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
Picture description: Me navigating the Airport using AIRA