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Sideswiped: Personal Stories Driving Global Accessibility Awareness Day

By: John Samuel – Head of Tech Services, LCI

John and Nicole Samuel accompanied by their two sons standing together in a kitchen. 

“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”– Robert McKee

In 2000, I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), and was told that I was going blind. This was devastating news, and questions about my future swirled around my head – “What kind of career will I be able to have, where can I live if I can’t drive, what kind of girl would want to be with a guy who can’t see?” These were just a few questions that I allowed to overwhelm me on a daily basis.

Fast-forward 19 years, I now have a great job as Head of LCI Tech Services, instant access to transportation (thanks to UBER!), and a wonderful wife and two energetic boys. These are things I never thought possible when I was told, as a freshman in college, that I was going blind. Much of what has enabled me to get where I am today is because of digital accessibility, and with Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) on May 16, I want to take this opportunity to share my story.

Although I had been losing my vision for almost two decades, “accessibility” was not part of my regular vocabulary until March 2017, when I read about a software program that was developed at SAS that enabled people who were blind or low vision to visualize graphs and charts by using sound. What really grabbed my attention was the fact that the person who created this software was leading accessibility at SAS. His name was Ed Summers, and he had RP – the same condition as me – and was living in Cary, North Carolina – my home town – and somewhere I never thought a person who was blind could have a decent quality of life.

At this point, I had never met a business leader who was blind and visually impaired, but I was excited and determined to meet Ed. Unfortunately, after two months of trying to connect with him, I was unsuccessful. However, my wife suggested we consider relocating to Cary, because if he was able to live there, maybe we could, too.

After searching for two months, we finally found a house that we liked and told my folks. They got so excited, because they never thought I was coming home. My dad immediately jumped in the car and started driving to check out the house. After a few minutes, my dad started yelling something outside of the car. I asked him what he was doing (he had called me on his Bluetooth headset), and he said there was a man who was blind walking down the street, and maybe it could be the person that I was trying to get in touch with.

As you can imagine, I was horrified – “Dad, don’t yell at blind people on the road – don’t yell at anyone on the road!” He then pulled over, parked the car safely, and then proceeded to approach the man.

He asked, “Are you Ed Summers?” and to our surprise, it was! This serendipitous encounter started a sequence of life changing events, including building a great friendship with Ed Summers who personally made me aware of the importance of accessibility in my life and work.

 

John posing with Ed Summers and Jesse Sookne at CSUN 2019.

Since that day, I have committed myself to being an Accessibility Evangelist, by building the Technology Services business at LCI, becoming an assistive technology user, and supporting organizations to achieve their Diversity & Inclusion goals.

Through my journey, I have learned that storytelling is one of the most important tools in raising awareness for accessibility. Therefore, this year, I urge you to share your story about how accessibility has affected you and help raise awareness of the critical roll this often overlooked element of our lives plays.

Don’t miss out! Each day next week a member of the Technology Services team is going to share their own story and help us celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day!

2 Comments

  • Johnny
    I am a very close friend of your family . My family has been with your fathers family( for several generations) in all tribulations in life . Getting ill or having a significant medical condition is not bad problem . Sharing our own significant problems and finding possible solutions are stepping stones to success .
    I did not know all aspects of your story . Wish you all the success in spreading your valuable gospel
    P K George

  • Johnny Blackfield

    Hey Johnny, thank you for sharing your story. You have always been a beacon of joy and courage in our family. I’ve marvelled at how you have continued to laugh and instill joy in everyone around you throughout your journey with RP over the last 19 years. I’m proud to be your cousin and looking forward to hearing more stories of your success.

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