Blind 9/11 survivor visits NYC memorial for first time

NEW YORK -- The 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks holds a special meaning to a blind man who survived with the help of his guide dog.

CBS New York reports Michael Hingson was on the 78th floor of the north tower on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit.

"The building swayed and then it came back," Hingson recalled as he came back to where the north tower once stood. "It is kind of a very strange experience to come back. I remember this as a building." 

It was his first time visiting the memorial.

The experience was enhanced by cutting edge technology called Aira, which is a new app that is helping Hingson and others comprehend the scale of the damage.

"Aira is absolutely a game changer," he said.

Hingson wore glasses that contain a camera using an iPhone app. A professionally trained sighted guide described to him exactly what the camera was seeing.

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Michael Hingson was on the 78th floor of the north tower on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit. On Monday, he was able to comprehend the scale of the damage by using a new app called Aira. 

CBS New York

Hingson was so inspired by the technology that he now works for the company that developed Aira, and says it has helped him comprehend the vast changes in what used to be his every day work life.

"This was a tremendous help in giving me the opportunity to get around here and know what was here and understand it," Hingson said.

In 2001, Hingson was guided through the harrowing descent by his seeing eye dog, Roselle, whose demeanor he credits with keeping the evacuation focused and calm.

"What I was observing was that she wasn't acting in a negative way, which told me we didn't need to panic to get out of the tower," Hingson said.

Once they got out, they faced another challenge -- running from the devastation as 2 World Trade Center collapsed.

"It was scary, no question it was scary," Hingson said.

But together as a team, they made their way to safety.

"As we ran I kept telling Roselle, 'Right, right,' and giving her hand signals," Hingson said.

Roselle was honored for her service that day and Hingson tells their story of survival to help inspire others.

"I tell people that in reality, we never know what we're capable of until we're put to the test," Hingson said. "What we should never do is to give up."

Hingson also took the opportunity to tell his story to the 9/11 Museum's oral history project. He is one of about 1,000 survivors, family members, and first responders to contribute their accounts of that day.