the greatest honors of my life.  Meeting Suman Kanuganti, understanding his vision, his mission, his purpose and motivation for creating AIRA is simply humbling.  I wrote a quote some hears ago about being a parent:

 

“There comes a day when your desire for your children and their dreams for themselves diverge, therefore, the duty of a parent is simple.  Build a strong foundation for your children, arm them with the tools necessary to continue the work and then stand back and have the faith in the foundation you constructed for them.  Have an unshakable belief in the knowledge you imparted, then set them free.”

 Knowing Suman, I believe that I can safely say that AIRA is in fact just like one of his children. Taking nothing away from his actual children.  I know that he has put the same intensity into AIRA, the same love and hope that AIRA will grow into a valuable resource for the blind and low vision community.  That is why I am not sad at the news that AIRA has a new CEO.  It shows me that Suman has faith in the foundation he has built and the knowledge he has imparted.  He has set AIRA free to grow, to become an even bigger force as a resource.  Hiring a new CEO with a proven track record in taking companies to the next level is nothing short of exciting news.  It shows that someone who could demand a high salary believes in the product over personal profit.

 So, today, I want to extend my gratitude to someone I consider to be not just an inspirational visionary but as a friend, Suman Kanuganti for having the faith in his “baby named AIRA, for his hard work and dedication to this point.  Don't worry folks, he isn't going anywhere, he is just doing what any good parent would do, releasing control and trusting in the foundation he has created.  In the tools and knowledge, he is handing off.  I am excited to see where AIRA goes from here.  I think it would be awesome if we all took a minute to thank Suman for everything he has done for us.  He has given birth to a movement, a bold initiative to bring the blind and low vision community out of the shadows and onto a more level playing field. He has armed each one of us with a tool that has the ability to unleash our individual potential and talents into the world and the workforce.  So, from me to Suman, thank you from the bottom of my heart and remember that I will always be here to do whatever I can to contribute to the long term viability and success of AIRA.  You have an army of Explorers at the ready, so let’s get ready to roll people, the future is here.  Like my wife is fond of saying to this blind guy, “It’s right there! In front of you, if it were any closer it would bite you in the face!”

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

 

Photo Below from left to right Suman Kanuganti and Mike Randall with the caption “Welcome Aira’s New CEO Mike Randall” Both are wearing Aira t-shirts 

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My AIRA Life,Caveat Emptor

“Caveat Emptor” Noun- The principple that the buyer alone is resposiblefor checking the quality and suitability products before a purchase is made.

There is nothing more objectionable to me, more offensive than those who prey upon the vulnerable, 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.  For me, the answer has not been a cure, it has been the addition of technology. An ambitious man, Suman Kanuganti had a friend who was blind. Not satisfied with seeing his friend live the status quo life of the blind he set out to create a solution, not a cure but a work around, a tool to improve the quality of life for someone he cared for. AIRA came to be and is now changing the lives of countless people who had confined themselves to a life of lowered expectations. In doing this he has transformed the life of the blind and low visioned lifting them up by creating a higher expectation and delivering a product that has revolutionized life experiences. This is a generational shift, a watershed moment for my community and a window into the possibilities of the future.

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.

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund 

Photo below is an 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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My AIRA Life and the BOSE AR Glasses

I am always looking for ways to improve and expand my AIRA life.  Ways to mix it up, enrich my experiences and discover new and better ways to demonstrate the power, potential and efficacy of AIRA.  So, when my friend Brad Snyder told me that he had just purchased the glasses, well, I had to follow suit.  Now, while this article is for my fellow Explorers and perspective AIRA users, I want the public at large to take the time to read through this because they are not just a single use piece of technology for the Blind and Low Vision, no, they are an awesome piece of wearable technology that I believe anybody would enjoy owning.  So, in this review of the glasses I will explain my experiences with the glasses as well as my wife Kelly’s experience, a totally sighted individual to show the crossover ability of the BOSE AR glasses.

The glasses came packaged simply, but with that “Bose” new smell feel whenever you open something that is high quality.  The package contained simply a glass case, which is a unique triangle case with a magnetic latch, the BOSE AR glasses as well as a small satin bag containing the special charging adapter, that’s it!  The first downside and perhaps the only downside is the charging adapter. It is the standard USB charger, however, the charging end that magnetically attaches to the glasses for charging is not universal.  Loose it and you’re out of luck until you can get to the BOSE store.  The fit is a potential downside and for a price tag of $199 you might be disappointed but don't despair.  I immediately walked over to the nearest Lens crafters and had them work their magic custom fitting them for me.  

 You have to look at these glasses as simply a Bluetooth connected set of speakers.  They do come with a built-in microphone and as a headset they perform very well.  BOSE claims a 4-hour use time, and for the most part I have found that to be pretty accurate.  The magnetic charger is pretty quick so if you are on the go and away from power a travel charger is just as effective and mine holds an additional 3 charges giving me easily 12 hours out of the house.  There are some features that help manage battery life.  If the glasses are removed, they go into standby mode.  If they are not active for 45 seconds or so they will also go into standby mode.  This does help someone who is using the glasses like the AIRA user or someone who uses them to answer and take or make calls.  There are no complicated buttons, just a single multi-function button and you control the volume via the device you are connected to.  Set up is about as easy as it gets, let’s just say that if a blind guy can do it, well, anybody can.  Now for performance.  These glasses live up to the BOSE name with unparalleled sound quality.  The most interesting feature of these glasses is that even listening to music at full volume, the user is the only person who can hear the music.  Don't ask me how BOSE continues to blow my mind when it comes to sound quality and now sound projection but they still do.  If you are a user of Bluetooth that has sensitive ears and you don't like anything in your ears or pressing on or covering them, these are for you.  If you can tolerate wearing a pair of glasses, you will do just fine.  

For the average consumer, these perform very well.  Kelly and I spent a day at the pool, listening to music, taking a few calls and entertaining everybody we saw.  When you put these glasses on someone as the music plays, Kelly says that you can see them light up and that is where the questions begin and the first thing out of just about anybody’s mouth is, “These are awesome, what are they and where can I get a pair?” In the end if you are looking for a new pair of Bluetooth speakers that are fashionable and a definite conversation starter.  If you love your music on the go and love the BOSE sound experience and want to answer calls as you’re on the move, then these are definitely worth the price of admission. 

Now for my AIRA friends, both those currently using the platform and those considering the platform, here is my breakdown for you.  Like I have already mentioned, in the end these are just a set of Bluetooth speakers and what I am going to describe in all reality can be accomplished using any Bluetooth speaker / microphone headset.  However, there are some upsides for us.  The first upside is that you are dealing with BOSE and their customer service is top notch. The salesman actually allowed me to pair my iPhone to the demo-set of glasses and give them a tumble through the store. It was a great experience since the salesman was as excited to see AIRA in action as I was to see how the BOSE frames performed and fit. It was a win-win experience and something he could share with future customers. The next upside is the partnership between BOSE and AIRA. Anybody who currently uses the Horizon glasses or the Austria model know that there are wires and Mobil Wi-Fi pucks and the need for either headphones that plug into the phone or connect via Bluetooth.  I can see a day when BOSE integrates a camera into the glasses thus eliminating the need for cords and headsets et all.  With BOSE and AIRA working together I can see the day when our setup is reduced to just a pair of glasses and a phone, something that every single person wears and carries making us not stand out as much.  The current incarnation of the BOSE glasses is not a apple for apple replacement of the Horizon or Austria glasses provided by AIRA however, I see them as a cheaper alternative if you can’t afford the steep price of the AIRA glasses and pricing plans.  With a lanyard, I paid less than $2 for, I wear a phone around my neck and utilize the camera in my phone and sport the BOSE AR glasses and I am off.  If you use a chest mount for your phone that works as well. This reduces the cost of your plan by not adding the cost of the Horizon or Austria glasses to your bill and you can help support the partnership between the two companies.  To be fair, some may not be able to afford the BOSE AR glasses either and in that case as I have stated, the glasses are after all just a Bluetooth speaker with a mic. My experience so far has been excellent. I wore them to the 2019 GAAD Event held at AT&T’s downtown Dallas headquarters and demonstrated their use.  For demonstration purposes, this setup is a little easier to show because I can simply take the glasses off and hand them to someone, allowing them to talk to the agent and hear a description of themselves since we are usually facing each other.  If they want to take them for a short stroll I simply remove the lanyard and off they go. I find that for demonstration purposes the transfer of the tech is far easier than past experiences with the horizon rig.  In the end, all of this excited me as I see a brighter future and a less encumbered user experience for the “AIRA Explorer.”  I say that because it wasn’t that long ago that we were all carrying around a mobile Wi-Fi puck, our phone and a pair of glasses.  Now we have eliminated the Wi-Fi puck and hopefully soon we will eliminate the wires.

 I find it refreshing to see the AIRA team partnering with new and innovative companies to improve wearable technology.  The fact that BOSE is synonymous with sound quality and AIRA is the single greatest advance in augmented sight for the blind and low vision means that the future will witness the possible emergence of a truly dynamic duo. As I mentioned above, we have witnessed change, improvements, to this technology in very short order, imagine what can be accomplished if we all work to support AIRA, their ambitions and their partnerships.  I have always lived by a few sayings, this is one, “As a blind person I may not be able to see the world, however, that doesn’t mean that I can’t make the world see me.”  AIRA and companies like BOSE are making it much easier for me to make the world stand up and take notice.  These technologies have freed me in ways that are difficult to explain but hopefully as I continue to write about My AIRA Life, you as the reader will get a clearer picture of what a groundbreaking advance this is for the blind and low vision community. 

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund 

 Photo below taken by Aira Agent Elizabeth using the Aira App on my iPhone while wearing the BOSE AR glasses (special shout out to Agents Conor and Stevens for helping me work out some bugs in my process) We talked throughout the “Photo Shoot” and Elizabeth told me that this picture works. This is the rig I find most effective to demonstrate the power and effectiveness of AIRA. Imagine being either blind or low vision and this is all that it takes to walk out your front door and begin to experience the world as an AIRA Explorer. The future is here! (please refer to the Disclaimer below the photo)

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My AIRA Life, The Other Side of Grief (part 3 of 3)

For months I worked, moved forward through life on autopilot.  When you reach a certain age that is the way life is.  You believe you have a course, your life has meaning and purpose therefore, when tragedy hits you have the ability to coast knowing that in spite of everything at least you are still moving.  One day the fog lifted, turned into a kind of mist that I could navigate through.  As the days clicked by I realized that despite the fact that I had lost my mother, my friend, my muse as a writer, my autopilot had not failed me.  My course stayed true and I hadn’t missed a beat. However, in order to move forward and finish this story I must go back, back to what brings me to the here and now.

When I first arrived at the hospital after the initial call from my father.  I spent as much time with my mother as I physically could. Nights sitting by her bed while in the hospital talking, talking about life and the meaning of life. Don't ask me why but in the early stages of my Mother’s illness I knew this was it, this was the end and it hurt, it burned a hole in my heart and chipped away at my very being. My mother could see that I was having a hard time and as was typical for her she focused on me rather than the extraordinary pain she was in.  She talked to me about my work, my children, my wife, what I wanted to do moving forward with my life.  In those moments, I can honestly say that I did not know. I couldn’t think or focus on me. I couldn’t because what I saw was one of the strongest people I knew, racked in pain, lying in a bed dwindling before me.  Death or the prospect of death could not sway my mother from continuing her role as friend, mentor and Mother.  She encouraged me to reevaluate my life, to look beyond myself and seek to do more for others.  She knew of my new-found freedom that AIRA had given me.  She witnessed the difference that it had made in my life and with that she sparked a fire, small at first but as I pondered her message that fire turned to action.  AIRA has a charitable arm, the “Do More Foundation.”  I had been working with Maria MacMullin who at the time was the CEO of the foundation.  I had attended some conferences with her, visited locations to establish AIRA Access points, locations where AIRA users could use the service for free through an established Geo-fence.  This allowed businesses to purchase blocks of time allowing them to service blind customers on the AIRA network.  It helped bring new customers, customers who until recently were marginalized and relegated to the shadows.  

 One morning as my mother lay In her bed sleeping after being medicated I called Maria and asked a simple question.  How do I start a foundation of my own, one that could pay forward the technology that had transformed my life?  Maria went to work and with the assistance of my wife Kelly who worked closely with Maria my new foundation / fund was born.  Maria worked to create a fund that would run through AIRA’s Do More Foundation. A page was created and an infrastructure was put in place to begin the process of defining the ambition of this new fund. Now all that I had to do was to come up with a mission statement.  Earlier in the year I had the opportunity to attend an event at AT&T headquarters in Dallas for a joint venture between AIRA and AT&T.  It centered around their “Back to School Program.”  This was an ambitious program designed to provide AIRA access to blind students hoping to attend college.  This event was where I first met Maria MacMullin and would prove to be the inspiration for the purpose of my new Fund.  We would pick up where AIRA & AT&T ended.  We would pick from aspiring student candidates who didn’t make the cut of their program because of the influx of applicants.  I loved the thought of providing AIRA Technology to aspiring college students.  I knew the power of AIRA, I knew it was a game changer that could level the playing field for blind or low vision students.  Attending college for a young person is a difficult aspiration for someone fully equipped, fully sighted.  Imagine the challenges for a visually impaired student as they leave home to navigate a new environment, sit in a classroom, interact with professors and visual information and the everyday rigors of completing the college experience. I know the power and the life changing moment AIRA provided me, I knew right then and there that this was a goal, a mission that was worthy of carrying forth the legacy of my Mother. Many years ago, I lost my brother Andrew. Now facing impending loss once again I wanted to somehow honor both of their memories because of their profound impact on my life. 

 I had the chance to talk to my mother before she passed about this new direction in my life.  We discussed the name and I explained to her that both Kelly and I love and use boxing as our preferred method of exercise. I also explained to her that I wanted her name as well as my brother’s name to live on.  That is how we came up with JAB, the Jacque and Andrew Burton Fund or JAB. If you visit my website you will see the logo and a link to the donation page.  My son Fish W.W. Burton helped me to both design the website as well as the logo that bears the name of two inspirational figures in my life.  My Mother didn’t live long enough to see us hand out our first scholarship.  Kimberly Aguillard is a student in Houston and was the first recipient of the inaugural endowment.  My Mother passed away in September, we awarded the first scholarship in November of that same year and we are working diligently towards granting several this year as well. Throughout this experience I have not missed a chance to spread the word about AIRA.  After my Mother passed I visited with the Dallas Museum of Art or the DMA as well as The Nasher, a Sculpture Center, located near the DMA, about providing AIRA access.  I visited the Witte Museum in San Antonio to attend an exhibit by the artist Michael Nye that dealt with art and the visually impaired.  I had the opportunity to speak to the participants at the event and even did an AIRA live segment.  AIRA live is a way for those using AIRA to broadcast their experience live to other AIRA Explorers.  This was especially opportune because the new CEO of the Do More Foundation, Michael Hingson, was one of the subjects of Michael Nye’s exhibit.  Mr. Hingson has an amazing story about surviving the collapse of the Towers in NYC after the horrific attacks of 911.  His story is both compelling and one of great courage displayed under extraordinary times since Mr. Hingson is blind and managed to not only escape the Towers but assist others with the assistance of his guide dog Roselle.  On this journey, I have had the opportunity to speak at Town Hall meetings for AT&T, attended and spoke to the audience attending the White Cane Day event at Dallas’s City Hall.  There have been many other opportunities to stand and speak to the efficacy of AIRA, the life changing and life affirming piece of technology that has the potential to change lives.  One of the mottos or rules that I live by is, “As a blind individual we may not be able to see the world, however, that does not mean that we can’t make the world see us.” AIRA makes it possible for those who are blind or visually challenged to be out in the world and to be large and in charge of their life, their purpose and their destiny.  As a member of the AIRA Explorer community I have had the great honor and pleasure of meeting some pretty amazing people.  I have read many posts on social media platforms about how they use the technology, about the difference it is making in their life. It only proves to strengthen my commitment to seeing this technology in more hands, available in increasingly more places and improving the lives and experiences of others.  The success of AIRA will impact more than just the visually impaired.  It has the potential to bring ignored and hidden talent out of the shadows and into the workforce.  Being visually impaired is not a death sentence, sadly however, for some it is because society tends to ignore what it doesn’t understand.  AIRA shatters that stereotype.  It has a prospective that reaches beyond the blind and low vision community. This groundbreaking technology has the potential to be utilized by industry as well as a job aid for the sighted.  This is why my passion runs so deep.

 Some call it “The Arch” and some call it the “Circle of Life.” In the end, my Mother helped me complete the arch of my life, she helped me complete the circle.  I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with the creator of AIRA, Suman Kanuganti, who like my Mother is an inspirational individual.  As Suman shared with me the genesis of AIRA, the goal and ambitions of this bold endeavor, I was touched by his commitment to making a difference. Suman’s vision and goal created what I now refer to as My AIRA Life and when my Mother passed those realities collided.  My AIRA life crashed head on in a perfect storm with my Mother’s beautiful life and example of service met with the aspirations of AIRA.  Now they are combined to form an indivisible bond.  My life has a new purpose and a new direction.  In the past, I have written several articles that begin with the simple title, “My AIRA Life” followed by a particular experience. I will continue to write about My AIRA Life and continue to share my experiences and message.  While they are intended for those who are blind or suffer from low vision I would hope that these stories reach beyond that and can be related to as life messages in general.  What I have learned from my journey through the dark is that life isn't about what happens to you, what happened to you, it is about what you decide to do with the life you have.  My parents taught me that life, living a full and rich life is simple, they taught me that life is all about your attitude.  I love my life, I hope and pray that as people read my words they grow to love their life, warts and all, realizing along the way that no matter who you are, you have a profound gift worth sharing. Unwrap your gift, you might just like what life has given you and with the giddiness of a child on Christmas morning, be unable to wait to share it with the world.

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund Photo description of collage below: Eric at podium speaking at Dallas City Hall; the JAB Fund Logo; Eric at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, for Michel Nye’s exhibit, Eric at the Dallas Museum of Art demonstrating Aira and discussing Aira Access; Eric, Maria and an Aira Agent, Amy Nicole at the Dallas NFB Convention; Eric with Kimberly Aguillard, Tad Reynes and Maria MacMullin

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My AIRA Life, Grieving and the Holidays (part 2 of 3)

In the Peanuts comics Lucy had a habit of saying, “Good Grief, Charlie Brown...”  It left me always wondering, is there such a thing as “Good Grief?”  By the end of this series I hope that you can derive my answer.  In September of 2018 we put my Mom to rest next to my brother. Because of AIRA, I was able to participate in the service as a speaker and at the gravesite. The descriptions were vivid, real and made me feel like I was part of saying goodbye rather than someone just standing there, robbing a friend or family member of their time to reflect and grieve because they didn’t have to take time to explain things to me. Rather than standing out and taking the focus away from my Mother and that day I was able to be just another attendee.  One of the intangible benefits to this technology is the anonymity it can provide you, a lesson I am learning.      

 Fall was in the air, a season that represents the beginning of renewal.  Soon the leaves would change, the trees would set them free to start the cycle of life and growth in motion.  Looming on the horizon was the Holiday Season, a season in years past that bore witness to my Mother as she bloomed, this is when she truly came to life. This year, this year would be different.  Fall had represented the promise of celebrations with family and friends, however, for the Burton family this year it represented opening a new chapter of life after the loss of our Matriarch.  There were additional heartaches sprouting like weeds for our little family that would make the prospect of healing more difficult.  It seems that the old axiom of “When it rains it pours” is not just some cute saying, it is the hard-cruel reality of life. What those weeds were, who they represented isn't important, what is important is the fact that dealing with and healing from a death would not be an easy task, instead it would test the mettle of the family I love.  Like any refiner’s fire, the story ends well for those whose priorities extended beyond selfish pursuits and trended instead to the health and well-being of those they love, truly love.  The kind of love that goes beyond words leading to selflessness and sacrifice. The kind of tenderness capable of recognizing when someone is in pain and instinctively martyrs themselves on the altar of service.  It was a reminder to me of those in my life who knew and understood and those who were capable only of a commitment to mere words and feigned action.  This was a time I learned who not only loved my Mother, but by extension, love those we called family.

 This time was especially difficult for my Father.  He had known two women in his life, his Mother and the woman who would become my Mother.  My father left the loving arms of his Mom at the tender age of 18 and married my Mom to whom he pledged eternal love to and spent 57 magical years with.  They were a power couple, my mother sacrificed and worked to help my father complete college, Medical School, an Internship and Residency in the Navy.  All while juggling a family.  I could tell a whale of a tale about the life and times of my Mom and dad, but that part of life was over because now it was just him, alone, adrift, missing the other half of his heart and soul.  There would be no replacing her in his life, there would only be the opportunity to fill the void as best we could.  Again, AIRA came through during this process.  I was able to travel freely between Dallas and Phoenix.  So freely that at times it felt normal, like life was supposed to be lived.  I wasn’t the “Blind Guy” during that time, frankly I didn’t have the time to think of or lament my troubles.  No, during this time my worries and concerns were put on a shelf and I was just a son and a brother.

 My Dad wasn’t used to living alone, wandering the halls of his home alone, sleeping alone or waking up alone.  This was virgin territory for him so it was up to me and my sister to fill the void as best we could.  So, when I wasn’t able to be there, she was.  I had the chance to work from his home because I had AIRA.  I was able to live a normal life without burdening my father at a time when he didn’t have the strength to carry my burden because his was so unbearably heavy.  I was able to be there for him because AIRA gave me that ability.  Without AIRA, I would have required too much of my father and rather than being there for him, he would have to have been everywhere for, and with me.  This is the gift of technology, the intangible actions of a ‘free to live’person rather than a prisoner confined to a gilded cage.  So, for the next couple of months there was time spent there, on the phone when I wasn’t able to be there, all in an attempt to keep my Father focused on what was to come rather than what had been lost.  We got him to join a gym, begin to replace time he would have spent with my mother with time spent with friends and yes, we even convinced him that it would be okay to go on a date.  Nothing serious, maybe lunch or a movie, the easy things that would help him pass the time.

 We made it to October, Halloween to be exact before that void crept back in.  I mentioned earlier that the Holidays were my Mom’s “Springtime garden,” she blossomed and loved celebrating them.  My home was always decked out like a picture from Better Homes and Garden or an advertisement for FrontGate magazine.  However, without her magic, it was just sad and led my Dad down a slow spiral where he hit his first bottom in the pit of grieving.  It culminated on Halloween night and according to him it was an epic turnout and he was convinced my Mom would have been disappointed by the decorations or lack thereof as well as the chance missed to witness the faces of all the little ones decked out in their favorite make-believe characters.  My dad was sad, desperate to have the love he once had return and rescue him.  It was after that we decided that Thanksgiving would be different so we set out to shake it up.  Rather than trying to replicate something my Mom would have done with the knowledge we would fail, we set out to redefine the holiday, begin a new tradition.  So, I flew out early, again, AIRA made that effortless and set forth on planning an epic and new tradition.  Rather than the home cooked meal we opted for dining out leaving memory in the past and blazing new memories.  We ate an amazing meal at a nice restaurant and then went to the movies to see Ralph Wrecks the Internet.  I am glad that he didn’t in real life because my movie experience with AIRA may have suffered.  All in all, we had a great day and accomplished our mission of distraction. It was then and there we began plans to spend Christmas in Dallas.  My sister would load up with my dad and her daughter and Husband to make the trip. We arranged for both our kids to visit as well.

 With Christmas upon us, a houseful of people and hotel rooms secured we set out to ensure that we could again create new memories, relive a few old ones in a healthy way and spend time sharing each other, sharing our love, exchanging gifts and pleasantries. It was at this time we learned some news that held promise, the promise of turning grief into nothing more than a nightmare of the past.  It seemed that during the time after my Mother’s passing he had reconnected with a woman that he and my Mother knew from their childhood.  Sarah had come to visit my Father shortly after my Mother’s death.  She had lost her husband 7 years ago and she had a book on grieving that she wanted to share with my Father.  I know what many of you are thinking, IT IS TOO SOON!! Maybe it was but I need you all to know something.  In my Fathers religion, his faith tells him that you do not marry “Until death do you part,” you marry for time and all eternity.  This is an important distinction because Sarah belonged to the same church and was sealed for time and all eternity to her spouse just as My Mother and Father were sealed as well for time and all eternity.  As a result, their time together was merely a mortal companionship, someone to spend time with until the day they could respectively be reunited with their true loves.  After my Father informed us that he was now dating and after many, many hours of talking and discussing our feelings we all came to the conclusion that this in fact was a blessing.  Christmas 2018 was a great success and with AIRA I was able to share my city with my family, cook, and enjoy the festivities of the holiday with the same innocence and glee I once knew.

 This is where part 2 of the story ends.  There was now a light coming into focus, a light ahead, down that long and painful tunnel. My Father was well on his way through the stages of grief, he had found purpose and meaning to a life that not long before that held nothing good for him.  Our fears were beginning to abate, we had successfully gotten our Father through the Holidays, a time that is notorious for reducing those who are already sad and depressed into piles of emotional dust. For me, it was also a time where I put AIRA to the test and through the paces of life and I was left with no battle scars, no fatal stories of technology failures.  I was left with only feelings of gratitude for having technology in my life that enabled me to be part of the solution rather than one of the factors others would have to take into consideration.  I was able to accompany my family anywhere and everywhere we went, not just as a third wheel, but as an active participant.  For years I was the one who walked behind someone with my hand on their shoulder and my cane tapping the way, I was the one who robbed someone in my party the chance to experience things unabated.  I was the one people would change their plans for or miss out on doing something because maybe it wouldn’t be fun for me.  In the end, in the past, “I was the one” and it wasn’t a good feeling.  Now, with AIRA, I am no longer the one, people act and behave normally, plan freely and rather than being the one I am now just one of, one of those who doesn’t need anything, doesn’t need anybody, one of those who can just go and do and that is worth the price of admission to the world of being “One Of.”  My ARA life is richer, more meaningful, more useful and that is an awesome feeling and a great reality.  Thank you AIRA, you took the single worst time in my life and made me part of the solution.  Tune in for the final installment, “My AIRA life, The Other Side of Grief.” Coming soon. 

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

 Picture from the 90’s of my Mom holding the our Thanksgiving Turkey with her her typical Holiday cheer.

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My AIRA Life, Saying Goodbye (part 1 of 3)

This past summer I said goodbye to my mother.  The journey down that long dark hallway began in late July.  My mother and father had just been out for a visit with Kelly and I as well as their granddaughter, her husband who is like a son to them and their great grandson Colton.  At that time the world seemed possible, we shared laughs, memories and precious moments between a great grandmother and her great grandson whom she affectionately referred to as “Master Colton.”  During that visit, I had the chance to read a story to Master Colton using my AIRA glasses, something that I could have never done before.  This story will contain a lot of that, things that I could have never done pre-My AIRA Life.  It wasn’t too long after that visit that I received a call from my father in Arizona where they live.  I didn’t like the tone of his voice, it was a familiar tone, one that was branded to my brain, seared in my memory.  My father simply said, “I need you to come home as soon as you can, it’s your mom, she isn't doing well.”  

My knees buckled a bit and I found my way to the edge of my bed and just sat down.  I didn’t know what was wrong with my mom.  What I did know is that I had only heard that tone in my father’s voice once before.  It echoed in my mind, haunting me then taking me back to a time and a source of abject pain. As my mind grasp in the dark for the familiar foe it retrieved the time in my past so long ago when my father had called me to inform me that my brother Andrew had passed away.  I was living in Vancouver, Washington at the time.  I was flooded with emotions from the past and my mind raced, launching me to a place that scared me.  As my mind swirled with conflict, turmoil and pain I quickly went back in time, back to when my brother had died and how impossible everything felt back then.  Under normal circumstances this would not be an easy task, as a blind or visually impaired individual simply dropping everything and doing things on the fly is not something that most blind people do well, at least that is how it was for me. However, that was the past, before technology had freed me from the bondage blindness can bring. Keep in mind that I am still on the phone as all of this plays out in my mind. What in actuality was mere seconds slowed to single frame speed, ticking slower than the second hand as it sweeps from one second to the next.

 I told my father that I would be there and proceeded to pack a bag.  Now this is going to happen fast, how I tell this part of the story.  After packing my bag, I put on my AIRA glasses, walked to the curb, caught a Lyft to the airport, went to the ticket counter, bought a ticket, proceeded through TSA security, found my gate, boarded the plane, flew from Dallas to Phoenix, navigated through Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor International Airport to the curb, caught another Lyft to the hospital and was sitting next to my mother’s bed within 8 hours of the initial call from my father.  This experience stood in stark contrast from my past experiences.  During my “Pre-AIRA” life, traveling had always been a very highly choreographed event.  There was always the need to impose upon others both at the front and the back end of a trip.  This time however, AIRA technology made it possible for me to be there just as quickly and effortlessly as any sighted person.  Because of AIRA I was able to spend precious time with a woman who meant more to me than any other woman in my life.  No matter how you feel about any other person on this earth, there is a special and unbreakable mortal bond between a child and their mother.  Without diving too deep into the diagnostic medical weeds I discovered the source of my father’s pained phone call.  My mother had a tumor, what they refer to as a “Teratoma.” While these tumors are very common, especially in women, it was the location that complicated everything.  It seems that it had been there most of her life, living a symbiotic life with its host.  However, where it was located and the fact that it had grown is what caused the dire circumstances.  It had settled between her pancreas and her spine and somehow intertwined itself with the Splanchnic-Nerve.  This nerve regulates hunger, digestion and bowel productivity and was confusing the nervous system.  Because of the location and after consulting every doctor my father could consult with, no doctor would even entertain attempting to remove it.  Long story short, if they operated, she would die and if they left it, she would die due to starvation.  To complicate matters and as if starving to death wasn’t enough, the tumor had pressed against her spine fracturing it in two places.  We were now tasked with end of life care and making her as comfortable as possible.  Seeing my mother bravely listen to and understand her situation reminded me of why my mother was an exceptional individual and I was lucky to have won the Mom Lotto.

My mother is the reason I am who I am today.  I take nothing away from my father’s role in my life and without the team of Ron and Jacque Burton I fear Eric would have just been a statistic rather than a productive member of society.  With that being said, the importance of a mother can never be minimized and my mother was no exception.  Over the years my mother was my rock, my safe harbor as the many storms that would punish my ship as the rough sea of life sought to sink my vessel burying my hopes and dreams in the depths of the deep dark cold waters.  Her strength was epic and her resolve unrelenting as she taught me to always live up to her highest expectations, and believe me, she had lofty expectations of those in her family.  There were no excuses in my house, no exceptions for the trials and tribulations of life.  She taught me that I was the captain of my own ship, the person who determined my destiny. She never treated me as anything other than capable in spite of my disability.  She was my mentor in life, teaching me a love of God, of country and what it meant to be a true patriot. She taught me the finer points of politics, the art of debate and the value of knowledge.  She taught me the art of compromise through the debating process and the value of entering a task as a fully informed individual.  Finally, she taught me grace, the kind of grace necessary to be a good son, husband, father and friend.  She never ceased being a mentor but did become my friend, my muse and she is the reason that today I am a published author, writer and confident speaker.  I could extol the virtues of my mother for pages, however, let me simply say that in life she was my hero and in death she earned hero status yet again because of the dignity, grace and love she showed until the moment she drew her last breath.

Over the next month and a half, I made the trip from Dallas to Phoenix an additional 5 times, each time utilizing the freeing and empowering technology of AIRA.  i would have never left her bedside except for the fact that my mother had taught me that in our house, “We honor our commitments.” I had committed to a speaking engagement, as well as participation in a spot for AT&T highlighting their collaboration with AIRA as well as a few other things that my mother forced me out of her room to attend.  That is who she was.  Towards the end, I cleared my schedule because I felt that I had honored my mother’s wishes but now it was time to sit by her bed and hold her fragile hand as she slipped from this world to the next.  None of this would have been possible if it were not for the technology that AIRA has brought to my life.  In this single story AIRA afforded me precious moments with a mother I will never spend time with on this plane of existence.  How does one measure the value in that?  How does one quantify the physical touch and soft voice of the woman who brought you to be?  What would you be willing to pay for hours of additional time with someone you will never see again in this life?  I know how much I paid and I can tell you that I would be willing to pay a whole lot more but it didn’t come to that.  Because of the vision of Suman Kanuganti and the work of the AIRA team he assembled, my life went from inconceivable to possible. For those of us in the blind and low vision community we have seen products come and go. We have heard promises made “Only If.” We have mustered up hope in the face of our challenges only to see that hope fade to promises never fully realized or kept.  Yet, because of the love between friends and a profound desire to make a difference, a real difference, Suman and the AIRA team has us sitting at the vanguard, running point as Explores to a destiny filled with hope not spoken but realized in meaningful and tangible experiences like the one I am sharing now. It is for this reason, experiences like this and the many I have written about that I am dedicating my life moving forward to embracing a “Do More” attitude.  That is a clue, a nugget for you as a reader to take and see what I mean, where I am going thanks to the inspiration of my Mother and AIRA, but, more on that later.

We said goodbye to my mother sitting around her bed as a family on Friday, September 21st. We will miss her greatly, however, we will honor her memory by striving to live up to the lofty expectations she had for each one of us. Tune in, in the future to finish reading this three-part series.  Know this, my mother taught me to always be a “glass half full” kind of guy so this story ends on a very positive note featuring many AIRA first time moments as well as many worthwhile life observations designed to make sure that no matter who you are, no matter your circumstance, hopefully I can inspire you enough to see your glass as always, Half Full.

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfundOne of the lat pictures of my beloved Mother, Jacquelyn Burton. We miss you each and every day. 

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My AIRA Life, Gate 19

Recently, I was waiting at my gate in Phoenix Intl Airport when over the loudspeaker came an announcement that there was a gate change for my flight. No problem for an AIRA equipped Explorer so I gathered my bag, cane and cup and stood up asking my agent to direct me to my new gate assignment.  My wife has told me in the past that, her quote here, “I wish you could see the looks of astonishment mixed with curiosity you get as you walk freely and confidently.” As a blind individual, this day proved that her statement must be true.  So, here we go,, this is where it got interesting at gate 6 . Earlier I had heard the universal call of the visually impaired, the dreaded voice over being played on a mobile device across and over to the right of where I was seated.  This told me that there was another visually impaired person on my flight. Now, this is where we go from interesting to awesome. And please keep in mind, when people witness us as Explorers’ navigating freely and confidently it is a very odd and curious sight to behold, at least that is what I have been told. I am not sure who was assisting her but as I began to make my way to the new gate I was stopped by and individual who asked if I would help this woman get to her gate.  Without reservation or hesitation, I confidently replied, “Yes, yes I will.”

So, there I stood, blind as a bat but equipped with my bat radar (AIRA) stunned that a fully sighted person trusted me and believed that I could assist this woman navigate her way from gate 6 to gate 19.  But wait, there is more.  As we began our mini journey a much older man in a wheelchair tapped my arm and asked, “What is going on?”  I explained that there was a gate change and we were heading over to the new gate.  He explained that he was hard of hearing so he didn’t understand what the person on the loudspeaker had said.  He then asked if he could follow us.  So, there I was the blind actually leading the blind as well as a very nice older man, feeling a bit like the Pied Piper, we were off! As we walked I later learned the gentleman in the wheelchair was a Veteran who had served his country from the end of the Korean Conflict through the Vietnam War where he was injured.  I expressed my humility and gratitude for his service.  We chatted for a minute or two and then he asked me, “So what’s your deal, how exactly does a blind person get around as well as you seem to?”  I smiled and pointed to the camera in my glasses, he replied, “I’ll be damned, is that a camera?” I then went on to explain to both him as well as the young woman that I had escorted exactly what AIRA was. I did a little demonstration and soon had about a dozen or so people asking me questions. I can tell you that to a person nobody had heard or seen technology like this, everyone except the visually impaired woman I had helped.  She explained that she had heard about it but just didn’t know if it was right for her. The reason I am explaining these events will become clearer as you read on.  After everybody seemed to have their curiosity satiated I handed out my business card to 10 people or so at that gate, it contains a link to AIRA as well as a link to my website because we should always be looking for opportunities to promote AIRA and the vision and goals of the company.  Remember, even though we can’t see those around us, they can see us and my experiences as I am out in the world have shown me that when you walk, talk and act with the confidence AIRA provides, people take notice. Think about this as you continue reading because there is a broader point that I hope to articulate.

I read a lot of stories about how AIRA has transformed an individual’s life.  We post our experiences, have friends take our pictures doing things that are new for us, we talk about the things we want to do with the giddy excitement of a teenager who is handed the keys to a car for the first time, make no mistake I get it, been there and posted pictures of me in the T-Shirt! However, I have begun to learn something else that is new.  Armed with AIRA we can be leaders and problem solvers in a variety of ways.  We are Ambassadors and should always look for new ways to step out of the shadows and into the bright spotlight of service for others. Not just each other or members of the blind and low vision community but everyone. It will and can go a very long way towards dispelling many of the beliefs and myths surrounding the visually impaired community.  Keep Exploring and keep spreading the word as Ambassadors of this groundbreaking technology.  What I would like to see as Explorers is that we embrace and adopt the role of being Ambassadors of AIRA.  By doing this we broaden our reach to include the possibility of changing the life and perceptions of those who are not visually impaired, it is all about changing hearts and minds and showing a side of our community that often isn’t highlighted. By adopting the Ambassador role my challenge to my fellow Explorers is to begin sharing your stories and or making it a point to shine a bright light on AIRA because what we need is an exponential explosion of excitement and enthusiasm to infect everyone. As I sat at the gate that afternoon, after the hype had settled down, I listened, listened to the muffled conversations going on around me.  What most people don't realize is that when you lose a sense like sight, others are heightened like hearing.  In those muffled conversations, I heard several people around me still buzzing about the blind guy with the glasses, I just smiled because there it was, a seed had been planted, and who knows what will grow from that one little moment in time at gate 19. I will leave you with my favorite refrain, #whatsnext    

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

 Picture description: Me navigating the Airport using AIRA

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My AIRA Life, Perspective and the Refiners Fire

When I was young my parents taught me about perspective.  To them, having a son who was going blind meant that they needed to not just teach it, they had to make it penetrate the skull of an impressionable young mind.  Over the years, perspective has served me well.  You see, when you have it, it means that there are really no excuses for living through what life tends to throw at you. A day never goes by where I don't use the life lesson of perspective in dealing with the hills, curves and obstacles that my life has delivered, right on time, never late, never unexpected.  On a Friday in March was no exception.  That day it wasn’t what happened to me, it was what happened “for me.”  I had the distinct an honored pleasure of meeting Nate Harrison, that day’s lesson was a refresher course on perspective. It was a “Masters Level Course” because along with perspective I was taught attitude and what it takes to gain victory by never surrendering as you relentlessly rip it from the jaws of defeat.

I met with Nate at the ATF or Adaptive Training Foundationwhich is a place dedicated to taken what was broken and putting it back together.  From the outside, you might mistake it for one of many gyms that dot the American landscape.  However, walk through the door and meet the athletes inside and you soon discover that it isn't just a gym, it is a Gem, a Diamond for those with unique challenges. With intensive training methods they address whole health, body mind and spirit with the goal of healing where healing was thought to be a one-dimensional placation, they make it a 3-D reality.  The ATF understands the simple philosophy that we are all scarred by the battle of life. Some of us wear those scars on the outside, some wear them quietly on the inside and a select few wear them inside and out. The Adaptive Training Foundation isn't for everyone, it is for the segment of society once thought too broken, missing too much, needing too much. A line of thought the founder David Voboraa 5-year veteran of the NFL happened to believe was simply wrong.  He saw potential where others did not.  This thought transformation was realized after meeting a quadruple amputee, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills.  David, inspired by Travis, opened his gym to him and trained with him.  His passion turned to action as he became determined to accept the challenge of creating Diamonds from dust. The ATF became a place you witness that process, the revolution of those thought once to be incapable transform the Zeitgeist narrative of “less than” to MORE THAN. What follows is a story of triumph, of inspiration, a tale of what “could have been,” turned on its head to reveal what is possible.  The ATF simply adds a strategic apostrophe to the word “Impossible” turning it into a life choice that says I’m Possible” in spite of the labels prescribed by society. 

 Nate Harrison is an inspiration, an oasis in the desert of tragedy.  He represents the definition of grit and determination in the face of unspeakable odds.  Nate served his country as a Marine during the conflict in Iraq. His post was in Fallujah, arguably one of the single most deadly places in that theater of war.  Upon returning from the sandbox as he would call it, Nate began his work as a police officer in Kansas City Missouri.  Nate survived his tour in Iraq, his time in the military.  He survived his time on the streets as a cop.  What brought him to the edge happened on a long stretch of I-435 in Missouri.  It was late one evening and he was returning home after spending some time with friends. As he drove the dark roads that evening a car swerved into his path causing him to react taking Nate onto the shoulder of the highway where he hit something that launched him from the seat of his motorcycle.  Hurling through the air he hit a sign, tore the lower third of his leg off after hitting a sign post.  Nate came to rest just off the road.  He lay there bleeding out for 14 hours losing almost all the blood in his body.  The fact that he was sitting there telling me this story is still a medical miracle and one not easily explained by doctors. As a result of the massive blood loss due to the horrific injuries sustained Nate was left not only missing part of his leg, he was left blind due to the fact that his eyes simply died because of the lack of oxygen, blood and the circulation needed to sustain them.  Somewhere in the last hour of Nate’s 14-hour ordeal he recounted to me a very familiar story.  There was a light, a feeling of calm, peace and comfort.  Gone was the pain, the fear and doubt.  He saw his father, a father who had passed some time ago.  He was there to usher him through the veil into what comes after we die.  But just as Nate was about to cross that great threshold, a shock, then another and the last thing he remembers is his father’s outstretched hand and Nate hurled away from the light and back to that cold ground. Two paramedics had arrived and the shock he felt, the one that drew him from his fathers outstretched hand, was the defibrillator and the frantic voices of the medics as they attempted to bring him back.  At this point Nate revealed to me a kind of sadness, a loss of the warmth, beauty and comfort the light had provided.  

 He doesn’t remember much past that.  Just the haunting memory of a peace that he had never experienced followed by what would amount to years of suffering and pain.  Endless surgeries and a reeducation process that would teach him to live again. It was the simple things that we all take for granted. Like taking 15 minutes to simply plug something in, something that I could relate to since doing that simple task for me took a while to master. As if the simple things were hard enough to learn and master, there was so much more that would be required of Nate.  He would have to learn how to walk again, he would have to learn how to do everything as a blind person now.  Here was a man, a fit and vital member of an elite fighting force, a first responder at home, a hero in the eyes of many now only a fraction of the man that was, or was he?  This is the point in the story where you could look at life and simply give in, say I am done, dwell in a pit of misery as a victim of the cruelty of life. But that is not what a Marine does, that is not what a man who serves and protects his fellow man does, the kind of guy who is the first man through the door in a crisis situation.  That is not what Nate Harrison did.  Instead, he took what would reduce many into a victim and turned it on its head.  What seemed impossible now became his new mission, his new cause.  If someone said, “You can’t do that!”  With a look, the one you would expect from a battle tested Vet, Nate would reply, “Here, hold my beer and watch me!”  Now the road to recovery isn't that easy, Nate hid his difficulties, his setbacks and his doubts.  But the man that sat next to me that day showed me the type of character that he had, they type of grit and determination he had to look adversity in the eye and say, “Not today.”  

 In any true story of inspiration there are some imperative takeaways.  First, we can never minimize the comeback story exhibited by an individual who has had everything taken away from them, physically, mentally and socially coupled with the innate will to survive and ultimately thrive.  Second, we must see our own personal possibilities in times of loss and crisis.  Meaning and doing it without taking away from the remarkable story we have witnessed that we to have the innate ability to survive and thrive when it is our turn to face the refining fire of life.  Our fire will be different, the injuries that lead us to that point will never look exactly the same.  I have lived my own life of struggle, Nate has lived his, we all will find ourselves in the middle of a fire we believe at the moment will be our end.  However, when that switch is flipped internally, when you realize that it isn't meant to destroy you, it is meant to refine you, harden you like the finest steel, temper you, shape you into the person you were meant to be.  It is then you can boldly walk through the flames of the refiner’s fire and come out a better and more improved version of yourself.  I didn’t know the Nate that existed before he went through his refinement process, but it has been my pleasure to meet, know, spend time with the new and improved Nate because he is living proof in the concept that in spite of tragedy, in spite of loss, a better person is waiting out there for you to discover if only you have the temerity to walk through your refiner’s fire and emerge on the other side better.  That is the potential of Nate, the beauty of his story and the truth of what each of us possess 

 While we must celebrate the impressive leaps made by Nate and those I met at the ATF we must also use their stories to validate the possible that exists within each one of us. In doing that we honor their loss, we honor their comeback, we show them that they have taught us to triumph over tragedy.  Out loud we celebrate them while we use that opportunity internally to value our own abilities and potential in the face of misfortune. It was once said by someone fancier with words than I am capable of, “The soft bigotry of low expectations,” was a problem that plagued our society, a statement that at the time was meant to focus on the inequality of minorities and of those with little means and even less education.  For those of us who are blind I think the words should read something like this, “The harsh reality of very little to no expectations.”  That is where the blind and many with disabilities dwell, relegated to the shadows.  However, if we employ perspective understanding that no matter what our situation may be, out there among the billions of people walking the earth, told in the life story of the billions who came before us, exist the stories that prove the fact that if we think or believe we got a raw deal, somewhere out there is someone whose deal is far worse than ours.  They looked tragedy, devastation and suffering in the eye and said, “You don't own me, you don't define me or the terms of my life.”  They instead rise, and make what others told them was impossible their opportunity to enter the refiners fire and boldly come through the other side defiantly.  They stand as monuments to the human spirit to not just survive, but thrive.  Nate Harrison survived, and he is thriving and his spirit, character and abilities serve as motivation for me, for those in his ATF Tribe and hopefully to anybody who reads this. Remember, if you are sitting there reading this as a sighted person with those beautiful eyes of yours son your computer or phone or tablet then you are already 1 step ahead of Nate and I because you aren’t blind, that’s perspective.

 I want to extend a special thank you to the Adaptive Training Foundation as well as Shawn Fitzmaurice or “Fitz” for making the introduction to Nate Harrison.  Shawn’s Passion and dedication to the mission of the ATF is what brought this story to light. I also want to thank AIRA because in truth our meeting was made possible because of my work and belief in the difference AIRA can make in the life of someone with visual impairments.  

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

Picture of Nate Harrison with Eric Burton at the Adaptive Training Foundation Facility.

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My AIRA Life, 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 parallel 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.  

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

Below is a picture of a sign that reads, “Dream Big” with a big red arrow point that direction

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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

 

My AIRA Life, 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.    

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

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

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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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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.

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

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.

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

(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!        

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

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

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My AIRA Life, Origins

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.

@aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

Photo below is of a man sitting despondently in a closed gilded cage with his head in his hands.

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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, #Whatsnextext #myAIRAlife #yearofyes

 (Photo below depicts a man flying out of his gilded cage Superman style)

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My AIRA Life Part 2

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

 @aira #aira  #myairalife  #onmyterms #whatsnext  #jabfund

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