Bill Der’s Blind Hike Up Mount Kilimanjaro
For those of you who don’t know him, Bill Der is a skilled Customer Service Manager who has been with the Answer Company for over 15 years. Bill lost his slight due to glaucoma, and while many people would let being blind hold them back, Bill refuses to let anything stand in his way. His perseverance is clear, and apparently boundless, with his plan to climb to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro this fall with his son Spencer, in support of two local charities.
Bill was diagnosed with glaucoma in 1975 and was legally blind by 1986. Even though he was legally blind when he started at The Answer Company, he’s still always used computers with the help of contrast lighting and verbal aids. Until people meet Bill in person, they have no reason to suspect he’s visually impaired since he never lets it stand in the way of the things he needs to get done. He has continually proven to be an indispensable part of the team and a favored Account Manager of clients. As the years have passed his eyesight has gotten progressively worse, leaving him 98% blind today, but despite that he still navigates his computer with limited issues, even managing complex excel sheets.
Bill’s plan to hike Mount Kilimanjaro isn’t a surprise to his friends and family, as he had previously hoped to climb Mount Everest after hearing about Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind person to reach the top. On one of his routine hikes up the Grouse Grind trail in 2014 (with a guide), Bill ran into a woman who suggested he try climbing Kilimanjaro first and the suggestion stuck with him.
Bill decided to take on the 19,350+ feet hike up Kilimanjaro after his wife passed away unexpectedly in early 2015. Bill and his wife had lots of plans to travel when he retired but her sudden passing meant they never had the opportunity. He made the decision that in this new chapter he would live life to the fullest and never let opportunities pass him by. Bill explains, “(It’s) a tribute to my wife. To sort of say to myself, my son, others, hey, it was phenomenal what she did for Spencer and myself, to remember her at the very top, that she helped us, to thank her.”
Accompanied by certified guides, Bill and Spencer will hike up Kilimanjaro over the course of 8 days, with a group from the Alzheimer’s Society of BC. With his son as his guide, Bill will follow behind Spencer and they will each hold onto the end of a pole, which will help guide Bill along the trail. Using the pole will give Bill an enhanced sense of direction so he doesn’t have to rely solely on the verbal directions of his guide. Simple things like the change in terrain pose more difficult challenges for Bill, so he has to stay in tune with his other senses to prepare him for his surroundings. For example, he has described listening to how hallow the area around him is to determine if there is cliff of drop close to where he’s hiking.
Bill also wants to take this opportunity to give back to the community by raising money for both the Down Syndrome Research Foundation (DSRF) and the Alzheimer’s Society of BC. The Answer Company is behind him with our full support, as he sets the perfect example for our ‘Answering the Call’ giving back program. The Answer Company incorporates volunteering into our company culture by going on company-wide volunteer days multiple times a year, and we do everything we can to support the individual efforts of our employees in their endeavors to give back.
All of our offices embarked on a blind hike to support Bill and it was an enlightening experience. Following Bill’s tips and instructions we split off into pairs, using a pole to guide each other and taking turns being blindfolded. Before the New West office started the hike Bill explained that at times, despite their efforts, the guide’s directions aren’t so reliable. He chuckled as he explained, “if the person says right and the stick is going left from your perspective, just follow the stick, forget what the guide says! I tell you, you have to be really alert!”.
As soon as we started, it was clear no one could really anticipate the feeling of hiking without their sight and everyone reacted quite differently:
“I instantly lost my sense of direction”
“I can’t believe Bill can function so well being blind”
“I can’t seem to find my balance”
“Very interesting experience”
“This was a very small glimpse into the world of the blind”
“I feel unbalanced.”
“Where are you leading me? Are you sure you’re leading me in the right direction?”
Bill’s goal is to raise $30,000 that will be donated in full to the Down Syndrome Research Foundation and BC Alzheimer’s Society ($15,000 for each). The Answer Company is excited to do our part to support Bill and has raised over $5000 to contribute to his cause. We are raising money until August 15th, at which point our CEO/President, Shawn Ostheimer, will match our donation!
If you would like to donate to Bill’s Blind Hike up Kilimanjaro to support the Down Syndrome Research Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Society of BC please visit: https://www.youcaring.com/billsblindsummitchallenge
Read more about Bill’s journey here: http://www.burnabynow.com/news/blind-burnaby-man-to-summit-mount-kilimanjaro-1.2317284
‘‘Bill has always been an inspiration, never one to let not being able to see keep him from a challenge. The Answer Company welcomes the opportunity to give back by supporting his climb.” – Shawn, President of The Answer Company