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Blind people can do anything, 9/11 survivor tells the Class of 2016

Blind people can do anything sighted people can do. That’s what noted author Michael Hingson of “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man; His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero,” stressed to students during his visit recent visit to Manassas Park High School students.

A resident of the San Francisco Bay area, he was invited to come to the school by Principal Debbie Bergeron, a resident of Bristow.

“I read his book and it was really good and inspirational. I knew it would be a good message and be a great part of our graduation week,” she said, noting that the school was celebrating its 40th graduating class with 187 graduates.

Hingson, who has been blind since birth, went on to a successful career after earning his master’s degree.

“Doctors told my parents they should put me in an eye seeing school since I was blind, but they would have no part of that and I grew up doing anything I wanted to do,” he said.

On Sept. 11, 2001 he was working in the World Trade Center in New York with his guide dog when the first plane hit the two towers. He described the way he escaped the collapsing building by being prepared ahead of time.

“There was some panic as we were working our day down from the 78th floor and more than 1,400 steps and one man kept crying out ‘We are going to die’ but cool heads provided and we made it out, helping each other along the way,” said Hingson.

“As a society, we believe if you’re blind you need help, you can’t do it by yourself,” he told the students. “And I’m here to tell you that’s not true. And it’s high time we as a society changed our attitude about people who are different than we are.”

“I take showers. I eat. I cook. I go to restaurants. I take walks. I travel all over the world just as you will do,” he said while showing a film of a blind person driving a car.

He said his wife of 33 years, Karen, is confined to a wheelchair and “the two of us help each other out ... just as any other couple would do.”

He told the students he likes sports, mainly baseball, going to movies and watching television and that red is his favorite color.

“The point isn’t that I am blind,” he said. “The point is that I figured out a way to make it work. Just like each of you, every day, figure out how to do things.”

He told the students that his guide dog, Roselle, that day of the terror attack, has died and been replaced by lab “Africa” who the Manassas Park High School students in Victoria Osinki’s biology class were allowed to pet.

He demonstrated a device that reads to him from a printed book and determines the amount of a money bill “should I ever need it.”

Hingson, who makes up to 100 motivational speeches a year and volunteered to come to the school, said he particularly likes to talk to students such as those at Manassas Park.

“They have a lot of curiosity and want to learn. I stress to them that in life you can choose and work to become whatever you want to be.
In addition to going into classrooms, he spoke at the school’s honor ceremony and conducted a book signing sponsored by the school at Barnes and Noble.

“It was an exciting three-day event for all of us,” Bergeron said.

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