Blind 9/11 survivor sharing his 'vision' with world

January 5, 2012 7:06:40 PM PST
Michael Hingson of Novato is a hero with a best-selling book. He is also blind. He and his guide dog survived the World Trade Center attack on 9/11, but that's just the start of their story.

In this Assignment 7 report, a blind man teaches us what vision really means.

Hingson and his guide dog have no problem with escalators. He has been blind since birth, but he can get along fine pretty much anywhere. Recently, he spoke to the California State Association of Counties. He told the government leaders how he finally convinced a computer company to hire him as a salesman.

"As a blind person, I have had to sell all my life just to be able to function. I've had to sell to be able to ride a school bus. I've had to sell to be allowed to go on an airplane with my guide dog," he said.

Hingson eventually became regional sales manager for that company.

"I ran the office. I had staff. I had their people call my people and we did lunch every so often," he explained.

Ten years ago, he was working on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center when terrorists flew one of those planes into the building. His co-worker could see fire out the window.

"We said goodbye to each other because we thought we were going to take a 78-floor plunge to the street," he recalled.

His guide dog "Roselle" was there too. Around the office, people began to panic.

"But, I knew something that no one else was observing, which is that my dog wasn't acting afraid or indicating that she was nervous in any way," he said.

That was enough to help Hingson calm other workers. In the last 10 years, he has told the story of their harrowing trip down the stairs hundreds of times. One of the worst moments was when they finally got outside.

"We heard this rumble that quickly became a deafening roar," he said.

Tower 2 collapsed. The dust cloud engulfed them. Now, no one could see and they could hardly breathe. They moved forward trying to find a way into a building that was just to their right.

"I kept telling Roselle, 'Right, right,' and gave her a hand signal and kept saying, 'Right right,' and I was listening for the opening, if there was an opening to go into," he said. "Suddenly, I heard it. Obviously, Roselle saw it. She turned, took one step to the right, and stopped."

It turned out they were at the top of a stairway into a subway station. Roselle's abrupt stop saved them from falling. Then, she helped guide them down to safety.

"It's team work in every sense of the word," he says.

Hingson lives in Novato now, but travels the world giving talks about the importance of teamwork. Sadly, Roselle died earlier this year at the age of 13. Now, a new dog is helping Hingson as he advocates for the blind.

"We live in a country where the unemployment rate among employable blind people is 70 percent," he says.

Hingson has a master's in physics. He has a written a best-selling book. He and Roselle were celebrated as heroes. Still, he says he is not that unusual. With a little help from a good dog and good technology like the "Notetaker " device he uses, most blind people can accomplish a lot if you just give them a chance.

"Blindness isn't the handicap," he says. "The handicap consists of the poor attitudes and misconceptions that people have about blindness."

Hingson started a foundation in Roselle's name to raise money for technology for the blind. Click here for information on where to find his book.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney