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.)