Information technology pro, guide dog teach the workplace, world about trust and teamwork

Blind 9/11 survivor Michael Hingson carries his message of triumph worldwide. The Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium and Southern Nazarene University’s Peer Learning Network plan April 3 workshops.
by Paula Burkes Published: February 7, 2014

Veteran information technology salesman Michael Hingson once had a job interview scheduled with a technology company that was abruptly canceled.

The headhunter who arranged the interview phoned Hingson a few days beforehand and asked: “I see you’ve worked with blindness-oriented organizations. Is someone in your family blind?”

I’m blind,” Hingson said. His meeting was called off early the next morning.

Hingson, who holds a master’s degree in physics, was far from surprised. According to the Social Security Administration, 70 percent of employable blind workers are unemployed and that’s primarily because employers reject their capabilities, said Hingson, who uses a talking smartphone, talking email and other tools.

More people are listening to Hingson’s message now that he has a platform on which to deliver it.

A former regional sales manager for the Fortune 500 company Quantam storage solutions, Hingson — with the help of his late guide dog Roselle — successfully escaped the 78th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and wrote about it in the 2011 New York Times bestseller “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust.”

“The real story isn’t how I got out of the World Trade Center, it’s how I got there in the first place,” Hingson, 63, told a table of Oklahoma City professionals who gathered for lunch Thursday at the Skirvin Hilton hotel after his speech at the Petroleum Club was canceled due to weather.

“I’ve had a lifetime to develop the skills needed to navigate through a world not set up for me,” Hingson said. “Blindness isn’t a handicap; the real handicap comes from the prejudices people have about blindness.”

His 9/11 escape

At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, Hingson heard a tremendous boom, the building shuddered violently, groaned and slowly tipped some 20 feet. Hingson, who suspected a gas explosion, and a colleague exchanged tearful goodbyes before the tower miraculously stopped tilting. Guests, who were there for Quantam seminars, started screaming and running toward the exits. Hingson clutched Roselle’s harness and, with his left foot by her right paw, gave the command “Forward.”

“A lot people romanticize, and usually overplay, the role of a guide dog,” Hingson said. “Their role is to take me in a straight line, and to walk safely. But the dog doesn’t know where to go. I’m the navigator; she’s the pilot.”

On 9/11, Hingson constantly encouraged Roselle, who was afraid of thunder and heard a lot of thundering sounds that day. “There was no time to be scared,” he said. “The key was not let her think I was afraid, and have confidence in me to direct.”

Together, the pair descended 1,463 steps. Each floor had 19 stairs: ten stairs, a 180-degree turn and nine more stairs. Again and again. It took them roughly an hour after the explosion to get out.

On the way down, Hingston’s life did indeed flash before him. “I constantly was looking for memories to help me survive,” he wrote in his book.

by Paula Burkes
A 1981 journalism graduate of Oklahoma State University, Paula Burkes has more than 30 years experience writing and editing award-winning material for newspapers and healthcare, educational and telecommunications institutions in Tulsa, Oklahoma...
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If you go

Southern Nazarene University’s Peer Learning Network and The Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium are offering two backup opportunities to hear Hingson at 7 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., April 3 at the Petroleum Club. To register, or for more information, visit or call 889-0498.

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