9-11 survivor describes challenges

Published 11:16 pm Monday, September 12, 2011

Daily Star photo/JESSICA SIEFF Barbara Craig, executive dean of Lake Michigan College’s Bertrand Crossings Campus, introduced author Michael Hingson who spoke to a packed room about his experiences during the 9-11 terrorist attacks and dealing with challenges of being visually impaired.

It was a packed room at Lake Michigan College’s Bertrand Crossings Campus Monday night as author and 9-11 survivor Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Africa, took to the podium.
Hingson went on a tour at each LMC campus location to talk about his book, “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero.”
Hingson was working on the 78th floor of Tower One at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 when the first plane struck. He and his then guide dog, Roselle, would then embark on a journey down 1,463 steps, exiting the building just moments before it fell.
At his speech Monday night, however, Hingson talked less about terrorists and more about overcoming challenges and disabilities, which he said was the true message of his book.
“‘Thunder Dog’ is not a 9-11 book and this is not a 9-11 speech … It is a story that talks about dealing with challenges” and overcoming them, he said.
Hingson was born two months premature and became blind as a result of too much pure oxygen inside an incubator for a couple weeks.
It was the early 1950s, he said, and his parents were told he would be best placed in an institution, that he would take up too much love and time.
“My parents were told to ditch me,” he said. “They rejected that concept.”
Instead, Hingson grew up learning how to live with his disability and how to live with those who didn’t understand it.
“I learned early on that blindness was not the handicap that I faced,” he said, often referring to those who are not blind as “light dependent.”
“Sight is not the only game in town,” he said.
Hingson had to learn to develop his other senses, and at age 14 he got his first guide dog.
Throughout his young life, Hingson said he experienced prejudice, fighting for the right to ride the school bus like other children, and he recalls his parents receiving a concerned phone call from a neighbor when he was seen riding a bike around the neighborhood.
When Hingson’s father asked if his son had hit anything or run into anything, the neighbor said no. When he then asked what the problem was, the neighbor hung up.
As Hingson spoke, the large crowd listened intently.
Barnes and Noble brought 350 books for attendants to purchase during the speaking engagement. By the time Hingson’s speech began, an estimated 150 had been sold. A signing was planned following the speech.