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.
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