Charles Curtis Blackwell – Words of Meaning Empowerment & Inspiration

October 21st, 2020  / Author: T.Reid

A side Head shot of Charles Curtis Blackwell in a dark space leaning forward in thought with his pointer finger placed on his lip and the sunlight cascading across his face

Photo by Liz Moughon


Visual Artist, Writer and Poet Charles Curtis Blackwell, the subject of this year’s #Superfest2020 feature film God Given Talent shares stories of his life. We hear pivotal moments of influence including Jazz and school busing. Loss, Forgiveness, Purpose and of course Art!

His experience and approach to adjusting to vision loss is a must hear for anyone new to blindness. As evident in the episode, I too was inspired and hope this production, may I dare say, is a bit more artistic.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of one of my teachers; Sijo Abu Bakr. May We Remain!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Audio: City soundscape merges into a nightclub atmosphere.

TR as on stage Host:

Greetings & Salutations brothers and sisters!
My name is Thomas Reid.

— Applause

Thank you, thank you very much!

Allow me to welcome you all to the Reid My Mind Lounge.!

— Jazz Music Begins

That’s right; today’s episode deserves an appropriate atmosphere.
I want you to sit back and really feel this one.
This was inspired. And y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell is an artist. A visual artist, a writer, poet and definitely a story teller.

Where I come from, what he has to share, we call science or gems. Either way, he’s dropping it!
My hope is that you pick it up!

It all drops after the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

TR:

Influence!

Music – Rahsan Roland Kirk, Volunteer Slavery

CC:
Have you ever heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?

Jazz horn player. He was more than that. Originally from Columbus but he wound up in Newark. He was totally Blind. He played three saxophones at the same time. He had them hooked together. He influenced a lot of Jazz musicians with this thing called circular breathing. In one nostril and out of the other. Their still blowing. You think they’re holding the note.

I caught him live before I lost my eyesight.

Kind of influenced me years later. I says ok well just do whatever.

Somebody said hey man how you do that? I’ve done some crazy stuff with the poetry. I just said hey man; I’m kind of like Rahsaan Roland Kirk you just got to get crazy on stage. Just go ahead you know get wild, you know (laughs)!

Music Begins… Jazz Track 9 from Charles Curtis Blackwell In Color

I liked Jazz at an early age. They crammed classical down our throats going from 6th grade to 7th grade. It was Mozart, Bach, Beethoven you know, so I got turned off. I tried to flunk the test. Wound up in music anyway. (Laughs) next semester I transferred back to art.

I was doing art before 5th grade. I remember the instructor she pointed out this drawing that I did. It had the whole class’s attention.

maybe because art it just came easy. I didn’t know I was taking it for granted.

Audio: Historic Radio News Broadcast

“the Supreme Court ruled in 1954, that pupils cannot be segregated by law on the basis of race.”

CC:

I was in a busing program. They bused us to this high school from this neighborhood in Sacramento. I was in 9th grade; I think I was around 13 or 14. They didn’t want us there.

The first day we got there, there were white folks with pickets. The end of the school year it turned into a racial riot; 14 people arrested one in the hospital and another one that was supposed to be in the hospital, he was Black, they arrested him instead, they didn’t send him to the hospital. One of the most scary days of my life. I was small man and I was scared man, these cats could fight.

My folks continued to make me go to the school. I didn’t really want to go. And it seemed like it wasn’t a day past some racial remark, I don’t know if you want me to mention those names on here you know. It really messed with me.

There was one incident. They had a policy; you could put the gloves on and have a boxing thing. Oh cool!

This guy kept messing with me. Shoving me into lockers, kicking me, but he always had his buddies with him. His name was Souza. He was a distance runner, He was up for championship.

This went from year to the next year. So I’m from the neighborhood, right. This year we had the same PE class. I told the coach I want to put the gloves on. The first coach his name was McFadden, he was ok. He spoke to me and said ok, we’ll call him in. I trusted McFadden. The other coach, he was a new coach. I didn’t know about him because he wasn’t there the day of the riot. The day of the riot the teachers, they weren’t breaking up the fights, they were yelling you damn Niggers! (Pause) These were teachers. You couldn’t trust nobody.

Coach called him.

Man I’m busy tucking my shirt in, tightening up my tennis shoes, I’m getting ready you know.

They say yegh Charles says that you’ve been harassing him, you did this and you did that.

No, no, no I didn’t!

The new coach he was sitting there, he jumped up and said you a such and such liar I saw you do it. Man, I was knocked off my feet.

They turned to Souza and said what is you ready? He says no, no I don’t want to…

I’m getting teed off. He don’t want to box with me. They say well do you want to apologize to Blackwell (laughs…). I ain’t want no apology. (Laughs…)
The dude apologized, the coach says ok Charles can you accept his apology. I did but I didn’t really want to. (Laughs….)

Audio: Sound of white school busing protests.

All this racism stuff and busing program stuff, I had poor self-esteem.

I was like a D student. My idea was like finish high school, get a job as a janitor and you know bang, that was it. I didn’t have no big aspirations.

I got into reading.

Audio: School bell ringing

We had to write like a newspaper article. And the way I learned how to write was from reading the San Francisco Chronicle. They had real good writers at that time. And so that’s how I kind of picked up on expository writing from reading the newspaper. I wrote an article for this class and you didn’t write this. Someone else wrote it. You know, this is not your style of writing, you didn’t write this. I got a low grade. I said eh whatever. Sometimes they give you a low grade realizing oh wow, what they’re really telling you is you got raw brute talent.

Music transition…

I used to sell the paper it was called the Sacramento Observer, it was a Black newspaper. William Lee, he was over the paper. So I called the paper and spoke to him and I said what if I write a story about these Black students graduating from this busing program. It wasn’t me it was the class ahead of me. They were graduating. He said yeh, write it and get it to us we’ll run it. I said ok. Paper comes out I open up the paper looked inside, looked on the back of the paper I said wow that’s funny they said they were going to run the article. So I called the newspaper, Secretary answered. I said yeh, this is Charles Blackwell, she says yes! I wrote this article they said they were going to run the article in the newspaper, she says yes. I said well I looked inside the paper and I didn’t see then I looked on the back of the paper and I didn’t see it. She said well did you look on the front page? (Laughing) I was knocked off my feet man! I never would have thought they would put the article on the front page. That was poor self-esteem. man I was just flabbergasted, I sold extra copies. I would go door to door selling the paper man, you know. (Laughs…)

Music Transition

I got to college my whole world started changing.

I was an art major. I was trained to do sketches. Funny, I was talking to you earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So I had a copy of Down Beat Magazine. We had to turn in a final drawing. Kind of like a shadow of the person you know it’s like super imposed, almost like shading. I did it with my 20/20 eyesight just looking at it and doing it. And the instructor said you used the Opaque projector that’s not right. I said no I didn’t use no Opaque projector; I just did it from a magazine. He downgraded me but he was telling me that’s how good my eyesight was.

TR:

Loss!

Audio: Sound of ocean waves continues with van driving…

CC:

I was staying in Santa Cruz for a little while. I was with some friends so we get in the van and go to the ocean. Stop at one place and we’d go further up. The waves were coming in. So they get out and they go down.

I’m in the van, I’m reading this book. A little while later I get out. I go down but I’m going the wrong way. I’m thinking this is the path. I made the mistake of allowing the terrain to half way carry me. There was this big rock, I was going fast and I said well I’ll just go jump and go over the rock. I was assuming it would be a slant. There was a cliff. I didn’t know.

— brief silence

Temporarily paralyzed on one side, concussion, internal bleeding. Broke one small bone. It was my finger. I don’t know how that happened.

Ah man, I just knew I was going to die.

By the grace of God here I am.

I was in the hospital for like a week, seven eight days, something like that. I don’t know man, next thing I know I’m up and going and I returned to my place in Santa Cruz. A few days later I headed back to Sacramento trying to regroup.

I got back in college a few months later.

Finished that semester. Christmas time man, we partied like crazy. I went to every party there was and the next thing you know I met this girl; I was in love man I wanted to get married.

Music – Cymbal crescendo followed by a cymbal crash and flute begins…
Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color
The unspeakable artist
Yearning, in and out of the room
If we sit in a dark room too long
We will meet the who
In the form of a tormented scream
Examining who we really are

Cymbal crash

CC:

I’m driving, I left college and I’m headed home and I remember I’m at this intersection and the horns are honking behind me and I had to turn. I barely made it.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Cymbal crash

And has fearless as we may be to ourselves
Those ghostly cries are all of us laid out in the dark

CC:

They’re doing all these tests, morning to night.
They call it an Edema – it’s where I hit and the fluid went to a state of rest and when it returned back into motion it left my macular pale. Macular Degeneration.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

But if we stay in a dark room for so long we could see all the colors of the rainbow
Which reside on the other side where tombstones, grave sights pilferage and sorrows dwell.

CC:

They told me there’s nothing we can do. it all comes down to God. That was the end man, I just gave up.

I just dropped out of college. I didn’t go sign out or nothing.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Magenta unwrapped, indigo unveiled and cobalt for all those chance given up when the soul gave chase to something of an eastern religion.
For residing in a dark room for so long can cause one to worship the form instead of the creator.

CC:

It was like what do we do to carry us through and it’s kind of bad but I was out drinking hook up with some friends get a beer. Somebody else would have some hard liquor. I was doing that too drinking wine.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Many hales for the blood we fear running through our veins
Flowing upward like the Nile to our heads
In the dark room so sacred yet so cold the skin can’t breathe it

This tranquil rite of passage
Oh woman can you hear me in absence of gender
Nothing but flesh crawling in the dark
Solitary confinement

CC:

The worse thing I think I did, I didn’t know how to be… (Phone connection failing…)
Can you hear me any better? 1, 2, 3… that’s better?
Ok, I’ll turn around then …

I was raised southern family, my folks from Mississippi.

The idea, if you’re going to be with this person you going to be married, you gotta be able to provide. You got to be this man. The male role.

It ain’t about the male role, the macho, the strong…
So that was a big mistake I made trying to push her away, put her at a distance. I was 20. We get taught certain things but we realize that’s not going to help you in terms of dealing with life.

All I remember man was being in the bedroom and crying day in and day out. I would never tell her that’s what I was doing, which was really bad

When life hits in such a manner what do you got to hold onto. Faith and trying to trust God and trying to believe.

Audio Cymbal crash

Might be somebody there that could help you build (hope) and (encourage you to live).
(Each emphasized with echo audio effect…)

Audio: Subway train on tracks

CC:

Wound up at some friends. They were having a pool party at some apartment complex.

Audio: Train comes to screeching stop.
Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Pre De Term Mind! Mind! Pre Det term Mind!

CC:

I wound up sleeping at one person’s house, another house.

Had a fight with my Dad, he snatched the phone. I was a psychological mess.

This friend, his name was Ken, we had met on a bus. And we were talking, we discovered we were both born on the same day. He came and visited me while I lost my eye sight. He was from the Santa Cruz area.

It was getting to the point where I really got depressed. I mean real, real serious depressed. And then I just kind of disappeared. Nobody knew where I was. I wound up at the bus station. I went on to Santa Cruz and caught up with ken. I started a fight with the landlord. I was going crazy! I didn’t want to pay no rent. (Laughs) Really wasn’t going to make no sense.

I wound up sleeping on the beach. I got a cheap room at a hotel. Something like six dollars a night. I think I only had a hundred.

I would hang out at this book store and listen to people talking.

I was standing on the corner, people came by and said hey brother, do you know anything about Jesus. I says yeh, God and Jesus I know, what I need right now is food, shelter and clothing. And they said brother we got food, shelter and clothing. I said what? It was a Christian Commune. So I went and stayed with them.

They had me on the laundry detail. They had a second hand store. I was with this other guy, the only other brother and we would go and pickup refrigerators and stoves and other stuff. When I look back on it things moved kind of fast. January I’m losing my sight and going bizerk in the head, the crying and everything. Around August I had disappeared . The early part of September I wound up with this commune. From September til about January I had returned back to my folks in Sacramento.

It got me back into the swing of things not feeling like I’m going to be an invalid for the rest of my life.

Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

An older Smokey voice off mic repeats

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

But the Blue line escapes all the mental anguish, mental breakdown of knots tied up inside.
(fades out)

Music – Curtis Mayfield Back to the World

CC:

Curtis Mayfield had this song called Back to the World.

I leave the commune and now I’m back in the world. The world is not the same as the commune. People there are kind of helpful and everything. Now I’m back in the world and I didn’t know what to do.

Even though I got back into the swing of things I hadn’t really adjusted all the way.

Signed up with Voc Rehab. They ask if you need a cane. I use a cane now but at first I didn’t. There main thing was trying to make a person productive in terms of society, getting a job, being trained for some kind of work situation. Then they had another part of going to college.

It was the social worker. She was with the welfare department at that time. She was this white lady and her isms started coming out. I made the mistake of when I left town, disappeared, I was 21, I got a beer. I called her of all people, I said I’m not going to be here, I’m gone. Where you going? Well I’m busy drinking a beer. I was dismantled anyway. Some people they don’t understand that because there all emphasis is like get you ready to be productive in society. Well how you going to be productive when inside, you’re a wreck. They don’t comprehend it. She’s saying uh, last time I spoke to Charles he was busy getting drunk on the phone and he was going to do this, this and this. And I was just sitting there , I know it was God. I just sat there and let her run off at the mouth. Huh!

“Words that have meaning” – CC with Ambient effect

Then the guy from Voc Rehab, well you really don’t seem like you know what you want to do in life. And I said oh, ok. I was just agreeing because I was in a different place spiritually. A little time past and I called him and said hey I think I want to go to college.

If you can get me two C’s we’ll fund you to go to college. So I did summer school and got two B’s but I was trying to get two A’s.

They always shifted me, changed, got a different guy for Voc. Rehab. This guy was totally Blind, ok? Man, I go in to meet with the dude and we’re talking. I’m saying oh, this is going to be ok because he’s totally Blind, he can relate to my situation, being partly Blind you know. We’re sitting there talking for over an hour. He’s interviewing me and at the very end of the interview he says ok, boy!

Man he did it in such a manner, I was just shocked.

“Words can help you be empowered!” – CC with Ambient effect

My Dad wasn’t the best communicator. I got back home, I was angry. My Dad was waxing the car. My Dad had a Cadillac (laughs). Picked up a rag, what the heck wax the car, maybe that will help me. I told him what had happened and my Dad, like I said, he wasn’t a real good communicator but this was one time he said something.

He said, he’s testing you.

He’s testing me?

Yeh, he’s testing you.

And that’s all my Dad said.

I milked that counselor like crazy. every time they had something to offer I grabbed it. So we had to bring our grades in, well it looks like you got some A’s here and you got a B and an A and another A . He says well, what kind of help do you need? Well, we got cassette recorders and do you need more reader service, I says oh yeh, oh yeh!

I get out of college and I could have changed counselors but I’m like no I’m gonna stay with this dude because I know what’ he’s like. He was testing me and I’m reading him.

I get out, well congratulations Charles. You can’t go to graduate school, we don’t have no money. We got a training program here.

You could have a cafeteria in a federal building.

I went to Montana, I went to Seattle, Los Angeles trying to get a job. Couldn’t get a job. The reality hit me, being partly Blind, ain’t no opportunities. I signed up!

When almost two weeks or a month we’re sitting at this table. This white dude is sitting next to me. He’s much older than me. He was losing his eyesight. This other guy’s across from me, he was Mexican, fresh out of Soledad prison, but he was in the program too. The guy in charge of the program it was his cafeteria, the guy comes up and says Charlie my boy, you talk back to my employees you can’t remain here you understand that. And I said yes! Just automatically. The white dude sitting next to me said that was F’d up. He was in his 40’s. You know something was wrong. The Mexican fresh out of Soledad said Charles are you ok?

I come back to the world, I’m being all well love one another be real open, be kind to people. This is the racism of America. Even though I may change the world hadn’t changed. I had to deal with it some kind of way. That’s the horror of this country. This is it, this is what’s on the table.

The next day man, I scared the slop out of that man. I threatened that man like crazy man. (laugh) They called a meeting with another state official. The man had me, the guy I had threatened.

Alright Charles, he says he’s scared to be around you. Well just what the F do you want.

“Words that can help you be inspired” – CC with Ambient effect

I came up during the 60’s man. I was involved in the Black student Union, we got 9 out of 10 demands for Black Studies and here this joker gonna do something racist like this.

You know how we learn from people. My mind went back to this brother, his name was Amyl Palmer, he was head of the Black Student Union. The brother could deal, he was way older than me. I leaned back and said what you got to offer?

You want to go to graduate school? I said that sounds workable. (Laughs) So I went to grad school. (Laughs)

CC:

A buddy of mine wrote a poem. I like real conversations.

Real conversations can really help you in life. What is it that helped me, you know, having real conversations like words that have meaning. Words can help you be empowered. Words that can help you be inspired.

Music Begins…

CC:
You gotta deal with the race and then you got to deal with people’s ignorance toward disability even with Black folks.

You think they’re going to relate to your blindness.

You might know, Berkley is where the center for independent living started. They were filing law suits way back in the 70’s. You could be in Berkley it could be a totally different story as opposed to being in Oakland. You get to Oakland, you get people like; Hey, is you blind? (Laughs…) I’ll be waiting for a bus. Hey I’m trying to catch the bus … it’s right there don’t you see the sign? And I’m carrying a cane now. You try to say ok, let it teach me something, try to just grin and bear it, but if you’re trying to hurry up and get somewhere. Let’s say there’s two people at the bus stop. I ask somebody and they say something ridiculous like it’s right there just look at it. I just turn to the next person and say, excuse me can you tell me which bus… and they tell me. And then the other person goes, oh hey I didn’t know you blind. I just walk off and leave them alone. I do them cold but it’s like what can I say to the person?

Every once in a while a person says oh excuse me I’m very sorry. Ok, cool.

I walked in a business before, with a cane, I’m trying to figure out why are they paying so much attention to me but it’s not a friendly attention it’s almost like do they think I’m going to steal something.

One of the worse things I got … I got off a bus one day and the dude said yeh, man, you got that game down, carrying that cane pretending to be Blind. I had some cuss words, I didn’t say them out loud cause it was night time and I ain’t ready for no fight. It’s kind of what they call the Pre Antebellum South the days before Helen Keller. A lot of this society is still like that.

I’m a church going brother. I remember I was at this church a little over a year ago, this friend named Joyce and Leo, hey Charles we’re going to this other church, come on and go, I said ok. I’m sitting there participating in the worship and then the minister calls someone here need to accept Jesus. And this lady is sitting behind me, she ain’t said nothing to me, she hasn’t given me a friendly greeting or nothing. She poked me on my shoulder , you can go up now and accept Jesus. (Laughs) I’ve been sitting there participating in the service and it’s like, no communication she just automatically assumed oh you Blind you need Jesus.

Sometimes there are store front churches and then there’s a good ol’ store front church That kind of backward condemning. maybe the reason you lost your eyesight is because you did something bad. You sinned. God is punishing you. If a person is just losing their eyesight and a person comes along and tells him something like that, oh God man, they’re condemned to hell. It could take them years to get out of that.

I remember this lady, it was Kay Stewart she setup a program for the Blind students at the college. And she was very hip. White lady from Texas. A very, very nice lady. A matter of fact she knew the racist counselor at Voc. Rehab. She wasn’t too fond of him. She was always whatever I can do to help you here at the college, knowing you weren’t going to get all the help you needed from Voc. Rehab. So she would do these cultural programs. When I finished college she got in touch with me and she asked me to go on this outing. She wanted me to talk to this guy, a white guy, he was just losing his eyesight. He was condemning himself, you know, God this and God that. I said hey man that’s not it God is not a condemning God. You got to find out about the love of God.

I had a real good family doctor and he would talk to you. Not like today, they’re running you through like a number. He said you lost your eyesight, take your defect and use it as your asset. Man, that was a strong piece of wisdom. And I passed that on to this other guy.

You find Blind people man, they know the Bible, backwards forward, sideways and down. But do they know how to get out of that condemning. Do they know how to get to that place of being and inspiration to someone else and being inspired and being (forgiving.)
(Emphasized with a slight echo effect)

CC:

I used to listen to Martin Luther King and James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer you know.

I’m in college, when I could see good, I’m sitting in front of the library one day reading an article and a dude came up and sat down. It was Souza. And he apologized to me. And I’m looking at him like what. I don’t know whether to listen to him or grab him. He said that he was dating this girl that was Asian and she confronted him. He realized it was his father that instilled all this racism in him. And I was listening and I said wow man!

It was like a Martin Luther King story man.

This time it was real.

Audio Bridge

One of the greatest lessons I learned man, the minister told me, he said, “Never be ashamed to apologize. Be it 8 to 80.”

The lady that I pushed away, it was fourteen years later.

I called her I said, I just want to apologize. She said no you don’t owe me no apology. I says well hey everything in my life is falling apart, I was in a writing project and it collapsed, nothing’s going right and I’m trying to get my life right with God. So I just want to tell you that I’m very sorry I did what I did to you.

I heard her crying on the other end of the phone and I realized I did the right thing.

I realized that I hurt her and I didn’t know I did.

When we apologize it’s like something spiritual takes place on the inside. When we forgive something happens on the inside in a good way.

TR:

Purpose!

CC:

I went to the college with my cousin Anita and I just went over to hang out. So I ran into the friend she used to be a neighbor, her name was Pat. She was much older than me. “Hey Charles, I heard you lost your eyesight.” I says yeh. She was you know very courteous, she knew me. “Come go to class with me.” So I went to a class with her and it was African American Literature. Eugene Redmond was the instructor. He was saying some stuff that caught my attention. I still remember he was presenting this book called “Black Suicides”. I was listening because I was at that point a year before because I had lost my eyesight. By the grace of God it didn’t happen. Black people they say we don’t do this, but here’s a book called “Black Suicides.”. We don’t do it when in fact we do. I says oh wow, this cat is saying something.

“Graduate school!” – CC with Ambient effect

One of the best things I did is sign up , it was an independent study with Eugene Redmond. He was also the editor of the Henry Dumas collection. I don’t know if you heard of Henry Dumas, but Henry Dumas did this poem I still remember;

America!

If an eagle be imprisoned on the back of a coin and that coin is tossed into the sky

That coin may dwindle, that coin may spindle, but that eagle will never fly.

Henry Dumas was shot and killed by a New York subway cop.

Redmond became the editor of the collection. Redmond did a book called Drum Voices. It’s the history and development of African American poets going all the way back to slavery and coming on up to Hakim Muributu, Sonia Sanchez, Amir Baraka. He was always an encouragement and I got an A.

Years later I was having dinner with this brother he was a political person in Sacramento, Grandin Johnson, trying to push for affirmative action years ago. So he had brought Eugene Redmond to the college for a part of Black Studies. I told him yeh, Redmond, I took a class with him and he gave me an A. He looked at me and he said; (pause) Redmond, didn’t give out A’s. If you got an A man you must have been producing some serious work. I kind of hung my head and said well he liked my work. He said I’m telling you he didn’t give out A’s. You had to work to get an A. He really dropped a bomb on me.

I kept in touch with Eugene Redmond, he’s published me about six different times in Drum Voices Review and some other publications too.

Music begins… Slow piano riff moves into a cool Hip Hop groove.

I realized ok, God gave me this talent and with this talent he’s kind of helped raise me up from that bed of poor self-esteem. Lift me up and encouraged me and inspired me. And I have to take care of this talent. I have to nourish it, be kind to it, treat it right and try to use it.

I’m at this place now it’s called Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkley, working with homeless young adults in high school. I try to use stuff like ok, let’s write about the last time someone said to you I love you. The last time you were angry and you felt like you wanted to kill somebody. How you see the situation where the guy is beaten to death on the street and the cop put his knee on his neck. Let’s write about that. Let’s write about mercy. What does it mean for you to be merciful to someone else . And I’m trying to use writing to confront.

I really embrace the Black Live Matter because we fought for the demands for Black Studies apparently somebody was listening.

Audio: Prison door slams and continues with ambient sound of a prison.

I used to do writer’s workshops in prisons and I’d go in and try to be an inspiration and encouragement to those people locked up behind bars with this talent that God gave me.

I did a presentation at Folsom prison and this inmate he wasn’t sitting with his back to the wall. You had to pay attention to that. Other people sitting at the table. It might have been ten people. This one guy when it was over turned out he was a point man in Vietnam and he wiped out a whole family drunk. If it hadn’t been for Vietnam he wouldn’t have did what he did.

He says hey can I ask you a question? I said yeh, go right ahead. He says when you lost your eyesight did you lose your will to live?

Man, I was shocked by that question. I really didn’t want to answer his question, but you deal with inmates they’ll be real with you so it’s best to be real with them. It’ll protect you. I said yeh, I lost my will to live. He says hey brother, he took my hand and said I’m glad you made that decision to live because you’ve really been an inspiration here today. Man, that dude gave me a PhD.(Laughs) He stamped it on my forehead

I got to be like I said, an inspiration, encouragement. Be it if I’m at a prison, at a school, wherever it is try to take this talent, try to inspire, encourage someone to live.

Music ends

TR:

Art!

I started off being trained to do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. Hand and eye.

I can’t do that anymore. I can’t set something in front of me draw it make it look like realism. That’s out!

I had to take a different approach. When I got back into art I was a Sacramento County CETA Artist. CETA program that’s the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, Jimmy Carter was president.

I was doing stuff that I knew from college because I had been out of art for about seven or eight years.

I did these large carrots, seven foot carrots (laughs). These were paintings. The middle of the carrot had another piece of canvas sewed on it was blue, called “This Carrot Got the Blues.”

I did these large pieces, I took styro foam balls and I stuffed them with Latex paint and then I painted a jet seal over that. It was Braille dots on canvas, it said “Do Not Touch”. And then another one said (laughing) “Read this with left hand only”

I was doing stuff that was workable for my blindness.

Music – Jazz drummer sol – off beat groove Track 9, Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Allen Gordon he was the head of the Art department at one time at Cal State Sacramento. He introduced me to the NCA a group of Black artists from around the country. National Conference of Artists, Margaret Burrows out of Chicago, but even before that time he says oh you’re doing some African art. I says I ain’t took no classes. He said, it’s in you; line, shape, color, rhythm movement. I says oh wow! I’ve been doing more and more of that.

I cover the paper with oil pastels and then I come over it with water down acrylics doing line drawings of African masks on paper. or maybe drummers or jazz musicians on paper. Then I started doing African sculptures playing saxophones or playing a flute, playing a bass. African dancers. Using my blindness and doing abstracts. It might look like a Jazz drummer, a horn player, a dancer with all this abstract stuff you know,

line shape, rhythm color, movement. (Delayed effect on the groove of the beat.)

I’m using my blindness to create the art piece and get to my own originality.

Music ends!

I use my blindness in terms of writing. It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say.

Sometime I’m producing art, well I’ll stop and I’ll do some writing. So in a sense the art is influencing the writing.

I produce some writing, well let me set this down and I’ll produce some art. So the writing is influencing the art. Inspiring on the inside- give me some encouragement and inspiration.

I get tired of that well, I’ll go out here and catch a performance, theater play some jazz. I’ll go to an art gallery and see what they’re doing or go catch some poets. I might even sit there and don’t say nothing . I don’t even want to read I just want to you know listen to other people. Right now it ain’t happening. Truthfully I I’ve gotten depressed. Five months I’ve only finished one piece. I started about nine others and finished one. That ain’t saying nothing. I’m usually producing anywhere from one to three pieces a week. So that tells you this thing has hit me in such a manner and all I could do is relate to other people when they’re saying the same thing, feeling uninspired. It’s hard it’s really hard to deal with and I wish I knew some answers. Even I try to get to the spiritual place man I’m blocked on that too. I don’t know maybe you , hey you got some ideas tell me. (Laughs)

The sad part about it is I don’t have a computer and I use visual tech that enlarges print. And I spend a lot of time on that writing. In some ways I wish I had the hook up with the computer but I think I’d be lost.

I don’t take pride in it but I’m computer ignorant and I know I’m ignorant when you get one of these little five or six year olds in here and they know how to hit all the buttons and get everything just right. (Laughs) I know I’m out of the loop.

“Whatever you can do to drum up hope, do it!” – CC with Ambient effect

Music begins.

I never would have dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing.
I’ve been published, locally nationally and internationally. I’ve had my artwork shown. Some people have my artwork in foreign countries. I’ve had theater plays produced.

Like my Grandmother used to say she said the Lord works in mysterious ways and has wonders to be performed. Maybe that would be my story. I look back on it I’m baffled.

I remember a lady was gonna date me, oh he ain’t got no job, he’s not doing this, he can’t do this. Somebody else said,

Music pauses

apparently you don’t know the brother. ..

My name is Charles Curtis Blackwell!

TR:

Well, it’s a privilege and honor to say Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell,
It’s official! you Sir are a part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Music begins.

While Mr. Blackwell does not have a computer, he does have a Facebook page at Charles Curtis Blackwell. I’ll link to it on this episodes blog post.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been inspired. He said, his art influences his writing and his writing influences his art. That resonates with me. Inspiration from within.

If you’ve been inspired I hope you will let that influence you…

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

CC:
“Laughs, I was knocked off my feet man!”

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Young Gifted Black & Disabled

October 7th, 2020  / Author: T.Reid

A white background with black silhouettes.  The text: Young Gifted Black descends while the font is increasing in size. the words are colored Red Black &Green respectively.  Centered on the next line reads & On the left is a man in a wheelchair, next is a blind man holding a white cane, in the middle is a woman with two crutches, next is a woman in a wheelchair, and last is a woman missing a leg with crutches. Below are the shadows of the silhouettes with "disabled" in bright golden letters hovering over it.

People with disabilities make up 20 to 25 percent of the population. It’s considered the largest minority. No so called race, ethnic group or age is excluded. Even within the extremely low representation in the media, Black people with disabilities are seldom seen.

This episode, a co-production with Ajani AJ Murray is our attempt to open this conversation.

Earlier this summer, AJ and I invited Author, Blogger Rasheera Dopson and Doctoral Student D’Arcee Charington to join us on a Zoom call to discuss the Black Disabled experience from their individual perspectives. The result, a non-apologetic discussion about representation in the media, acceptance in the Black community and Black Disabled pride… – “Young Gifted Black & Disabled”

For me personally, 2 out of 4 ain’t bad!

Shout out to AJ who’s also co-hosting this episode – a first for this podcast.

Salutes Chadwick Bozeman!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Scene from “Black Panther” “In Salute to Chadwick Bozeman

Black Panther:

I am not ready to be without you.

Black Panther’s Father:

A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father. Have I ever failed you?

Black Panther:

Never.

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family. Greetings to anyone joining for the first time. My name is Thomas Reid your host & producer. Welcome to the podcast!

Well, when it comes to this particular episode, I’m only one half of the host and production team. You heard my co-host when he was here on the podcast earlier this year. In fact, I liked his opening so much, let’s run it back!

Audio: AJ Episode intro

Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you …

Music begins “Nautilus”

and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

But first, uh, hit me with the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

AJ, welcome back my brother!

AJ:

Thanks for inviting me to be on the other side of the mic.

Why don’t we get right to it and I’ll introduce our guests.

Ladies first of course!

Audio: Ladies First, Queen Latifah

AJ:

My friend also living here in Atlanta Rasheera Dopson.

Rasheera:

Hi everyone! I’m really excited to be on this podcast with you guys today.

AJ:

And then we have another friend of mine from Washington DC, his name is D’Arcee.

D’Arcee:

D’Arcee Charington Neal. I currently live in Columbus Ohio. I am a second year Doctoral Student at the Ohio State University.

Music begins… “Young Gifted & Black” Donny Hathaway

TR:

What exactly do our guests have in common?

AJ:

They’re all Young Gifted, Black and Disabled!

Music Stops

Music Begins… Hip Hop Beat

Rasheera:

I am an author, Blogger, Disability Advocate. Owner of a nonprofit organization, The Dopson Foundation and the Beauty with a Twist Brand. two organizations dedicated to creating spaces of inclusion for women with disabilities. Being the founder of those two organizations that gives me a lot of space to be able to reach other minority women with disabilities.

AJ:

And D’Arcee

D’Arcee:

I am a second year Doctoral student at the Ohio State University and I do a lot of work at the intersection of Black identity and Disability specifically focusing through the lens of popular culture. A lot of my work has taken me working with major corporations, a bunch of nonprofits, some government agencies. Now I’m doing it for academia.

Rasheera:

So I was born with two rare diseases called Goldenhar Syndrome and the other one is called VADER Syndrome. Both of my syndromes have similar types of birth defects. One is considered a facial difference so when most people see me you notice that my face is asymmetrical. I was born without a right ear or right jaw bone. So I kind of fall in between the rare disease chronic illness and a disability intersectionality. .

I’m always real specific when I say that because you have a lot of people who have rare diseases who may not have a disability or you may have people with disabilities who don’t have chronic illness. So to say the least my childhood experience with disability was very complicated

TR:

That really is a good point. SO many people think disability and therefore unhealthy, sick. The two don’t necessarily always go hand in hand.

Rasheera:

I’m very grateful. I grew up in a single parent household with my mom. She was my fighter and advocate. The reason that I’m able to speak, to walk, to is because I had a lot of work done.

One out of twenty five thousand people have my condition. So really I didn’t meet another individual like myself until I was 25 years old.

A lot of moments of isolation and just kind of living on survival mode.

D’Arcee:

I just wanted to add, so I mean I saw you on video before all of this and I just think you’re absolutely gorgeous and never would have even thought about any of that.

Rasheera:

Ah,thank you! (Giggles)

D’Arcee:

I was like wait? What? I didn’t see none of that on camera, wait, … huh?

TR:

AJ:

D’Arcee has CP or Cerebral Palsy.

D’Arcee:

My parents are together They’ve been married for 35 years this year. Neither one of them really knew anything about disability or the idea of what to do with a disabled child. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 2 because at 18 months I hadn’t gotten up off the floor yet and they were really concerned about it. When they took me to the doctor he diagnosed me with CP. My mother said she left the doctor’s office went outside sat on the curb and cried.

She was upset because she thought all her hopes and dreams of a child doing stuff was gone. (pause) Clearly she was wrong!

Music Ends…

Audio: “Message” … From Don’t Be A Menace While Drinking Juice in Da Hood

AJ:

The message is about false expectations inaccurate beliefs or misperceptions.

TR:

Most parent’s do the best they can with what they have. Older now, D’Arcee has taken the time to have conversations with his parents.

D’Arcee

And one of the things we talked about was Ableism. My parents were not familiar with the terminology. They were doing things that were progressive that they didn’t even know. I cooked, I cleaned. It wasn’t a question of like if you cooked but it was a question of like when are you going to. My bedroom was always on the second floor and we always lived in a house with steps and I never had one of them little contraptions that people be putting on the banister where you just sit in and it takes you up the step. Look that was a genie wish machine that I saw in movies and TV because if I wanted to get to my bedroom I had to crawl up the steps.

TR:

I’m sure that can be an uncomfortable image for some. What we see is so highly based on what we believe to be true. It reminds me of when people see me or another Blind person walking with our cane. For the unaware, it appears that the cane and therefore the person is crashing into things. What they don’t realize is that we’re independently accessing information in a way that works for us.

AJ:
Disability is complex.
For example, I need help with just about everything except, using a remote control.
Some people have more mobility than others. And that’s ok.

D’Arcee:

Inside the house there was no expectation for me to have to be anything other than who I was. When you leave the door, the bar of expectation just goes so low.

My parents never talked about the difference. They didn’t prepare me for the Ableism that was going to come in middle school, in high school in college and looking for a job. I had to find all of that out by hand.

TR:

Rasheera also shared some reflections on how she too wasn’t prepared for what was to come in the real world.

Rasheera:

I felt like I wasn’t properly prepared to be a disabled woman. In my household I was just Sheera and we goin’ treat Sheera like everybody else. Then when I got to school I’m thinking I’m a Black woman and people are looking at me like, hmm you’re a Disabled Black woman and there’s a difference. I felt like I had to learn the hard way. I’m 29 and I’m finally starting to get this thing. And it has nothing to do with you it has really everything to do with the system that was created not for people like you.

D’Arcee:

People just assume that if you say the word disability it immediately translates to less than, without them knowing anything about symptoms or anything. People are just immediately like ok, well clearly you’re special needs, clearly you belong in the class with other people with intellectual disabilities. Not to say that’s any better or worse, but it’s a different type of class and it’s a complete segregation from regular education.

AJ:

Societies low expectations come in different forms.

D’Arcee:

I lived in an all-white neighborhood in North Carolina so people would just come up to you and be like “oh, oh my God, where were you shot?” … was the number one question I would get from like the age of 9 through like 17 because people just equate and this is a really specific experience for wheel chair users only because the narrative that people have of chair users and Black people is criminality.

TR:

D’Arcee went on to site shows like Oz & Cops which help spread that narrative.

AJ:

I feel like if we took a few more minutes we’d come up with some other examples from film and television.

TR:

We began the conversation by asking each of our guests to share the specific type of media they consumed growing up.

AJ:

First up, Rasheera.

Rasheera:

I’m a writer! So when I was in elementary school I thought I was going to be the next Toni Morrison. You could not tell me that…

The rest of the panel jumps in with positive encouragement. “You still can be” You’re still young” “Hold up”

AJ:

Black love is not just about romantic love, it’s also lifting one another in support.

TR:

Facts!

Rasheera:

She didn’t publish her first book until she was 40 and I’m 29 and I just published my first so it’s still Goal!

I grew up in a predominantly white school. My sister and I were really the only two Black kids in the entire school so it wasn’t until 11th grade in high school that I actually got exposed to African American literature. The Toni Morrison’s, Alice Walker’s , The Zora Neal Hurston. I’m just like oh, these people sound just like me!

TR:

That’s connecting with the voices of Black women authors.

AJ:

The full story of the black experience hasn’t been written yet.
There are plenty more chapters yet to be explored.

Rasheera:

As I’ve gotten older, even though I look to those mediums and those platforms such as the books and even Essence magazine being a girl and looking through all the pages and the different fashion things, I get a little sad. I never saw anyone like me. I never saw a girl with disabilities in Essence magazine. Struggling with low self-esteem growing up I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was reading Essence magazine, Ebony magazine Jet magazine reading the stories of Toni Morrison and hearing the Black struggle but I never read about the disability struggle.

It Matters, it really does.

D’Arcee

My family is a movie family. We have been addicted to films. I can vividly recall as an 8, 9 year old spending many an hour re-alphabetizing my mom’s thousand VHS tape collection. No lie and each tape had like five movies on it. We loved movies growing up . My mom was really into horror films which is hilarious because she’s super religious. She’s an Evangelist now.

Music… church organ

D’Arcee:

It’s one thing to not see yourself. It’s another thing to not be thought of.

These days when I watch TV and Netflix and stuff I see disability. I see it quite a lot, but I feel like there are disabilities that are sexy. I don’t even mean attractive, I mean that there hot in the media because people find it to be easy to access and it works really good for a story plot. So if I had to pick one that would be Autism.

TR:

Let’s be very clear, because you know how things get misconstrued, in no way is D’Arcee or your hosts in support of pitting disabilities against one another. This isn’t about any sort of perceived hierarchy within the disability community.

AJ:
This is about disability representation in the media. And it really is true, representation matters!
Right now Autism has the spotlight in the media.

D’Arcee:

It’s super popular right now. You see white Autistics everywhere. When I was growing up we were watching movies it was so funny because anytime you would see a Black person like and I mean any time you would see Black people that were like off to the side or just like a spec person we would get so excited.

[
Blade, was my shit!

AJ:

Another question for the panel was to recall their first time seeing disability represented in the media.

TR:

Says below with live version…

TR in conversation with panelists:

And specifically Black disability.
,
Panelists: long pause… Delay… breaths…

Rasheera:

Man, … (laughs)

D’Arcee:

I gotta think about it! Um!

AJ:

Um!

Rasheera:

I think when I read about Haben Girma. The Deaf Blind lawyer.

D’Arcee:

Haben (correcting pronunciation), that’s my friend Haben. Haben Girma, yeh!

Rasheera:

That says a lot because it’s present day.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, right, that’s like last year.

Group: Wow… laughs

Rasheera:

Um, so no!

Rasheera:

I could count on my hand and I even use my whole hand for how many Black disable people I’ve met.

D’Arcee

I mean I know quite a few, like in real life.

[TR in conversation with D’Arcee:]

As a child did you know them?

D’Arcee:

As a … no, no!

My friend Angel was the first Black Disabled person, this is going to sound terrible but, the first Black Disabled person that was actually doing shit!

AJ:

Does that sound terrible to you?

TR:

I think it’s about people who have aspirations and goals. Many people I’ve spoken to for the podcast have said to me, I was looking for or I found, you know, the cool Blind people. I don’t think it’s specific to the goal or level of education, , but rather it’s about someone striving to accomplish something.

D’Arcee:

I had gotten an internship at NASA.

NASA forgot that they hired disabled folk, three of us. They forgot that we needed housing and they put everybody else in an apartment complex that was like 20 miles away and it didn’t have any accessible rooms so the University of Maryland had to come through at the last minute and give us some dorm rooms to live in and Angel just happened to be my next door neighbor. I saw her and I was like wait a minute, Black Disabled woman and then she was like yeh, I’m a Doctoral student and I’m finishing my PhD in Gender and Women Studies.
Wow! It was so beyond what I even thought was possible. And that sounds so terrible.

AJ:

What’s terrible is that even in 2020 we’re struggling to think of Black Disabled people in the media.

D’Arcee:

I know lots of Black folk but I can’t think of any with an actual disability that’s been … I’m sorry Denzel Washington, The Bone Collector. Which is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

AJ in Conversation with Panel:

I don’t know if anyone would remember the show “Malcolm in the Middle”. He had a friend, I don’t remember what his disability was but he was in a chair and he was kind of an A-hole. That was the first person that I can remember that was Black and Disabled.

Rasheera:

You know, now that you mention that AJ, I thought about Jimmy from Degrassi. And I guess he didn’t really come to mind because the first two seasons Jimmy wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I guess the third season didn’t he get shot or something.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, he got shot!

AJ:

I knew someone would come up with an example of this trope.

TR:

And that’s a Canadian show isn’t it?
TR:

These tropes aren’t limited to the US.

AJ:
TR:

Also, I’m pretty certain in all of the examples mentioned, they weren’t played by a person with an actual disability.

AJ in conversation with panel:

It seems like we can’t get any real stories about real people with disabilities in movies, but if you’re an able body actor and you play somebody with a disability you may get an Oscar.

D’Arcee:

I would be remised if I didn’t at least bring up the fact that Netflix does seem to be trying to do it. I’m trying to be generous.
So I love the show Sex Education. I think it is one of the best shows to come out in a long time. It’s a comedy, a British comedy. In season two they introduce a character with a disability. So the actor himself is actually disabled which I thought was great.
TR :

But!

AJ

Wait for it!

D’Arcee:

Unfortunately he wasn’t Black so I can’t get everything that I want.

AJ:

D’Arcee mentioned Blade earlier. Not a movie that I think most people associate with disability.

TR:

I know I didn’t but, when he broke it down!

First, the ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

D’Arcee:

He’s a half vampire half human being. He basically has some weird combination of Sickle Cell and an auto immune disorder. I see it as a rare disease. He was working with huh, wait for it, a Black woman who was also a Phlebotomist. She develops an immuno therapy that he inhales via an inhaler that allows him to function.

TR:

I told you, when he breaks it down for you!

D’Arcee:

It affected me so deeply. I saw that movie and I was just like this is a disabled Black dude who is a super hero who is saving people and he’s Black A F with his Barber who makes his weapons with his Camaro car with the high rims. It was a marriage of like blackness and disability unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Black Disabled people have already been there but they’re not being discussed that way. Storm is a Black Disabled woman. If she were a real person she has the same chromosomal disorder as a person with Down Syndrome. She just shoots lightning bolts out her eyes. She would be covered under the ADA. Technically.

AJ:

Do you think Wesley ever thought about the character in that way?

TR:

I doubt it, but I’m going to re-examine Nino Brown.
TR:

AJ:

Shout out New Jack City!

What up Pookie!

D’Arcee:

I thought it was brilliant but people don’t give Wesley Snipes props. People keep thinking that Dead Pool was the first rated R comic book movie, it’s not! That belongs to Blade.

Audio From Blade:
Blade: You people better wake up!

Rasheera:

Even the new Harriet Tubman movie, come on people didn’t give credence to the fact that she was a Disabled woman. Okay, she was spiritual and she had visions, but she had probably a form of Epilepsy…

D’Arcee:

She definitely did.

Rasheera:

that caused her to have seizures. That is a disability and the fact that she freed thousands of slaves, I was like give that woman her props as a Disabled Black woman.

Audio: Martin Lawrence in standup performance.

“Handicapped people have good parking spaces… (fades)

Rasheera:

It was some time last year , Martin Lawrence, he had put an old clip of him doing standup comedy. Of course he was playing somebody who had some developmental delays. He had the arm twisted and was doing the things like he was making fun of a person. He had thousands of comments on there. This is the issue I have with the Black community, we still endorse people who have created content that sheds a negative light on people with disabilities.

TR:

Rasheera gave an example of how there seems to be more push back from the white community towards those felt to be disrespectful…

AJ:

It’s one thing to have a comedian, for example, perform and perpetuate a negative image. It’s another level of pain or hurt that comes from the general public who argues for that sort of content.

Rasheera:

When I point it out… This lady she commented, she was like you guys are too sensitive. I was like you know, no we’re not too sensitive we understand that was like the early 90’s so you know people just didn’t know or did they care? We really have to go back and say you know that wasn’t okay that you made a whole stand up production making fun of a person with a developmental disability and we still laugh at that. It’s not cool!

AJ:

Too sensitive?

Not really when you consider history and experience.

Rasheera:

Whenever we have a person in our family who’s “Disabled” you know, we’ll call him slow or special. That’s Uncle Ray Ray we keep him in the back corner and we won’t tell the family that he exists.

Historically when we’re dealing with certain levels of pain and trauma we do use things such as comedy and music to provide relief to that. I don’t know if it’s justifiable but I do think it needs to be brought to the surface like okay maybe we do need to peel back why is it that we still think it’s okay to hide our relatives with disabilities. Why is it still like such a level of shame in our community when it comes to disability?

D’Arcee:

This is what my work centers on in academia – what I am trying to coin Afro Fantasm. This idea that Black Disabled people within the Black community exists as living ghosts. We exist and folks know we exist, they do not acknowledge the disabled part of the identity as opposed to the Black part. I had someone recently tell me, one of my friends recently tell me; well disability isn’t race. He said I just think you’re making something out of nothing and you’re creating something that does not exist. I said it most certainly is.

AJ:

How do you think that would make you feel?

TR:
If necessary, make the larger identity relevant to you.

D’Arcee:

Why do you seem to think that just because Black people are disabled we don’t need to do things culturally that still read as Black? All my disabled female friends they constantly complain about how nail salons are not accessible. As a wheelchair user I still need to go to the Locktician to do my Dred’s. Me being in a wheelchair does not stop me from having to do that because as a Black person I don’t want to look busted! Or ashy or like any ‘ol kind of way because that’s already assumed that’s how we’re going to look anyway when we come out of the house.

Music… Let the Church Say Amen

D’Arcee:

Church is the center piece of African American identity and yet I don’t know of most Black churches that will use interpreters. They don’t bring cart services, they don’t provide hymns in Braille. It is not a conception that even crosses into people’s minds and so therefore I call it Afro Fantasm. You exist but only in the barest spectral sense to other Black people

Audio: Scene from “Blackish”
Takes place in a Black Church. The pastor speaking from the pulpit.

We will now offer prayers for our community. Everybody knows somebody broke into Shante’s car and stole her last good hearing aid. Shante we’re all praying for you. Pause, Pause… Shante, (spoken slowly and deliberately) we are all praying for you. Ahuh, ahuh! Church agrees!

TR:

CART services is an acronym for Computer Assisted Real Time Translation.

AJ:

Real time captioning.

D’Arcee:

if we actually were to go beyond that and to start looking at the actual physical embodiment of disability, folks shut down.

Rasheera you were saying why does the Black community continue to laugh at Martin Lawrence’s jokes? So the answer as horrible as it is but it’s the truth, people can come on my Twitter and check me if they want to, you don’t see us as people. Bottom line point blank period with a t, we are not people in your minds. We are uh huh, interestingly enough, three fifths of a person.

Music Ends with a low base and then bass fades out

Rasheera:

When you call them on that point it’s just like oh well you’re taking away from the Black cause.

How am I taking away from the Black cause when really all I’m trying to show you is the full spectrum of the Black narrative.

AJ in conversation with panel:

This is a part of my Black experience. I wonder and I’m just putting this out there, I’m not saying this is concrete, but I wonder if it has a lot to do with the fact that disability is something that needs to be healed.

D’Arcee:

Absolutely. You don’t want to say its physical I will.
TR:

In case anyone is getting this twisted and thinks a pass is being given to others and saying Black people are more Ablest?

D’Arcee:

That is not what we’re doing.

What I need to specify is that while it is true that the Black community often does not do things to support people with disabilities. The flip side of that coin is that it’s because of systemic racism that we can’t. Most of the time. I will say yes it happens sometimes, yeh there are assholes everywhere, but the reality is I firmly believe that Black people are not out here (laughs) being villains to Disabled people on purpose.

TR:

Systemic racism in the form of redlining for example.

AJ:

Too often small business owners of color are unable to access capital to afford retrofitting existing buildings to make them accessible.

D’Arcee:

I will say that yes, while I go to Barber Shops and you see steps and I’ll be like Lord Jesus, the flip side of that is the people in there have always helped me. They will stop cutting hair to come outside to do what they have to do so I can get into the shop.

TR:

Black Love?

AJ:

Black Love!

But we definitely shouldn’t have to do all that!

Rasheera:

[
We just haven’t had the bandwidth within our community without the barriers of systemic oppression to allow us to have acceptance for everybody.
]
So if you guys make stuff more accessible, and wealth is equally distributed in our community, half these conversations we wouldn’t even be having.

AJ:

I had to ask our panelists how do they see Black Disability moving into the mainstream?

D’Arcee:

Somebody needs to sit Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris down and say you’ve done a lot for Black people but now you need to purposely put Disabled folks in big ways. And that’s only part of the issue because quite frankly the other part of the issue is that there aren’t enough actors. If Kenya Barris and Shonda Rhimes create a show and they want to put a Black Disabled person front and center, if they want them to be the next Olivia Pope they have to be ready to take it.

AJ:

Is the question about the number or the level of experience?

D’Arcee:

I love Peter Dinklage, oh my God he’s fabulous. But he is the only one. These acting studios need to stop trippin’ and they need to let people with disabilities straight up in because that’s the only way. I want a wheelchair using peter Dinklage. I want a person in a wheelchair who is respected.

Rasheera:

That’s one of the reasons why I decided I want to go into Public Health. At the end of the day we can talk about how the spaces are needed, but actually we need more people with disabilities to occupy those spaces.

Music begins, Young Gifted & Black, Donny Hathaway

When you get to the very core of it, we have to begin to empower the disability community. Letting them know, you can go to college. You can get a Master’s degree. You can go into any career field that you want and maybe we have to find ways to strategize so you can get the type of accommodation.

Music morphs into a Remix of Young Gifted & Black… Young Gifted Black & Disabled!

AJ:

We need more opportunities. The wealth of talent is there. You just have to want to see it.

Rasheera:

Empower disable people, especially disabled Black people.

Before I ever knew I was disabled I knew I was Black first. I was very fortunate that my family raised me to know everything about my people. We weren’t just descendants from slaves.

I identify as a Disabled person, a woman and a Black woman at that. I take a lot of pride in that. Even somedays when its hard and I’m just like man, I’m the only one in the room.

It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also a place of fulfillment and joy where you’re able to pull from those different life experiences.

D’Arcee:

I was just thinking of the Morpheus quote from The Matrix Reloaded, which I recently saw. When he was in Zion, when he was talking to everyone trying to calm them down and what he said is; what I remember most is after a century of struggle I remember that which matters most.

Audio from Matrix Reloaded: “We are still here!” Crowd roars in applause!

That resonates so deeply with who I am as a person.

The more I learn about Disabled History and the more I learn about Black history and how they intersect, it just makes me even prouder to be the type of person that I am and to be able to do what I do.

I am the only wheelchair user in the graduate department of several hundred students. I’m in the number one school for English in the United States. I have a complete full ride for this degree, they paid me to come there.

TR:

He’s not flexin’ on y’all!

D’Arcee:

It’s a question of knowing your worth. When it comes to Black Disabled people, we exist in this space that people think of as double deficit. You start off from a negative place. As a Black Disabled person you are the bottom of the bottom, if you believe that you are.

I think the only way that people don’t fall into the trap is by having a support system of people who are constantly telling you that this is not true.

AJ:

That support system can be your family, friends but I think what I heard here today is the overall community can step it up.

TR:

Shout out to Rasheera who you can find on …

Rasheera:

Insta Gram, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In – just type in Rasheera Dopson. R A S H E E R A Or Beauty with a twist.

TR:

And D’Arcee!

D’Arcee:

My Twitter handle is DRChairington. Charington but spelled like a chair, as I’m a wheelchair user. Oh, it’s Dr. Chairington, I’ll take that too!

TR:

It’s official, you both are part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Brother AJ, you already know, you ‘ve been down with the Rmm family for a minute.

Thanks for co-hosting & producing this episode with me.

AJ:

Thanks Tom, let’s do it again!

TR:

I’m not sure what I can let out but AJ’s always doing something, you know Acting up somewhere! He’s @GotNextAJ on Twitter and Ajani AJ Murray everywhere else.

What do you think about the format, the topic anything?
Let me know at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or on Twitter @tsreid.

When it comes to the Black Disability experience, there’s so much more to talk about. I think you can expect more right here on Reid My Mind Radio. Sounds like something you don’t want to miss out on?
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Remember transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

AJ: Laughs!

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description

September 16th, 2020  / Author: T.Reid

When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines? There’s so much more to AD than what we hear. So, today on the podcast, we’re going to expand who we actually hear from on the topic. There are the “experts” but there are plenty more with something really valuable to contribute. Like, Alejandra Ospina, Liz Thomson & Chanelle Carson who share their expertise on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to Flip the Script to hear what’s on the other side!

Plus I’ll introduce you to someone from the other side who I’ve been turning to when I need a bit of help! Or maybe I really do just need some help!

Listen

Resources

Alejandra Ospina
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

Geez, this idea of trying to open the podcast with something different or catchy is just starting to get to be too much.

If only I had help. If only I had help, If only I …

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

Yes, oh great Kazoo. Didn’t you hear me calling you?

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

Bruh! Isn’t that your job. To be there to look out for a brother.

The Great Kazoo:

My dear fellow, I’m not only undependable, but I’m a bit of a Kook… That’s why I’m hear remember I’m being punished.

TR:

Really, punished? You act like I call you that often. It’s been a minute since I actually needed your help Bruh. Plus I looked out for you that last time. I sent a very nice email to your supervisor.

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

Oh, it’s like that son? Aight, forget you. I’ll just do the regular intro myself with you, nahmean!

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. I should clarify that a bit because I think it may get lost. People impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability? This includes all those experiencing disability directly. A person new to blindness for example. But it also includes their family members and friends. The teachers of the visually impaired, O&M & Rehab instructors who teach the white cane for example or other daily living skills. There are also those in supporting industries from technology, accessibility & of course Audio Description. I consider all of this to be summarized by impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. For the record, I think our entire society is all impacted by disability, but we don’t all happen to realize that or even feel that way. But don’t worry y’all eventually they’ll catch up with us. That’s on them. So let us just keep doing our thing!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning) Oh look, I don’t wish to stay here forever. And since I am supposed to serve you I will try. But take heed, don’t ask for more than you can handle, you may get it.

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

Maybe I don’t need help. I think I have an idea after all.

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning…) Well, see you tomorrow. Maybe. Laughs. Sound effects signaling his disappearance.)

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Today I’m bringing you excerpts of some conversations I had over the past few months with multiple Audio Describers. Specifically writers and narrators, each bringing their own perspective and background.

AD is still new. There’s no one “right” way. With there being so much more to Audio Description than what we hear, it’s past time we hear from a more inclusive set of people involved in the process.

So, this is the first in a series I’m calling Flipping the Script on Audio Description. You know, sometimes you just need to hear from another side.

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

Alejandra:
My name is Alejandra (American English accented) or Alejandra Ospina depending on your audience.

TR:

That’s what I’m saying! The Reid My Mind Radio Family like our world is diverse. And that’s how we roll!

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

My business cards have a long list of things, but I like to consolidate it into what I’m calling a Media Accessibility Provider. I do Close Captioning and I do transcription and I do translation and Audio Description and so I like to imagine the things I’m doing all sort of promote access to content. I don’t consider myself as often a content creator but I like to facilitate people getting to see or hear or know what they’re watching.

TR:

That makes me think Alejandra’s introduction to media access is personal.

Alejandra:

Having close friends and chosen family members that are visually impaired and I’ve spent a lot of time describing things for them so it sort of was a natural progression.

Related sort of anecdotally growing up as the primary English speaker in a Spanish speaking family I spent a lot of time explaining things to so the concept of explaining comes naturally to me.

TR:

That sort of hits home for me. My mom played that role for much of her family. One thing I know is that can be a great way to develop an advocate’s spirit.

Alejandra:

I was one of those folks that got on my high horse which isn’t very high, about having people on social media describe images and photos that they post. So I spent a lot of time in the last five years gently shaming or encouraging people to describe the things they post on social media and over time that has caught the attention of folks in disability community and communities of people that are doing this kind of work. And it was sort of a natural progression.

TR:

Next, one of the first Describers to provide a visual description of themselves. This prompted me to not only begin asking other describers to do the same but really to think about incorporating that going forward with all interviews.

Here’s Liz Thomson, who is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Disability Studies.

Liz:

(Spelling her name)
Liz Thomson. I would visually describe myself as a dark skin 5 foot 2 person with black eyes and black rimmed glasses. Currently I have a mostly shaved head with a band of 2 inch short black hair. I identify as someone who is disabled, also bisexual and queer. A Vietnamese adoptee. Mostly grown up and worked in the mid-west. I use they, them they’re pronouns.

TR:

you can say Liz had a fast tracked introduction to AD. Learning of it and experience it all in the same evening.

Liz:

One of my good friends who is Low Vision, he invited me to go to a Disability Cultural Program. At the very beginning of the program they ask if anyone needed headsets for Audio Description. He’s used to that and I think he typically takes advantage of that accommodation, but I had never heard of that. And so I was like hey you know I’ll try it out. So I got my headset. I believe this was kind of like an open mic performance.

TR:

It included things like poetry, dance or movement and other artistic expression. probably not the most traditional first experience with Audio Description.

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

My name is Chanelle Carson. I am a Freelance Audio Describer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m also the Senior Audio Describer at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas.

I’ve been working with the Smith Center for actually 8 years now. About 4, 5 years ago actually, during one of our pre shifts they just asked if anyone was interested in learning how to do Audio Description.

At the time I was 22 just out of college. I had been studying film with a focus on screen writing, I was thinking oh, this sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m a writer and at the time I was very interested in learning how to do voice acting.

Didn’t hear anything for a few months then they sent me and another woman off to get trained at Joel Snyder’s Audio Description seminar.

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

Was it kind of hard to take what you learned and go right into the live stuff?

Chanelle:

Oh yeh! It was extremely difficult going from the training to doing live theater because the training was so heavily focused on TV and film that sure the basic stuff like;
Don’t talk over the dialog, Blind people aren’t idiots – don’t worry about being too tender or politically correct with your description. What you see you describe.

Of course with TV and film when you’re doing description for that you have the lovely pause button. You don’t necessarily have that for live theater.

(Music ends!)

You can’t go hey guys I screwed up can we go back. (Laughs along with TR) So it’s very much having to learn how to do things on the fly.

TR:

Like Chanelle, Liz too completed the ACB AD Training. Similarly, the application was less about TV and film.

Liz:

I’ve done photography ever since I was in middle school. I did photo journalism at my high school newspaper, in college. As a photo journalist I was realizing I wasn’t adding Alt Text. I wasn’t adding description in my captions to make it kind of more integrated. I would add a caption but I wouldn’t add that photo description.

TR:
Today, Liz can take up to 25 minutes crafting an image description when preparing to upload.

Liz:

Sometimes people are like how can you do that? Do the in their eyes the extra time and labor to do the Audio Description. My response now is how can you afford to not.

TR:

Even if you put aside making the world a more accessible place for all (boring!) there are some real benefits:

Liz:

It makes me look at my images more closely. It makes me reflect a lot more on images that I shot.

TR:

That reflection could lead to a better understanding beyond the pixels. Photography biases for example.
Liz:

Not taking images of people with disabilities. Taking more images of cisgender men.

TR:

It’s not just about description – Liz is thoughtful about phrasing.

Liz:

Language is also fluid and socially constructed and also has different meanings over generations and time. Like modern and traditional. Well that means something very different now than it did in 1940.

My first draft will be one way and then I’ll look at it later on in the day and then I’ll change it. If I say something like traditional, then I have to ask myself well what do I mean and also what did I really see.

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

In addition to learning the sort of standard ways that one is meant to do Audio Description for video for things like Netflix and Amazon, I’ve also been thrown into the world of how do you break that open and describe differently in ways that are actually respecting the culture, respecting the art. becoming part of the art and not just being tacked on after the fact because somebody does not want to get in trouble for not providing access.

TR:

I find it very empowering to see a lot of that pushing of the boundaries around Audio Description coming from the disability community.

It’s no surprise that Alejandra has worked with Alice Sheppard and laurel Lawson who we featured here on the podcast. All sharing this way of looking at Audio Description as more than an access accommodation.

Alejandra:

I don’t have a specific background in writing, but I have a specific background in wanting to be right!
[TR in conversation with Alejandra:]

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

Given that I have a personal investment with my community and the people that I care about

TR:

That’s the Disability community. When you’re connected like that it’s more than a job.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being a job that you perform professionally.

Alejandra:

I have AD on for almost everything that I watch as well as captions. And there have been so many times where I’m like you know that’s not right, I don’t like that.

TR:

Word selection, maybe failure to fully describe what was on screen…

Alejandra:

We both know that a lot of it is in the timing. And again it’s because AD is added on after the fact. There’s some really interesting things that I’ve been able to consult with

I did a live Audio Description for a panel sponsored by the New York University Center for Disability Studies. it featured the short films of a film maker named Jordan Lord. They create autobiographical films but the AD is baked into the narration. It’s written in sort of a prose style and the shots sort of follow as it’s written. So it’s not something that you have to add on after the fact. The filming is informed by what the film maker has written. And it’s very interesting. I think more films should be made that way.

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

No, I haven’t. Four or five years ago I was in the Disability Studies program, another student was talking about her letter of accommodation and her relationship to disability and her own disability identity. She also had mental health issues and mental health things and I was like oh my God like I’m also part of this community and I didn’t even know.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

I don’t think people are talking about this, the identity of the describer or the person who does the voice, who writes it. They’ve made a huge impact on how I think about Audio Description and describe.

TR:

While working on an art gallery project, Liz and a colleague each drafted what they refer to as positionality statements. This included their bio’s and a statement about how they became involved in description.

Liz:

If you’re going to read a book, you might want to know a little bit about the author. You don’t have to.

We are not in a post racial world. I think it’s very important and necessary to know if you’re in an art gallery or theater you definitely need to know who’s writing that book or that script or who’s doing the painting, where they’re coming from.

TR:

Liz who completed the ACB Audio Description project training, refers to one of the lessons taught.

Liz:

In Snyder’s training even in his book, I don’t know about other people’s training and workshops but there’s about two sentences about race and that’s about it.

Basically, just to kind of paraphrase it says to describe race if it’s important.

TR:

The guideline refers to importance in regards to the movie’s plot. But like Liz says:
Liz:

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

It’s especially important to those who are marginalized . those who have been under or misrepresented on and behind the camera. Important to those who care about equity & justice. Important to those who want to see the real world which includes so much more than just white men. (My words, not Liz)

Important is subjective. So who should make the determination when it comes to consuming content?

I propose the consumer. In order to do that, Blind consumers need that information.

Liz:

If you are describing race you need to do it for all the people or all the characters not just the people of color because otherwise it centers whiteness. So I agree with that. What I’ve experienced though, race is not described. Even in for example, Black Panther or in some movies or TV shows that is predominantly people of color.

Chanelle:

Traveling Broadway shows, they are so white. (Laughs) I’ll be the first to admit and I am about as white as you can get. Thank God more recently we have had a lot more diversity in shows.

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

Hamilton is like the perfect example of this. Also Hades Town more recently.

I will absolutely go out of my way to make sure to point out that there are Black actors, Hispanic actors, Asian actors in a show just because I really want to celebrate the diversity of these shows going forward. I’ll do the same thing when I’m doing Circe Sol as well. The audience will always be very diverse as well so it’s great for someone who may not be sighted or may be Low Vision to be able to imagine themselves within that person in the show.

TR:

And if we’re going to change the way we think about race & privilege it’s just as important that non people of color also see and acknowledge & respect this diversity.

Like the saying goes, things are rarely black and white. There’s lots of shade in between. Those shades are important and often reveal other stories.

Liz:

If I do distinguish between someone who might be light or medium or dark skin, is that perpetuating colorism? I don’t want to perpetuate colorism. On the other side, probably when people in TV or film make casting decisions they are making decisions like that. Unfortunately!

TR:

Colorism or the practice of favoritism towards those with lighter skin has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. It’s not exclusive to the US or to African Americans but rather throughout communities of color.

Acknowledging a person’s color as description does not perpetuate colorism. A Blind viewer Wanting descriptive information about a person doesn’t make them a racist. Including editorial such as the prettier or menacing followed by color or racial identification, well that’s another story. It’s going beyond what’s required for Audio Description and providing opinion or analysis – which is the responsibility of the consumer alone.

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

I’m Hispanic, but I have a lot of experience code switching and ultimately being very white passing, both in my physical appearance and in my voice. And whether or not I realize it or admit it in different situations that’s opened different doors for me.

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

The two things are very separate, AD script writing and AD Voicing, but I’ve done some AD script writing for some Netflix shows as a contractor. Not particularly things that I found super exciting but they needed somebody to write a script and then I didn’t get to voice those things because AD Voice work is like any kind of performance and acting work, they sort of have to want you for the part.

I think it’s important for the voicing of Audio Description to match the tone and the content and the intention of the work. And I don’t see that happening. Not very often anyway.

TR:

And then, there’s physical access for the creation of accessible digital content

(Music ends)

Alejandra:
At a practical level, places that are doing audio production, voice recording and audio books, even our local library that handles recording for the NLS, booths are tight. Wheel chairs are not. This is not an experience that these places generally have. They’re not generally expecting a wheelchair user to come in to record and it’s unfortunately like everywhere else I’ve had to have this discussion. Yes, I use a wheelchair, yes we’re going to have to make adjustments to booths so I can get inside, you can just barely squeeze into the booth and you need space to do these things.

And I’m also very interested in Spanish language content AD as well because there’s not as much of it.

TR:

This raises the question of non-English access in general. Something I fail to personally remember on my own when thinking about access.

Chanelle:
Each studio sometimes has their own rules of stuff that you can or cannot say. You can’t say that they point a weapon at someone. You can’t refer to anatomy in certain cases like you can’t say chest you can’t say butt!

TR:

I’ve heard this about Disney. At first, you may think well, Disney produces a lot of content for children. So they’re being sensitive to the viewer. But remember, it’s on screen. And it’s not just Disney.

It’s not just the censorship that annoys me, but even in terms of researching this, we’d need sighted help.

Liz:

If we as describers similar to people who do interpretation with like ASL, if someone swears, the interpreter should interpret that. I think the captioner should caption that. Because that’s what the person said. So similar to Audio Description, I think we also have that obligation.

TR:

Whatever the medium, television & film, live theater, video games, museums, art galleries and yes, you too right now uploading your images and videos to social media – getting all of these content creators to know and think about Audio Description needs to be a goal.

The benefits of AD extend further than the consumer. We all win!

Chanelle:

Regardless of what I’m watching now if it’s a TV show if it’s a movie if it’s another stage show, I find myself kind of mentally describing it like I would do it for an actual performance. So it’s very much changed my view point of media in general.

TR:

I know I’ve heard some conversation around what qualifies someone as an AD professional. A specific number of training hours? Certification perhaps?

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

There are many folks who do this work because they have particular kinds of voices. Because they can crank it out because they’re smooth and more power to them.

I just am not that kind of describer because I have a very particular investment in my community and in the work that I am producing and that doesn’t mean that other folks aren’t doing high quality work. It’s just that what is informing their work is very different.

TR:

For an example of what’s informing her work, you can hear Alejandra narrating Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century right now on Audible. The book is available on Amazon and other outlets and it’s Alice y’all so it’s in a variety of formats because Access is love!

Alejandra does a great job narrating and I highly recommend the audio book.

Shout out to all of my guests for taking the time to speak with me;
Alejandra Ospina (Spanish accented pronunciation)
Available at SuperAleja.org that’s S U P E R A L E J A. O R G
The site Includes links to all social media.

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

You can find both on Facebook especially in the Audio description discussion group

Sound of News Breaking Segment…

This just in, it’s official! You are all a part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

I have a couple more episodes that I’m including in this Flipping the Script on Audio Description series. I’m not publishing them back to back so if you’re interested in the subject and want to make sure you don’t miss the next installment, please allow me to make a suggestion.

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio from The Flintstones:

Barney Rubble:

Do you think he’ll be back?

Fred Flintstone:

I don’t know Barn. Might be better if he wasn’t. Look at all the trouble he caused us.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

He caused us or we’ve caused us? I wonder which it really is. Augh, I think he’ll be back.

Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

Hide the transcript

Superfest Disability Film festival: Going Above & Beyond

September 2nd, 2020  / Author: T.Reid

Superfest Disability Film Festival Logo

When the Covid 19 Pandemic forced a shutdown, some people and organizations were in the position to really step up in different ways. Cathy Kudlick & Emily Beitiks from the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability home to The Superfest Film Festival are among this group.

In this episode we’re discussing the history of Superfest and more including:
* Providing online content for an underserved community during the Pandemic
* Defining 101 vs. 201 Disability Films
* Creating a template for Accessible Film Festivals
And of course More on what you can expect from Superfest 2020 on October 17 & 18, 2020. Plus, join me on a quick journey “Back in the Day “through my own movie experience over the years.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Record player static… “Back in the Day” Instrumental, Ahmad

TR:

Every now and then I like to tell my kids about my experience growing up. It puts things into a perspective. At least that’s my intent. They usually just make fun of me.

I tell them how as a young child growing up in the 70’s we used to get dressed up to go to the movies. I mean actually put on our good clothes. For me that meant dress pants which more than likely was polyester. Hard bottom shoes and dress shirts or sweaters.

(“Yuk”)

Movies were an experience.

Over the years that experience changed. By the early 80’s, I didn’t get dressed up and go downtown with my family, we now had a local theater. I could go with my friends, choose my own clothes. At first that was during the day time, but then as I got a bit older and a new multiplex theater was built in the borough, we all traveled there on Friday and Saturday nights.

Audio: Krush Groove Movie Trailer…

RIP, to the Whitestone Theater in the Bronx!

The experience continued to change. I changed as well. I began to prefer going to the movies during the day again. Eventually with my own family.

For a few years, I stopped going to the movies altogether. That was when I could no longer see the screen. I didn’t return until a theater about 30 minutes away from my home began offering Audio Description. That process wasn’t very smooth at first, but it did get better.

Now I’m back to my family trying to tell me what to wear.

Today, Covid 19 has obviously made adaptation a requirement for just about everything in our society. As we’ve seen, these adaptations paired with accessibility can equal opportunity. It’s not permanent, we know experiences evolve. When it’s inclusive, well I think that’s a good thing!

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with my sweat-shirts!

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer!
You’re rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Cathy:

My name is Cathy kudlick and I’m Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. I should spell out Longmore because so many people here it as lawn mower, but it’s Longmore. It’s a disability cultural center. We try to kind of get people to think about disability in new and creative and innovative ways.

I’m a History professor in addition to my role as Director at the Longmore Institute and I teach Disability History among other things and I come at this largely as somebody who grew up with a serious vision impairment and was in complete denial through much of my life trying to pass and pretend and all of those things and then a random encounter with somebody and then started to read more about blindness tuff and disability stuff and all of that led to kind of start to say hey there’s nothing to be ashamed of here so why not embrace what’s really cool about this and think about it in new ways.

TR:

Thinking about disability in new ways. We’re going to come back to that.

If you’ve been riding with Reid My Mind Radio, you’re probably thinking we’re about to dive into Cathy’s journey. It’s obvious, Cathy’s story falls in line with this podcast’s mission. Well, for now that’s not the case. She has however, agreed to come back to share her story on a future episode.

Today’s episode is all about the…

(Audio: “Super, Super Super, from Super Rhymes by Jimmy Spicer)

Superfest Disability Film Festival.

Also here to take us through the festival is Emily Beitiks the Associate Director at the Longmore Institute on Disability.

Emily:

I’m the Coordinator of Superfest. I work with the film makers each year to help them audio describe their films and work with the audience each year as we kind of learn from them what works what doesn’t work and bring Superfest into other arenas to kind of broaden the reach of where our films are seen and introducing people to audio description for the first time when I do school assemblies or go to libraries or not your traditional Superfest audience. I’m a non-Disabled accomplice in this world. My mom had a disability since before I was born so I’ve been really passionate about bringing my own experiences kind of straddling both worlds experiencing disability discrimination and also participating in it as being a non-disabled person.

TR:

Let’s start with a bit of history.

Emily:

Superfest was started in Southern California in Los Angeles in 1970. It switched hands to various organizations over the years and migrated up to the Bay area where it was run for many years by Culture Disability Talent. It was a really well loved grass roots effort volunteer lead.

TR:
Running an event like this solely with volunteers can be a challenge. In 2012, Superfest found a new home with The Paul K Longmore Institute on Disabilities and The San Francisco Lighthouse.

Emily:

It was just kind of a very exciting match because the Longmore Institute was just getting started in a new sort of way as our founder Paul Longmore had passed away and Cathy had come on as Director and Lighthouse was a really established organization but focusing more on direct services and was interested to kind of push their boundaries by doing some more cultural programming.

We partnered up and ran Superfest for the past seven years.

TR:

The festival, which originally was not an annual event, is now headed into its 34th year. This will be the first time it’s solely run by the Longmore Institute, as the Lighthouse leadership decided to focus on other programming.

Emily:

We were really lucky to have that partnership with Lighthouse for many years because they just had a sort of organizational structure for like getting the bills paid and the reservations booked that moved a lot faster than we were capable of when we were just getting started. We’re really lucky that they waited and gave us a lot of warning because now we’ve been up and running for some time and we’re ready to run the ship by ourselves.

Cathy:

The other thing that kind of got thrown into this that makes it less hard to measure what the big change is you know with Covid how much of this is ultimately going to be online anyway. We’re still trying to decide. We don’t quite know if the venues we want to have it at in mid-October are going to be open and ready and all that. So it’s hard to measure exactly what a new Superfest without Lighthouse is going to be like.

TR:

Fortunately, Superfest in October won’t be their first go at managing events online.

Emily:

For the last few years, we do an annual event called the Longmore Lecture in Disability Studies and we had started to experiment with using Zoom to live stream that event to be able to bring it to people that by nature of their disabilities they couldn’t come or geographically they couldn’t come in person. When shelter in place hit and we’re here in San Francisco which is one of the first places in the country that got the official lockdown, we kind of saw it as a real opportunity, we’re like oh, we can do online programming. We’ve had experience with this and we could figure out how to bring it to a festival environment.

TR:
The challenge in presenting films online is the threat of pirating.

Audio: Scene from Pirates of the Caribbean”

“You are without doubt, the worse Pirate I’ve ever heard of.”

Jack Sparrow: “But you have heard of me”

Emily:

But I knew I’d worked with enough film makers over the years who I could reach out to that their primary mission was just for people to see their films. So the risk of possibly somebody making an illegal recording was just not as big of a concern. The more people that see this film the better.

TR:

Some of the films included work from Reid My Mind Radio family members Cheryl Green & Day Al-Mohammed.

Emily:

People really need this right now. People are cut off from their community and at the same moment that there’s so much hurtful and ablest rhetoric circulating around disability. And so to be able to spend an evening or an afternoon watching some disability films it also really brings people together and celebrate disability and get at the nuances of life with a disability that certainly the mainstream media doesn’t always get, just felt like a really important possibility.

TR:

My initial interest in featuring Superfest here on the podcast began with access. I was really impressed with the way they just for me at least, appeared to come out of nowhere and start providing content for the disability community. The way they do access; not only did I feel included, but knowing others were also able to participate just felt like something I should share with the Reid My Mind Radio family.

I wasn’t the only one reacting.

Emily:

One person was like I’ve never been able to participate in any sort of film festival in my life because I spend most of my time in the bed. They said this was just incredible to get to be part of this. Another one that stood out was a guy who stayed up super late to watch in Kenya with a group of friends and was like that was absolutely worth staying up for. Now I have a group of friends and we’re going to watch all your programs. And he certainly has.

So just being able to bring this program to people that don’t have what we have in the Bay area has been really exciting.

Cathy:

Emily thought to do another really cool one which was Superfest Kids which was kind of a nice home schooling moment I guess, with disability awareness and it was all geared towards kids. How many people did we have on that one? Do you remember?

Emily:

We had about 150. A number of people were like my kids are supposed to be on a Zoom call with their class right now but this is a more important lesson.

TR:

A lesson that more of us need no matter our age.

For the unfamiliar, the idea of a disability film is something like;

Cathy:

Oh Disabled people are people too and isn’t it great that they’re there and this is a positive happy uplifting story. It’s not a depressing one whatever. Those are fine, but we highlight what we think is disability 201 – films that share the creativity and the ingenuity or the unexpectedness or the intersections of disability with other kinds of identities.

TR:

Identities like race, gender, sexuality

Considering the idea of Disability 101 versus 201, you may think those new to disability should begin sequentially. Cathy however doesn’t see it that way.

Cathy:

I would say go to Superfest right away because if you’ve even thought about disability for five seconds or anybody around you has thought about it, chances are they’ve seen some version. It’s usually some films by a family member or friend that just thinks wow you know it’s really great that so and so with fill in the disability and then fill in what they did. They either traveled somewhere or they climbed a mountain or they went to school.

TR:

The 101 or 201 classification isn’t about good or bad. The distinguishing factor between the two is 101 films aren’t often made with disabled people in mind.

Cathy:

We want people to sort of think about disability as experimental and as interesting and as passionate and not just as yet another feel good story about somebody climbing a mountain because they started to be more comfortable with their disability or they needed to prove themselves. We want to ask them to think about well what happens when that person comes down from the mountain. What’s their life like after that?

TR:

That’s another difference. The 101 films feature a single disability experience.

Cathy:
But the 201 version would have them speaking to other disabled people and kind of bonding. There would be some sort of connection and some sort of excitement and engagement. It’s not just like one person being show cased all by themselves.

It might be that they have a quirky view on things and they change the thinking of other disabled people or they changed the thinking of people around them to give an unexpected perspective on the world around them.

TR:

The 201 films like Superfest, really center disabled people. And at the end of the day, as Emily explains, the goal is pretty simple.

Emily:

We’re just trying to not have them be bored. Even if you are new to finding your disability identity, typically a 201 film can just go a lot farther with pushing people’s buttons and thinking like wow, there’s this whole world of thinking about disability that I haven’t seen before.

A few years back we came up with a list that we kind of think of 10 things that define disability 201 and what Superfest is all about. Things you’re going to find at Superfest that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

TR:

These are things like;
People with disabilities as the main characters
Intersectionality – people with disabilities aren’t just white men as often portrayed in movies. So at Superfest, you’ll see representation from Black, Latinex, and LGBT people with disabilities.

I’ll include a link to these ten categories on this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com.

At Superfest, all screenings include open Audio Description. So unlike when you attend a film at your local theater and you request the headset and receiver to privately stream the audio description, these films have the description streaming with the main audio. As Cathy notes, this does require some introduction for an audience unfamiliar with AD.

Cathy:

You’re going to hear this and you’re not used to it. Think about it as a new way of watching films. I’ve often thought of it as in that context of when they introduced talking to silent films. It’s another layer that people weren’t ready for and then suddenly like woh this is very new. The problem with that though is it can be sensory overload for people that have processing or cognitive stuff going on

TR:

A challenge of producing a film festival like Superfest is the idea that creating access for one group of people may unintentionally exclude another group.

For example, Emily talked about a film called To Be or not To Be. It featured a young man with Cerebral Palsy in Kazakhstan. The film which was in Russian, required translation. For sighted users, printed sub titles along the bottom portion of the screen will do the trick. Blind viewers require over dubbing.

Emily:

The focus of the film is really his incredible acting abilities. In making it accessible to the Blind we were then losing hearing this actor with CP and his own voice telling his own life story. So it was a really tough example of like a competing accommodation of wanting to bring access to the Blind but not wanting to lose this man’s voice.

TR:

This particular film worked out because it had enough quiet space that the description and dubbing was staggered to allow the actors voice to be heard. For this very reason, Superfest now determines which films are better suited for open description but offers closed description for others.

Emily:

So much of our work is working with these film makers to teach them, think about the problem and have tough conversations as we do it so that hopefully people are thinking about it in advance of making their films.
[TR in conversation with Emily:]

So what is that process like, of teaching the film makers?

Emily:

Well, when they apply to participate in Superfest, there’s a requirement box that they have to check that says that they’ll get their films captioned and audio described.

TR:

Most of those who apply are in agreement with this philosophy. In some cases especially for independent film makers, the cost of captioning and describing, while small in comparison to other production costs, can present a challenge.

Emily:

A lot of our film makers are able to get it done. Other times we have to work and get creative about finding funds ourselves to be able to cover those expenses or find funders that are willing to do it for them. With each film kind of think it through with the film makers and sort of talk through the strategies.

TR:

Funding is just one of the challenges. Some films may just be packed with dialog and visuals leaving little space or no space for description. Emily and Cathy explain how one such instance was managed and how the result can be a win for all involved.

Emily:

And so we were like we’re going to just have to add pauses to the film to do this right and get some of that Audio Description in. There were going to be visuals that like everyone in the crowd who was sighted was going to laugh at that and we didn’t want to risk that people would not get to experience those jokes. And so we built in those pauses and I think this film maker was super up for it.

Cathy:

You know when audio description’s done badly it’s horrible, it’s like suffocating on something that’s beautiful and something that’s not. But when it’s done well it kind of coaxes out some great stuff that’s already in there and enhances it. So she got somebody to audio describe the film that had the same snarky tone that the images did. So it totally enhanced the images for everybody.

Emily:

We’re introducing it to them for the first time but we’re also really trying to empower them to be advocates for what the final product is and be like you know your film best. You know if that visual right there matters or if that was just some B roll you needed to fill the shot. The more active that they can be in the audio description process if they do outsource, the better the results have been.

Cathy:

To me that’s the dream of a Superfest audio description experience where the film maker says woh this made my film better!

TR:

Currently, English and American Sign Language (ASL) are the only supported languages. However, an online festival offering multiple links for various languages would simplify the process in comparison to a live physical audience.

Getting that audience whether in person or not takes work.

Emily:

Shout out to our wonderful student assistants. Every time we have an event they get an email from me like okay, here’s the audience for this one, think of everybody you can and send them this email. We have like a big list of disability organizations all across the country, but then with each one we’re like who can we reach that would not have any interest in attending a disability film festival but because of this new sort of twist on it right, might be interested.

TR:

Selecting the students, or Longmore fellows, as Cathy refers to them is not about finding interns to get the job done.

Cathy:

We try to hire as many students with disabilities and put them in the majority as our kind of student workers but also we’re educating them and bringing them into community with each other about new ideas around disability.

TR:

The students are experiencing the mission of Superfest, advocacy, education and community building. All done through the phase one judging of the films.

Cathy:

It’s almost like a class but we get paid internships for students with disabilities to come and basically watch like 190 – 200 films and have to Weddle it down to like 10 or 15. And we teach them and they teach each other and they become advocates and learn about representation of disability and all these things by working together.

TR:

Both Cathy and Emily lead the interns in discussions about the films. With each of the students coming to disability from different angles as you can imagine, the conversations are rich and engaging.

For more on Superfest jurors, check out episode 76 of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Podcast. I’ll hook you up with that link on ReidMyMind.com.

While much of the world got caught flat footed during the pandemic, we see how the team at Superfest was in a position to quickly respond.

Emily:

We have always evolved with new twists and turns each year.

Emily & Cathy:
There’s always something!

Cathy:

The BART Station right by the venue was down. We created a bus bridge to another BART station. We found out like that morning at the festival.

Emily:

One year we arrived at one of our venues and the night before they had painted a wall like right outside the entrance to our auditorium. So the fumes were going to be a serious problem for anyone with chemical sensitivity. We’re like, alright great let’s figure it out. We’re going to get some fans in here. We’re going to reroute and everyone’s going to enter through the back.

We’ve been giving advice to some of the other film festivals not just disability film festivals but film festivals period with how to do online programming. I think that’s a great example of like when you’re in the disability community you’re used to things not being made for you because of ableism. That gives you this adaptability and flexibility and like our festival has that spirit.

TR:

The Superfest Film Festival will take place on October 17 & 18, 2020.

With 15 films all falling within the range that Superfest aims to include.

Emily:

Different disabilities featured, a mixture of documentaries that look at some of the honest hardships of life with a disability and others that are light and hilarious and really get at some of the funniest moments insider humor inside the disability community. A lot of really incredible artistic films that explore the beauty that comes with disabled bodies and disabled dance movement.

TR:

This year’s set of films consist of 14 short and 1 feature film.

Emily:

Called God Given Talent that explores a local Oakland based artist who’s Black and Blind. Really looking forward to sharing that more local story.

TR:

And yes, you are going to hear more about that particular artist in an upcoming episode right here on the podcast.
*

For more on the films included in this year’s Superfest lineup visit SuperfestFilm.com.
You can learn more about the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at LongmoreInstitute.sfsu.edu
They’re on Twitter @LongmoreInst and Facebook Facebook.com/SFSUDisability.
Or, just check out this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

Superfest sounds like much more than a film festival. In fact, I see it as a resource for those adjusting to blindness.

Chances are those new to blindness or disability in general haven’t spent much time critically thinking about disability. Being new to the experience is an opportunity to examine all that’s been accumulating in the sub conscious over the years. The films featured in Superfest encourage us to move our thinking about disability to a conscious level.

Take a look at the list of 10 things defining the 201 films and Superfest. They resemble some of what I’ve been learning along this journey of adjusting to blindness. Like;
* Recognizing the various ways disability intersects with other identities
* Exploring disability as a political and social issue, not just medical
* Seeing ourselves throughout all aspects of society and finding friendships within the community.

In fact, now that I think about it, Superfest sort of reminds me of how I feel about this podcast.

Cathy:

People need to know about this. it’s just such a great opportunity and it’s kind of great that it’s gone under the radar for so many people for so many years but on the other hand it just would be so great to have it be really, really well known. It’s so beloved and people are so excited about it and every year people come and they’re just like woh, we never thought of this. This is so amazing.

TR:

I’m just sayin’!

While I’m looking forward to Superfest being online this year because I personally get to attend, I know there’s no replacement for that in person experience. I look forward to one day being able to participate in person. I get the sense that it could be a similar experience to my first blindness conference. That sense of belonging or community.

Audio: It’s Official…

Cathy Kudlick…
Emily Beitiks…
And Superfest…

Its official! You know you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Come hang out with yours truly and the rest of the cool kids watching some fun, interesting and thought provoking films. Head over to SuperfestFilm.com to check out the lineup and grab your ticket. Don’t forget the snacks and drinks. (You gotta have the snacks and drinks.)

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Audio Description with IDC: Good Enough is Not Good Enough!

August 19th, 2020  / Author: T.Reid

IDC LogoWhen it comes to Audio Description, “Good enough, isn’t good enough”, says Eric Wickstrom, Director of Audio Description at International Digital center or IDC. As AD Advocates, this has to be our message.

In this episode we feature Eric & IDC’s Head Audio Description Writer Liz Gutman. We learn about their process, the industry and more all through the lens of consumers advocating for #AudioDescription. Plus if you believe Blind people should be involved in the creation of AD, you’ll want to hear what IDC is doing about this.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
This podcast brings you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer. Occasionally, I feature stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. Today, we’re continuing with our ongoing look at Audio Description.

Reid My Mind Radio has several episodes exploring the topic. They range from consumer perspective discussions and opinions to profiles of those in the field. In fact, you can go back to when ReidMyMind was solely a blog; I’ve been writing & thinking about the topic for a minute y’all.

Today we’re bringing you a conversation with some Audio Description professionals, through the lends of consumers as advocates. What can we learn from their process and experience about AD that can help improve our advocacy efforts?

The answers and more are up next.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Eric:

My name is Eric Wickstrom. I am the Director of Audio Description for International Digital Center otherwise known as IDC, based out of New York City.

I run everything from the initial order through the delivery of AD projects.

TR:

Eric got his start in AD about 10 years ago while working at the USA Network. this was shortly after President Obama signed the 21st Century Telecommunications Accessibility Act now known as the CVAA. This mandates that major broadcast companies including some cable stations like USA, are required to provide a minimum number of hours of described programming each quarter. Over time, this number increases with a goal of 100 percent.

Eric:

I stepped up at that point and kind of offered to help spearhead the charge. Working with the heads of my department we were able to figure it out pretty quickly and get started building a library, got in compliance with the FCC. I did that for about 4 to 5 years. By the time I left we had the biggest library on broadcast television in North America.

TR:

About four years ago, Eric left USA and began working for IDC.

Eric:

We do everything from editorial stuff, color correction, quality control, media processing conversions audio mixing sub titling and all sorts of localizations. We have a full service dubbing department now that will do English to foreign language dubbing or the reverse. Pretty much A to Z anything you need we do

TR:

I wanted to speak with Eric to learn a bit more about their process specifically as it relates to us as consumers who are advocates.

We start with identifying some barriers to Audio Description which fall into two categories; quantity & quality.

First, budgets.

Audio: Music…

Eric:
It’s a very, very small part. Depending on the size of the production I mean there are cable networks that spend 12 to 15 million dollars an episode on productions and I can tell you in those cases your AD budget would be a percentage of one percent. The cost of producing a good , I’m talking about a good AD track; hiring the right people and getting it done the right way, your average AD track’s going to cost you less than like the Kraft’s service table does for a production of a T.V show.

Audio: Sound of a Adding Machine

TR:

We’re talking about a few thousand dollars.

Definitely not an amount to consider as a burden on the production of a television or film project.

So let’s not even call budget a challenge to AD.

Eric:

I just generally believe a lot of people don’t know what it is. My father and step mother were asking me three weeks ago about what AD is and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. If they don’t know by now…

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Well, that’s just parents! Laughs…

Eric:

You know!

TR:

Truth is its much more than parents. I’m sure we’ve all encounter someone who has no idea about Audio Description. And like the good advocates we are, we explain it and probably encourage them to give it a try. The more awareness the better. But really, we need those in positions of power to be aware.

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

How is it that, production companies aren’t that aware of Audio Description at this time in 2020?

Eric:

A lot of production companies are aware of it now, the bigger production companies. They work with the bigger networks, the ones that would be mandated based on rating. Smaller production companies that traditionally work for like an HGTV or History Channel it wouldn’t surprise me that a year and a half ago when they were finally mandated to provide it, people looked at each other and said what is this. It wouldn’t shock me. If you haven’t been exposed to it you wouldn’t know about it.

TR:

It’s true, most major films are released with Audio Description. However, what about the older content that seems to remain undescribed?

Eric:

Well that’s changing. I know that like Paramount I believe did a big push two years back for AD to get it included on all the DVD releases. That back filled a lot of content that hadn’t been previously described.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

TR:

Who watches on DVD anymore? We’re streaming.

Eric:

The problem with the streaming services is not all of them require AD. At least not for everything they air.

TR:

The issue is licensing. Streaming companies pay movie studios and television networks fees for the right to run these films and shows.

Eric:

They only have the rights for a year or two and then it goes away.

TR:

So if streaming network X pays to add AD, when it moves to streaming network Y…

Eric:

That service would have to commission their own AD track.

I think the answer there would be if every streaming service required AD, across the board then these companies that are selling the rights for these things would have to commission a track and then the track would follow that piece of material from service to service.

TR:

There’s different reasons for content not beings described. As advocates, an understanding of these can help direct our energy. In general when we find content has no description at all.

Eric:

You’d want to reach out directly to the studio itself. As far as television programming goes that would be a conversation for the network. If it became an issue about quality, it might be a conversation with the network, but then that conversation would have to happen with the production company that provided the show in the first place.

TR:

The push for quantity doesn’t automatically lead to improve quality.

Eric:

A lot of AD is mandated by the Federal government and a lot of networks look upon it as they have to do as opposed to something they want to do. That’s unfortunate because I think that’s where you lose a lot of opportunity for quality or conversations about the best way to do it.

TR:

As consumers, we want both; quality and quantity.

Eric:

It’s like anything. If I give you a gig bowl of frost bitten ice cream, yeah, it’s a bowl of ice cream but… a giant bowl of Ben & Jerry’s or Haggen Daaz that’s the difference. As more and more networks are pressured into providing the service, I’m hoping that they take a moment and say hey let’s give them ben & Jerry’s.

TR:

Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s!

Doing it right consists of three components;
The script (Audio: “Word”)
Narration (Audio: “Aw Yeh”)
And the mix (Audio: “In the Mix”) or making sure you can comfortably hear both the film’s dialog and AD narration.

Eric:

It’s all about the writing in my opinion. Without a great script you’re never going to create a great track of Audio Description. I don’t care if you get a James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman to come in and read the thing.

If I were going to make a pie chart, the scripting would be about 80 to 85 percent. That’s how important the script is.

Audio: Music

TR:

Breaking it down further, here are the ingredients for a good Audio Description script.

Audio: Sounds of typing. ” What are you doing? “I’m writing.” – From Finding Forrester

Eric:

It has to identify the right things, it has to keep the character names right, not over explain things. You don’t need to write he shoots the guy, you hear a gunshot you know what happened. That’s a big failure with Audio Description is the overwriting of scripts and the over explaining of things.

TR:

Developing a staff of writers for Eric comes down to deciding whether to recruit or train?

Eric:

I have found over the years and this is just my experience, this goes back to my years coaching youth basketball 20 years ago, I coached young kids, 4th and 5th graders who never picked up a basketball in their lives and I so much prefer coaching those kids because it’s so much easier to teach somebody from the ground up than to break them out of bad habits they already developed.

TR:

Eric has seen a lot of bad habits from writers with years of experience.

Eric:

There’s too much good enough is good enough. For us and our standards at IDC, no we’re not striving for good we’re striving for great!

TR:

I agree the script is that important. So I spoke with head Audio Description Writer at IDC, Liz Gutman.

She first heard about Audio Description from a podcast. No, it wasn’t this one that would have made for a fantastic segue. The podcast is called 20,000 Hertz.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

Liz:

It’s a great podcast. There was an interview with a woman named Colleen Connor who runs a training retreat in North Carolina. She is blind. She has theater training; she’s a performer and a creative person herself. She and this other woman Jan Vulgaropulos, who’s been a describer for a number of years, run this training retreat. I had never heard of Audio Description before, I didn’t know what it was and hearing Colleen talk about it, explain what it was and the purpose it served and what’s good Audio Description and what’s not good Audio Description. My mind was completely blown.

TR:

It wasn’t just Audio Description that blew her mind open.

Liz:

I’m a non-disabled sighted white lady and I have never really had to examine my own biases, my own assumptions, the way I move through the world. The way I perceive others to move through the world. I’d never really had to challenge that from a nondisabled point of view before that weekend. It was a profound experience.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

That really does fall right in line with what we do at Reid My Mind Radio. I mean it’s all about adjusting and examining our misperceptions. Can you tell me what that was like?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what was okay to say or ask… Should I offer to help or not. Is it okay to say Blind? All this stuff that now seems very 101 to me, I was lucky to be amongst a group of very kind open people who encouraged me to ask questions and were very open about answering them

TR:

Ready for more, Liz completed the AD Retreat and attended ACB’s Audio description project training. There she was paired with a Blind Mentor.

Liz:

Her name is Myra. She’s great! I’ve gotten to go on described museum tours with her. She took me to see a described performance of Waiting for Gadot. That was excellent. She’s also taught me a lot about experiencing culture in different ways and that helps me become a better describer. Understanding what goes in to theater description and what goes into museums and art description. All of those things inform each other, I think in real important ways.

TR:

Soon after attending her trainings, Liz began freelancing with an Audio Description provider.

Liz:

Not too long after that I really lucked out and was referred by a guy who’s now a friend who I met at ACB who worked at this company IDC who was hiring a full time writer. I went in and chatted with them and as they say the rest was history. I’ve been at IDC since August of 2018.

Audio: Music

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

So you’ve only been doing Audio Description for two years?

Liz:

Yeh… (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs… Oh boy! Wow! Aw man.

Liz:

I know, it’s wild. I have a lot of impostor syndrome to get over.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs…, Yeh, Well, you’re definitely not an impostor, c’mon!

Liz:

Laughing… Oh, thank you!

At the risk of sounding big headed I do think I’m good at my job. I would not consider myself an expert by any means, but I am very curious and I do love, I love, love love this work. I sort of intensively been reading and talking to people, watching stuff with Audio Description and kind of immersing myself as much as possible. Which has just been so rewarding. Not just because I love the work, but this community is just unbelievable. Describers and consumers of Audio Description alike. I’m just like floored and grateful always to be doing this.

TR:

It’s said it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given field. But what about the related skills that comes from prior experience? That has to account for something, right?

Liz:

My first job out of college was watching T.v. and writing trivia questions about it that would then be linked to product placement. So basically gathering marketing information to sell to advertisers.

(Laughs…) I’ll just put it this way; I couldn’t watch any T.V. or movies without noticing products. (Laughs along with TR)

That brands of cars, that brand of soda (laughs) Oh he’s wearing that brand of that t-shirt. I couldn’t unsee it.

TR:

That attention to detail serves a purpose today. Add a minor in creative writing in college, publishing a cook book, writing for a well-known food blog and running her own business for 10 years, Liz has a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw from. She wrote about chocolate for goodness sake!

I’m not sure how many ways you can describe mm delicious!

Audio: Music ends

That’s quality AD – language that succinctly evokes an image.

At IDC, writers are selected for a project based on their specialties or specific interest.

Liz:

One guy just sort of tends to usually do a lot of the fantasy actiony stuff. Someone else does a lot of reality stuff.

Our department head will kind of weigh all of those things between scheduling and who might be best suited to write it and assign it to the writer.

TR:

Just because there are specializations, doesn’t mean you’re working alone.

Liz:

What I love about working at IDC is that it’s really collaborative and we all ask each other questions. We get the best of everybody. If you get stuck on a phrase or can’t decide how to deal with a certain thing and you want to describe all of the stuff but you only have time for one thing or help prioritize.
A lot of what we’ll do is take a poll. Do you guys know what this word means? If more than half of us do then we’ll use it!

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

I’m wondering when instances of cultural competence come into play, how that works through in the writer’s room. So what does your writer’s room look like and how does that play? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. And that’s a really important question and one that we’re constantly considering and making sure we take into account. We’ve had conversations about the finer points of a person in a wheel chair, person using a wheel chair, and why the phrase wheel chair bound is not okay. All the finer points of describing someone who is different from you in any way.

TR:

Differences like race or skin tone. Yet, the AD guidelines specifically call for excluding race or color.

Liz:

Unless it’s crucial to understanding the plot. And if so, everyone’s race, ethnicity needs to be called out and mentioned specifically.

I do think representation is super important and I do think it’s important to mention it just so that a Blind Asian kid or a Blind Black kid so they can know oh cool, just in all the ways that representation matters right?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Yeh, 100 percent. I think it’s important for a Blind white kid to know that too. To say hey these people are in this movie.

Liz:

Right, and to not make the assumption.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Absolutely.

Liz:

If you say like oh, a tall woman and a short woman and a Black woman then you’re making the assumption that everyone else is white and white becomes the default.

TR:

As advocates believing in inclusion for one group, I’d hope that means inclusion for all.

If so, we should absolutely promote diverse writer’s rooms. That diversity should include the widest range of identities; race, ethnicity, gender, disability and LGBTQ plus representation.

Audio Description is all about providing access to information that isn’t conveyed audibly. Sighted people have this access and process it individually. Some may choose to question the casting choices and others may find them empowering. No matter how one chooses to use that information, Blind people deserve that same level of access.

Liz:

We also struggle with as describers, having enough time to include any of this stuff. Sometimes you don’t get to add any description to somebody before they’re named or even after they’re named if it’s something really dialogue heavy.

TR:

This lack of time is extremely important. This has to be a part of our awareness conversation. It’s not enough that networks and studios have to provide AD. We need them to understand the value and make it an equitable experience. Creating the space for AD in their projects makes that possible.

I’ve been ranting for years about making use of pre-show AD.

Liz, who in addition to writing also narrates and directs AD sessions at IDC, agrees, it just makes sense. Especially in the fantasy genre where the imagery is unlike anything people would be familiar with.

Liz:

When a creator builds this entire world from scratch for the audience and I only have the spaces between the dialogue to describe it, I do my best, but there’s no way I can do justice to the scope of that. So I’d love to have an extra 15 to 20 minutes to just talk about the world; each village, each type of character and all of that stuff because it’s so integral to really enjoying the series.

Eric:

That’s the writing and from there you talk about voicing.

TR:

Eric’s referring to narration – the second of three components required in Audio Description.

Eric:

When I say the writing is 85 percent of it, that’s not to imply that the voicing is not important. The voicing is extremely important. You can certainly ruin a great AD track with a bad voice. We’ve seen it happen.

Audio: “Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?” Chris Tucker in Rush hour

Eric:

Finding the right voice for the track itself to try to match the story to the VO (Voice Over) as much as possible. But also just you want to make sure you get the right tone. Some places use a one size fits all approach to voicing where the same voice person will do a wide array of projects. Nothing wrong with that it’s a creative decision, a creative approach. We try to really fine tune every choice of voice with the script. That’s usually a conversation between me and the writers as they get into a project, maybe half way through I’ll have a conversation with that writer and say hey who do you think. That’s a benefit of having a team that’s been together for years. They sometimes have an idea before I even do about who’s going to voice something.

The last part of the process which again, very important and generally overlooked is the mix.

Audio: “As you hear it, pump up the volume!” Eric B & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul.

Eric:

A lot of times you hear AD tracks and you hear a really jarring shift in volume? That’s because the company’s feeding through an automated program. It’s a cost cutting move. It doesn’t save that much money. It really hurts the quality. I don’t like it. We won’t use it. Period!

Eric:

The last part of our process is a full QC pass.

TR:

QC or Quality Control. Checking the final production for all sorts of inaccuracies.

Eric:

If we’re misidentifying a character and this happens often. You’re writing thousands of words, it’s easy to type Bob instead of Mark. Bob enters the room. Bob leaves. Well maybe that was Mark.

TR:

Additionally there’s checking the levels of the mix, listening for mouth clicks and pronunciations.

Eric:

When that track leaves our facility it’s gone through quite a production line of work.
[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Would you employ Blind folks for the quality control part of it?

Eric:

You know that’s something we definitely discussed. We would. As far as the quality of the mix, the overall experience of the AD, yes!

TR:

IDC already holds regular focus groups bringing their writers together with AD consumers.

Eric:

That’s a very important part of what we do. We’re not making unilateral decisions about what the Blind community likes. All of our decisions are informed by the Blind community.

TR:

Audio Description advocacy needs to include creating opportunities for Blind people in as many possible paid positions throughout the production process.

By possible, I don’t mean based on the current process. There are many ways to get something done.

Eric:

Covid especially added another level of stress because everybody was scattered. We were used to writing as a team in a room together. Like a regular writer’s room in any television show we’d sit there and bounce ideas off each other. That’s taken on the form of daily Zoom.

As far as the Voice Over people goes, a lot of our VO people work in New York City. We use a very diverse roster of people. I had to figure out how dozens of people were going to be able to record VO. Some of them are already actors and Voice actors that have their own setup, but many of them didn’t

TR:

The pandemic demanded job accommodations and a new workflow which can be beneficial to the disabled community.

Eric:

One of the things we said this year at IDC we wanted to do, we wanted to get some Blind people involved directly with the narration of Audio Description tracks. The challenge of that was that we didn’t do a lot of remote recording. We weren’t setup for it.

TR:

. Since this interview IDC has made some progress on that goal. I reached out to Eric for an update on his progress.

Eric:

I can tell you it’s going very well. You could speak from personal experience. You were nice enough to be the first person to jump in with us and help develop some workflows. I was very happy with how the quality of the track turned out. The feedback we received through social media and through the clients at Netflix., they were very happy as well. We’ve already launched our second project on Netflix with a Blind Narrator. The third one’s in the works. We’ve onboarded two other Blind Narrators and I have three more on deck.

TR:

I’m excited for the opportunities this presents for all Blind and disabled people intrested in AD Narration.

Eric:

Kelly McDonald who we used on the second project that just launched, Sam Jay’s Three in the Morning on Netflix. He’s a radio host up in Canada. In fact, his co-host Romnea was onboarded as well. They have a unique ability because they’ve done radio for so long and I think Thomas you said you have this ability as well from podcasting all these years to be able to actually hear a track in their ear and repeat it in real time. At the same pace, same inflection. Originally we thought using Blind Narrators is going to be something that’s gonna be easy to do with reality shows like the one you worked on SkinDecision. Stand up specials like the one Kelly worked on.

TR:

It’s a matter of being vocal about our abilities.

Eric:

We’re not the first studio using Blind Narrators. That’s not accurate if people are thinking that. There’s plenty of narrators out there that have been working for years doing narration and podcasting, radio broadcasting. So the talent is out there.

TR:

With that said, if you’re interested and have the ability to record professional sounding audio, stay tuned and I’ll let you know how to contact Eric.

Eric:

We’re putting our best foot forward as a company in trying to be inclusive and accessible using as many talented people as we can.

There’s no excuse based on what we’ve discovered over the last few months, every studio creating Audio Description should be using Blind Narrators to voice the material they’re putting out. And in addition to that we’ve onboarded some Blind people from the community to work in our QC process as well.

TR:

These conversations with Eric & Liz helped shed light on the challenges to AD right now and the future.

Company’s cutting costs by automating the mix and employing synthetic speech are underbidding for jobs. Multiple people in the business have said how this has directly impacted the fees other AD production companies are able to charge. How soon before other companies are forced to cut corners in order to stay afloat?

It’s imperative that as consumers and advocates we demand quality – not that cheap sort of accessibility that gets slapped on at the end in order to comply with a federal mandate.

Eric:

That has to be the push of the community to develop universal standards. There’s no approved vendor list per se like universally, everybody’s kind of left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

AD unfortunately, is viewed as an expense and not one that generates revenue.

Eric:

And that’s wrong. There’s 6 to 8 million visually impaired people in America at the last estimate. Every year as people live longer that number goes up. Those 6 to 8 million people are part of families. Families are using Audio Description so everybody in the household can enjoy watching television together. Especially now in this time.

That track is made for 6 to 8 million people but its impacting tens of millions of more people.

TR:

Remember, the AD budget is a few thousand dollars. Your annual streaming network subscription will set a family back over $150.

Eric:

. If that encourages a family of four to subscribe to your streaming service or pay extra for cable it’s more than paying for itself. You really don’t have to draw that many families to break even and then to turn a profit it’s just a few more.
just left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

Making sure AD is done right inevitably comes down to the Blind community.

Eric:

If you hear a track either on a streaming service and you like what we did or you didn’t like what we did, reach out and let us know. I’m always open to feedback.

Audio: Music

TR:

Feedback should be a gift, so make it constructive.

Eric:

Don’t just say hey you suck!

Well, thanks, that doesn’t really help!

We’re trying to provide a service. We love this we want to make sure we’re doing it right. I always say if I want positive I would just ask my mother what she thinks.

TR:

Do you have a project that would be a lot better with Audio Description?

Are you interested in getting involved with AD as a narrator and have the ability to produce a high quality recording?
Do you have some comments on a specific project with IDC produced AD?

Reach out…

Eric:

I’m always happy to talk about AD. It’s a passion for us. It doesn’t have to just be business inquiries. Anything you have to say feedback otherwise … you can find us at IDCDigital.com. You can search for Audio Description, fill out the form and it will get to me.

TR:

You can also get to both Eric and Liz on Twitter:
@IDC_Eric
@ Liz_IDC

TR:

I hope this episode contributes to moving the conversation around Audio Description advocacy to be more about good & bad Audio Description, the ways it could be improved and the inclusion of more Blind people at every point in the workflow.

We know why AD is important to us as consumers. It goes beyond watching movies, television and theater. It’s relationships that come from these shared experiences. It’s opportunities for conversation, education, entertainment, imagination building and more.

What about the perspective of those producing AD?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

When you speak about it you’re very passionate about Audio Description. Why?

Liz:

That’s a really good question. (Long Pause) Selfishly, it plays to my skill sets really well. It requires a large vocabulary, I’ve been a bookworm my entire life, but it also has really strict parameters. Audio Description provides that framework I find challenging in a really stimulating way. And on top of that it provides a service. That creates meaning for me.I go to work every day and I get to write, think hard about the best way, the most vivid and concise way to convey something that’s on screen. So that someone’s who’s listening to it will get the same feeling that I have watching it. And to help bring us all in to the same level. Especially since I have become more familiar with the Disabled and Blind and Low vision community. I have friends in that community now. I care about their experience.

Audio: Stay Golden

TR:

Eric expressed a very similar sentiment and noted that he really appreciates the feedback from the community. He shares his wish about AD in the future.

Eric:

I look forward to the day where I don’t get as much appreciation. Because it just becomes the norm. I look forward to the day where Blind consumers become pretty complacent about it. Oh yeh it’s got AD, great! It shouldn’t be something special and quality shouldn’t be something that’s special.

TR:

A big Shout out to Eric Wickstrom, Liz Gutman and the entire Audio Description team over at IDC. It’s official; you all are now part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Eric was a really kind coach. After submitting my first draft he shared his comments which were incredibly helpful and I think go beyond AD narration.

Eric:

You suck!

TR:

That really isn’t helpful!

You know this isn’t the last you will hear on this topic. In fact, I have some more coming up soon so stay tuned. In order to do that may I suggest you subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Remember transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, tell them that’s R to the E ID
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript