Eric Miller Talks About Auditory Learning and Eariously in the Visual Impairment Community
Eric Miller is the Founder and Chairman of the Rush-Miller Foundation. His foundation donates tandem bicycles to blind and low-vision kids all over the U.S. and abroad, and was inspired to start the foundation after his son Garrett was found to have a malignant brain tumor when he was five-years-old. He's become an advocate for the visual impairment community, and is excited about how Eariously can open a world of information to the visual impairment community. You can also listen our conversation with Eric on SoundCloud.
Who is Eric Miller? Tell us about yourself.
My name is Eric Miller. I’m 52. I'm an old guy. My background is mostly emergency medicine and pre-hospital medicine. I've been a paramedic for 30 years and nurse for 15 years. I currently work as a life nurse on helicopters and airplanes. I do that with the military in the Cheyenne Air National Guard.
But, my big passion is my foundation, the Rush-Miller Foundation. We donate tandem bicycles to blind and low-vision kids all over the U.S. and abroad.
I think that we're in 43 states and eight countries. And when you factor in all the schools that we’ve given bikes to, and the hundreds of kids that are in some of these schools, we have probably helped probably conservatively about 2,300 blind and visually-impaired kids ride a bike. And most of them are riding a bike for the first time.
I have four kids. My second son Garrett had brain cancer in 2000, and he lost most of his vision. So, he’s severely visually impaired, but thankfully still alive.
What inspired you to start the Rush-Miller Foundation?
My son Garrett was five years-old and was found to have a malignant brain tumor called a Medulloblastoma. From the pressure put on the optic nerves and the swelling in his brain, he lost most of his vision. And then he had six weeks of radiation therapy and 64 weeks of chemotherapy. A couple years of speech physical and occupational therapy and so he went through the ringer.
But during all of that we discovered a man named Matt King, who lived here in Colorado Springs at the time and he was the Paralympic tandem cyclist. I didn't know anything about the Paralympics at the time. I didn't know anything about tandem cycling and racing. I remember the first time Garrett saw that bike. He couldn't get the concept. He said, “How does the guy ride the bike and use the cane at the same time?” So when he felt that bike the handlebars beginning went down the top tube to the first seat. But then the second set of handlebars in the second seat. Man, it was like this light bulb went off.
What Part of the Rush-Miller Foundation Are You Most Proud Of?
Seeing the kids now. With Facebook and things, I'm able to keep in contact with some and all the sudden we see these bikes that we gave away 12, 13, 14 years ago still being used in a triathlon or I'm seeing the kids now that they're older and they're doing some really incredible things and really interesting things. One has 600 some thousand hits, he’s totally blind, on on YouTube because he beat Zelda-something, I don't you know the video game. But, he's totally blind using the sounds from the video game, and he beat this really popular video game. And he's an engineer now for Lockheed and then another guy went to the Paralympics and and he is now in law school. And then we've got others working for Adaptive Sports, and then some are going to school and then Garrett is helping take care of my sick father. So we've got kids that are running the gamut. But the neat thing is seeing the kids now and still hearing stories about how they're still using the bike.
What do folks most often not understand about learning in the visual impairment community?
Initially, I didn't realize how many stereotypes, and I wouldn’t say prejudices that I have, but definitely some preconceived notions of what somebody that's visually impaired or totally blind is capable of. There were a lot of things that I had to face internally and still struggle with. As far as adapting for education, I'll tell you there they live in an auditory world.
I had a father who is a national speaker and his son is totally blind. He said something I thought that was very profound. He said, “It was when I realized that my son's vision wasn’t worse. It was just different.” It changed a lot for him, and I thought that's really an interesting way to look at it because I think all of us that have all of our faculties we think, “Oh my god, if I was blind or if I was paralyzed or if I was deaf, there's always this I wouldn't want to you know go on or I wouldn't want to do this or I couldn't imagine life like that.” And I think that's a little melodramatic now that I've had a son that's visually impaired. And I have a girlfriend whose son has autism and the fact of the matter is they aren't. And anybody with a disability or an impairment of any sort. My father who's in stage Alzheimer's. His life isn't worse. Their lives are not worse or diminished. They’re just different. They’re just different.
And so their perceptions by the world are different. Their experience of the world is different, but that doesn't diminish their experience. It's just different.
When it comes to creating products for the visually-impaired community, how do you think software companies are doing?
Right now, I think they're doing great. The biggest thing that I think needs to happen is that we raise our expectations. Apple, as much as they make me angry sometimes, is really doing a lot. They have technology that that’s at least on par with the big two - JAWS or Window Eyes. As far as screen reading, there’s Twitter. If you post a picture, you can actually provide a description so the visually impaired can read what’s in the picture. There’s a lot of stuff going on.
And so I think that companies really are doing a lot. I think society needs to change. A couple things need to change. Number one, I think that blind and visually-Impaired organizations need to push independence more, not just from a societal standpoint of saying that we need to make these adaptations, but pushing the visually-impaired to say, “Look, you got this technology.” We need more vocational education that can provide skills to the visually impaired. One, with the technology. Then we need employers that are willing to say I absolutely will hire you. There's no reason to live a diminished life because of a visual impairment, or frankly almost any impairment now. We're getting to the point where adaptations can be made. We just now need the employers that are courageous enough to hire the visually-impaired because there's a lot of skilled workers out there.
That would be something that I'd like to see the visual impairment community as a whole be advocated for and then providing the education and vocational education to provide the skills to make the visually-impaired more employable or help take down some of the the barriers for employers that make them nervous about hiring somebody that's visually-impaired. I have stereotypes and I'm a parent of somebody who is visually-impaired, so I can imagine employers being worried about, “Oh, they can't do that” because they can't imagine themselves doing it. When, in fact, there's some adaptive technology that can probably provide the opportunity for more people to be working.
How do you think that Eariously will help the visual impairment community?
Man, it sounds so simple.
To the extent that you can put in a URL, and it will simply read it to you, that is simple. Keeping the barrier to use as simple as possible is key. And so I think that has the potential because everything’s gone to the Web or the Internet. I mean literally you can get a Harvard education on the Internet.
And so, I think Eariously helps by lowering that barrier and the cost. I mean the other software programs, God bless them, are expensive and so a lot of people can't afford them. And yeah there's different programs to go and buy things like that.
So I think that it's a huge service to the visual impairment community. And again but not just the typical BVI community, but also the aging demographics
Man, if it's as easy as putting in a URL, how easy is that? How easy is that. To the extent that you can open up a world of information to somebody with just a URL? That’s powerful. Powerful.