Who is Mike Royal?
He holds six (totally blind) world records, among others, in water skiing.
He won a bronze medal in the downhill at the 1996 Chevy Truck Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.
He ran in the 1993 Boston marathon, where he finished third in the visually impaired category, and in the 1998 NYC marathon.
Don’t call him the Super Blind Guy. He’s just a regular guy (albeit a gifted athletic one) who happens to be blind.
Losing his sight
“Blindness is part of who I am, not all of who I am,” says Mike Royal, Director, IT Audit at Occidental, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder, although he was the first in his family to have it. Despite experiencing a noticeable loss of vision by the age of five, he obtained his driver’s license at 16. With his trademark dry humor, he says he eventually gave it up “for the betterment of pedestrians everywhere.”
At 18, he was declared legally blind, although the diagnosis was something he struggled to come to terms with. In college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and later an MBA, he was still hiding his blindness and compensating for it.
Coming out of the “blind closet”
Because of the nature of retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by loss of peripheral vision, Mike still had nearly 20/20 central-sight and says, “What I could see, I saw well; it was the things I couldn’t see that got me!” Finally, he says with self-deprecating humor, he came out of the “blind closet,” so to speak. In May 1993, he got his first seeing-eye dog and says it was the best thing he ever did for himself. Unlike the folding cane he had used for years, he couldn’t hide a 65-lb. Lab in his backpack!
Mike, who has been employed in the oil and gas industry for 25 years, doesn’t read braille. Instead, he uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) technology, which speed-reads what’s on the computer screen, an iPhone with built-in Voice Over accessibility, as well as Smart Glasses combined with a virtual assistant at Aira. His advice to those with disabilities holds true for all employees as we move into a more digital world – “Make sure you leverage technology to your greatest advantage.”
However, Mike says, despite technological advances, the unemployment rate among the blind community stands at 70%, just as it has since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Mike has never had a blind colleague and certainly knows what it’s like to be in the minority. “I’m usually the only one in the room with a dog,” he says without irony.
Taking action on inclusion
Last year, Mike attended HERWorld2018 with nine of his female colleagues and noticed only about 10% of attendees were men. He left thinking, “Are you kidding?” and resolved to be a better advocate for women and those with different abilities in the industry. In mid-2018, he became a member of Anadarko’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) in order to have a bigger platform. He says he has spent the last year or so trying to smooth out “the rough edges.”
“I’m trying to listen better and consider how my actions affect others.”
Royal’s attendance at HERWorld2018 motivated him to “challenge myself” and sign on as a judge for the GRIT Awards, which he says “is not something I would have done in the past.” In all that he does, Mike is guided by the words of his stepfather, who used to run 70 – 80 miles with him to train for marathons, and whom he considers his mentor.
“He told me, ‘This is life. This is not how you need to do it because you’re blind.’”
Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the
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