On this episode of Davood For Thought, host Davood Ghods interviews New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for Accessibe, Michael Hingson.
Michael, who has been blind since birth, survived the September 11th attacks with the help of his guide dog, Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book Thunder Dog. Michael, a longtime social advocate for change concerning disabilities, shares his wisdom and insight what advocacy, accessibility and inclusion should look like, and the importance of engaging in conversation and education in order to create meaningful change.
The Davood For Thought podcast is brought to you by Launch Consulting. www.LaunchConsulting.com
The Davood for Thought podcast is brought to you by Launch Consulting.
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Davood Ghods: (00:17)
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Launch Consulting Group's Davood For Thought podcast. I'm Davood Ghods, and I will be your host today. The way I stay up with the pressing topics of tech and government of today is to tap into the panel of experts. I've had the honor of connecting with over the years today, we have Michael Hingson on the podcast. Michael is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for Accessabe, a web accessibility solution company. Michael, who has been blind since birth, survived the September 11th attacks with the help of his guide dog, Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book Thunder Dog. Michael has been developing and fostering skills in leadership trust, teamwork, adaptation, and more - all skills which he was able to apply to the corporate world, and as a professional speaker for the past 20 years. Michael enjoys a successful 42-year sales career,
Davood Ghods: (01:29)
First in high-tech, and now in selling attitudes on the adventure of life and living joyfully to audiences around the world. Michael is a longtime social advocate for change concerning disabilities through his involvement with the National Federation of the Blind. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind, and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association's 2012 Hero Dog Awards. Michael, I know there is a lot more about your background, but I want to welcome you to this episode of Davood For Thought and ask you to give us an overview of what else you have done and what are you currently working on. Welcome.
Michael Hingson: (02:15)
Oh gosh. Well thank you, Davood. It's a pleasure to be here and I've been looking forward to this for a while. So you mentioned that I work for Accessibe and I also continue to be a keynote public speaker and enjoy both. And you put it very well. I think life is an adventure and we really need to treat it that way and not let it stress us out and deal with that. So with that comment in mind, one of the things that I did during the time before September of 11th, was to learn about the world trade center as the Mid-Atlantic Region Sales Manager for the Quantum Corporation Company I worked for in New York. I ran the office and needed to be able to behave like anyone who would operate an office in a leadership position. So I spent a lot of time learning everything I could about the world trade center.
Michael Hingson: (03:08)
So for example, if we had guests in from any of the financial firms or law firms or any of the other customers we dealt with and we're talking and suddenly decided we'd go to lunch, I didn't wanna be a person who would just say, "oh, I don't know how to get anywhere, because I can't see, you'll have to lead me." I needed to say, "oh, you want to go to lunch? What kind of food would you like? Let me take you there and lead the way." That also meant I needed to learn the complex and learn emergency evacuation procedures and other things that were important for me to know. And that's the difference between in a sense of blind person who prepares and most sighted people because you guys just look at signs, you don't really pay a lot of attention to knowing. And so you hope the signs are visible and that you could see them.
Michael Hingson: (03:53)
Well, I don't like to take that chance. So I learned what to do and how to behave and all of that developed a mindset. And for me, the mindset, I didn't realize that I was developing took over on September 11th. But during the pandemic, we have been thinking about what to do because speaking has, has dropped way back, of course, because of not being able to travel and all that. And people aren't- weren't hiring as many speakers. So I began looking at options. And one of the things I realized is I've talked a lot about not being afraid on September 11th, but what I haven't done is taught others how to learn, to control, fear, what I call, create a situation in their mind. So they're not blinded by fear. So I, um, met someone actually through my co-author on Thunder Dog, Susie Flory. I met a person she knew named Carrie Wyatt Kent and Carrie
Michael Hingson: (04:50)
And I started looking toward writing another book originally, I thought of calling it Blinded by Fear, but she suggested that I've worked with guide dogs since 1964. So it's now been 58 years that I've been working with eight guide dogs. And so the, the result is that they're always an integral part of what I do. So the working title, I hope it sticks, but we'll see the working title is A Guide Dog's Guide to Being Brave. We have a book contract, we're working on writing it, we're very excited about it. And when, when we get closer to publishing it and so on through the publisher and so on, we'll we'll fill people in, but we're looking forward to it. So that's been keeping me busy and with Accessabe, when I joined the company I was asked to work toward developing a podcast. So last September we started Unstoppable Mindset where inclusion, diversity, and the unexpected meet. So we've done 34 episodes. Now it was Podcast Magazine's Editor's Choice for February of 2022. And we're having a lot of fun with it and enjoying meeting a lot of people like you. As far as I am concerned, if I can't learn more than other people then I'm not doing my job and I really enjoy learning. So the podcast for me has also been a very helpful and interesting way to learn a lot.
Davood Ghods: (06:16)
Thank you for that introduction and background about yourself. I know you are busy with a lot of other things and we do a lot of accessibility work. Also we've helped departments like franchise tax board, housing and community development, EdD and department of social services and others in state of California to become ADA compliant with their website and documents as well as web content compliant with WCAG 2.2, I think it's, where it is today, Michael, in your varied experiences, what emerging trends are you seeing in the it and business fields that we should all be paying more attention to these days?
Michael Hingson: (06:59)
Well, one of the trends that I see emerging, a great deal is that as more material and more things and more websites become available and more products and concepts become electronic, we're being lazy. We are making them all vision-oriented. We even television commercials. I could point to any number of television commercials that come out. There's a lot of music playing or whatever, but there's nothing that verbally says what the commercial is. And I think it's not only a mistake because we're leaving out blind and vision-impaired people. But think about the person who's watching a TV show gets up and goes to get a drink or a snack or goes to the restroom. And all they hear is music. Marketing is leaving out one of the most important methods of communication that we have. And that is verbalization of what is in the commercial.
Michael Hingson: (08:03)
We produce a lot of medical equipment and it's all touchscreen-related, which again, leaves out people who are blind or vision impaired. And there seems to be no general trend to deal with that and to make products more inclusive across the board. The National Federation of the Blind is working with Congress on legislation and that will help. But even the internet and website access has been a challenge when someone tries to work with a website that for whatever reason, for one of many disabilities doesn't include them and they can't use the website. They may actually litigate because a website is not accessible. And what we want to do rather than getting money is to get the website accessible. And oftentimes we'll litigate under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And the other side, the opponents and lawyers say, well, "can't use the Americans with Disabilities Act because it was signed in 1990, went into effect in 1991 and we didn't even have an internet.
Michael Hingson: (09:08)
"So certainly it can't apply." Well, the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't say it has to be a physical location, but the courts have been hit and miss on dealing with that and recognizing it. And so as a result, we sometimes have successes and sometimes don't just recently, the Department of Justice finally has said the ADA does apply to the internet, but even so what we need to do is to get all that codified, which means Congress has to recognize and pass legislation to deal with it. But we're not there yet, but even the federal government, although it has standards and it's mandated that they're supposed to make things accessible, doesn't always do that. We've got a long way to go yet. And what it really means is we have to improve the conversation about internet access and inclusion. And we need to improve the conversation about the fact that so many times people with disabilities and it's not just blind and vision impaired, deaf and hard of hearing people don't always get the closed-captioning that they need. Persons in wheelchairs, quadriplegics, don't always encounter websites where they can use a puff and sip stick, or a drag in naturally speaking to verbally give commands and make the website work because they're the websites are oftentimes written around using a mouse.
Davood Ghods: (10:32)
Davood Ghods: (10:33)
Yes. these are all great points and our own chief experience officer at Launch Consulting is visually impaired. So I'm sure he agrees with you a hundred percent. And these are the trends that both public and private sector have to, as you said it correctly adhere to.
Michael Hingson: (10:51)
Well it is. Um, and we also need to really deal with wording and, and so on, diversity has left out disabilities. We hear in Hollywood about diversity. We're becoming more diverse, well, Dakota won this year, which is great. But in general, do you see blind directors? Do you see blind people involved even playing themselves? Not very often, yes. It's improving a little bit, but it's still not often and not to pick on you, but you just used the term visually impaired. I don't think that because I'm blind visually, I look different and that's what visually involves. Um, although I don't, I don't like to equate eyesight to vision because I think I got lots of vision even though I don't see, but I realize that the two terms are used more in synonymous ways. So vision impaired is a lot more accurate. I don't look different because I'm blind were not really bringing us into the conversation. And it's very rare that we do television shows did not, as far as I saw yesterday, which was the 19th of May acknowledge, recognize and celebrate global accessibility awareness day and, and, and it should, and they should, you don't see that with disabilities even though 25% of all persons in this country have a disability, according to the CDC.
Davood Ghods: (12:11)
Well, it takes these kind of podcasts, your own podcasts and advocates like yourself to make everyone aware. So thank you for that.
Michael Hingson: (12:21)
Yep. Of course. If you listen to me, I submit that all of you who can see have a disability you're light dependent. If you didn't have access to electric lights and so on, you'd be in a world hurt. So the reality is we all have disabilities.
Davood Ghods: (12:35)
Yes. Yeah. My next question Michael is about the pandemic and how we've dealt with it. I think you would agree that adjusting to the pandemic was challenging for all of us. And now everyone is thinking of what the next major disruption like the pandemic is going to be and how can we better be prepared for it? So resiliency is a big topic of conversation these days. What are some examples of resilience you have seen, or read about in the past year? What is the one thing organizations should be doing to improve resilience, in your opinion.
Michael Hingson: (13:13)
Talk more, communicate more, be open to ideas. We have to be more open to being caring for everyone in this country and recognizing that it takes everyone working together to keep freedom in their country. And the reality is there are prices for freedom. We oftentimes in this country get way too complacent about it. We need to be responsible for each other and everyone and recognize that we shouldn't be trying to dictate just because it's our opinion, even though a lot of people may not agree with it and don't shut them out, communicate, find solutions. And we don't do that. And we need to.
Davood Ghods: (13:56)
Yeah, yeah. At Launch Consulting, we always talk about how we are going to get a project done. But we also ask ourselves, "why we are doing what we are doing?" I think it's clear. What is your why, but what motivates you in your work, Michael?
Michael Hingson: (14:13)
I want to teach and educate. I am open to always hearing other ideas, which is one of the reasons that we do Unstoppable Mindset. And I have heard some pretty far out ideas that people have. We have a guest coming up in the near future that has different ideas about what some of the concepts of physics are really all about. And, and I don't know that his views are totally correct or not. Although we had the discussion because my master's degree is in physics, but I'm open always to listen to other people and again, to learn and anytime someone can stir my thought processes, then I'm all for it.
Davood Ghods: (14:59)
Excellent. I'm sure you've had teams in your career or you do even now. What inspires innovation on your team? How do you inspire your team to be more innovative?
Michael Hingson: (15:11)
One of the favorite books that I read and refer to is a book entitled The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, L E N C I O N I. And what Mr. Lencioni says in his book essentially, is that it is absolutely okay and right to have conflict on a team, to discuss different views, to be open to different views, as long as we all recognize that we're doing it because it's for the good of the team. Somewhere along the line, we need to make a decision and then we all live by it. But we have to be open to teamwork. We have to be open to looking at all sides of a team as presented by the various members. One of the things that I told every salesperson I ever hired was I'm not here to boss you around and tell you how to do your job.
Michael Hingson: (16:05)
I'm hiring you because you sold me on the fact that you can do your job. Some people do a good enough job that I'd only later discovered they weren't as good as they thought. But the reality is that I would always say to people, you convinced me that you could do the job. Now my job's not to boss you around, but rather to figure out with you ways that I can add value to what you do, which which means I need to be articulate to know about our products and, and being technical oftentimes much more than my sales team. In fact, I had one guy, the best sales guy I ever hired one day after a sales presentation, say how come you know so much about the product? And I don't, I said, did you read the product bulletin that came out last week? Well, I didn't really have time. And I said, well, there you go. That's part of what you gotta do. The, the, but the fact is, well, he took it to heart by the way, and became more knowledgeable as a result. But my job as the team leader is to add value and to help people better do their jobs and to find ways that I can assist them in what they do not tell them what to do.
Davood Ghods: (17:18)
Appreciate that. What is something that would surprise people about your background or interest? You've been an open book, Michael. So what is one thing that would surprise people?
Michael Hingson: (17:27)
Oh, people still don't believe that I grew up riding a bicycle around my neighborhood. Um, you don't, you don't have to see to ride a bike. You need to be able to hear and be aware of what goes on around you, but you don't have to see to do it. So that's probably one, a lot of people are surprised that I got an advanced college degree in physics of all things, but I did. And people, especially the press, oftentimes even today asks me, well, what were you doing in the world trade center? How come you were there anyway, what would make a blind person be able to be there? Well, why shouldn't I? But the bicycle is probably the thing that still most surprises people. And the reality is I can hear what's going on. And in, in a, in a dark night with clouds, I'll bet I could ride that bike at least as good as you can, if not a whole lot better.
Davood Ghods: (18:18)
And, my last question is where can people find you and keep tabs on what you're working on? I know the answer most of but I like our listeners to know that too.
Michael Hingson: (18:28)
I, I am visible on the web. People can go to my website, www.michaelhingson.com, M I C H A E L H I N G S O N. And especially I hope they go to www.michaelhingson.com/podcast, and learn about Unstoppable Mindset, listen to some episodes and give us a good rating. But, that's one place to find me. We're on LinkedIn, we're on Facebook and Twitter and so on. I haven't done a lot with Instagram because it's more photo and vision oriented. So I haven't done a lot with it and I haven't played with TikTok, but I am on LinkedIn. Information about the podcast is posted every week and we're, we're very visible there. I'd love to hear from people. Of course I still speak virtually and I travel. So if anyone is looking for a speaker to come and talk about trust and teamwork, the human animal bond, or one of my favorite speeches, moving from diversity to inclusion, I talk about ethics.
Michael Hingson: (19:33)
There are a whole lot of different speaking topics and they're all on MichaelHingson.com. They can go to the website and there's contact information there and they can reach out. I'd love to chat with them and do anything I can to help them. If people just want to learn more about blindness, glad to help with that, we do, as you pointed out, promote the use of braille. So I work with a lot of teachers and educators convincing them. Why it isn't good to just have a blind person use a recorded textbook. Braille is my language of reading and writing and, as yours is print. And so if you're not gonna teach me braille, then don't teach sighted kids to read print, let 'em watch cartoons. And the reality is we don't do that. So we shouldn't insist that blind people not learn braille either. People can find me in, in all sorts of different ways, would love to hear from people. And I appreciate you asking that question. So I hope that we'll be able to.
Davood Ghods: (20:30)
You're welcome. I, I recently like last night, listened to your latest podcast with my colleague Lisa Thee-
Michael Hingson: (20:37)
Davood Ghods: (20:38)
Enjoyed that very much.
Michael Hingson: (20:40)
It, it was great. I loved listening to Lisa speak and learning about the things she's done to, to deal with human trafficking and on the other technological things and all the things that she's doing.
Davood Ghods: (20:55)
Michael Hingson: (20:55)
Yeah. Artificial intelligence in so many ways. And you know, that's a, an interesting thing in the internet world and website accessibility, there are a number of people who say, well, artificial intelligence can't make the internet website more usable, total lack of vision on their part to say that it may not be perfect, but artificial intelligence like with the internet does make a lot of things more usable. We use it all the time. My first exposure to it was working with Ray Kurzweil back in the 1970s, as he was developing the Kurzweil reading machine for the blind and then other more commercially available optical character recognition products and his technology learned the more it read, which I thought was absolutely cool. So people who say artificial intelligence can't assist and can't enhance are demonstrating a total lack of confidence and understanding of machine learning and artificial intelligence and a total lack of vision to not see that no matter what they're doing in website access, artificial intelligence can enhance what they do. So we have it all over the place.
Davood Ghods: (22:09)
Yeah. There are examples by today's technology and standards that show that it can thank you so much for joining us today. Michael, thank you to all the listeners out there for joining us as well. We will see you in the next episode of Davood For Thought, where we will shed more light on the human side of tech.
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