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ATU599 – Lonnie Bedwell

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.
Special Guest:
Lonnie Bedwell – Extreme Adventure Athlete, Speaker, Author
Facebook – The Real Lonnie Bedwell
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—– Transcript Starts Here —–

Lonnie Bedwell:

Hi, I’m Lonnie Bedwell, blind adaptive adventure athlete and motivational speaker, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:

Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Welcome to Episode 599 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on November 18th, 2022. On today’s show, we’re very excited to feature our talk with Lonnie Bedwell, extreme adventure athlete, speaker and author about his life and some of the amazing things that he’s done. Make sure to check out our show next week as well as we have our annual holiday gift giving guide, although we’re doing it a little bit differently this year. So make sure that you tune in to check it out. Don’t forget, if you’d ever like to reach us for any reason, you can always send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at (317) 721-7124 or shoot us a line on Twitter @INDATAproject. We always love hearing from you, but for now, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to. Well, make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ or Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out Accessibility Minute, our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something assistive technology based so that you’re able to get your assistive technology fix without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, the show comes out weekly.

Our other show is Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, or ATFAQ. On Assistive Technology Frequently Asked Questions, Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith, and our own Tracy Castillo as we try to answer your assistive technology questions. This show does rely on you, so we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on assistive technology questions. So remember, if you’re looking for more Assistive Technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ wherever you get your podcast. Now including Spotify and Amazon Music.

Listeners, our guest today was a speaker at a conference that I recently attended and we just knew we had to have him on the show. Now I’ll let him do most of the introduction to our audience, but please join me listeners in welcoming Lonnie Bedwell to the show. Lonnie, welcome.

Lonnie Bedwell:

Thank you. I’m glad to be on the show and appreciate very much.

Josh Anderson:

Yeah. I am excited for you get to talk to our listeners and them to learn all about you. So could you start off by just telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Lonnie Bedwell:

Well, I’m from a little town in Pleasantville, Indiana. Population 120, like I said, if you count our dogs and chickens. I spent a couple years in college before I joined the Navy. I enlisted in the Navy as a nuclear powered machinist mate, volunteered for submarine service and was selected. Served nine years on active duty, got off of active duty, joined the Army National Guard Field Artillery Unit, and I also worked at a power plant up at north of Terre Haute, Indiana. And then I lost my eyesight three years to the day that I got off of active duty in a hunting accident. A good friend of mine accidentally shot me in the face and left me lights out blind. I refer to myself a lot of times as LOL or Lights Out Lonnie.

And then I got into building houses. Actually, I step back a little bit. I was fortunate to have a little bit of help there with Wade Wingler, with Easter Seals Crossroads. Initially connected me back up to all the computer systems up at the power plant north of Terre Haute and I was able to go back to work for a little bit of time before they really determined that the position I had, not only did I have to do in the control room aspect of things, but I needed to go outside and be able to do inspections and they really couldn’t figure out how to do that. So ended up having to be let go up there from that position. But I truly applauded all the effort and they gave it a great effort.

Then I got into building houses, something I didn’t do before I lost my eyesight and I’d do anything from framing, sheeting, wiring, roofing, you name it. Anything from the ground up. I’ve helped build over 30 homes, I don’t know how many garages, little out buildings, decks. Do a little push mowing around my pond and out buildings and use chainsaw to cut firewood and clear fence rows, all that kind of stuff. And since I ended up as a single father, I didn’t go to a blind rehab center until my youngest daughter graduated high school. And that was about 14 years into being blind. I’ve been blind, like I said, for 25 years now. Once I got up there, I got introduced to a little bit more technology. More talking computers and phones and you name it. But the biggest thing it did is it introduced me to adaptive sports and it started with snow skiing. And snow skiing then led me to where I was introduced to mountaineering, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, surfing, you name it. If it’s out there I probably pretty well tried to do it.

And that’s kind of where my life’s at now. I go around doing a lot of recreational sports and do a lot of motivational speaking because of all the things that I had the opportunity, been blessed with the opportunity, to do. And I think what I’m most known for is being the first blind person to kayak the entire length of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in my own kayak. I’ve done that four times now and one of them led to being selected as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2015, which kind of cracks me up thinking about that. Kayaked the Potomac Gorge section of the Zambezi River over in Africa, just below Victoria Falls, which was probably the most challenging white water I’ve ever ran in my life.

And then I’ve also had the privilege of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, Mount Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. And I just finished climbing Mountain Denali this past June, highest peak in North America. And now I’m working up to climb Mount Everest this next April and May with a blind female veteran who, once she does it, she’ll be the first blind female to climb Mount Everest.

Josh Anderson:

Oh wow. That is a heck of a lot, Lonnie. And I want to just start unpacking it because we talk about adaptive sports. Can you tell me what’s the difference between, I don’t know, sighted kayaking and non sighted kayaking? Are there big differences or is it just in the way that you do it?

Lonnie Bedwell:

No, there’s not big differences. The only difference is where sighted people use their eyesight to navigate the river, I use sound. My guides around me, there’s one typically out in front of me, just giving me, “Hop up on me. Charge, go left, go right,” to keeping it kind of simple as I drop into the massive roar if you will. And also there’s typically one behind me that might clean me up if I need to and my directions and as a safety boater. So that’s really the only difference. It’s me and my own kayak, my own paddle going through those waves.

Josh Anderson:

That is awesome. As a sighted excited individual, could I get them to help me as well? Just because I feel like going through there I might need that assistance or maybe just somebody to help kind of build me up. Because I’ve only been on a kayak a few times and never through anything like you’ve been through.

Lonnie Bedwell:

Oh, I’m sure they could. Without a doubt. Sure they would, so it’s a really good community. Really is.

Josh Anderson:

Oh, yeah, for sure. And I love that you’re talking about whenever you go to Everest that there’s going to be another visually impaired individual there with you that you’ll both be climbing with. And I know that for anyone to climb Everest takes a whole team of individuals; the Sherpa’s and everybody else that really helps them. So that’s awesome that you’ll have a team as well as somebody else kind of doing it the same way that you are.

Lonnie Bedwell:

Yeah. I prefer, when I go doing a lot of these things, to have someone else with a disability. Whether it be blind, paralyzed, whatever the disability, with me to do it. Because I think it makes more of a statement of what is truly possible. And when I was listing these things earlier, I was saying I done this and I’ve done that. But the actual truth of the matter is a blind guy cannot do the things we’ve done. So what I really need to emphasize in all of this is we did this, a team of people around me. I’ve just been so blessed and with opportunity and people that believe in me. And to me I’m no different than anyone else out there. That’s what we all want, is someone to give us a chance and believe in us. And I’ve just been, like I said earlier, just so blessed with that and try to pay it forward any way I can.

Josh Anderson:

Well, that’s awesome. And I think being on here is one way. So, Lonnie, I have to ask you, it’s been a while since you lost your sight. What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s maybe new to sight loss? Who had something along the lines of yours, where it’s pretty immediate. One day fully sighted, maybe no issues, and then have the sight loss. What kind of advice could you give to that individual?

Lonnie Bedwell:

First and foremost is to believe in yourself. Your value and your worth. Just because you lost your eyesight, doesn’t diminish your value as a person or a human being by no means. Not even the slightest bit. And I find people tend to want to struggle with that. And then to humble yourself and accept a handout. Not a handout, but a handup. And think about throughout your entire life you always had to have someone there along the way to help teach you, guide you along the way, just like everybody else does.

So accept that and when you’re given a chance, take it. Grab it and continue on. There’s definitely life to be lived. And I tell people all the time too, I truly, truly believe this, I lost my eyesight, but I personally feel like I gained vision. Our true vision’s within us. Our heart, our mind, our soul, our spirit. And as you go along, you know what you already know. So you lost your eyesight, you know how to do things. So now it’s just a matter of trying to adapt to figure out how to do what you already know how to do and believe in yourself. Absolutely believe in yourself.

Josh Anderson:

Could not agree more. Well on the other side, let’s say that someone in your life lost their vision or has some vision loss. What would you tell someone who is sighted in dealing with someone with vision loss? What are some things to remember? So maybe some important things?

Lonnie Bedwell:

Well, just along the same lines as they lost their eyesight. They can still do an amazing amount of things. We can still do so much if we’ll simply work together to do it. And a little kind of analogy, if you will, that I like to tell caregivers of somebody who has lost their eyesight or become disabled in some shape, form or fashion is I like to ask them if someone was to take your loved one and throw them in a jail cell at no fault of their own and getting ready to slam and lock the door on them, on their life, wouldn’t you fight with all your might to prevent that door from being shut? And always get the answer ‘yes’. So then I like to turn around and say, “Okay, why are you going to?” If they have the chance to do things, encourage them to do so. Let them do so.

Once again, I kind of like to say we’re no different than anyone else out there. A lot of people will say, “Well, I’m afraid they’re going to get hurt,” or, “I’m afraid of this, or I’m afraid of that.” And well most of the time that’s not true. You do everything as safely as you can. And believe me, I have children of my own, and I also sat and I look back when I lost my eyesight at how my parents dealt with it and how they just wanted to protect me. They didn’t want me to get hurt any worse and they hurt just as bad as I did. Honestly, they probably hurt worse than I did. And I’m so thankful that I had those three little girls who were saying, “Go, go, go,” while all these adults were initially saying, “No, no, no.” And then the adults kind of realized that, “Hey, these girls don’t have a clue really what they’re doing, but together they’re trying things so we better get on board.”

And I’m so fortunate that happened and now they realize. And don’t misunderstand me, my mom and dad they’ll tell me all the time, “Man, we think about you daily and some of the struggles or issues that you have being blind.” And which not being able to jump into a vehicle and go anywhere I want to on my own is one of the bigger things. That loss of independence. But yet they’re my biggest cheerleaders now. They really, Yeah. And it kind of gets to me because they know what I try to do to spread the word of what’s truly possible for all of us. All of us. And they’re my biggest fans.

Josh Anderson:

Oh, that’s awesome. And like you said, they go through it with you. I think that’s something that gets lost a lot, in really any disability, that everyone’s going through it. Everyone that the individual touches and works with him is going through it as well in different kind of ways. And I love that you brought up in everything you talked about so many times in disability, especially ones that happen along the way of life is everyone starts to focus on what you can’t do. What changed, and what’s not possible or is easy or things like that.

And so few times you don’t stand back and think about what can you still do, or what can I assist with to get you back up so you can do the things that you want to do. So I like that you put the focus on the other way and all the things that are still possible. We all have barriers, we all have challenges, some are just different. And I like that you focus on them that way.

Lonnie Bedwell:

Yeah. If you take the word disabled at its core, it means not able. So every single person on the face of the earth could be considered disabled, not able to do certain things. It’s not their gift. So that is the key what you just mentioned, is to focus on the things you still can do and the life you can live.

Josh Anderson:

Most definitely, most definitely. Lonnie, I do have to ask and just to talk about this because you brought it up a little bit in passing. I know you’ve won some awards including the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Award. Can you tell us about that? I know you said it makes you chuckle a little bit, but can you tell us about that award and how you got it and what exactly it is?

Lonnie Bedwell:

Well, everyone’s heard, or a lot of people have heard of National Geographic, the magazine, the book, and the television channel. And they started, oh, I can’t remember how many years back now that they started selecting adventurers of the year. People just get out here and do things that are above and beyond, if you will, what people think is possible or really considered times to be extreme. And myself on Grand Canyon trips, myself and Eric, who joined me on that second Grand Canyon trip, when they see us do it, they were like, “Wow.” They selected us as one of the Adventurers of the Year and it’s kind of humbling.

The one award that I got that cracks my dad up the most is I wrote a book, the title of it is 226 Mile Grand Canyon Adventure or 226: How I Become the First Blind Person to Kayak the Grand Canyon. And the book became an Amazon bestseller. So I received a Quill Award for being the bestselling author and my dad just laughs about that because back when I was in college, the only C I ever got was in English comp.

But I have to admit, I had help with that doing that. I shake my head, I truly shake my head at my life. It’s so humbling, so surreal having done that. I went to be a part of, I think five documentaries now. Been on the Today Show a couple of times, Steve Harvey Show, an episode of Breaking Bobby Bones. And it’s just crazy. It’s just crazy.

Josh Anderson:

It’s amazing the way life can take you, especially from small town Indiana, right?

Lonnie Bedwell:

Yeah. Who would ever thought? Who’d ever thunk it?

Josh Anderson:

So, Lonnie, I’m sure that there’s a ton of folks that look up to you that really and truly you’ve inspired along the way. Just from your actions, from your talks and everything else. Who are some of your heroes? Who are some folks that you look up to and look to for inspiration?

Lonnie Bedwell:

Honestly, and it’s meant sincerely; most everybody I meet that gets up and keeps going and wants to try and doesn’t give up. And you can run into those people on a daily basis. The people who haven’t had the chance to do something yet and when you meet them and you introduce them into doing it and then you watch them, the light bulb come on, it’s like, “Wow, I still can.” Those are the people that inspire me, that drive me. Yeah, that’s truly my passion. That’s where it lies.

Josh Anderson:

That is awesome. Well, we are kind of a technology show, so while we’ve got a little bit of time left, what’s some different assistive technology that you use maybe on a daily basis or really has helped you stay connected or maybe be able to do some things that you might not have been able to do without those kind of technology interventions? I know you worked with Wade a while back when he was still actually doing the interventions and everything, but what’s some technology that you use on a daily basis?

Lonnie Bedwell:

The absolute, A, number one, piece of technology that was a game changer in my life was the cell phone. In my case, it’s iPhone. I know some people use an Android and stuff, but my life being blind prior to 2012 when I got my first iPhone, compared to my life after, is dramatically different. It completely opened up a lot of the world that wasn’t there as much as before. Because, actually, once I got away from the job up there, I didn’t keep the talking computer at the house so much. So once I got the phone back, it were like, “Okay, I can surf the web, I can use a cell phone, I can text like everybody else. I can use apps on my phone.” Seeing AI is one, for example, that I love. To scan things, to read instantly. Bar code scanners that are out there to help me identify what a product is, how to cook something, how to assemble something, a talking tape measure.

I started off at a braille tape measure, and I personally I had burnt both my hands pretty good when I was in the service, so I was not able to pick up braille. So once I got this talking tape measure that’s accurate to within 16th of an inch up to 16 foot, what a game changer when it come to building houses and doing all that construction work.

I’m trying to think of… The click ruler’s another great one. Oh, and one thing that I really want to get now is one of these new portable little scanners, and I was just introduced to that this year and hopefully in the process of getting one to where you just literally, they’re so awesome, to lay the mail on and whatever on, and it just instantly reads to you. And I’ve been able to play with one of those enough. It is going to be a game changer because of the speed and the ease that it does it. Trying to think of other things that are out there that… But the phone with all the different apps is so, so powerful. Reading books through BARD and whatever else and apps most people use.

Josh Anderson:

Oh, nice. Very nice. Lonnie, if our listeners want to find out more about you, check out your books or just see all the great things you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Lonnie Bedwell:

They can get online and I have a website and it’s in the process of getting updated. That’s lonniebedwell.com and the Facebook page out there, The Real Lonnie Bedwell, because there’s another Lonnie Bedwell in my hometown, believe it or not, but you can find me on Facebook. And it’s a public figure Facebook page where I just post things that I’m out doing and you can follow along with that. And you can reach me through that and through my website.

If someone’s wanting to have me do a presentation, which I love to do, you can reach me through my website as well. And also we started a little project on Sightless Summits. It’s a website called Sightless Summits where people can go online and look at to follow me and Shawn, which is the lady that’s going to be climbing Everest, and there’s an Instagram too with that Sightless Summits. You can follow along with some of the training we’re going to be doing. And actually, through my website or that Sightless Summits, you will be able to follow us along as we climb Everest. We’re going to be sending out little GPS tracking stuff.

Josh Anderson:

Oh, awesome, awesome. We’ll put links to all that down in the show notes. Lonnie, I could probably talk to you all day, but I got just a little bit of time left before we have to say goodbye. So before we do that, just what is one thing you want our listeners to definitely remember? Whether they’re dealing with site loss, any disability, have a family member, a friend, what’s just a point that you want to make sure that they definitely get from our talk today?

Lonnie Bedwell:

That you are an amazing person or your loved one, each and every one of us. You’re an amazing individual with so many gifts, so much value, so much purpose, and you have to realize that, believe that, and focus on your gifts and then work together with each other. What can we not do if we’re simply willing to help each other in life?

Josh Anderson:

That is awesome, Lonnie, thank you again so much for coming on the show and talking to me today.

Lonnie Bedwell:

Well, thank you and I absolutely appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity and the platform to express a little bit of what I believe in. And thank you for what you do for each and every one of us through this podcast.

Josh Anderson:

Well, we may just have to have you back on after the Everest climb and find out how that all went too.

Lonnie Bedwell:

That sounds great. Take care everybody.

Josh Anderson:

Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on an Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org or shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com.

A special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA Project, Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host. This was your assistive technology update, and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

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