Here’s Part I of the Mike May Interview. And, as usual, I’m going to keep you on the line until Tuesday. I know it is a holiday weekend, but I’m going to be hard at work digging up more videos, insight, and, of course, posting the rest of the interview. So sit back, stay cool, and keep checking back.
Evanston Public Library: You’ve said this in a lot of interviews and it is underlined in the book that you didn’t feel like anything was missing from your life. It took you such a long time to even think about the surgery to get your vision restored, so people always ask you, “What is it like to see now?,” but I’m very curious about something else. Is there anything you miss about not seeing?
Mike May: Um…no. No. Not really, because I fortunately have the best of both worlds. I don’t really feel like anything went away now that I can see. And it took me a little while to sort this out and figure out when do I rely on my blindness skills and when do I rely on my low vision stuff and how do they work together. When do you shut one down and ramp the other one up? And once I sorted that out I realized that I really had the best of both worlds so if the vision is overwhelming or not helpful then I have my other skills which are still intact and by using them I use my blindness skills they stay honed so things like echo location and being able to walk around at the house, in the night in the dark, things like that haven’t changed, I still do it the same way I always did and I don’t even think twice about it.
For a different interview in for the Ouch! blog you said that you most want to be remembered as creating the location information revolution. What implications does that have for the world at large versus just the visually impaired community?
Well I’m a strong believer that the better you get around, the better you participate in all aspects of life. And this applies to sighted people as well as blind people. What’s different for blind people is they have fewer alternatives when it comes to accessing location information such as street signs, businesses as you walk by them. If you don’t have technology your only way to know what these things are is by maybe by the smell (if some door happens to be open), you get such a small percentage of access compared to what a sighted person gets that the location information really becomes invaluable. But even with sighted people, I know folks who don’t travel very well or they are uptight bout not knowing where things are, they don’t want to get lost, that they too can benefit from having GPS and knowing how to use it and becoming more participatory in life.
Speaking of travel, you said that is one of your favorite things to do, so I have to ask…What is your favorite place to travel and did it used to be easier in countries like Spain where there is a large blind population and they have made modifications to their crosswalks and whatnot to help them along or do you prefer to actually get lost and navigate on your own with no help?
Well I’m certainly happy when there are accommodations that are present. I think that the real proliferation of accessible signal lights and such is best in Australia.
I think so. Spain is pretty good in the cities, but not so good in the rural areas obviously. And I think, it’s not that they have more blind people, it’s just that they have an organization with a fair amount of money, ONCE, that helps fund some of these things. That’s really the issue. All the equipment costs a lot of money and a number of European countries they fund more of this as opposed to the US and Canada. Scandinavia is amazing when it comes to funding these things.
But, as far as my favorite place, I readily say, “The people make the places.” So I could go to Topeka, Kansas or Fresno, California or any place that wouldn’t sound that sexy but if there was really cool people I met along the way or had dinner with somebody who was really neat then I’d think very highly of that particular place. I wrote a piece called “The People Make the Places” back in the late 90’s just really focusing on this whole business. I just made an effort when I took a trip from California to Switzerland and to Europe and back to make a note off all the people from flight attendants to cab drivers and waiters and hotel bellman, to remember and write down their names so I could write a story that really included all those people that made the places what they are.
Well I guess that was your world at that point really, the people and not the places.
Yeah, well I think it still is. I love; I mean there are certain places I’m pulled back to. I love Dublin, I love Barcelona, I love going to Chile. These are places I’m drawn back to. The list could go on and on. I love Auckland and Sydney, I mean there are not too many places that I dislike and now, with some vision I can pick up a bit more information than I could before but it hasn’t really changed my perception of these places.
The question came to me because in the last chapters of the book when you risked rejection, you seemed almost wistful that you hadn’t seen the Galapagos, or the Pyramids of Giza, or the Taj Mahal. I was just curious if you had fulfilled those desires or if it really didn’t matter anymore?
No, I think they still do. I mean that’s part of the “Bucket List” There are so many places to go that I haven’t been. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Galapagos and every time I try to go there, it’s too complicated and it’s a bit regimented, and that turns me off a little bit. I like to be able to explore more and I’m not a big fan of tourist groups and cruise ships. Hey, I’m sure those things are great but if I have my druthers I’d rather figure out things on my own and not have things scripted for me. And that’s the main reason I haven’t gotten back to the Galapagos. I do think it would be worth going, even if it would be a scripted trip.