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I don’t usually talk to people very much on airplanes. I really enjoy meeting new people in general, but when I fly I just prefer to quietly enjoy the rare downtime, rather than chat things up with a stranger. I’m so glad I chose to break this rule on a flight in August.
I fly Southwest whenever possible, which means I board according to how quickly I was able to snag my boarding pass online twenty-four hours before flight time. For this particular flight I wound up with a high number in the “C” boarding group, which meant not only would the likelihood of my getting a coveted aisle seat be slim to none, but I would probably end up in the back of the plane, sandwiched between two sumo wrestlers.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I boarded the full flight and discovered an open seat in the very first row – bulkhead! Sure I’d be sandwiched between two guys, but all the extra legroom would more than make up for that. So I settled in and immediately started using my iPad, to signal to my co-passengers that I was in “no-chit-chat” mode. Ahhh… quiet time.
That didn’t last long. As we were pulling away from the gate, one of the flight attendants handed something to the gentleman seated to my left – a brochure, it seemed – and said, “Can you read?” Hmmm… I thought… that’s kinda weird. Can you read? OH! I see now… it’s a braille brochure… the guy is blind. I don’t really know why, but I said, “Oh, I didn’t realize you can’t see.”
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Such began a 3-hour conversation, and a friendship that we both think will last a lifetime.
It turns out that this gentleman, Micah Ranquist, is an extremely interesting person. He was born with a genetic condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which causes pigmentation to form on one’s retina and is usually progressive and thereby degenerative. He was able to see normally with corrective lenses until the age of eight. Over the next twenty-nine years, his vision steadily deteriorated. Today, he is almost completely blind – and will be, someday.
During our flight, I learned a lot about Micah and how he operates. I discovered that throughout his life, he has chosen to operate as normally as possible in a world that is full of people who can see normally. He graduated Valedictorian of his high school class, is accomplished at playing several musical instruments, went to school for culinary arts, and has college degrees in computer sciences. He’s smart and witty and self-deprecating. He knows how to laugh at himself.
And as if all of that weren’t enough, here’s the thing that really blew my mind:
The man is also a wood turner. This means he uses a lathe – a machine tool that rotates at a ridiculously high rate of speed and can be extremely dangerous to use, even for those who are fully-sighted – to transform wood and other materials into artistic and functional pieces, which he sells. He has a full woodworking shop in Vermont, where he builds furniture and other things, as well as a small satellite workspace in Florida, that he uses when visiting family.
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Since our first meeting, Micah has been to Marketing In Color to meet the team, and we’ve seen examples of his work. He’s consulting with us on how to make the websites we develop more friendly to vision-impaired users. We’re creating a website to showcase and market his work. And I’m very grateful that I broke my no-chat flying rule and got to meet this inspiring individual.