Blind Travel Network – A Holman Prize Win for You Too

October 10th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

Stacy Cervenka
In part 2 of the 2018 Holman Prize series, we meet Stacy Cervenka. Stacy’s creating the Blind Travel Network – a website specifically tailored to people who are blind or low vision. The BTN’s mission is to enable blind and low vision people to share accessibility information about all aspects of travel. From local venues to foreign destinations. This Holman Prize is the first that can benefit all blind people around the world – even you too! And since I mentioned you too, hear Stacy’s story about her encounter with U2’s Bono.

Don’t miss the rest of the 2018 Holman prize series or any other episode of the podcast…subscribe now!

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Transcript

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Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

I actually did get kissed by Bono. It’s really exciting. He was in our office to talk about Third World debt relief and Aids in Africa and he had just gotten out of a meeting with my boss and all the staff members came in to say hello

I reached out my hand to shake his hand and he just said “Ahhh, come here and give me a kiss” and gave me a giant smooch on my ear

Somebody thankfully caught it on camera so it’s a moment that I’ll be able to show my kids. (Laughs)

TR:

Greetings to you, the fabulous listener. Allow me to welcome you back.

Music continues…

That’s Stacey Cervenka, our latest Holman prize winner. In a few moments you’ll learn more about her and her ambition.
And yes, she was talking about that Bono, the activist rock star from the group U2.

If this is your first time here, welcome!

You joined us midway through this Reid My Mind Radio presentation of the 2018 Holman prize winners. I know we’re not supposed to make assumptions but I’m going on a limb. When you finish listening to this episode not only are you going to want to go back and hear the first in this 2018 series featuring the three Holman winners, but you’re also going to want to go back and listen to the 2017 prize winners.

Really, you should just stop right now and subscribe to the podcast. I’m pretty certain you’re going to like it.

I mean, you’ve been searching through the podcast directories looking for that podcast to fill a special void and you still haven’t found what you’ve been looking for!

Audio: “Still Haven’t FoundWhat I’ve Been Looking For”, U2

While I drop this intro music, you go and hit the subscribe button

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

Soon after he studied medicine and literature and then became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

In this second in a series of three 2018 Holman Prize winners, Stacy Cervenka has the ambition of creating the Blind Travel Network – hoping to make travel more accessible to blind people, by blind people.

SC:

What I would really like to develop is an online website similar to yelp or trip Advisor or Cruise Critic where people are blind or have low vision can go to post reviews of places they’ve been. Ask and answer questions of other blind people and then also have feature blogs and video blogs and advice columns from seasoned blind travels maybe blind travel agents some travel agents who have worked with many blind people. Blind cane travel instructors. So basically it could just be a website where people can learn about not only various places they can travel but also techniques they can use to navigate in airports or monitor their kids safely at a water park or navigate Disney World as a blind person.

TR:
There’s the comparison to other crowd source travel sites, but Stacy is in no way in competition with them.

SC:

I don’t want to take the place of any of those message boards and I certainly encourage people who are blind or have low vision to be active in the typical message boards because they offer so much great information.

In order to decide what cruise or what resort or what Disney hotel is right for you, you have to do a lot of research. this will only be one piece of that, that can give you information that some other places can’t about what places are most blind friendly sort of speak.

TR:
Stacy has a significant amount of travel experience, both personal and work related.

She became intrigued by politics during college after attending a NFB Seminar in Washington DC where she met with legislators to discuss blindness related issues. She went on to intern with Senator Brownback from Kansas.

SC:

When I graduated they had a job opening and I applied and ended up working there full time for 5 years.

The electricity and the atmosphere in DC is unlike any other place I lived and it’s full of people who come there to work for public officials or for the headquarters of national nonprofits or for think tanks or government agencies. So it’s filled with people who are passionate about what they do and almost everyone who comes to DC is really, you know there very knowledgeable about what they do. They’re very passionate about what they do. They really care about what they do. So it’s just a mix of people who are excited about making the world better, whatever that means to them. So it’s just a really fun place to be in your 20’s.

TR:

As part of her job with the Senator, Stacy traveled to some interesting destinations. Like North Korea.

SC:
When I was there for a Congressional staff delegation we went to the demilitarized zone which is the border of North and South Korea. Most of the border of North and South Korea is about 4 kilometers of land mines except for at the demilitarized zone where the South Korean and North Korean soldiers actually face staring at each other all day and it’s really just like a blue line on the concrete and that is the border.

There are blue UN security sheds that straddle the border. We went into the UN Security shed s so we’re technically in North Korea when we’re on that side of the building and the soldiers were right there. I actually had to give up my cane, they wouldn’t let me take my cane because the North Korean soldiers could have thought that it was a weapon and shot. They wouldn’t have asked me questions. they wouldn’t have been like excuse me Miss what is that? We weren’t allowed to point we weren’t allowed to laugh , we weren’t allowed to smile . We had all of these things because we had to make sure that the North Korean soldiers didn’t see us as any sort of threat.

It was probably the most intense experience I’d ever had. You were very aware. I mean they would tell you right there, you see that building, there’s a sniper , there’s a North Korean sniper right on it. We can’t see him but we know he’s got his gun focused on us.

TR:
See, we all just gained some insight into traveling to north Korea as a blind person.
I’m betting that the majority of her travel experience is more relatable.

After working in DC Stacy went on to become the Executive Officer of the California State Rehabilitation Council.

SC:

Currently I’m mostly staying home with my two kids, but I’m also working part time as the Grant Administrator for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. I also am the Chair of the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind parent Group

TR:

As a blind parent, Stacy’s accumulated lots of techniques that she wants to share with others.

SC:

Traveling can be something you do for a day with your kids in some ways. You go to a local amusement park or you go to a local hiking trail or a local state park. A lot of the techniques that you would use to monitor your kids at a park or at an amusement park in your home town are the same ones that you would use at Disney World.

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

SC:
If you were to say I like going to Broadway shows here is how I enjoy doing it as a blind person. In a way it doesn’t even matter if I’m going to a show in New York or Chicago or San Francisco or Denver or whatever. I can still probably use some of the techniques that you used or look at some of the resources that you looked at.

TR:

Stacy is planning to produce some of these techniques in the form of both written and video blogs. However, she’s looking for input from other sources as well.

SC:

Right now when people write a review it is kind of like writing a review for Yelp. You’re submitting it just as a user to the site.
I do plan on having featured bloggers, featured video bloggers. Probably going to choose about 5 or 6. Two or three blind people who travel a lot who have Different preferences, different ideas of what they like.

TR:

That’s a recognition of the diversity among blind people when it comes to preferred types of travel.

Traveling to an all-inclusive resort to lay on a beach where some prefer visiting amusement parks, camp grounds versus those who prefer actively participating in the culture of a city or foreign destination.

SC:

There might be another blind person who says you know my family is on a budget , we don’t have a lot of income, how can I arrange a vacation for my family that is as cost effective as possible and maybe that’s their number one concern

. I want to have several bloggers to have a variety of different perspectives . Maybe some people who travel with long white canes. Others who travel with guide dogs.

I would also like to have a blog from a blind orientation and mobility instructor who can feature not so much destinations they visit but techniques they use. Such as here’s some techniques for traveling through an airport. Here’s some techniques for monitoring your kid when you’re at an amusement park or when you’re at any park at all.

TR:

One stipulation that comes with the $25,000 Holman Prize is that winners cannot pay themselves. While she believes in paying for content, she’ll be seeking volunteer contributors in the early phases of the site until funds can be generated.

Here’s Stacy with more about her project plan and budget.

SC:

We get the funding in October and that’s when we’ll begin working with the website developer and business analyst to actually develop the site.

SC:

The actual development of a high quality website that you can find on Google and allows people to create user names and passwords and has many message boards and has a lot of functionality costs about $16,000 to create.

SC:

Right now we’re kind of doing some focus groups talking to different blindness organizations. Finding out what the blind community wants and needs out of the website. Functionality and features they want it to have.

We’re hoping to have the site completed by the end of December and then starting at the beginning of next year we’ll really be doing outreach and trying to get the blind public interested in using this site because if people don’t post on the website then it won’t be anything. Like I tell people Napster wasn’t one guy’s CD collection. Yelp isn’t one person’s blog. It’s only a good resource if a lot of people post on it.

TR:

It’s important to remember that local travel, such as visiting a restaurant, museum or venue in your home town is just as important to the site as visiting a resort in the Caribbean.

SC:

If you go somewhere in New York City a concert, a restaurant, see a show or skydiving bowling whatever and you write a review then hey when I go to New York City I can say ok let me log onto the New York City board and see what blind people have done in New York City.

What did they find accessible? What did they find welcoming? How can I go enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a blind person? How can I go enjoy a Broadway show best has a blind person?

I think it will only be a good resource if everyone contributes to it.

TR:

So much of the project’s sustainability and success is relying on community adoption. It’s therefore vital to assure the site’s user interface is easily accessible. Not only for accessing the information but for contributions from the community in the form of reviews and ratings.

SC:

That’s kind of the biggest challenge. We only have $25,000.

More people will find a website but people will use an app more often. I think an app is easier to use.

I went to eat at a restaurant now I’m in the cab or the Uber on the ride home let me quickly get out my phone and open the app and leave a quick review and just let people know. There’s Braille menus but they hassled me about my guide dog or whatever. I think it’s easier for people to do that on an app. The problem is if you have a smart phone you can still use a website on Safari or another browser, but if you only have a computer you can’t necessarily use an app. And so we want it to be accessible to the greatest number of people.

If I could have my way I would love to develop an app, but they are more expensive and I don’t know that we have the funds to do that, but that is something I’d love to look into for the future..)

[TR in conversation with SC]
Well that could be phase 2 but the first part is yes a website because they would need to talk to each other and that’s the basic infrastructure for that, but let’s put that out there because you know there’s no reason someone might want to fund your app.

SC:
Exactly, if anybody wants a great idea for an app or wants to help on some app development definitely contact me I would love that. But definitely want to make the website so that it works very well with Voice Over and Safari and Android so. We’ll make the website with the understanding that a lot of people will be accessing it on their phones.

TR:

Lots of blind or low vision people can appreciate the need for such an app. It comes out of shared experiences.

When living in DC, Greg, Stacy’s husband planned a date for them.

SC:

When we were dating, so this was about 10 years ago, my husband had setup a private horseback riding lesson for us at a stable in Washington DC. We were so excited. It was a surprise it was going to be a fun romantic date and it was like all lovey dovey. Then we got there and they weren’t going to let us ride because we were blind. They didn’t let us on the horses and then they told us to come back the next day and they led our horses around like we were in pre-school.

TR:
Greg grew up horseback riding. Stacy too was more than familiar with stables and horses. Not only taking a class in college she had other experiences.

SC:

While I was growing up I also attended a horsemanship camp that focused on sort of more technique and learning to actually ride and how to saddle and bride a horse, basic dress size. Saddling and bridling a horse is easy to do non visually probably as it is visually. It’s just like getting dressed or dressing someone else or simply putting on equipment on an animal. Blind guide dog users do it all the time with a harness. It’s a bigger animal and it’s different equipment but if you can put a harness on your guide dog you can put a saddle and bridal on a horse.

I grew up riding horses for fun with family on trips and stuff that were usually just trail rides where you sat on the horse and you hold on and the horse just instinctively follows the horse in front of it and the person on the horse in front of me would just call out if there’s a tree branch or there was a need to duck. So that’s not too challenging.

Actually riding in a ring often I would use environmental queues. Like if there was a radio playing somewhere to orient myself, if the instructor was standing in a part of the ring….using the sun as a queue in outdoor arenas – the sun is on my left side right now… so I can orient myself to the ring.
In college I did it similar .

I certainly never competed or did anything like that but I have probably more experience than your average sighted person.

TR:
Following a negative experience like Stacy’s, for a person with a disability turning to mainstream sites like Yelp risks bringing out ;
trolls or antagonizers,
defenders or explainers of the offenders actions.

SC:

I probably would have gotten a bunch of people saying “Aww well, you know they were just trying to be safe and they didn’t know better.” I’m not going to bother posting this just to get all of these invalidating responses.

we wish that we could have had a place that we could have looked in advance to find a stable that was welcoming that other blind people perhaps rode at or had experiences at.

I didn’t want to be afraid every time Greg and I decided to go somewhere.

TR:
mainstream sites with little to no experience with disability can leave you open to lots of generalizations and advice.

Like the time Stacy was searching for information about accessibility of ports of call on a planned cruise.

SC:

When I would ask questions about disability stuff I would get well we went on a cruise last year with my 92 year old mother and she uses a scooter and here’s what worked for her.

My needs are totally different. Our physical abilities and disabilities are one hundred percent different than an elderly person who uses a scooter.

They might really enjoy a bus tour. That might be a great shore excursion for them. They can take a bus tour, see a lot of sights in the city and not need to walk far. Where for a blind person unless you have additional disabilities walking isn’t a challenge, but you don’t want to sit on a bus and look at stuff out the window because you’re not interacting with it. You’re not experiencing it. You’re not hearing the sounds of the city. You’re not tasting street food. Our needs were just totally different.

I wanted to find a place where blind people could go and get advice from people who understood what our access needs were.

TR:

Whether it’s a guide dog handler getting turned away at a restaurant or taxi or a cane traveler being grabbed under the guise of assistance, negative experiences while traveling are bound to happen.

Maybe if something like the Blind Travel Network were available, Stacy and Greg’s experience at the horse stable would have been different.

Stacy brought in a local chapter of the NFB to work with the horse riding stable to help them improve their policy.

SC:

we didn’t come there to educate people. It was humiliating and frustrating and just awful. That wasn’t what we wanted.

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

[TR in conversation with SC]
I almost see your site as becoming a real vehicle for advocacy.

SC:
Absolutely. What I would hope is that resort companies and cruise lines and tour operators such as Disney will see that ok look there is this site with hundreds or perhaps thousands of blind people on it who want to travel. Who have the money and time to travel. Who have the interest to travel. We need to market to them. We need to be accessible to them. They are a target audience. It’s not charitable to be accessible, it’s just good business sense. Here are people who would like to go somewhere on vacation and we want their money so we need to be accessible and we need to be welcoming and we need to be nondiscriminatory. I think hopefully just by having all of us in one place will hopefully help the travel industry see that we are a market.

TR:

The Blind Travel Network is not only a means to improve access but it’s also a resource for training and a potential source of motivation or encouragement for those new to vision loss.

SC:

A lot of it is just getting rid of the idea that like you can never get lost. That everyone else knows exactly where they’re going. A lot of it is just comfort, travel in public too.

TR:

To find out more or stay in touch with Stacy’s progress

SC:

You can find me on Twitter @Stacy.Cervenka. You can email me at Stacy.Ceervenka@gmail.com…

TR:

For some, aspiring towards an ambition similar to those of the Holman Prize contest can be daunting. It’s an exclusive prize awarded to those who can first dream up an idea or concept that challenges their own personal boundaries. Which I believe is one of the goals of the contest.

The ambitions are the exclusive property of the entrants and winners. Everyone else is invited to observe from afar and be inspired to channel their own inner explorer.

Stacy’, through the Blind Travel Network, is offering blind and low vision people a chance to be a part of her ambition. A chance to create a global network that is for us and by us. In fact, it’s early success is dependent on that.

Congratulations to Stacy Cervenka for winning the Holman prize. I’d say an honorable mention goes to blind and low vision people around the world for the win as well.

Stacy is prepared to do her part in developing the site and creating the content. Hopefully many in the community are prepared to roll up their sleeves and participate in the form of reviews, ratings, the sharing of tips and techniques and of course the site itself within their own network of people who are blind or low vision. After all, the community reaps the benefits. The improved access to spaces like, athletic and performance venues, restaurants and museums increases the visibility of blind and low vision people in the public. These more frequent interactions with the general public can help to eliminate the odd reactions and discrimination like that which Stacy and Greg experienced at the horse riding stable.

So I guess the question I pose to you is will the success of the Blind Travel Network happen, with or without you?

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

We’re just about done meeting all of the 2018 Holman Prize winners. Only one more left to go. I’m sure you’re looking forward to the next one but that being the last, I know how that makes you feel.

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

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2018 Holman Prize : Blind Empowerment in Mexico

September 26th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

2018 Holman Prize winner Maria Conchita Hernandez smiling at the camera

Once again, I had the pleasure of speaking with all of the three 2018 Holman Prize winners.

Beginning today, I’ll introduce you to each of the winners. You’ll get to know a bit about them and their plans for the $25K Holman Prize.

We’re then going to go back and catch up with the 2017 winners and hear about their progress and more.

First up, Maria Conchita Hernandez. Having had access to opportunity and information that helped her form a positive view of blindness and disability, she wants to pay it forward.

Remember, links mentioned in this episode are below as well as a transcript.

If you like what you hear, please subscribe to the podcast using your choice of podcast ap including Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. Feel free to leave a review/rating if you’re an Apple Podcast listener.

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Transcript

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TR:

Audio: “More Peas”, The J.B’s

Greetings all and welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.

I’m your host, T.Reid

If you’re a regular listener, glad to have you back. You know where everything is so come on in and get comfortable. Allow me a moment to greet those who are here for the first time.

Ladies, Gentlemen.

Reid My Mind Radio is my space to bring you interviews with people with interesting stories to share more often about blindness or low vision. It’s also a place for me to share my own experiences with blindness as I move along this journey. As I continue to learn and grow I suspect you’ll see some of that reflected here both in the topics and in how they’re presented.

If you’ve been riding with me for at least the past year, you may recall that in 2017 I brought you interviews with the Holman Prize winners.

Not familiar with the Holman Prize? We’re about to get into that.
First, I encourage you to go back and listen to each of the 2017 episodes.

Today though, it’s all about the 2018 winners. I’ll bring you each of the three in a separate episode. So let’s get started with the first…right after my intro music.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Theme

TR:

The San Francisco Lighthouse for the second year in a row, awarded a $25,000 Holman Prize to each of three individuals who in their own way demonstrate the adventurous spirit of James Holman.

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and how they would use the money.
A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and eventually selected three winners.

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

After studying medicine and literature he became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe.

Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize recipient is Maria Conchita Hernandez.

Conchita:
When I was five years old my family decided to move to the United States. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing… go check it out.
I think my mom really saw the difference between kind of what we had available to us in terms of education but also medically wise. So we ended up staying and we became undocumented at that time when we decided to overstay our visa.

TR:
One of 5 children, both Conchita and her brother were eventually diagnosed with Optic Atrophy.

Conchita:
but I don’t think that’s actually what I have. I went to an Ophthalmologist like two years ago and he’s like yeh I don’t think that’s what you have.

I’m color blind, I do very bad with light, I don’t have depth perception so I definitely should have had a cane way before I did.

TR:

That awareness of her lack of blindness skills as a child Conchita would eventually come to understand. After not accepting large print, dealing with headaches resulting from reading standard print, she still graduated with a 3.4 GPA.

Conchita:
That’s why people were like you don’t need help You’re doing fine. The thing is I was struggling but because I was smart I could figure stuff out and I feel like that’s the same in college.

TR:

For many the time spent in college are considered formidable years shaping political views often for a lifetime.

Growing up in California, Conchita had an early start in activism.

Conchita:

So I went to public school. I grew up in California and I ended up graduating high school and going on to college.

I’ve always been into Civil Rights and advocacy. People are like oh what were you doing in high school I was organizing walk outs (laughs…) for immigration. That’s what I was doing, but I never really learned anything about disability or blindness or anything and I didn’t consider myself blind because there’s such a negative idea around it. My teachers never told me I was or anything, they were like oh you are visually impaired you can’t see very well. It was always like a focus on kind of seeing it as this deficit as opposed to something positive.

TR:
During her senior year at Saint Mary’s, a small liberal arts school in California, Conchita took a political science course.

Conchita:
My Professor was Blind. He was like oh ok so you are Blind and I was like no don’t confuse me with those people.

(Laughs along with TR)
He said you should really go to this conference and I was like no, I’m good. So one day he took me to his office and was like you’re going to go to this conference, I’m going to call them and they’re going to pay for you to go. And so he calls like the President of the NFB in California and was like there’s this young lady here and you’re going to pay for her to go. Get her everything and I was like alright I guess I have to go and I don’t even know who these people are. And so my first introduction to blindness in a positive light and to really the disability community was when in my senior year I went to a national NFB conference. And that is where I was just kind of blown away.

TR:

With such negative stereotypes around blindness, it’s common for those with residual sight to choose not to identify as blind. Often even encouraged.

Conchita:

My teachers always told me you know you’re so lucky cause at least you can see something. You know I had these very Ablest ideas what blindness was and disability and when I met all of these blind people I realized people that were totally blind were doing more stuff than what I was doing because I didn’t have the skills . I didn’t know how to travel independently. Up until that point I never went anywhere by myself. I traveled the world, I went abroad, but I was always with someone. I had this fear of going by myself because I wasn’t sure what I would do. In my mind what was wrong was that I couldn’t see not that I didn’t have the skills because I didn’t even know that was a thing.

TR:
That thing? A strong, positive view of what it means to be blind, to be disabled; not only would that become her thing, but it became the foundation for her Holman Ambition.

First, she enrolled in a blindness training program. She learned how to properly use the white cane, Braille, access technology

She knew then she wanted to give other blind children access to the information she didn’t receive.

Conchita:

I didn’t have good teachers of the blind who really should have showed me all of these things No one showed me Assistive Technology. Nobody showed me Braille because I saw too much, but yet I couldn’t function like everybody else.

I ended up going to this Master’s Program at Louisiana Tech and I got my Masters in teaching Blind students.

TR:

After working as a Rehab Counselor in Nebraska, Conchita moved to Washington DC where’s she’s been teaching blind students for over 6 years. She’s currently pursuing a doctorate in special education.

Conchita:

I also run a nonprofit on the side which is kind of where the Holman comes in. I started it three years ago with several friends who are also professionals in the blindness field.

TR:

That organization is called METAS. An acronym for Mentoring, Engaging and Teaching All Students.

The organization was formed after founding member Garrick Scott received an invitation to serve as a mentor at a school for blind children in Guadalajara. Not being a Spanish speaker, he invited his friend Conchita to join him.

Conchita:

I was like alright if we’re going we’re going to have a curriculum. We’re going to have workshops we’re going to set it up organized , we’re not just going to randomly go on a trip. So we ended up building a curriculum, building these classes.

TR:

Two other colleagues; Sachin Pavithran and Richie Flores joined Conchita and Garrick to form the organization.

Conchita:
We’re training the teachers on how to work with blind students because there is no certification for teachers. It’s mostly physical therapists, or occupational therapists or just people who were like I just wanted to help people. So they don’t really have a background in education of blind students.

Conchita:
after we went to Mexico we decided we need to be a nonprofit so that we can ask for money and we can make this something sustainable. So three years ago we did this and we’re all blind, we’re all professionals in the blindness field we’re all people of color and we’re all really passionate about what we do

Audio Conchita Holman Prize Submission

TR:

Continuing to build on that passion, Conchita submitted her proposal to create a conference in Mexico providing training and informational workshops for people impacted by blindness.

Conchita:

Anybody who is blind, parents of blind children and professionals in the field.

The goal is to bring people together and organize. . I believe organizing people together and having them advocate for their rights and advocating for what they want makes the world of difference. And that’s what changed in the United States. The reason we have the laws we have, we’re not special, we’re not more advanced than any other country even though people think we are. We’re not smarter. It just so happened that the right people were in the right places at the right time .

I think organizing the Blind in Mexico so that they can see this positive idea of blindness and having parents see this positive idea is going to really transform them being able to advocate for themselves

We’re going to be providing workshops from Orientation and Mobility, to Braille to Advocacy to parents of Blind children. Recognizing the situation is different in Mexico than it is in the United States, But power of people together in one place advocating for their rights can be a really powerful thing.

TR:
In Mexico, poverty and policy are some reasons that account for the differences in the lack of education among children who are blind. Conchita once described a blind child’s options as a choice between a beggar or living with their family for the duration of their lives.

Conchita:

60 percent of the kids who are blind or low vision have zero education. That’s not even to the 6th grade.

In the United States we have IDEA which says public school has to take you and has to provide accommodations . You have a right to a free and appropriate public education. That doesn’t exist in Mexico. A public school can tell you I’m sorry but we don’t know how to help you we don’t know how to educate you.

So you don’t have access to public education.

The only state run school for the blind is in Mexico City and the others are privately run which means they charge some type of tuition. The school we work at in Guadalajara, they go up to 6th grade. It’s kind of like a boarding school or kids can go there just for the day.

The thing is there’s nothing after 6th grade.

you can go up until free public education in 12th grade but you have to buy your books in all public schools even kindergarten, you have to buy your uniforms, you have to buy your lunch. So parents make the choice well do we have enough to pay for that or should you start working. So it ends up being are we going to pay for 6 more years of books uniforms or lunches really any school supply or are you going to go to work. Many times the kids decide on their own , I’m going to go to work because I’m going to support my family.

The good thing is there’s a lot of family support. But it ends up being the family taking care of them as opposed to them living independently. The people who live independently are few and far in between.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Wow!

I inherently believe that people should have access to information, access to resources no matter where they live.

TR:

Conchita and her METAS team have already seen examples of the success their curriculum can have.

Conchita:

We hosted this workshop in McAllen Texas which is in the Rio Grande Valley where we worked with 16 blind adults and their families who are Spanish speakers. And so they learned, many of them for the first time, how to use a cane, how to do Braille, technology and daily living skills. And then we had workshops for the families. We had an activity where we asked them what are your fears and expectations and dreams for your family member. And it was a lot of fears and kind of what are they going to do when we’re not here and how are they going to be able to do such and such. By the end of the workshop it was just amazing to see how excited they were. They were saying now we want to know how we can support them in being independent and how can we help them reach their goals. We know they’re going to be fine because we met these great blind people.

TR:
Some things to consider when planning this conference? Organizing from outside of the country’s borders is just one.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are there going to be some challenges to kind of get everyone in one room? Just financial challenges?

Conchita:

Yeh definitely. I think that’s going to be the biggest barrier.

So with Part of the money we’re offering scholarships to people so they can travel there.

We’re trying to make connections with organizations that can serve as sponsors that can also provide financing for people in their state. Different states have different policy. So for example The state is Jalisco and the city is Guadalajara, they have an Office of Disability that’s a state level position. So they have money and grants that we’re planning on applying to also help pay for this. But also having the blind people from the different places apply to those grants and in those entities and also try to get companies to sponsor in order to make that feasible. That is going to be the biggest challenge.

the goal is 200 people .

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are you familiar with the political structure there in Mexico?

Conchita:
There’s so many layers. Mexico just had a presidential election and the left wing government won. That can be a positive for disability. In Latin America historically the more left leaning countries have done disability laws.

TR:

While the Holman Prize is specifically to assist with bringing this project to fruition, the real goal with any sort of movement is sustainability.

Conchita:

So I see this as being the beginning of something annual and having it be whatever the people there want it to be. Having them have the buy in that they will be the ones to do most of the organizing for the next time and they will be the ones who are like this is what we need and this is how we want to do it. So definitely having it be an annual thing but being run more locally as opposed to me who is in a different country.

Even though I am Mexican, even though I understand the situation, that is not my reality and so being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do , I think that’s really important.

TR:

The conference will be held in Guadalajara Mexico tentatively scheduled for July 26 through the 29th 2019.

Conchita is also a founding member of the Coalition of Latinx’s with Disabilities. This advocacy organization consists of individuals with disabilities from throughout the Latino diaspora. They work on issues including immigration.

Conchita:

There was a guy who was Deaf who was in a detention center being held by ICE and so we did a lot of advocacy on his behalf. He didn’t have an interpreter. He knew home sign, that his family invented. He didn’t have formal sign language from the states or from the country he was coming from. So he had no way of communicating with anybody except his sister and that was denied to him while he was in detention. So we really advocated for his release and for him getting accommodations. So he was eventually released.

I think more than anything it’s just disability is a whole different world in the Latin X community. There’s a lot of stereotype and it’s just a different history. So just finding a group of individuals who kind of are proud of being disabled and who also have Latinx backgrounds who can share this and advocate for each other.

A lot of people ask me this. They say do you think Latinx’s have a more negative idea of disability? And what I say is we just don’t have access to information. So the fact that I had to go to college to find out about this is an injustice because the majority of people who are big disability rights advocates are white, wealthy, college educated.

and so there was a hash tag, I don’t know if that was a couple of years ago, that was disability too white.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
too white, yeh, yeh!
Conchita:
If you come from a working poor background you’re not going to go to college panels about disability.

When we talk about the history of the disability rights movement in the United States we leave out all of the people of color who were there and they never get highlighted

When the disability rights movement was happening in California and they were organizing and protesting at the capital, The Black panthers were the ones providing food and there were a lot of disability rights advocates who were teaching the Black panthers how to organize. There was just so much collaboration and that really gets left out of the conversation about the ADA and how it came about and you see a lot of white faces. I think a reason why the ADA was passed under the Republican leadership was because they painted it as a white issue . The people signing were white. I mean those people are also really amazing people and I’m friends with some of them. There really amazing but we always leave out the people of color that were just as much doing as much work as anybody else, but we don’t hear about them as much.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Why should disability be different from the rest of society, right? (Laughs…)

Conchita:
Yeh, exactly! (Laugh)

TR:

It’s pretty clear to see that Conchita is an educator at heart. Her own experiences are guiding her desire to share the knowledge about blindness and disability that she wishes she could have gained earlier in life.

She can’t change when she received the information, but she’s doing everything possible to pass along her message.

Conchita:

blindness doesn’t have to be as detrimental as we make it out to be. What tools can you use as a blind person to do x, y and z. As a parent of a blind child what kind of expectations should you be setting for your child and it’s something as easy as make your blind child do chores, don’t let them sit back while everybody else does. There’s ways to have them do it. Have them do the same things their siblings do. Something so simple can really make a huge difference.

TR:
Congratulations to Conchita and METAS. Looking forward to hearing good things about your efforts in Mexico and other projects in the future.

If you want to follow their progress or learn more you can visit www.MetasInternational.org. The site contains a link to their Facebook page which Conchita says is more frequently updated.

You can find the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities
www.latinxdisabilitycoalition.com/

Of course we’ll have links on Reid My Mind.com.

TR: Gatewave
This is Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio. Audio for independent living.

TR: Close

It’s probably no coincidence that James Holman’s adventures began after his education. That curiosity pushing him to seek out more real life experiences.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize winner featured today has a similar sequence. However, her mission is pretty specific. Empower other blind people who have little opportunities to improve their own lives by organizing with others who are blind.

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

Conchita:

Being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

No Half Stepping with Loud Steps Indoor Navigation

September 12th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

Loud Steps Logo
If you ever made use of indoor navigation, then you probably are like me and want to see a wider adoption. Boni Loud Steps, an Indoor Navigation company based in Turkey has recently completed a permanent installation at a Chicago hotel.

Hopefully, this is just one step in the direction where we see many more permanent installations in all sorts of venues.

Listen to this conversation with Boni’s Director of Business Development, Paul Colgan. We talk about their approach to development, securing a permanent installation and other exciting pilot programs such as one currently underway in New York City.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up everyone, I hope you’re doing well.
I thank you for being here. Salutes to you if you are a subscribing listener.

If you’re a first timer, welcome!
Maybe you could do me a quick favor?
How did you find your way here to the podcast?

Twitter? Facebook? Did someone send you the link or tell you about the show?

Let me know. Contact me via the social media platform where you learned about the podcast or email me at reidmy mindradio@gmail.com.

I think these stories deserve to be heard so I’m trying to figure what works to get the podcast in more ears.

I’d really love the feedback.

However you found your way here, I appreciate you and hope you stay.

Now let me guide you on over to today’s episode…
right after the theme music!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:
Indoor Navigation uses combinations of smart phones, floor plans , Wi-Fi and electronic beacons to help provide navigational information about a venue such as a mall, hotel, convention center and more.

Smart phones equipped with a screen reader such as voice over on the Apple iPhone, allows people who are blind or low vision to take advantage of this information and independently find their way from point a to b within a facility.

Ever since first experiencing indoor navigation I’ve been waiting for the chance to take advantage of this technology in the wild. By that I mean, make use of the system outside of a promoter blindness related event.

For the most part, applications have been installed at conventions of both ACB and NFB. While I heard there are installations in a few major airports I have not yet travelled through there in order to make use on my own.

Earlier this year I learned of a company named Boni. They’re the creators of the Loud Steps indoor navigation application permanently installed in the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Chicago, North Shore Conference Center in Skokie, Ill..

Excited to learn more about the app and how this installation came to be I spoke with Paul Colgan.
PC:
I am the Director of Business Development and Corporate Strategy for Boni Loud Steps. We’re based here in Chicago, Illinois. We’re a Turkish-American company. There’s a development team in Turkey and then there’s myself and an engineer here in Chicago.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Loud Steps.

PC:
Well Boni Loud Steps is an Indoor Navigation a;; for an iPhone with special features for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It also can assist Hearing Impaired people as well. It uses the sensors in the phone along with the Wi-Fi signals in a property to locate you in the property.

TR:

The app assures blind and low vision users can access the step by step on screen instructions navigating a person to their chosen destination.

PC:
The accuracy can be as good as a meter in a hotel where there’s a lot of Wi-Fi. It’s a little bit more than that in a mall or airport where the bigger spaces it’s harder to get the good accuracy.

TR:

Audio: Stepping Out, Joe Jackson

In order to explain how the application works, picture the following.
Let’s suppose I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Chicago. It’s taking place at the Doubletree. Aware that the hotel is equipped with Loud Steps I download the app in advance. However, if I weren’t, when checking into the hotel, a receptionist would inform me of the app and even assist in downloading.

By using a QR code – which is sort of like the codes scanned in the supermarket – but when your smart phone recognizes this code it loads the address to download the application.

PC:
The app itself has a little tutorial in it for first time users. So that first time user gets a quick introduction to the app and then they can begin using it immediately.

TR:

Now that I’m checked in and have my room number, located on the third floor, I key that information into the app.

PC:

The app can then walk you to the elevator, the stairs, the escalator whatever it may be, and instruct you how to go that elevator. And then you can choose the third floor and when you get off the elevator it can tell you to turn right or left, down the hallway and direct you to your destination.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’m familiar with other Indoor Navigation applications, so does this work similar. So you guys have to install the beacons?

PC:
No, we do not use beacons.

TR:

Beacons are small electronic devices that send a signal using blue tooth. The transmitted signal contains information about the location which can be received by the smart phone in this case.

But beacons cost to install and maintain. While not as expensive, it also introduces a point of potential failure.

PC:
We’re using the radio signal from the Wi-Fi access points to act as our beacon.

When we go into a building we survey all those Wi-Fi signals and we overlay that information – we call it finger printing the Wi-Fi signals every meter.

We put the points of interest on the maps . We label the offices, the rest rooms, the ATM. Then that information we can utilize very quickly to move you around, locate you, draw you a route then to walk you through that route just by using Wi-Fi signals.

TR:

If you’ve never used such an app, you can imagine how
This could reduce or remove the stress involved in spontaneously finding a point of interest in a facility like a hotel.

The technology isn’t new, it just hasn’t been permanently available in many facilities. But Loud Steps, is permanently installed at the Doubletree…

PC:
We went through a world leading innovation hub in Chicago called Elm Spring. One of the investors in Elm Spring was a company that owns the Doubletree. They allowed us access to the Doubletree to test our app and then of course make a permanent installation there.

TR:
Working directly with consumer groups generated feedback to help improve the app.

Implementing Loud Steps at the Doubletree was more like a partnership than an average B to B transaction.

PC:
Their staff and their people have provided us with a lot of feedback in terms of what is necessary to achieve the best service level – quality we need to do because it’s very important to them as a brand to make sure that they had the best possible service.

So they actually pushed us to do a high level job. And it really improved the app overall.

[TR in conversation with PC]
TR:
So when can we get something, you know, in other places, I’m dying for this type of thing.

Let me tell you I experienced this in a couple of places, but the one last year was actually in Pittsburg and I believe that’s a Doubletree property. Just the experience of being able to navigate from one place just seamlessly, just really seamlessly. Once you experience it’s like huh!
(PC laughs!)

And I go to a new hotel and it’s like oh it’s not here I wish I had there here. I want it everywhere! (Laughs…)

PC:
Well, I need that message repeated over and over. So the more you can repeat that message the better because it is a challenge when you go into a facility and they say well why should we do this, shouldn’t we wait until it’s mandated? We try to make the case to them that this is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. This is an opportunity to provide a benefit to their guests. If they know there are potential customers out there they may not otherwise have then we start to get their attention. And that’s very important

TR:
If we’re only looking at people who are blind or visually impaired, well we know in comparison to the overall population we’re talking about 3 percent.

However, that could be significant.

PC:
When you go to an airport and you say, you have a million passengers coming through. That means there’s 30,000 potential passengers that may or may not becoming through your airport because they don’t know how to discover it. Or, if they come in they request or need an escort. In many of our users don’t want that. They want to have the independence, they want to have the confidence to do it themselves independently.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Is the intent at some point to market this outside of the Blind and Visually Impaired community? I’m assuming there’s other benefits for the general population.

PC:
Oh, there is, exactly. You hit on a key point and this is something that’s been emphasized to us by Mike May who’s with Sendero. Mike makes a very strong point. He says, “I don’t want a single purpose app. Even though they’re beneficial, I want an app that’s available for everyone that has special features so I can use it.”

That’s the way our app is designed and frankly we designed it that way from the ground up. But it was only later that we got confirmation of that from people like Mike May that we were headed in the right direction.

TR:
People with disabilities aren’t the only group who need to find their way around in unfamiliar environments. In addition to navigation, Paul offers a few possibilities that go beyond serving those with disabilities.

PC:
We have the ability to direct you to where the nearest exit is. If there’s an emergency whether it be an incident or fire or you have to vacate the building, we can direct you to the nearest exit. Let’s say there’s a medical emergency. If you suffer a medical event and you need to have a first responder get to you quickly we can communicate it directly to the first responders exactly where you are located in the building so that they can go right to you. If we know that there’s a problem in the east wing we direct you out the west wing.

[TR in conversation with PC]
What about the business side? For example, in malls to be able to serve people ads like when they’re near a Starbuck’s and they’re going to offer you ten percent off a Latte or something like that. Is that part of the plan?

PC:

Yes, So we are doing that now in the malls in Turkey. So we have the capability of providing push notification that’s called. Where yeh, you come by the Starbucks, you come by Kohl’s or whatever the store is that’s in the mall and using your proximity it gets you some information. It could be a coupon it could be well if you come in for the next hour we’ll give you ten percent off. Something like that is really what the retailers want to offer. We now have some capability on our staff to do more precise mapping. What we’re experiencing in Turkey has found that the better maps, the more precise maps, the more up to date maps we have allow the mall operators and the stores in the mall to do a better job of marketing and therefore they get a better response from the users . And so it’s turned into a win-win situation.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’ve been saying this for years…
if it’s all about marketing to the general public that’s great because that’s the way we’ll get a wider adoption. It’s a bigger audience, it makes sense.

PC:
People want to do the right thing, but they still have budgets to meet. If you can come back to them and say, here’s what I can do for you. Here’s how it can benefit your facility and it now gets their attention. They want the investment because they can see the benefit of it. So that’s part of our sales pitch. Sounds like I should be talking to you about what are you doing on the side business.

PC & TR Laugh…

You’re a good salesmen. You anticipate my needs and my questions already.

[TR in conversation with PC]

The applications for it, to me seem endless. You just have to really be creative with the way you use the system and as long as there’s functionality there. I’ll give you this one or maybe you have it already. There’s was the whole, what was the game?

PC:
Pokémon?

[TR in conversation with PC]
Pokémon, exactly!

A mall, for kids? Come on that’s a no brainer. Building these types of things in there. The kids can have fun using that type of thing.The adults, I mean you can gamify shopping and people will probably buy more, but then at the same time a person with a visual impairment can get to the mall and independently navigate, that’s, that’s huge.

PC:
Yes, That is the goal I mean you’ve outlined the goal very well. That is where we want to be. We want to be an app that can serve a very broad audience, but again have those special features for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, other people who need a little bit of assistance and do it in such a way its mainstream.

TR:

Boni, based in Turkey, has multiple installations throughout that country.

PC:
There are several locations in Turkey where we have the application installed. Now understand, we used to be a beacon company as well so most of the installations in Turkey are beacon installations but here in the United States I’m trying to do the rollout with just Wi-Fi. In Turkey we do have an airport; Antalya Airport, that’s where we tested it for the airport users. There in conversations with other airports there in Turkey and Europe.

##TR:
In addition to securing other Doubletree locations, Loud Steps looks to go beyond just hotels.

PC:
We’re beginning a test out at O’Hare. We’re not yet at a public level yet but we’re doing some testing there. I’m also talking to some other hotels and other lighthouses around the country. And other facilities that serve the needs of the blind and low vision community about installing some applications at their facilities so they can become training grounds for people to learn how to use the app. And then of course we hope to get it into the community.

TR:
For those in the New York City area , Boni is currently working with the city’s transportation department on a pilot program that will expand the reach of Loud Steps.

PC:
An outdoors application that can inform users at a traffic intersection of when the lights change. It will tell you what direction the traffic is It can tell you where the bus stops are, subways from you location. But more importantly, there’s a bike path there. It’s a very busy intersection in New York City and although it has the APS, Audible Pedestrian Signals system there, they’re looking for a way we can use the app to communicate to the user this information. So again a blind or low vision person can get the kind of information they need when they come upon an intersection. So if they learn quickly what obstacles they’re going to have to deal with in order to cross the street.

TR:
So using this app, a blind or low vision pedestrian would gain real time information including, traffic flow, orientation and surrounding points of interest, traffic light changes, plus…

PC:
We can tell you when you’re deviating from the crosswalk. We may even put in a countdown in there to help you know how long you have to cross the street.

TR:
This attention to detail goes back to Boni’s approach to design.

PC:
We have a design philosophy of solve for accessibility first. Meaning that we have looked at solving the accessibility problems as our primary job and then we built the application from there. As a result we have a I think a better application, a simpler application call it more elegant. It works very well. Easy to learn. By solving for the accessibility issues first, not just an add on, we’ve done a much better job building a great app for people.

TR:
To contact Loud Steps…

PC:
www.loudsteps.com

If you want more information and want to suggest a facility. If you have a hotel, a mall an airport or anything near you you’d like us to talk to the owners, I’ll be happy to do it. My email is paul@boni.meI’ll follow up with you. I’ll send you information about the app and I’ll be happy to follow up with any facility you recommend that I need to talk to.

[TR in conversation with PC]
In terms of the community advocating for this type of installation, outside of contacting you and saying hey, you should put this in my mall (laughs) what else should folks be doing?

PC:
I think that whenever and wherever that they can support the idea of Indoor Navigation for the visually impaired, they should voice it.

Although we are in business to promote our app, but the reality is we work with a lot of other people. We are collaborating on many different levels to try and bring the whole concept of the industry to the wider audience out there and one of the things we’re doing through Sendero for example, is trying to build a database of facilities that have the indoor navigation applications available to them. And in most cases right now it’s beacon based.

So we’re building a database of all the beacons and where they’re located. So whether you’re using my app or somebody else’s app that you have the beacon information and you can go into that facility and use an app. So the idea here is that we want to make it easier for the blind community, the low vision community to find access to this. So anything the community can do to advocate and support the idea of indoor navigation. To tell they’re local government official, we’re talking to universities different places, airports wherever malls… this is a benefit and the number of people out there who may not be visiting your mall because they don’t know how to discover their way through your mall that mall owner is missing an opportunity for a sale. I think the more the community can articulate that, the better it is not only for us but other providers.

Audio: “Ain’t No Half Stepping'”, Big Daddy Kane

TR:

I was very glad to hear Paul say this. I think I told him during the conversation that I tried multiple applications and I am not tied to anyone. I’m a fan of the broad technology and what it provides.

My only issue really with multiple solutions is the extra responsibility to learn and become comfortable with each app.

Personally, I don’t really see this as too much of a problem. As long as the interface is accessible the main components are where am I right now, where do I want to go and how is this app going to help navigate me there.

But that’s me, I like and understand the technology. I would hope to see some standards built in to help those who may find it more challenging to learn the app.

On that same note, I know there are many people who might say, hey I have the skills to independently explore a new location. I go to a mall without the aid of an application and I do just fine. So can you.

Let me speak directly to you… come here, lean in nice and close.

Congratulations, that’s your business.

Lots of times I think people should be able to grasp something because, well I get it therefore I think anyone should.

But that’s really not how the world works.

We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What may be simple for me could really challenge another person.

Technology is about increasing options.

This technology isn’t replacing the need to learn real orientation and mobility skills. It’s just another option to gain access to information that is otherwise inaccessible.

Options are good!

Like you the listener has the option to subscribe to this podcast. You could choose to use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In or straight at Reid My Mind.com

Hopefully you make the right choice to subscribe! And either way, if you like the show maybe you would consider giving the podcast a 5 star rating.

I know what you’re thinking …

‘PC:
Why should we do this? Shouldn’t we wait until its mandated?

## TR
Well, first of all, while that would be really helpful I haven’t convinced any of my representatives to introduce this bill, just yet!

But really, all of this helps others discover the show.

And..

PC
This is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve.

TR:
He knows what he’s talking about!

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – A Girl From the South Who Made Her Way to NASA

August 29th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

A picture of Denna during a keynote presentation.
Continuing from the last episode “Black on Audio Description” I present our interview with Denna Lambert. The modern day “Hidden Figures.”

This episode highlights her journey including lessons for those pursuing their own goals, advice for those in positions of power and notes the various ways aspects of identity intersect with blindness or disability.

Before you blast off and hit play, remember, now’s the best time to go ahead and subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

Ok, 5, 4,3,2,1… hit play!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family?

If this is your first time here, welcome. My name is T.Reid. Today’s episode to some extent is a part 2. However, it’s ok if you listen out of sequence.

Talking about sequence, we have to start with the theme music.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Raven:
Last time on Reid My Mind Radio.

Audio: Final closing segment from last episode “Black On Audio Description.” Screen reader reading the email signature which revealed Denna worked for NASA.

TR:

Last time, I introduced you to Denna Lambert.
Denna took part in a continuing discussion around audio description and cultural competence.

When I learned Denna works as a project manager for NASA, I wanted to hear more about her journey. And that’s exactly what we do here at Reid My Mind Radio.

We meet interesting people doing things that often challenge stereotypes and expand on what it means to be a person who is blind or lives with a disability..

The experience of blindness is unique to each person. Impacted by all aspects of an individual’s identity. Today, I get to introduce you to Denna Lambert. Her personal journey takes us through the experience of blindness as a Black woman from the South.

DL:
I was born with congenital cataracts. It was hereditary. It’s on my dad’s side of the family he is also blind. He grew up in the days the schools were segregated
when his parents found out he was blind, they sent him to the School for the Blind. You know the Negros School for the Blind.
TR in conversation with DL:
Ok, where was that?

DL:
Arkansas.

TR in conversation with DL:
Was it actually called The Negro school for the blind?

DL:
Yeah, yeah.

## TR:
RMM:
Audio: RMMRadio Announcement – part of intro
For further exploration of growing up in a segregated school for the blind as an African American,
take a listen to a past episode titled:
[At the Intersection Between Black & Blind](http://reidmymind.com/reid-my-mind-radio-at-the-intersection-of-black-and-blind/)

spoke with Robert Lewis who attended the Maryland School for the Blind both pre and post segregation.

Now, back to Denna discussing her father’s experience.

DL:
My dad graduated I think a year or two before they desegregated schools. If you remember like the Little Rock Nine this was all in Little Rock. he felt like
if they integrated schools then he would have been in this environment where he would have been vulnerable and in danger.

## TR:

The Little Rock Nine refers to the group of nine black students
who were the first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September1957.

They were greeted by the Arkansas National Guard called in by the governor. Along with some pretty angry & racist residents.

Audio from archives of this event.

Our life experiences are impacted in some way by the generations that
come before us.

The lessons learned by our parents help shape our own lives.

For example, Dena’s father had more information about cataracts and was aware that his new born should be examined early.

His experiences as a black and blind man in the blind school system framed decisions made on behalf of his daughter.

DL:

And this is again kind of like a testament to him. just knowing that in order for me to receive services he had to ultimately face the very people that I think he feared and distrusted the most. Most of the professionals were white and came from the school for the blind that he said he was going to avoid. And that’s what pushed his decision that I attend public school. versus the school for the blind – which I’m really glad they did.

TR in conversation with DL:

The people that you were interacting from the blind school, were any of them blind or were they all sighted folks?

DL:
All of the TVI’s, the early intervention people, the O&M, they were all sighted. and white.

TR:

Children observing and identifying with adults in their environment often serve as early role models. It can make a real impact on what they themselves aspire to reach in their own lives.

In other words, that question what do you want to be when you grow up can really change based on what a child believes is possible.

DL:
My music teacher, I took piano lessons from first grade on up to when I graduated, so that was actually my Dad’s principal. He did teaching on the side after he retired. He was kind of my first person who was blind who read Braille, used a cane , he took public transit. I was like woh I want to be like him because I was partially sighted so I didn’t know Braille. I saw that he could read, he wasn’t[‘t shuffling with his feet. I was like what is this? It definitely taught me that hey you know blindness doesn’t have to be something that you have to hide. Which is something that I think my Dad had to deal with because I think the thought was if you have any kind of vision then it’s better to pass as sighted then to just be who you are as blind.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh, there’s a lot of people today who are dealing with that.

TR:

Of course, there is no substitution for having teachers who recognize a child’s potential. We see the fruit of those early seeds planted in the form of encouragement and support.

DL:
I went to public school from pretty much first grade all the way up. I had a really great TVI (Teacher for the Visually Impaired). She stayed with me from preschool all the way until I graduated. We still stay in touch now.

My parents couldn’t take off and come to the school and do the things, but my TVI she would. She was kind of like my surrogate Momma in a way. (Laughs) Which I know a lot of kids don’t get that kind of services.

TR:
Teachers of the Visually Impaired or TVI’s often work with students to
assure they have materials in an accessible format.
This includes Braille, large print or electronic.
They often serve as a child’s advocate in the school communicating with the child’s teachers.

Denna was fortunate that her TVI made sure to teach her how to do all of this herself.
Teaching her to be independent.

DL:
She really kind of laid the ground work for when I got to college. I didn’t necessarily need the DSS office as much as what I probably would have needed if I didn’t have those skills to do it on my own.

TR:
DSS office is the disability student services available to college students with disabilities – playing a similar role as the TVI in high school just no hand holding, figuratively speaking.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Where did you go to college?

DL:
I went to University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. So that’s in the north west portion of the state. My mom , she wanted me to stay close to home and study Special Education you know work with blind kids, but I was the one who liked tearing apart radios and light bulbs and you know just different things.
(Laughs from DL and TR)
I went in as an Electrical Engineering major. There were some minority programs that really were trying to encourage students of color to study STEM fields so I got a scholarship to Fayetteville and just went from there. It was definitely hard because North Arkansas, those programs would have that real conversation of do not be in certain areas after dark. You have to be aware of where you are in this part of the country.

TR:

We just traveled back to the intersection of black and blind.
There are still lots of places all throughout the country today maybe more places where people of color truly aren’t feeling welcomed let alone safe.

And as a Black woman who is also blind that safety is a real concern.

For now, let’s walk back across to the blind side of the intersection.

DL:
I was one of the first blind students in the Engineering program. There was some things that I needed to learn in that there weren’t a lot of books from RFB&D available in like the Physics and the Electronic magnetic classes and Circuits classes. That’s where I would have to work with other classmates or find readers – which was something I wasn’t quite used to doing. Everything from K through 12 wasn’t available, but since I was entering into this field where they really didn’t have a need for that then you kind of have to get used to making up stuff. (Laughs) You know to get it to work.

[TR in conversation with DL]
And a lot of that stuff is graphical based I would think.

DL:
Yeh, thankfully a friend of mine, well actually two of them. We grew up together in Little Rock. So Noel Romey, he was the first blind Chemical Engineering major at U of A. And then my friend Chris Nestru he was the first Computer Science major. So they were a year ahead of me. They were kind of that advanced team laying the ground work for doing tactile graphics and then they started building up a corps of readers or note takers that were either Physic majors or Chemistry majors who would be willing to take notes. In some of my Calculus classes s I would have somebody sit next to me just drawing on paper because I could see with like a marker. they would draw whatever the professor was doing on the board. I couldn’t see what was happening on the board, but that student would sit next to me and we would do it together.

TR:
Being a trailblazer isn’t easy.
Denna offers some consideration for professors who sometimes fail to believe in their students abilities.

DL:
I think when you’re in that early 18m, 219, 20 years of age and you’re one of those very few people that look like you’re going through the same thing, then it is easy to get discouraged when somebody starts casting their own doubt on your ability. I wish I could kind of go back and say hey, you have power in your position. If you don’t know how something’s going to be done, that’s fine but with that student say hey if engineering is about discovery you know and science is about discovery then let’s use that same philosophy in figuring it out with a blind student.

TR:
Quite honestly that attitude should extend outside of the university setting.
It’s good advice for anyone in a position of power

Denna was very clear to note that lots of her experiences with professors were quite positive.

Establishing relationships played a significant role in her success.
In fact, it was one such relationship with a staff member in the University’s Career Services department that helped lead to her eventually landing her job.

Not finding many companies in Arkansas willing to hire a person with a disability, this staff worker helped Denna attend a Microsoft sponsored conference as a student speaker. The conference was called Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities.

DL:

That was kind of becoming a thing. How do we increase opportunities. So I was invited to be a guest speaker. She helped me get a way to go. And that’s where NASA was (laughs…)NASA had a really good recruitment program.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Ok, so hold on. When you say that’s where NASA was , meaning they were one of the employers taking part in the conference?

DL:
Yes. It wasn’t so much recruiting, but they were ready to help me network with the right folks. So they were like hey, would you be willing to move out of Arkansas. I’m like yes!

(DL and TR laugh)

[TR in conversation with DL]
Hell yeh!

DL:
Yes!

(DL & TR laugh)

TR:
I’m sure Arkansas is a great place, but Denna was in search of opportunities that weren’t presenting themselves in the state.

And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. In fact, while she interviewed with NASA things didn’t necessarily go the way she would have liked.

The conference and conversation with NASA was in May 2003.

While waiting to hear back from NASA she completed her school work and graduated in December.

Her father discouraged her from going on to get her Masters in fear of her becoming a professional student. He suggested she get some work experience.

DL:
Finding a job was my job (Laughs…)
[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh! Did you have any other prospects at that time?

DL:
I was volunteering for some nonprofits. Helping them with some data management now we call it analytics. I had that programming background. I was trying to keep busy and keep my skills up but unfortunately it wasn’t paid positions but I think that was helpful because I had to get dressed, take a bus and go somewhere. Staying at home, it was easy at the time to spend all day on those blindness listservs. The days can just go by and you know one day will turn into one week and one week will turn into a month and then it will just cascade into a longer period of time where you’re not being productive.

TR:

There’s lots of benefits gained from volunteering.
The work experience, increasing your network and even the possibility of leading to a paid position.
Yet, Denna found value in the mundane.
DL:
Getting dressed, doing my hair, going on the bus even if it was just 4 hours a day of volunteering. That’s what I did. It just helped.

TR:

Finally, in May 2004, Denna received an offer and a word of advice from her father.

DL:
When NASA sent the offer, he was like you got to go because there’s nothing here.

TR:

And that’s what she did.

[TR in conversation with DL:]
You’re the current, modern day Hidden Figures? (Laughs)

DL:
A little bit! There’s a lot of us at Goddard and at NASA that we’re the first in our generation from our families to move away or…

[TR in conversation with DL]
Which us are you talking about?

DL:
Us as in Black Women or Black men.

TR:

Notice how quickly the shift occurs between identity.

Hidden Figures is the 2016 film that is based on the lives of three of the African -American female mathematicians known as the “human
computers”, tasked with calculating
the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return.

DL:
I saw Hidden Figures 5 times.
Those are the grandmothers of NASA. We’re here because of them.

[TR in conversation with DL]
For sure!

DL:
Just to see how true to what the work environment is like. That was pretty amazing to see. That whole thing where she’s running 30 minutes from one end of the campus to the other – that is very true because even at Goddard, our campus is 1600 acres of land. We have three shuttle buses that take you from building to building. She was walking in high heel shoes. And they did have that, they did have segregated areas. There still are some things that need to be changed but it definitely improved a lot because of them.

[TR in conversation with DL]
So what about from the perspective of blindness?
DL:
there have been blind people at NASA for quite a while. Either in the programming or Electrically areas, because Electrical engineering can be very theoretical in addition to tangible or hands on. There’s a guy, Marco Midon I think he started in the 90’s I think working at NASA. Bob Shelton started in the 80’s. So there’s definitely been some folks around. I think NASA has because of the really ugly history that they have to confront and deal with diversifying the astronaut core and the work place with Katherine Johnson and stuff, I think it helped to pave the way to having more robust diversity programs where they intentionally went out to conferences like NESBIor SWE, Society of Women Engineers, or SHPE – Society of Hispanic Engineers.

TR:
Denna began her career at NASA as a Contract Specialist working with the Engineering group.
Active in building her career Denna realizes the importance of having a diverse set of skills and knowledge base.

She’s currently working as the Coordinator of the Goddard Information and Collaboration Center

DL:
A lot of my job honestly is meeting with people, talking with them getting their ideas and putting it together. It could be environmental folks, science folks, budget. You have to work together as a team and that’s definitely been interesting experience being the young Black, Blind woman in the room leading the meeting. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh, That’s exactly where I was going because I see the technical and the people side challenges. Talk about those.

DL:
Yeh. I think one advantage of being blind if I could say there is an advantage is getting people to verbalize what their thinking. If I hear a pause in something or I hear a change in tone then I can say hey, it sounds like something’s there, let’s talk about it. My team knows I am a very verbal person. If there pointing and saying here and there, you know they’ve adjusted to know that hey we have to talk it through. It’s been interesting to see them adapt. I think they’ve seen the benefits.

TR:

While there have been many advancements in technology, the fact remains, blind people need a set of tools to help effectively manage different aspects of their lives.

As a user of the access service system Aira, not only does Denna find it helpful in accessing documents but its playing a real role in her ability to both better do her job and manage her career.

NASA holds regular open sessions where employees with various expertise offer presentations. The idea is to help share information and give a chance for seemingly unrelated divisions to possibly find synergies – or ways to help one another.

For those who are blind, such a conference can require some planning.

That’s where Aira opens up more possibility.

Aira provides that flexibility enabling blind people to have something often overlooked by many; spontaneity.

DL:
I don’t have to kind of plan a couple of days ahead of time to contact the coordinator to get access a document or whatever. I can show up to those sessions and have AIRA to describe it so it makes it more efficient. They can describe what’s happening, the information on the screen. They can help me kind of find people. (Laughs) So like hey, I want to go talk to that speaker. So while I can do that on my own they can say ok this person is 30 feet in front of you but they kind of have a line … or they can let me know how to navigate to that person . It’s given me that extra edge that I could easily miss those opportunities if I didn’t have it.

TR:
Denna isn’t always consumed by her work.
She has lots of other interests.

Like traveling.
In fact, when first scheduling our interview
Denna was on her way to her first Travel Eyes vacation.

Travel Eyes founded in 2004 by a blind entrepreneur, Amar Latif.
As noted on their website, they’re the first commercial tour operator providing independent travel for
people who are blind or partially sighted.

Blind travelers can sign up for a trip without worrying about needing a guide. Sighted travelers receive a discounted trip in exchange for
guiding and describing the sights to the blind travelers.

Denna says she had a wonderful time on a cruise but offers a word of advice for blind travelers.

DL:
That’s where the day to day experience of being guided by someone who is sighted can vary widely.

TR:
For more local fun and activity, Denna has and rides her own tandem bicycle.
She discovered her own way of finding pilots or the rider in the front steering the bicycle.

DL:
There’s different tandem groups. Most of them have married people , older couples that think they want to ride a bike. And usually it’s the husband that wants to ride the bike and the wife she may think it’s a good idea but then she’s like no I don’t know if I can trust him that much.

That’s how I’ve been able to find some pilots. So my first pilot he was a corporate lawyer. He’s a little crazy, you know he’s a good guy but he taught me how to ride.

(TR Laughs!)

TR:

Currently, Denna’s in the process of starting a family of her own.

DL:
When I started having these conversations of you know I’m 37 years old I definitely would love to be married, find the person and stuff but that just hasn’t happened yet. (Laughs)

When you start to turn past 35 people get a little crazy like ” Wooh so when do you want to start having children…

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh!

DL:
That pressure is on. When I would have these conversations the medical community would be like well you know can you handle this, you know with you being blind. So there was a lot of that extra doubt whether I could be as capable of a mother as someone else.

I looked into fertility. They have the technology now if you’re condition is hereditary they can weed out. It’s cool that they have the technology, personally, that was kind of getting into the playing God part so it really didn’t feel right.
If God were to allow me to have baby that’s blind or whatever, you know to me that’s a blessing.

Audio: “Rebirth of Slick” (Instrumental)

TR

In telling Denna’s story, I made a choice to highlight the various aspects of her identity and specifically note how they intersect with blindness – which in itself is just one part of her experience.

I never know what a listener is going to take away from an episode.

I could only hope that those who listen to the podcast don’t see guests like Denna as the exceptions. Rather they see the opportunities that Denna both made for herself and was fortunate enough to receive. Realizing that small differences could have truly changed the trajectory of her life.

It’s probably fair to say that opportunities for black women in Arkansas are not as great as in other parts of the country. And even exploring those available in so called progressive cities we know they too have their own set of challenges attached that other groups don’t experience.

Now add disability to the mix.

I think about listeners who themselves may be experiencing vision loss as an adult.
Denna’s experience and the benefits she notes of volunteering stand out as good advice. Not only for those seeking employment, but even older adults no longer in the job market. In fact, that advice was applicable no matter a person’s disability status.

Every now and then I’m reminded of the first time I heard the phrase cool blind people. I struggled with it for a while because inherent in the term is a separation. It’s an admission of sort that within the world of people who are blind, there are some that don’t qualify.

Truth is that’s true for every community.

The problem really is that too often society seems to suggest that the two could never actually go together. Cool and blind people. I know that’s not what those who introduced me to that term are saying. In fact, cool blind people are those who are living their own lives on their terms. There comfortable being called blind. They know it refers to their eye sight and that alone.

Being blind is just one aspect of who they are. They’re not trying to overcome it or excel in spite of it. They take it with them wherever they go. They wear it well. In fact, they make it look good. Any stranger or passerby who sees someone to be pitied or the receiver of charity, well like beauty, I guess cool is in the eyes of the beholder.

Denna she’s obviously one of the cool. So much that she sums up her story as just being a girl from the south who made her way to NASA.

I’m fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with several cool blind people here on Reid My Mind Radio. Hopefully, as I continue on my journey, I’ll get my cool blind card one day. It’s not something I want to receive based on proximity, I have some things I know I need to work on to make me fully qualified. I look at the RMM Radio alumni as mentors. Along with those I met throughout the state through advocacy work, I got this!

If you yourself are new to vision loss and want to earn your cool blind person card, I got you covered.
Subscribe to the podcast wherever you get podcasts; Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher Tune In Radio. Of course you can go to ReidMyMind.com.

Big shout out to Denna Lambert. Thank you for two great episodes and I have a feeling we’ll hear from her again here on the podcast. We have more to talk about.

DL:
“He’s a little crazy!”

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Black on Audio Description

August 15th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

Earlier this year I posted an episode discussing my thoughts on Audio Description. While I’ve been consuming and thinking about description for some time, it was Marvel’s Black panther that sparked me to share some thoughts and ideas.

I decided to continue a discussion on the topic. This time it’s really a conversation. I called a listener who sent me feedback regarding the episodes question. Why didn’t Black Panther have a Black person narrating the description?

And as a bonus, the listener just happens to be someone I’d like to interview for RMM Radio!

So yes, we’re back on that subject or better yet, we’re Black on Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family? For anyone new to the podcast, my name is T.Reid.

This podcast more than often focuses on issues of adaptation and adjustment through interviews with people who have been impacted by vision loss – from low vision to blindness. I should say severe low vision because personally I’m tired of people telling me how blind they are without their glasses.

You Sir/Madam are more then welcomed here, but if you can put on your corrective lenses and get into your vehicle and drive off – you are not impacted by vision loss.

The people mainly profiled here are indirectly challenging stereotypes about what it means to be blind.

I’m always hopeful that listeners learn something new. Maybe it’s an unfamiliar subject or a new way of looking at or solving a problem.

Occasionally , I share my own experiences around becoming blind as an adult. These are influenced by all aspects of identity – including
gender, socioeconomic status, age, demographic location and of course so called race.
I mean, this is America!

A few episodes ago I discussed an aspect of blindness that can intersect with race.
Audio description!

Audio: “What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Well that could be two whats…

Audio: “What, What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Don’t be nervous! Let’s get into it…
After the intro…!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

## TR:

Back to the questions.
What is audio description & what does race have to do with it?

If you don’t know audio description, let me really welcome you to the podcast. Audio description or AD is the additional narration distributed with a movie or television show that describes scenes without dialogue,
enabling a person to non visually follow or access the content.

That other what?
What does being black have to do with audio description?

On the technological level , nothing! But as we know, race is complex. It’s ingrained into the fabric of this country. The complexity though, isn’t tied to the tech, rather its the subtle aspects of language, decisions about what is relevant and the voice of the narrator that impact some viewers experience

In the earlier episode on audio description, I was specifically referring to the Marvel hit movie and what many Black people looked forward to as a cultural event; Black Panther.

Following that piece I received a bit of feedback.
If you go to the episode blog post at ReidMyMind.com you can see one commenter’s response and I encourage you to follow the link to her blog
where she shares more. She is a person who herself is involved in the description process. Self described as a white lady she was appreciative of the issues and questions raised and thought they deserved to be discussed. Shout out to you for the link love and being in the accessibility field. I think sometimes we forget that AD is accessibility.

I also received an email from a young lady – who closely identified with the issues raised in the episode.

She was pleased to know that she was not the only one who felt that the description included with Black Panther, well sucked! My words, not hers.

No shots to the gentlemen who described the film, you sound like you’re probably a very nice person and quite honestly, I’d love to speak with you. In fact, I reached out to Deluxe, the company who created the description for Black panther but I never heard back. I really wanted to begin a dialogue.

It seems fair that a consumer would have something to say about a product or service.
And personally I think it could be helpful to have a bit of input from those who consume your product or service. And well that’s today’s focus.

Audio: James Brown: Black & I’m Proud – Instrumental

That email expressing agreement with my opinions, was from a young lady named Denna Lambert. Like me she experiences blindness as an African American.

She black yawl!

I don’t often get the chance to meet new people who are blind and who are people of color. So I’m not gonna lie, I was looking forward to the conversation. I had questions.

So, let’s get black on Audio Description.

Audio: James Brown: “Say it loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”

TR in conversation with DL:
You heard the podcast, what was it that jumped out to you to write the email and say “Hey I feel this too, I get it!”

DL:
Well being blind, sometimes just getting audio description feels like a luxury and your happy that somebody did it and it came out at the same time as everything else and I can just shut up and be happy. But at the same time with you being really thoughtful in what you were saying like “hey this was a mismatch” And I was like “Oh, you voiced what I was thinking!” Just knowing that I’m a consumer of a service and we should have a voice in how that service is implemented. If it’s missing a mark we can help take it to the next level. Yes people have fought and probably sued some theaters to make sure the equipment is functional and that is there from day one. But let’s take it to the next level to make sure that it is culturally confident. And it was like Oh Snap I got to support this too. I think that is why I reached out because I was thankful for being silently dissatisfied at some level. I felt like I didn’t get the full Wakanda experience.
TR in conversation with DL:
I’m still lacking some Wakanda experience myself. [laughs]

TR:

That Wakanda experience was what drove millions of Black people to get excited about the movie.

Some indeed were fans of the Marvel franchise, some may have even been fans of the comic book. But many were simply looking forward to a movie with strong diverse images of Black people on screen.
I talked a bit more about that in the original episode of the podcast on this subject.

Denna herself was anticipating the movie just as much as many others and got a bit more into it than I did.
DL:
I was in the hype just like everyone else when the trailer first dropped which didn’t even have audio description. I called my mamma and said let me get my dashiki so I got my dashiki and I was ready and had my headdress. When i heard voices of Andrea Bassett i was like “Yes!” So I went and thankfully the movie theater I went to they had the audio description devices ready and they were fully operational. From the first introduction where they were talking about how Wakanda was created with the different tribes and the describes voice coming up I was like “Who?! Who is this?!” But I’m still excited. So it was kind of a mismatch from everybody who was in the theater. Some people brought their gymbays and people had their dashikis and you know just black power. And you can hear the describer’s voice and not to say you can sum up a movie by their voice but it was like “huh.” The descriptions were definitely okay but that’s the piece as a blind viewer. But there was so much content for any viewer whether they were sighted or blind. I have to wonder what did i miss. Could there have been different words used that would have more aligned with the culture and the theme of the movie.
I started using AIRA and now i started seeing more AIRA agents of color. Im seeing Antonio and Annika and all them. And I’m like “Okay I’m going to need yall and come and describe some movies for me.”

TR in conversation with DL:
MMM you just made me think about something hold on one second. That takes that whole idea of description out of the movie theater because that’s the whole purpose of AIRA and then cultural inclinations about various things that you are doing.

DL:
Yeah. I’ve seen Black Panther abot 3-4 times just because anybody who wanted to go I wanted to go with them. There’s probably so much mystery and thoughtfulness that was put into it. SO like the scene where T’Challa and Nakia were in the club and they were trying to go after the main guy and they were in their attire. I don’t think the person described the attire, he described her movements but i was watching a video from one of the directors and he intentionally used the colors; green, black, and red to symbolize their african pride. And that’s something that just one little sentence could have brought that out. While I was very happy and thankful that the description was available since day one because that certainly was not the case 10-15 years ago that i could just show up whenever i wanted to. But i think there is some growth that could happen with this area of accessibility.

Tr in conversation with DL:
SO went you went a bunch of times with different people, did you go with anyone that was blind or no?

DL:
No actually no it was just with different sighted friends who just wanted to go.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Did you compare notes with them or anything at all?
DL:
A little bit because I went with some friends that were black and then I went with some friends that were white. And you know they were asking me what was this and what was that and i was like well I don’t know. [Laughs]

Tr in conversation with DL:
“I don’t live in Wakanda!” [laughs]

TR:

There are definitely some overlaps in this conversation around audio description that transcend cultural Competence.

Feeling as though audio description is a privilege, I’m sure is something many blind people have felt.

Going to a theater and the device doesn’t work, well you may not want to trouble the person you’re with to quickly exchange the device. That means missing part of the movie and chances are you don’t want someone to have to do that.

Shout out to ActiView and their audio description solution that puts more of the power in the consumers hands. You can check out the Reid My Mind Radio archives for that interview on that service that I personally hope begins to get more movies in their app.

Audio: Public Enemy: Party for Your Right to Fight

Privilege or a right?

If audio description is access to content, then I believe it’s a right. Like everyone else who has the right to pay money to watch a film or television show, people with disabilities have the right to audio description, captions and physically accessible theaters.

What makes our lack of excitement about Black panther’s audio description
so confusing is the lack of consistency between the big and small screens.

Watching the Marvel franchise on Netflix with audio description is vastly different from Black panther.

For the sake of comparison, I asked Denna about her thoughts on Marvel’s Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is the black superhero who calls Harlem home. He can’t be hurt. Bullets bounce off and knives can’t penetrate his skin.

The person describing Luke Cage, who by my account sounds like a white man, describes the other shows in the series, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher and more.

DL:
He’s been consistent through the marvel comic series as netflix has been rolling it out. So it was almost embedded in brain that this was the dude that’s going to bring it. There was definitely some awareness in hearing when they would say things like “he’s wearing a fedora.,” or “he’s swaggering down the sidewalk” or “he did a dab” or the hair. And I don’t know if just anybody can point these things out.
With Luke Cage there was nothing apologetic about how this is the blackest comic that you are going to get. What I really loved is that the describer, I don’t know if it was apparent to the visually to whomever was viewing it, but I love that they reference the specific artists as they came up in the Paradise Lounge.
So to me that was showing respect and it gave me the experience of thinking “okay let me go look for some of these people.”
Tr in conversation with DL:
It’s not only the ones who are actually performing, they also are good at including people who are just around and even in other scenes.

DL:
Yeah so even like the picture of Biggie, he described his expression, his crown and how it was kind of laid to the side. To me that, I don’t know, it just seems…

Tr in conversation with DL:
Just culturally confident.

DL:
And I think with you were saying earlier, it wasn’t like two different scripts. It felt like there was one different script with the description being apart of the verbalizations too.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I almost don’t even think of the description as description while watching netflix.

DL:
Right!

TR:

That term truly encapsulates what should be a part of the audio description checklist.

Is the description culturally competent – meaning are we informing the blind viewers about the subtle references that will make sense to them? This would probably require input from the films creator if there’s no one in the know involved in the process.

This idea is already relevant to the movie or television show’s dialog and choices made regarding character development.

It’s one thing being black and looking for true representation in Hollywood. What about as a woman? As a black woman with a disability.
Tr in conversation with DL:
What do you think about the role of the black woman in Luke Cage.

DL:
Oh now that was pretty sweet! I was really proud that Luke Cage he’s like the strong Black man. Hes caring. I was really glad to see his girlfriend, Claire. And she was holding on to that no this behavior of holding on to your anger, she grew up with that and she was not going to tolerate it.
I loved Missy. I loved that she was this strong woman who was feminine. She
Didn’t lose not just her sexuality bit sensuality.
There was so many different aspects of black women in this. You had Mariah.
Tr in conversation with DL:
[laughs] She was crazy.

DL:
She was great! She played that! I loved seeing Luke’s father.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I didn’t realize that he passed, I totally forgot he passed away.

DL:
Yeah! Because he was in House of Cards and I was so happy to see he was in there. SO there were so many examples, a whole spectrum of what blackness in. You know you don’t have to be the thug or the jessabella. There were so many different examples of black women in there that i was really impressed.
I love how Missy called out all of her coworkers cause they were staring at her prosthetics. SHe was like “let’s just get a look at it, im here, im not going away, this happened.” And i was just glad that she called it out. That was a way of handling disability, it became a part of who she was. She even described on when she was using her prosthetic arm or robotic arm and when she wasn’t. Which I don’t know if that was so important for me to know but the describer pointed that out.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think the whole idea was that shes statint to use it more and it’s even more of a part of her, she’s getting accustomed to it. And so I’m wondering if she’s going to get her own thing.

DL:
Yeah you know what, she was doing some things that were like humanly impossible so I was wondering if she’s going to get some superpowers.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah because isnt that a Stark arm?

DL:
Yeah yeah.
I loved the complexity of them having different territories; the choinese, the russians. They pulled in references for Katrina and showing that there can be disagreement. Like the judge who said “i had a family in louisiana who lost everything, don’t use this as an example for your shadiness. I don’t know I loved it I felt it was pretty cool. The ending ended with I think he changed the picture from Biggie to Mohammed Ali. But that’s the thing! I think the way that the description was, we noticed those things but we don’t know what we missed in Black Panther.

Tr in conversation with DL:
What i liked about it was how they would say it because the director meant for it to be. For example when Mariah and Shades were standing in front of the picture and the crown aligned to Mariah’s head to show she was the queen.

TR:

As we see with Luke Cage it doesn’t specifically mean the narrator has to be black. Or does it?

TR in conversation with DL:
What would you think about a woman describing that? A black woman doing the description in Luke Cage.

DL:
Ohh. Oh.

Tr in conversation with DL:
You think it could work?

DL:
It would have to be the right voice because I’ve seen on Netflix the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because it wasn’t really for me. But the person’s voice on there, I don’t’ know if she’s’ white or not, but no she could not do Luke Cage. [Both laughs] We don’t want her! She can do some other shows but she can not do this.
If Octavia Spencer or, why am I forgetting her name.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I know who you’re talking about you’re talking about the woman from How to Get Away with Murder.
DL:
Yes!

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah she has a great voice.

DL:
Yeah if she wanted to describe it, then yes.

TR:
For those who are fans of How to get away with murder… my apologies. The star of that show is the incredible Academy award winning Viola Davis.

Whether the description is voiced by a man or woman, Denna says:

DL:
It has to be somebody who follows that it was Harlem so you have to have somebody who has that Harlem… I don’t know.

Tr in conversation with DL:
That texture in their voice, I know what you’re saying.

DL:
It cannot be a very thin voice it’d have to be a full bodied voice.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think it could work. That is if they don’t give me the job because I’ve put it out there before that I wanted that job. Although I like the guy who does it, I’m fine with him but if he’s going im going to jump in there because that’s Harlem. I’m not from Harlem, Im from the Bronx but I can take Harlem.

DL:
Yes! You could do it. [Both laughs]

TR:
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to speak things into existence. But come on, , how cool would it be to have a person who is actually blind, from New York… born just a few miles away from Harlem, my Daddy’s from Harlem. And I’m blind. Universe, do you hear me talking.

#NetflixCallTReid

There’s much more to this discussion. Hopefully like the original episode, this will attract some feedback. I’d love to hear from others on this subject. Maybe you are a person of color and have some other examples of both disappointing and enjoyable audio description experiences. let me know. In fact, if you’re not a person of color and
was disappointed in the Black Panther description I’d like to hear from you.

When it comes to movies and television, Ultimately, , I think we all want the same thing; the right to enjoy the experience.

I’m interested in all experiences of blindness and disability in general, but I would really like to hear more from other people of color. I know there are some compelling stories out there .

For instance, corresponding with Denna prompted me to be even more nterested in her experience.
Let me show you what I mean.

Audio: Screen reader reading Denna’s email signature…
TR:
If you don’t speak screen reader, that was her email signature. Denna is a project manager at NASA.

Now, this wouldn’t be Reid My Mind Radio if we didn’t find out more about her journey. We’re going to get into that next time on the podcast.

So, if you’re new or if you haven’t just yet, may I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. Reid My Mind Radio is available on
Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. If you’re using a podcast app you can find it there.
Go on over to ReidMyMind.com for links to subscribe as well as a transcript of the show.

Remember that’s R E I D like my last name.

If this was your first time here I know what you’re thinking…
It happens all the time…

DL:
happens all the time…

TR:
Wait until you hear what more is coming up!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

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