This was Michael Hingson’s message to alumni and friends of the 10th reunion of the Fred Saigh Leadership Program of Special Education Foundation.
Michael went on to say, “Blindness is not what defines me.” What defines a person is how they choose to use the gifts he or she has. Michael’s disability, in fact, was exactly what allowed him to remain composed, plan and execute an escape from Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The fact that he is blind motivated him to learn the layout of the building long before the crisis. Because he couldn’t read signs at a glance, he had to find his way around the 78th floor where he worked and the infrastructure of the building, such as stairways.
Remember, when the first plane hit his building, no one knew what caused the noise and the enormous initial displacement of the building. He asked his co-worker to tell him what he saw, and knowing that there was smoke and debris gave him additional information. Michael’s guide dog at that time, Roselle, was calm, so that told Michael that they had time to make an orderly exit from the building.
I won’t tell the entire story of his heroic efforts as part of a team helping evacuate people from the building shortly before it collapsed. Visit michaelhingson.com, have him speak at an event or buy his books. It’s a fascinating and inspiring story. But I will share a few more lessons learned:
- The successful way to react in a crisis is with confidence, strategy and calmness.
- If we are comfortable with what we consider normal, we can’t take advantage of other opportunities.
- Change is all around us. We must learn to embrace and use change.
- When confronted with change, we can choose to move ahead or react with fear.
Are you putting your abilities and disabilities to their best use? We can all learn a lot from Michael Hingson, a true American hero.