Want to share an exciting opportunity and honor I recently had. I want to see if this story and message will prompt thoughts about how we might all make differences to help each other. May bring up feelings about the value of having meaningful work. How getting recognized for individual achievement usually takes assistance from others, and the humble and caring acceptance of such help.
I was given the honor of being awarded the Careers & the DisAbled Magazine's 2007 Employee of the Year. I accepted award at the 15th annual awards ceremony in Boston, Massachusetts. Received award and recognition for my professional and advocacy efforts on behalf of people with disabilities in the workplace, community and the world.
This was a very important honor to me, my employer and all who support me. When I stood up in front of audience to accept award I felt the presence of all who support me. Being honored in such a way not only reflects the individual achievement; but all who helped me achieve this honor. I knew I had to give this opportunity my best effort to represent all of these people who were not with me in the physical sense at award ceremony.
I am completely blind since 1999, Became blind instantly after work one day from a very critical illness. I am also diabetic, walk with two canes, one long white cane and one support cane. I have neuropathy in both legs. Planning to accept award took a lot of ingenuity and hard work.
Taking Care of Family and Pets Prior to Trip
My father-in-law had been in and out of hospital for the previous three months with serious heart problems. Just prior to trip my wife’s father was in hospital and he was not going to get better unless he had a valve replaced and a bypass surgery on his heart. We were not sure if he would have surgery prior to our departure or worse yet, while we were away. After days and weeks of stressful anticipation my father-in-law successfully had surgery 1 week prior to our departure.
One of our cats, Tammy, was diagnosed with a thyroid problem a few weeks prior to trip. We had to give Tammy medication by mouth twice a day. We planned on having someone give her the medication in our absence. Just prior to our departure Tammy had reactions to the medication and doctor told us to stop medication until we returned and we could adjust the dosage of medication.
We found a person to water our yard and plants and take care of our five cats while we were away.
Now that all things were safe at home I could have peace of mind things would be taken care of at home so I could put my complete heart and energy into trip and event.
Preparing for Flight
I had not flown in a commercial airplane since going completely blind. Traveling from California, where I live to Boston, MA. was a new challenge for me. I had a plan if I needed to travel by myself if my wife needed to stay home with her dad. I had another plan if my wife Kathy was able to go with me. I wanted to cover all options to help insure a successful trip. I checked with airline and Transportation Security Administration multiple times prior to trip to make sure all things were in place I had requested when purchasing tickets. I brought multiple assistive devices, insulin, and syringes and wanted to be sure I could bring through security. I ordered a special diet because I am diabetic. I found out ordering special food only works in the particular airline I flew in if you are in first class. Coach passengers get no special food and no food unless you pay for it. I brought snacks in my carry on bag. I requested a wheel chair to assist me going to and coming from gates. I need two canes to walk and would have no extra hands to carry any luggage.
Preparation for Acceptance Speech
In preparation for speech I thought about my many options I had.
I could talk about all of my accomplishments, work I do and all the benefits. I thought a more appropriate speech would be to talk about my life experiences, a few key learning points, what this award means to me, the people and organizations who support me and the company I work for. I wanted my audience to get something out of my speech, so I chose this approach. I also had to think about presentation style. Did I want to read braille notes on paper or from my braille note taker. I could listen to speech output from my braille note taker. I could memorize my speech and be holding nothing in my hands and deliver speech from my heart as natural as possible. Since I wanted my speech to be personal I chose to memorize.
Time for Award Ceremony
I am diabetic and made sure I had a good breakfast and lunch. I knew evening would be long and maybe even stressful and wanted my blood sugar levels to be as good as possible. I studied my speech a few more times. I had gone over speech the past few days and on the airplane. I was getting close to memorization; but kept missing some key words. I recorded those key words I seemed to forget on my digital voice recorder so I could focus on those areas. I had my complete speech on my braille note taker for complete reviewing and practicing.
As evening hours started I met three people I worked with, but had never met in person. It was like we had met many times in past. Everyone was so friendly. We all had a great dinner as we listened to inspiring keynote speeches and listened to others receiving awards. After dinner they offered a very delicious smelling dessert. I tasted one very small bight. I was so tempted to eat my dessert. I knew if I did eat this dessert I would forget my speech. Being diabetic, the sugars would have raised my blood glucose level and clouded my mind. As it got closer for my time to accept my award and give my acceptance speech I could feel the anxiety grow in me
Time for My Acceptance Speech
The person who works in the company I work for and nominated me for award, sight guided me up to the front of room. As she moved to podium I stood facing the audience next to her. She gave a great introduction speech telling the audience all I do for the company I work for and the community I live in. She also talked about why I deserved award. As I faced into the darkness looking into the audience I felt very nervous. I could feel myself starting to shake a little. I managed to get under control. I thought to myself, I had better get control and calm down before I gave my speech or it would not go well. I did get back in control as she finished her speech and introduction. She guided me to the podium and microphone. I took a few deep breathes and began speaking after adjusting the microphone the best I could.
I tried to keep my eyes looking at audience during my speech. I could feel the words flowing out of me. I paid attention to my pronunciation and volume. I thought about my pacing of speech so I would not talk too fast and remember to pause at my breaking points. My speech seemed to be flowing well. My mind was racing and it seemed like I could hear the words coming out, as I looked ahead in my mind to what parts were coming up next. I could not hear the crowd to get any feedback; I assumed things were going well and all could hear and understand me. I knew I was getting near the end of my speech, and things were still going smoothly. I got to my closing statement. After I delivered it, I could hear the audience applause loudly. Now I could hear the crowd. As I listened to the applause I felt a hand reach out to mine in the darkness. Soon I was sight guided back to my table. I sat down with a great big smile stretching from ear to ear on my face. I did it, delivered my message and I was very proud my hard work paid off.
After Event - Fun Continued
I was totally energized and wanted to meet all who was in audience. I took out my long cane and walked to where I heard voices. As soon as I was close I started to greet the crowd; so they would see me coming and I would not run into them with my canes. I shook their hands and handed out my braille business cards. Everyone I met told me how much I inspired them from my speech. Everyone was very touched. Actually that is an understatement. People held my hands as they told me how much they loved my story and message. I continued my cheerful networking and enjoyed the wonderful evening wishing it would never end. I stayed to the very end loving every moment and sharing myself with the others.
Sometimes, it is easy to take work for granted. Becoming blind helped me to really appreciate what it means to have a job. After long dark nights during my stay in the hospital, I would welcome the roaring sounds of the garbage trucks arriving to pick up the trash. I thought about each of the workers and how much he or she was contributing to society. I wanted so much to contribute again.
I also could hear the passenger jets start their engines with a low rumble at the San Jose International Airport. I pictured the flight crew and the pilot in their uniforms walking to their airplane across the runway, carrying brief cases with flight plans and maps getting ready for their day. I thought about how fortunate they were to have this opportunity and wondered if they realized it as they moved through their daily routine.
At first, I found it hard to imagine what a blind person would do. As I laid in my bed each morning, these productive people outside started me wishing with all of my heart that I would again be able to help others in some meaningful way. I remembered thinking if only some person would let me, I would crawl around on the ground on my hands and knees to pick up trash, using my hand to find the papers I couldn’t see. I promised myself that if I could be useful in this world, I would be so very happy. Those early dreams helped me build bigger dreams. Soon I had a single-minded vision. A mission of reinventing everything about myself, so I could return to work.
I then thanked my supportive employer, the employees from my organization who were in audience and all the organizations that helped me to reinvent myself and start the networking opportunities so I could be a productive blind person. Then I paid ay special tribute to my loving wife Kathy. Her determination, tireless support, belief in me gave me courage I never imagined was inside me. I am here with you because she refused to let anyone pull the plug when I was on life support while in hospital!
In conclusion to my speech, I left audience with three lessons learned that I hoped would inspire new possibilities in their work and life.
First, never ever give up! You can overcome more than you, or others think you can.
Second, go after that goal you’ve want to achieve. Even if everyone tells you it’s impossible, put your heart into it. All the doctors and physical therapists told me I had no hope of ever walking again. My wife was with me as I looked into their eyes with a smirk and told them, I’ll be out of my wheelchair and walking by Christmas! That year, my Christmas present to myself was leaving my wheelchair and leg braces behind forever.
Finally, go out and discover new meaning in your work and your life. It's there waiting for you. Your company and everyone around you will benefit. With hard work and determination, you can make a difference!
Hope you liked that glimpse into my acceptance speech.
Do you have any tips to help others make a difference? Have you found meaning in your work? If you are not working; have you found meaning in your life you want to share with us? Does this experience bring any thoughts to your mind?
We would all love to hear your thoughts. Look forward to hearing from you.
Global Dialogue Center