Flipping the Script on Audio Description – More Than One

July 28th, 2021  / Author: T.Reid

Headshot of Alyscia Cunningham
Alyscia Cunningham is an author, photographer and film maker. Her latest book and documentary “I Am More Than My Hair” explores women’s hairloss. One of the subjects of the book and documentary is Marguerite Woods. Through this relationship, Alyscia became aware of the lack of access to the arts among Blind and Disabled people. It changed her approach to producing and thinking about art.
Yet, she couldn’t do it alone. It takes more than one…

In this latest FTS episode, we explore the power of one persons ability to spark an interest in access, help shape how we think about it and even create it. Once again, proving Audio Description is about so much more than entertainment!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:
Your listening to Reid My Mind Radio.
Chances are, you know that already because you pressed play!
Duh!
This is where we examine this art form that in its basic essence, is making visual content accessible to those of us who are blind or have low vision.
But in actuality it goes way beyond that.
Today, we look at the power of one.
I know it’s the loneliest number and all, but really that’s only when it chooses to stay by itself.
This experience directly led her to her second book of photographs titled, “I AM More Than My Hair”.
It tells the stories of women who are bald.
Yet, according to Alyscia, the most common cause is stress.
And that can occur earlier than we may expect.
As part of both a marketing and fundraising effort, Alyscia recorded footage of some of the women included in the book.
She applied to Docs in progress – a nonprofit organization that fosters a creative and supportive community for documentary filmmakers.
— Music begins, a slow jazzy piano Hip Hop groove
That required her to contact some of the women featured in the book and arrange to capture their stories on camera.
I am bald, My skin is Mocha. leaning towards chocolate, and about five, seven. I normally wear certain shades. And I love interesting earrings. And so I normally have those on as well. I’ve got on a black dress. It’s sleeveless.
Her first experience began with Bustin’ Loose,
A film starring Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson.
The description Marguerite says was horrible.
— Richard Pryor saying…
so it kind of took a backseat for me for a while. But the thing that really got me with audio description was I like to go to plays and conferences and music shows and that kind of thing.
TR:
We didn’t get into that for the purposes of this particular discussion, but that to me sounds like a case of a lack of cultural competence.
— Music ends
What is more of a part of this discussion is her response.
When Alyscia was looking for women who were bald to participate in her book,
she put the word out and heard back from a friend who told her about Marguerite.
Marguerite wanted Alyscia to understand that while she herself is blind she doesn’t represent everyone.
I’m always encouraging people to go to places where there are lots of other people that may look like me, because we’re multifaceted. We’re not all the same, just like sighted people we’re not all the same we are of all manner of variables and we’re diverse and in so many things so don’t just think you really understand what’s going on with blind people cause you’ve met me.
About two months following that meeting, Alyscia premiered her documentary at a theater.
Marguerite was there.
She realized the impact of the visuals based on the audience response…
Check out the Reid My Mind Radio family connection y’all!
That documentarian was none other than 2019 Reid My Mind Radio alumni Day Al-Mohammed.
— Music Begins – an up tempo energetic, inspirational Hip Hop beat
That’s my good friend and another 2019 Reid My Mind Radio alumni,
Cheryl Green, Captioner and Audio Description Writer and Narrator extraordinaire.
It’ goes beyond Audio Description and captions in the documentary.
Alyscia created an accessible exhibit on display at Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland.
My hope for this was having the exhibit and also having a panel discussion with Cheryl and marguerite, Judy and three other women was that this will be an example of how museums and artists can incorporate accessibility in their work and into their venues.
One of the main challenges from the perspective of the museums and venues is often funding.
Unfortunately, we know that sometimes museums and other venues and businesses want to see a return on investment.
But it’s not as simple as build it and they will come.
this can’t be a onetime thing.
it’s like now that you know How could you not do anything about it because now you’re aware of it. It’s in your space.
Did you get any feedback from non-disabled people?
— Music ends.
I’m sorry y’all, but sometimes I really do just have to laugh.
Spending time and energy advocating for something can be challenging.
I was more interested in her getting a sense of, of blind people, and that we are asking for opportunities to be able to relate to our world, just like sighted people are, and that she as an artist and a creative person would do whatever she would do with it. And that would be good enough.
Marguerite: 26:36
Just interact ting on different levels, and asking people to recognize, I’m here in this space, and I want to participate.
And sometimes, because people don’t know, you got to be in there, in their mix to get your conversation in there.
Marguerite herself is an artist. She is quite thoughtful and makes some deep connections between the More than My Hair project and well,
life for example.
Marguerite: 30:51
People tend to want to treat you like you’re less then because you don’t have the same access to vision that other people had. But
As an African American?
Most of us realize that we’ve grown up in a country that has not been kind or fair to any of us. And even if we don’t have the words to speak about, it’s a heavy burden, to exist and grow in this society. And when you know that the majority of the power structure is literally walking around with disdain for us, because of the color of our skin. You can put on a happy face and move around. And that’s fine. But I think that it’s deeper than a happy face, I think that there are some natural laws of the universe, that are, are at work all the time. And it would be beneficial to get in touch with what they are, and try to work your life from there. Because if you go with the laws that this country is offering, it’s telling a story, and I’m just given a message that’s not healthy. And it’s not about wellbeing, especially for my community and for me.
Totally unrelated to that project, she’s also working on a new project in the horror genre and says she’s making sure to build in the space for Audio Description.
She’s continuing to give panel discussions on how to make art accessible based on her experience.
Whether you’re a consumer who can help someone learn about access,
a creator who can make your content inclusive or
you’re someone who can provide the funding,
we all play a part.
— “One” Sample from Public Enemy Number One, Public Enemy
— Music begins, an upbeat bright Hip Hop funk groove
The I’m More than My Hair, accessible exhibit will be on display through September 5, 2021. Unfortunately, Covid restrictions have probably been a factor in the lack of feedback from the Disabled community, but Alyscia is hopeful that the restrictions being lifted will help bring out more people.
She’s currently seeking distribution for I Am More Than My Hair the documentary,
which at some point will stream online.
This is just one example of what we know to be true.
When creators learn that their content is not accessible to an audience, chances are pretty high that they will want to do something about that.
Well at least the cool ones!
— Sample – “What the hell are you waiting for” from “Encore” by Jay Z
— Sample (“D! And that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)
— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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Flipping the Script on Audio Description – Going Social

July 14th, 2021  / Author: T.Reid

Kensuke Nakamura wanted to write Audio Description but couldn’t seem to get in the door with any post production companies. Rather than sitting around waiting for things to change, they decided to just start writing.

Soon after starting this journey, they were introduced to other similarly motivated people including Voice Talent Barbara Faison and a Blind AD Writer, Robert Kingett.

Yes, I said a Blind Audio Description Writer…

Add two more voice talents (both Blind by the way) and you have Social Audio Description.

A perfect way to kick off the first of our 2021 Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

Listen

Resources

Social Audio Description
All About Image Descriptions

Transcript

Show the transcript

— Record being rewind
— Impeach the President Beat.
— “Ladies & Gentlemen”

TR:

Greetings! And welcome back to the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by blindness and disability.

As part of this conversation, we’ve been talking about Audio Description in some capacity since 2015.
It began when Netflix launched Daredevil.
It continued with topics like;
Critiquing the selection of narrators,
promoting the idea of using pre-show for film and television
Introducing you to several narrators, writers,AD Directors and technology developers.

Over the next several weeks I want to go beyond the surface conversations and explore how AD is so much more than entertainment. More than a voice in your headphones. More than access!

So it’s time, for Flipping the Script on Audio Description!

— “Check it out y’all, check it out…”
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

Episode Intro
— Sound of theater environment

TR:

Remember going to the movies?

I mean actually going to a theater, purchasing your ticket and getting the Audio Description receiver and headphones. Maybe getting your favorite snacks (unless you’re like me and bring your own. Don’t judge me for being a conscious consumer!)

You head into the theater and find some seats.

(No not that aisle, the floor is way too sticky)

you try to hold off on the snacks because you want to enjoy them while you watch the movie.

Suddenly, the trailers for upcoming films begin. So all your attention is directed at the screen.

— Trailer without Audio Description

Despite all of your movie going experience, for a quick second, you just know that finally, this time, the trailers will be described.

— Trailer without Audio Description

Then you realize, they’re not. You struggle to figure out exactly what’s going on, you lean back in your seat and play with the Audio Description equipment just hoping it’s working properly. Again, experience may have left you a bit traumitized from all the mishaps in the past.

With nothing left to do but wait for the film, you grab your snacks and hope you don’t finish before the movie begins.

(Ah man! I finished my Nestle Bunch a Crunch!)

Ken:
My name is Kensuke Nakamura, I use they them pronouns. I’m light skinned, slightly masculine presenting person with dyed red hair to about my cheeks. I’ve got about an inch of dark roots coming in. I’m just wearing a black hoodie. And I’m an Audio Description writer and editor.

TR:

Ken saw a need for description on movie trailers. They soon began providing that description and eventually grew a team of people to help with the process.

But we have to begin with their introduction to Audio Description.

Ken:
I got interested in audio description for selfish reasons, I met this very cool person at a party. And I became friends with him on Facebook, and was wanting to get to know them better. And one of the first things they posted on Facebook was that if I was going to be friends with them on Facebook, everyone needs to post image descriptions on all of their pictures. And that was just a price of entry. I was like, Okay, I need to learn about the image descriptions.

TR:

And that’s what they did. Their friend actually posted an article titled All About Image Descriptions, (You can find a link to that on Reid My Mind .com)

Eventually, Ken and their friend began going on dates. These included of course, going to movies. As many of us know, some times the AD doesn’t work.

Ken:

I ended up doing a lot of extemporaneous audio description in the person’s ear. Or sometimes we’d watch one of my movies like at home that did not have audio descriptions. So I got a lot of experience doing just fly by the seat of my pants, audio description.

About a year ago, during quarantine, I realized that I wanted to try to do audio description professionally.

I started off by just trying to do some scripts. So I picked several movies that didn’t have audio descriptions, and just wrote some audio descriptions for them full length on a Google Doc.

TR:

Wait! we must be missing a step. There’s no mention of approvals or permission. Maybe the fancy software?

Interested in writing AD as a job, Ken submitted samples to different Audio Description creators. Unfortunately, none of them responded.

Ken sought a way to continue developing the skills while possibly making a name for them self.

Ken:

it was around the time that the trailer for the Batman came out after DC fandom. And I saw that trailer and I was like, Oh, this is a very good, very interesting trailer showing us a new take on Batman showing how this one’s going to be different from the ones that came previously.

There was just a lot of really good visual elements. I was like this needs to be audio described. And of course, I checked in it wasn’t.

@-from later in section

At the time I would search you’d find maybe a handful of audio described trailers for the past several years.

trailers are something I’ve loved for a long time.

I remember the trailer for Spider Man, two early Alien vs. Predator, I probably watched a couple dozen times just really picking it apart. So it was something I was already interested in any way.

TR:

These trailers, are no longer just relegated to in theater or during television commercial breaks. There on YouTube and and available any time.

— The Batman Trailer Described by Ken

Ken:

I started off doing just the trailers. I don’t have any interest in becoming a actual narrator or voice talent. So at first, I was just doing it by myself, because it was easier. I didn’t have to schedule with anyone, but I’m not particularly good at it.

Barbara:
My name is Barbara j Faison. I am a mindfulness and meditation ambassador and voice talent and audio description voice talent.

I am a middle aged African American woman with short salt and pepper hair very close cropped.

TR:

Officially, Barbara’s been doing Voice Over work since 2018. However she’s been using her voice for years. Whether in the performing arts in school, Toastmasters and as a 10 year volunteer for the Georgia Radio Reading service.
Yet, like for so many people, it often begins with the one question. In Barbara’s case, it was a neighbor who asked.

Barbara:
Have you considered voiceover?

If you decide you want to do it, I’ve got a coach for you.

TR:

At the time, Barbara was on a sabattical from her corporate job. Her husband suggested she use the time to investigate if this was something she’d like doing.

Barbara:

I had this conversation with God. And I said, Okay, listen, God, if this is something I’m supposed to do, you have to give me a really big sign. I meditate everyday, but you need to hit me upside the head. So I said, I need you to give me a big sign.

TR:

Soon after, Barbara drives about 45 minutes for her first meeting with a coach, upon arriving the coach says:

Barbara:

Barbara, I just got an audition for an African American woman. 50 Plus, you want to audition? I’ll coach you.

I auditioned. That was Friday. Monday, we got an email. The person wanted to have me come in I recorded on Tuesday, I was done in 15 minutes.

TR in Conversation with Barbara: 08:27
Wow.

TR:

That sign she was looking for soon became her open for business sign in 2018.

— possibly somthing here to separate…

Barbara learned of Audio Description after her husband asked her about a narration he heard accompanying a show he was watching. She did a bit of research and found out it was called Audio Description. Further research led her to Roy Samuelson and ADNA.org the Audio Description Network Alliance

Barbara:

I reached out to Roy and it was like, I want to do this because it reminds me so much of my radio reading service days, and I had forgotten how much I really enjoyed doing that volunteer work, right. Although, of course, I want to get paid to do this as well. I just enjoyed that service and being able to offer something with my voice that was beneficial because my personal mission is to use my voice to heal, educate and inspire not just sell stuff.

TR:

She completed the AD Retreats training with Reid My Mind Radio alumni Colleen Connor.

Roy later suggested that she reach out to Ken to possibly contribute her voice to the effort of creating AD trailers.

Barbara:
I was like, Okay.

Ken:

And so she reached out and said, Hey, I’m interested in getting into audio description narration Can I work with you on these trailers? And I was like, Oh, yeah, absolutely love to have that work, take it off my plate. And that it that made it so much easier, because I would just write it up and then send it over to her. And then like a day or two later, it would come back. And she did, she did it in so many fewer takes. So it was a lot easier to edit her sound quality was much better. So I really loved working with her.

Barbara:

We did Aunty Donna’s big ol funhouse, which was hilarious.

The hillbilly elegy, definitely more of a somber tone versus anti Donnas funhouse versus the 355, which was an action adventure. So we also did the witches, which you know, was kind of more of a fun kids kind of thing. But you still had a little bit of foreboding in some of it. So I tried to have those tones, but not over play, you know, because I think of audio description as I’m walking you into a door, and here’s what’s going on, and the things that you can’t necessarily take from what you’re hearing, I want to just add a little bit of dimension to that for the listener.

TR:

The team continued to grow. It now includes two additional narrators, both of whom are Blind.

Ken:

There’s been a lot more awareness made of audio description, as you know, as a service as something that people can get and as something that people can do as a profession. So I think there’s a lot of people who are interested in getting into it. And I’m really glad that there’s a lot of blind folks who are interested in participating as well, because it shouldn’t be something that like sighted people do without the input or the hard work of blind folks.

TR:

This seems like a great time to either inform or remind you… Blind people created Audio Description and have been involved from the beginning.

That involvement can go as far as our own ingenuity. I’ve said in the past, Blind people can write Audio Description.

(Silence)

Yes, that’s often the response, silence! But maybe you just don’t have the right perspective.

Robert:

My name is Robert Kingett I am a white male, I am five feet six inches.
My pronouns are he him or them, whichever you prefer.
I’m a avid reader and writer of short fiction and novels, which I think really benefits me in the writers room when working on these audio description scripts.

TR:

Robert was introduced to Audio Description as a student at The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

He was assigned the task of writing essays where he would discuss the plots and themes of described movies.

Robert:

I didn’t know it was a career path that I could genuinely pursue. Number one because I do have a speech disability. So, I thought that I could never become a narrator. And number two, I thought that you had to have a perfect 2020 vision to write the audio description scripts, so I thought that I could never get in to the industry.

At the time I wanted to become a movie critic. So I would write mock reviews of audio described documentaries.

At the same time, I also thought that I could not make this into a long standing career. because I learned very quickly that the general population did not know aboutAudio Description.

TR in Conversation with Robert:

tell me how you actually started working with Ken.

Robert:

I wrote them on Facebook. Because I atempted to reach out to a lot of Audio Description companies. I asked them if I could become either a script writer or a script editor.

TR in Conversation with Robert:
So you said, you told them you were blind at that point? Why did you choose to do that?

Robert:

I chose to do that, because I thought that the Audio Description industry was relying too heavily on sighted experts.

I was hoping that these companies would kind of make the leap from providing a service for the blind and visually impaired to let’s hire a blind or visually impaired person to work with us to him prove our product. That did not happen.

The only person who wrote me back was Eric at IDC and we talked for quite a bit.

TR:

Unfortunately, there were real budget constraintsthat prevented Robert from being hire. With no other responses, robert took that as a sign.

Robert:

Okay, they don’t want me as a Blind writer, so why don’t I try to form some independent experiment.

So Ken was doing trailers, and I just had a hunch that they would accept me so I wrote them without any expectations at all. And they wrote me back and said, Yeah, sure!

TR:

The addition of Robert brings the Social Audio Description Team to five people.

Team Process>
Ken

I think of it as a cooperative, and I would like it to be like a non hierarchical collage collaborative. I currently do the writing with Robert. I’ll do a pass on it, and then send it over to Robert, and he’ll send me suggestions or corrections.

Then I send it along to the voiceover artist. They’ll record the narration on their own. And occasionally, I might send some things back and say, like, Hey, I just need to another pass of these lines. And then I do the editing, but I’m currently thinking about getting some other writers and editors maybe to join in.

TR:

I asked Ken, Barbara and Robert to describe what they would like to see come out of this work both for the group and for them individually.

First Ken, who says it began with a way to both practice and get his name out there, but describing trailers can have a real benefit.
Ken:

Blind audiences should have just as much access to trailers as a way of gauging whether they want to spend $20, $5, depending on where you’re seeing it on a movie, and spending, like, you know, 90 minutes, two hours of their lives watching a film.

There’s so many movies and TV shows that I’ve never seen, but I know plenty about and I have a general idea of what the story is, what the tone is, who the characters are, like lines from the movie, and I can get meems . I can participate in conversations . situations where like, if somebody makes some sort of reference to a thing, I can generally understand what they’re talking about. And it creates like a sense of camaraderie.

TR:

For Ken, this is also about starting a trend, but not just for his own benefit.

I don’t want to have a monopoly on this. I would love for like movie studios to pick up like, first of all, I love for them to hire me. But if not, that I would love for them to just be like, we’re just going to take what they’re doing and do that ourselves.

TR:

You hear that, the Social Audio Description team is open for business.

In fact, they’ve been hired to produce description for a webinar series and hopefully more to come.

Next up, Barbara.

Barbara:

What I would like to see from us as a team is us to become a team that is a resource for people that are interested in having projects audio described, I mean, I think we all know that there is a ton of available projects that could happen so I would love to see us as a team take on some more projects across the board from education to film and television.

I would love to get more exposure and experience and have some projects where I am working with people that are really looking at making audio description the best it can be because people deserve to have the accessibility that people who have vision have. So, plug anyone needing an audio description voice over talent (laughs) reach out to me because I would love to be involved with some projects.

TR:

Stay tuned, I’ll have contact information coming up. First, Robert.

Robert:

I would like to see our guidelines, same techniques used across the industry. I want us to sort of be the innovators of Audio Description.

I want content creators to think about accessibility as they’re creating the content.

I also want quality to become more of a conversation

I want the creator to be excited about soon hiring a very skilled visually impaired Audio Describer to make their content accessible.

TR in Conversation with Robert:
Now because you yourself are visually impaired? Correct?

Robert:

Yes.

TR in Conversation with Robert:

Okay,

Robert:
totally blind.

TR in Conversation with Robert:

Can you be given a film/some sort of content and write it independently?

Robert:

Given the chance Yes, I absolutely could write a full length Audio description script.

Okay, how would you do that?

Robert:

I would use my Wordsmith ability to mesh a bunch of amateur descriptions.

What I mean by that is a sighted person and I would watch the movie together I find that three people is an ideal number for me.

TR:

These are three friends. Think of it sort of like when you ask some friends to help you paint a room or move some furniture. You cover the cost of beer and pizza and they help you do some lifting. In this case their watching some content.

While their watching, Robert pauses the film and asks what they see. He records all of their answers.

Robert:

I would take all those amateur descriptions and then craft a sentence that fits in to that time code.

TR:

Robert ended up reaching out to another Audio Description provider, X Tracks and has since worked on multiple projects available on Netflix;
Brian Regan On the Rocks
Tiffany Haddish Presents They Ready
Fearless

Also happy to report that since recording these converssations, Ken has written an AD script for Good on Paper currently streaming on Netflix.

TR:

Three people, all from very different backgrounds. Each with a genuine interest in creating Audio Description but for whatever reason, unable to get access. So they do it themselves. At first, it sounds like that classic pull yourself up by your own bootstraps ideology. But it’s not that.

Rather, it’s team work. Each playing a position with a common goal. Yet, individually, they each have the chance to work on their strengths. Plus, they bring all of their experiences from marginilized groups which to me means even more added value for the final product.

Robert:

We all work collectively together. We provide Audio Description that reflects the real world.

For example, whereas others may refrain from describing ethnicity or skin tone we absolutely describe skin tone and ethnicity.

We tried to be as conscientious of our biases as humanly possible.

Ken
Obviously, I’m not the first person there are like other companies who are, you know, hiring blind voice talent and blind writers to help out with the creation of audio description. You know, they say nothing about us without us and I think It’s important, and I’m glad I can be part of that. And hopefully, you know, giving, giving marginalized folks the same stepping stone that I’m having to hopefully get into the industry.

TR:

That right there!

That’s what I respect and appreciate!

A big shout out to the Social Audio Description team. Ken, Barbara, Robert you know you each are official,
— Audio – Airhorn!

Reid My Mind Radio Family!

If you want to submit a suggestion for a trailer to be described or maybe you want to hire the Social Audio Description team to add value to your project, you can do that via the Audio Description Discussion Group on Facebook or via Twitter or YouTube.

Ken:

My Twitter handle and my YouTube handle is Kensukevic K E N as in Nancy S as in Sally, U K E v I C. And that’s a combination of my Japanese first name and my Polish heritage.

TR:

There’s Barbara

Barbara:

B A R B A R A F A I S O N S V O I C E.com that’s my website and
they can reach me at Barbara at Barbara faces voice anytime they’d like to I’m happy to talk with them.

TR:

And Robert.

Robert:

The social audio description, our website is
ADComrade.word press.com.

My web site is is blindjournalist.wordpress.com.

TR:

The Social Audio Description team, well they flipped the script didn’t they. They saw a need and began filling it. While they continue to do that, we as consumers need to support this effort by watching the videos.

I’m sure many Blind consumers are so used to not having access to movie trailers that you may not see the value of including Audio Description.

But consider sitting in that theater. If you want to feel fully included throughout the experience, supporting the effort of The Social Audio Description team could be a part of making that happen.

To make sure you don’t miss any of the upcoming episodes in the Flipping the Script series, be sure you follow or subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.

Transcripts and more are available at ReidMyMind.com.

And yes, that’s R to the E I D…
(“D! And that’s me in the place to be.)
Like my last name.

— Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

A Season for Honoring Ourselves

May 26th, 2021  / Author: T.Reid

To conclude this first season of the podcast which fully focused on those adjusting to blindness, I share a few thoughts from guests featured so far in 2021. Some of these comments were not included in the original episodes.

This episode also includes some of what’s in store for the next season beginning in July. Plus, I too am personally headed into a new season of my life.

Please rate & review Reid My Mind Radio on Apple Podcast. It helps more people learn what we’re doing over here!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Greetings! My name is Thomas Reid, host and producer of this here podcast called Reid My Mind Radio.

We’re just about half way through the year. And this year has been full of emotions. I’m realizing now that 2021may be the start of a new season in my life.

Later this year, I’m sort of joining that category of parents known as empty nesters.

Both of my baby girls are moving on in their education in pursuit of what I hope is their passions. my oldest is headed to grad school. Shout out to Temple University and just a few miles away, her little sister will be at Villanova. Proud Dad in full effect.

Things are really going to be different around here.

— Audio – Knock on the door

TR:

Uh, come in.

Marlett:

I need you to come wash these dishes please!

TR:

Okay, I’ll be right there.
Maybe not that different after all.

I’ll be right back y’all!
Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Creating content for people adjusting to blindness and disability has some inherent obstacles to overcome.

For example, much of my targeted audience may not even be online. After all, they need to learn how to use the Access Technology assuming they were familiar and comfortable using computers prior to their loss of sight. If they were not, well that could be a very frustrating challenge that not everyone is willing to take.

Then there are those who don’t even want to see themselves as Blind and definitely not disabled so why in the world am I including that in my description. Compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability?

I’m sure some may not even think that’s possible. “What’s compelling about a person with a disability?”

In this first part of 2021 I really wanted to highlight exactly that. I wanted to really make sure this podcast is being a resource for all those new to blindness. When I say a resource, I don’t mean providing steps 1 through 10 on completing a specific task. I mean the sort of resource that stimulates that confidence and belief in the idea that it’s possible. not by me shouting at you and telling you you are a winner and coming up with a cool slogan but rather, introducing you to the cool people who are either doing it or have done it already.

One great example of what’s possible when we change our perspective is my friend Cathy Kudlick. Among many things, she discuses the important role history played in her moving from denial to where she is today.

Cathy:
I direct the Longmore Institute, it’s a cultural center that tries to put disability at the center of all culture and academics. It celebrates scholar activism, and tries to get people to think about disability as a creative, generative force for change, and to really revolutionize social views around disability.

We believe in a world where everyone thinks that disabled people, they get better, and that the world is better because of disabled people. And that’s a very radical idea, but we do it through the film festival, we do it through lot of online programming over the past year with different cultural groups and trying to look at intersections and look at convergences and all of these ways that di sability is not just pity and tragedy and trauma and terror and all of those, but to really see it as a creative force.

TR:

Where we get to in our thinking about disability is going to be based on a variety of factors.
Like how we process information and our ability to be self-aware.

Pramit Bhargava, founder of the Louie app, was so generous with his sharing. He admitted he never considered disability because he was caught up in his own climb up the corporate ladder.

He also realized how he wasn’t putting in the work that he needed to do which included learning how to use a screen reader as well as other blindness skills.

Pramit:

In fact, If I can Thomas add to that, sometimes what happens We process somebody as low vision, or no vision as saying, oh, he cannot see. But I think important thing is what is going on in that person’s mind. Right, and how do we process it? How do we deal with that condition? I think that’s the bottom line.

TR:

In this season of Reid My Mind Radio, I really wanted to bring you a different idea of what many people often consider when they think of blindness and disability.

Disability impacts across race, gender, sexuality. However, so often in the media we only see a specific white cis gender privilege experience.

Similarly, we often see a very specific version of success. Usually that is based on financial statements, awards and recognition.

Well, either I’m going to be a part of the problem or I’m going to set out to actively do something about that.

In March I was really happy to bring you an episode featuring Lachi. She’s a musician, producer and just someone who does whatever she wants to do and of course I say that with the ut most respect.

During our conversation she shared a bit on success and it’s definitely something I can rock with!

Lachi:

And when I say success, I mean, right now people would consider me successful just because, you know, I’ve been doing international songs and touring and I’m all over the place and do a lot of great things with a lot of spins. And being on the Grammy panels, but honestly, my success started when I was just able to come out of my shell and showcase to everybody that I’m really good.

TR:

Similarly when I met young brother Envizion who in his own words said he owns everything about his blindness. We saw how he made a clear decision based on what was important to him immediately after losing his sight. That continues as he pursues his passion. To me, that’s an important level of success that needs to be recognized.

Embracing every part of yourself and staying focused on your goal.

Envizion:

I have this tag where I say (singing…) I don’t see nobody.

It’s a hater blocking term. Yeah, really. I’m blind. It’s all of that. And when you’re on your way to the top two, you don’t want to be focused on everybody.

— Applause …
— “We interrupt this program for a special news bulletin!” (Classic News Announcer)
— Applause continues… “Can you feel it?” (The Jacksons, Live in Concert)

TR:

That’s the message that we’re sharing!

— Applause continues… “Can you feel it?” (The Jacksons, Live in Concert)

TR:

I’m talking about this podcast!

— Music begins, Cool up tempo Hip Hop beat

TR:

For whatever reason, rating and reviewing the podcast on Apple Podcast actually helps.

Right now, we have a 5 star rating. That means if this was food being cooked up twice a month, it’s considered delicious.

Then there’s the actual reviews. Check out what people are saying:

Pioneer 94 says: Love the AJ episode it’s so well produced. Can’t wait to listen for more.

Angel Sweetheart says: Download and start listening now!
This podcast is very well put together. A strong activist in our community. Face with heart shaped eyes, grinning face
Grinning face with starry eyes, hands with medium dark skin tone raised in celebration, thumbs up with medium dark skin tone, flex bicep with dark skin tone

Thank you so much and I love the emoji’s.

shnupperdoodlez says; Great podcast
Engaging light hearted and fun, even when talking about the tough stuf. I enjoy popping in to learn more. your voice is needed out here

Hey Shnuppledoodlez, I appreciate you, but I’m going to need a bit more commitment from you. You are family so I’d expect you to be here on a regular basis. I miss you when you’re gone too long!

Blind Widow says This man knows his topic
I highly recommend this podcast to help people learn about disability and blindness and become comfortable with it and in all aspects of it.
It affects every aspect of our lives.
Ffor me a woman who is blind, acceptance in the arena of online dating as an older adult, the more normal people see us the better it is for everyone.

Blind Widow, I see you as super intelligent, powerful and go ahead with your bad self in the online dating arena. You’re a Gladiator, but don’t hurt them out there too badly love.

I hope I’ll be able to see more 5 star ratings and even more cool reviews. And go ahead and feel free to throw those emoji’s up there. You know that fire, raised fists, hearts and all that.

— Music ends abruptly.

— Now we return back to our show (Classic News Announcer)

TR:

Success is getting to know yourself and being comfortable with that person. Acquiring a disability later in life can feel as though you have to do this all over again.

It goes beyond the emotional. Catarina Rivera aka Blindish Latina recognized a real need to consider her blindness when moving through life.

Catarina:

I just started to see disability as something that I would incorporate into my life decisions, but not let it dictate my life.

When I was in college, the first thing that was happening to me with night blindness, and I had some issues with peripheral vision, as well. And I remember that I decided not to drink alcohol, because I didn’t want to impair myself any further, I saw that people were really cutting loose and partying. I remember thinking to myself is it’s every person for themselves here, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna get caught unaware, because, you know, I was a freshman.

My friends would help me navigate parties, I would dance, I would focus more on dancing, because I couldn’t hear people when the music was loud, and I love to dance. It didn’t stop me from having a good time. And making friendships and living life.

TR:

Whether disabled or not, chances are we experience something in life that changes our course. Most people I know had different plans for their lives. Yet, looking deeper, you may realize that your life contains the things that you were actually seeking. Love, friendships, opportunity

These episode make up the first season of 2021. All focused on that adjustment experience.

Lawyer and fellow podcaster Qudsiya Naqui beautifully wrapped up her episode and the season with some thoughts that can only come from someone who has been through their own adjustment experience.

Qudsiya:

Everyone has their own journey and their own experience and their own way of going through those stages of grief and getting to the other side, or whatever the other side looks like, and that’s okay. And you have to be kind to yourself, but know that there’s a community waiting for you. And there’s a lot of possibility and that you are a whole person. And your blindness is a part of that. And it is a really beautiful part of that. That’s something that you should honor about yourself.

TR:

Honor about yourself. I really like that.

Do you ever consider the decisions that we make that actually dishonor ourselves? It could be decisions based on money alone, how we spend our time or how we perceive our own value.

Honoring ourselves, that’s what this podcast is all about!

If you missed any of the episodes this year, I truly encourage you to take a listen.

Going forward in 2021 , we’re touching on topics. We’ll start with Audio Description. Now, at first you may think, wait, what more can we talk about with AD?
Well, I guess you’re going to have to wait and see. You know, it’s right there, but in order to really get into it, you have to Flip the Script.

I’m taking the month of June off. The podcast will be back in July
To make sure you don’t miss anything, my suggestion is that you follow the podcast on your favorite platform. Apple, Spotify, Google, whatever man!

You can also find it at ReidMyMind.com where we have all the transcripts and other resources too.

Now all that’s left is for you to properly spell that. Let me help you… it’s R to the E I D
(“D! And that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Qudsiya Naqui – Becoming an A+ Blind Person

May 12th, 2021  / Author: T.Reid

The vision loss experience is different for everyone. Our responses to circumstances determines our outlook. Then again, our outlook on life can signal how we handle the tough situations.

Qudsiya is wearing a blue shirt and smiling besides plants outside of a building

Qudsiya Naqui, founder and host of the podcast Down to the Struts, shares several transformative moments throughout her blindness journey.

She discusses going from someone who hides their white cane to a proud Blind person who chooses to advocate on behalf of all people with disabilities.

Listen

Resources

Down to the Struts
WOC World

Transcript

Show the transcript

— Ambient music begins…

TR:

Greetings Reid My Mind Radio Family!
Welcome back to the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.
You know, we’ve been here since 2014 so make sure you take a look in the archive if you’re new in these parts.

My name is Thomas Reid and I get to serve as host and producer.
I like to consider each of these individual episodes as a part of a larger collective story.
If you know anyone new to blindness or disability in general, please go ahead and let them know what’s happening here.
I’m confident that they would find a lot of value in the lived experiences stored in these audio file (and transcripts).
All just waiting for the right person.

Today’s episode is the latest addition to this growing archive that will not disappoint.
So let’s get down to it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Qudsiya:

My story of blindness is, to take a page out of Michelle Obama’s words, it’s a story of becoming.

My name is Qudsiya Naqui. And I am a lawyer and I’m based in Washington DC. I use she her hers pronouns.

I am a South Asian woman. I’m quite petite. I’m about five one. Right now I have sort of long, dark brown black hair that’s very long because of the pandemic and I haven’t been able to cut it and have kind of medium brown skin and brown eyes.

TR:

Qudsiya is the host of Down to the Struts, a podcast that explores the inner workings of
disability design and it’s various intersections.

Today, she shares some of the transformational experiences along her journey that helped shaped her view of blindness.

At 2 years old, Qudsiya was diagnosed with a congenital degenerative condition.
By the time she began reading, standard print was sufficient.

qudsiya:

But I had trouble in dark and dim places.

We were blessed and fortunate to be able to live in homes that worked for me. That had lots of sunlight, and we had lots of extra lighting. So that was the way that we kind of help make the environment accessible for me.

My mom was proactive and had me in sort of rehabilitation services with the state agency.

— Melancholy Ambient Music begins
TR:

That’s the New Jersey State Commission for the Blind, where she received mobility training and other blindness skills as a child

Qudsiya:

My usable vision was so good when I was young that I wasn’t quite understanding sometimes, like, why I had to use a mobility cane because

oftentimes, the trainer would come during the day, and I could see really well during the day.

When I reflect on it, I’m like, why didn’t they train me with the cane? At night? When I actually couldn’t see and then I would understand the benefit of it.

I had a hard time explaining to people what my situation was also because I present as sighted I don’t fit the sort of stereotypical appearance of what a blind person looks like. And so I sort of passed for lack of a better word because I didn’t have a vocabulary to talk about my disability, I didn’t even use the word disability, disability wasn’t even in my lexicon when I was a child and a teenager and even a young adult. I really struggled.

TR:

As a child, struggling with bullying and making friends.

Qudsiya:

I do think it shaped a lot of my identity. I was quite introverted, I love to read. It definitely did shape who I was when I was younger in slightly more negative ways, I felt like it was something I had to hide and that I had some degree of shame about. That really affected my willingness and desire to engage socially and to make friends and to put myself out there.

TR:

There are two main perspectives in viewing disability.
Whether you’re familiar with them or not, you may recognize your own way of thinking.

The medical model. This approach sees the problem as the illness, disease or injury. The focus is on fixing the person.

Qudsiya:

I started losing vision really quite rapidly kind of at the end of college when I was 22. At that same time, there was a experimental gene therapy. That became available and my parents really were encouraging me. They had very good intentions, and they love me very much. They wanted me to feel good about myself and be successful. And their pathway towards that was, you know, to have this therapy that would help me either gain vision back or halt the degeneration.

I did enroll in the clinical trial. I really believe that people should have choices about how they want to live, I have a little bit more healthy skepticism about that, because so much of it is rooted in ableism, which is a term that I use a lot now, but was really unaware of at that time.

— Ambient music ends

TR:

That’s the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior.
It assumes that disabled people require ‘fixing’ and
defines people by their disability.

Qudsiya says she’s unsure if the therapy has helped reduce the degeneration but notes she didn’t regain any vision.
She did however slowly begin inching toward that alternative way of viewing disability, but first, she had to go through some things.

Qudsiya:

I went through a really dark time in my 20s, just trying to like sort of, quote, fix myself,

When I was young they told me that my vision would be stable, you know that I had nothing to like, quote, worry about, and it would just be the same as it was. And that was pretty doable.

TR:

While preparing to enter Law School at Temple University, Qudsiya began seeing a new doctor who explained that her vision loss was degenerative.

Qudsiya:

That really explained what I was experiencing in the two or three years prior, reading was starting to become really difficult.

Law school, is very difficult for a whole host of reasons. And it’s a difficult environment, it’s just a lot of work. It’s very hard. And there’s a lot of reading, like hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of reading a week.

TR:

Since grade school, Qudsiya prided herself on her ability to study hard and have the grades to reflect that effort.

Her vision and grades both deteriorating she considered dropping out.

Qudsiya:

And somehow, I didn’t, I had a couple of really amazing professors. And then I got a really cool internship at the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the summer after my first year, because I happened to meet the Legal Director at a career fair. And we just totally hit it off. And she was an incredibly supportive person. And between her and a couple of my professors, I just, I stayed and I didn’t quit, and I didn’t give up. I started to explore text to voice software and the different kinds of technologies that were emerging. Blind people have been using it for years.

I kind of taught myself to learn by listening because I’d always been a visual learner. And I had to completely transform the way my brain worked. And I was able, it took me a long time. And it was hard, but I did it.

TR:

The grades improved, her self confidence returned and she was making strides in her blindness journey.

Qudsiya:

Oftentimes, a lot of sighted techniques are foisted on you. Like there’s always the imperative for you to use your eyes. But that was the first time I started to realize you know what, like, it’s not about like forcing me to use my eyes if my eyes aren’t the most efficient way to get something done. And so I started to like embrace like new Non sighted ways of doing things which made me a lot more efficient and made things easier for me.

The day that I said, I need to use jaws 100% of the time, like changed my life.

TR:

But what about accepting that white cane?

Qudsiya:

There was so much stigma for me associated with it. Shame.

I got myself into real difficulty. There was one time I was in Penn Station, and I fell on the train tracks.

TR:

Thankfully, the train wasn’t moving and someone quickly pulled her up.

Although already familiar with proper cane technique, Qudsiya wasn’t a practicing user. Living in New York City at the time, she
reached out to the New York Commission for the Blind and got herself an Orientation and Mobility instructor.

Qudsiya:

I said, I need you to force me to use it in front of you until I get to a point where I’m okay with it in myself.

We worked every day a couple times a week for like an hour and little by little after a while, I started to just feel comfortable with the cane.

I went from someone who would carry the cane folded up in their purse, never even think about it, to a person who now uses a cane pretty much all day all the time and never is without it and has a very healthy relationship with it. That took a long time. And it took a lot of struggle and a lot of moving past my own stereotypes and my own ableism

TR:

Qudsiya offers some additional thoughts on what could be helpful in decreasing the stigma associated with blindness and disability.

Qudsiya:

There’s such a lack of education in a young age to a culture eight children to the concept of disability and like these disability positive messages.

I just remember in high school I never learned about the ADA, I never learned about the Rehab Act, I never learned about disability rights history.

I feel like if I had existed in an environment that was giving me all these positive messages and welcoming messages and accessible messages about who I was, and the fact that my disability was okay. I think my outlook would have been quite different. But I was in an environment where my disability was sort of invisiblized. I see that changing now for young people. But I think we have a long way to go.

TR:

Another transitional moment for Qudsiya along her blindness journey came when she experienced job discrimination.

Qudsiya:

That was the first time in my life, I had been exposed to disability rights and Disability Law and the civil protections that are available to people to prevent against discrimination. And I didn’t really understand that I had been repeatedly discriminated against in various work settings until I had this experience that became so extreme that I had to get an advocate to help me.

TR:

She credits that person with changing her life.
Helping her become clear about the problem and to see things from a different perspective.

Qudsiya:

Okay, it’s not me, that’s the problem here. It’s the system. That’s the problem. And it’s a system that is not designed to give me access, and I need to fight for that access.

— Music begins – a bright melody that moves to a driving beat…

TR:

The social model of disability.

This views disability as a part of life and not the problem.
Rather recognizing that society erects barriers in various ways that can limit opportunities.

Qudsiya not only learned how to advocate for herself, , she found a community of people who also had a positive outlook on their own blindness and disability.

Moving to Washington DC from New York City, she was introduced to another Blind Lawyer.

Qudsiya:

She and I actually connected over something completely unrelated to blindness. We connected over the fact that we were both athletes. She was a cyclist and runner, and I was a runner also.

She was starting up this sports group in DC called the Metro Washington Association of Blind Athletes. And she kept encouraging me to come and try out tandem cycling.

I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a little kid.

I didn’t know anything about tandem. I was like, this is gonna be a disaster.

Finally she pushed me and I went and I got really into it, I just fell in love with it.

TR:

That led to other sports and activities like adaptive rock climbing,
guided running and most importantly friendships with other Blind people.

Qudsiya:

That was really transformative, mostly because I never had Blind friends in my life. And so I suddenly had this massive, wonderful, supportive, fantastic community of other Blind people that were doing all sorts of things had all sorts of professions came from all different types of backgrounds. And we just had fun together. And we support each other.

TR:

That support is invaluable. From the practical to the emotional, helping you become your best self.

Qudsiya:

I’m like a b minus blind person, and I’m trying to get to an A plus.

TR:

I think she’s being tough on herself.

Even if we’re not being graded, a community of people to learn and share with along any journey is important.

Qudsiya:

I started on that journey kind of later in life, as opposed to some of my peers who were born blind or lost their vision when they’re really young. They really became resources to me, and I just started to see the world really differently.

I’m also part of another new group that just started last summer. It’s called WOC World. W O C. It’s a group for blind women of color – a virtual community of blind women to support blind women of color.

TR in Conversation with Qudsiya: 39:15
I always like to highlight the importance of meeting people. Because I think it plays a big role. I always bring it back to the podcast, because that’s what this podcast is all about. Not everyone is in an area where they can actually have access to all of these people. And so that that transition process that I think really is impacted by meeting people may take even longer because you have no sort of model of what blindness can actually be.

— Music ends with an ambient fade out

TR:

Qudsiya is a fellow podcaster. She’s the founder and host of Down to the Struts.

Qudsiya:

A strut is like an engineering device that you’d use to hold stuff together.

It’s sort of evokes this idea of like, what are the building blocks? What holds the world together? And how do we change structures and systems.

I wanted to make non disabled people see why they need to think about things from a disability lens and why that’s important and why we should care about it.

TR:

While she was being pushed to write and publish law review articles she found her heart just wasn’t in it.

Already a consumer of audio content including books and podcasts,
she recognized the opportunity to explore some of her interests and expertise.

Qudsiya:

The article I was working on was about disability, specifically disability in the US. And its intersection with immigration, which is one of my areas of expertise as a lawyer.

I really care about disability and its intersections with other types of things like race or other types of policy issues like disability, unemployment, disability and health care.

And I am a person who has experience with like policy and research and these sorts of things.

I really care about this area of work. And I love audio content. And it’s a pandemic, and I’m sitting at home and I got nowhere to go and nothing to do. And I was like, You know what, I’m gonna do it. That’s how Down to the Struts was born.

— Music begins a Hip Hop beat opening with hi hats…

TR:

Occasionally, I’m asked about starting a podcast. My advice closely aligns with the steps Qudsiya lays out.

Qudsiya:

I decided I wanted to do an interview style show and bring a mix of sort of people with lived experience, people who are experts in their fields to talk about sort of very broadly speaking, disability design and intersectionality.

I got a team of people together.

I don’t know how to design a website, I don’t know how to audio edit, I got a lot of brains together. And at first it was just for advice. But then a couple of friends of mine, really like wanted to be involved and wanted to work on it. And I was so touched by their desire to be supportive, they just loved the idea of the project.

I had a focus group of a whole bunch of friends that helped me vote on the title.

We launched our first season in October of 2020. And there’s six episodes, and we’ve just launched season two.

TR:

She narrowed her subject, figured out what aspects best fit her skills and interests.
Assembled others for advice and ended up with a team.
She’s also using a seasonal approach which I highly recommend.
It takes away some of the stress in producing regular content.
And of course, she got feedback on her podcast name. Did I mention she has herself a team?

Qudsiya:

I went to Barnard College, which is part of the women’s college that’s part of Columbia University. So I went looking for a student who was interested in audio editing. That’s how I came across Anna Wu, who is a junior at Barnard.

She brought along her friend Adrian Kahn, who does our transcripts.

I have two other friends. Ilana Nevins is our audio editor and my friend Adriana pole who is fabulous social media coordinator and manages all my Twitter and Facebook and Instagram so I don’t have to. (Laughs )

I’m scared of social media!

TR:

Yes, I’ll admit it, I am a bit envious of her team.

A lot of thought and planning went into the creation of Down to the Struts. Ultimately, it’s figuring out what you want. I get the sense that this is how Qudsiya operates.

Qudsiya:
I realized very, very quickly, that I did not want to be a practicing attorney, I think I probably even knew that before law school, but I knew I was interested in immigration, and I knew I was interested in kind of policy.

A lot of the policy people were like, Well, you can’t really fix the system if you don’t understand the experience of people who are going through it.

So I did practice immigration law, representing asylum seekers and survivors of domestic violence.

And then I went to a different organization where I was managing the program that was delivering services to unaccompanied children who were in federal custody, on the border and in other parts of the country.

TR:

She continued doing that work for a different organization while expanding into disaster recovery and other areas.

— Music ends…

Qudsiya:

now most recently, I’m at a big research like policy institution working on civil court reform work. Making this civil court system for like people who experience evictions and debt collection lawsuits and have to deal with child support cases and things like that to making the system more accessible especially for people who don’t have lawyers, and I bring a lot of my disability kind of focus in there too, because, especially with all the technology and courts, like a big concern is like making sure everything’s accessible.

I feel like, it all kind of bleeds together.

TR in Conversation with Qudsiya:

What do you want people to sort of take away from your podcast?

Qudsiya:

For disabled people, I want them to leave the podcast feeling like their issues are being addressed, that I’m exposing and uncovering the barriers they face and providing positive solutions and proactive solutions to how we can break down those barriers and fix those problems. And for

For the non disabled people I want their eyes to be opened to how the systems and structures that we live inside, whether that’s the immigration system, whether that’s the education system, whether that’s health care, how, they affect disabled people, and how ableism plays a role in that. So that they can walk away and know, there’s solutions to solve them. And I want that information to get out to the people who are the decision makers and the stakeholders in the system so that they can start to make change.

TR:
Think about the importance of all the transitional moments Qudsiya experienced.
From her battle with the white cane to experiencing discrimination on the job
which led to her meeting people who would come to positively influence her life.
Combine these experiences with her own positive attitude and drive and consider her advice for those new to vision loss.

Qudsiya:

Everyone has their own journey and their own experience and their own way of going through those stages of grief and getting to the other side, or whatever the other side looks like, and that’s okay. And you have to be kind to yourself, but know that there’s a community waiting for you. And there’s a lot of possibility and that you are a whole person. And your blindness is a part of that. And it is a really beautiful part of that. That’s something that you should honor about yourself.

— Music begins, a bright inspiring Hip Hop beat

TR in Conversation with Qudsiya:

Qudsiya, you know that you are now an official, and I want to say it twice, an official member of the Reid, My MindRadio family now that you’ve been on the podcast, you know that right?

Qudsiya:

Oh, that’s awesome. Thank you. Thank you for welcoming me into the family.

(TR & Qudsiya laugh…)

TR:

To get in contact with Qudsiya and or where to find the podcast;

Qudsiya:

You can email us at down to the struts@gmail.com. You can find our website which is www got down to the struts.com. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at down to the struts. And you can subscribe rate review the podcast on Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you love to listen, so definitely check it out.

TR in Conversation with Qudsiya: 1:00:19
Spoken like a true podcaster.

(TR & Qudsiya Laugh)

TR:

I really liked the way Qudsiya identifies and appreciates the different moments throughout her journey for the value they helped bring to her life.

Once again shout out to Qudsiya, I really enjoyed our conversation.

If you too enjoyed it well you can always feel free to let me know that or any other comments you may have by emailing me at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.
Tell others about the podcast so they can listen for themselves. All I want to do here is to reach as many people experiencing vision loss as early as possible.

You know we have transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com right?

And I know you know, that I know you know, it’s R to the E I D
(“D, and that’s me in the place to be! Slick Rick)
)
Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Smashing Disability Stigma with Blindish Latina, Catarina Rivera

April 28th, 2021  / Author: T.Reid

Catarina Rivera as a young girl with her hearing aids and a toothy grin.
Catarina Rivera grew up Deaf. By the time she was comfortable not only using hearing aids but with herself as well, she received a diagnosis; she was going Blind. She just so happened to be getting ready to leave home for college.

Today, she has a Master’s in Public Health and is using her platform, Blindish Latina, to advocate and spread awareness. Hear more about her journey and how you too can be a “Stigma Smasher!”

Listen

Resources

Catarina Rivera.com
Blindish Latina

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Greetings Reid My Mind Radio Family!

It’s so very nice to be back here with you.
If this is your first time here allow me to welcome you and introduce myself.
My name is Thomas and I’m serving as the host and producer of this here podcast which features compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Every now and then I bring you stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

In case I haven’t mentioned it for a while, my focus here is on those adjusting to becoming Blind. Honestly though, the more I learn and consider the adjustment process, I think the specific disability isn’t as important. Yes, of course, it matters, especially when trying to resolve specific challenges or learn technique, but there can be so much insight to gain no matter the disability.

I tend to highlight those things that I think are especially important for someone new to blindness, but we all hear differently – meaning you may resonate strongly with something said where I may not. I’d love to know if that is the case so, please remember you can always reach out and share that with me by emailing ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

Now, let’s get this Poppin’!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Catarina:
I’m Katerina Rivera, the founder of Blindish Latina. I am a light skinned Latina woman with long dark brown wavy hair. And I’m currently wearing blue glasses.

— Music Begins – A smooth chill Hip Hop beat…

When I was about three or four years old, that’s when my parents first started noticing that I had trouble hearing, I think I was walking away from them and then not responding when they would call me.

We found out that I had hearing loss and I was fitted with hearing aids, I went to one year of special education, and then I was mainstream. I still received speech therapy on a regular basis, I had an IEP continuously throughout my education. And for the most part, though, I was mainstreamed.

TR:

Catarina and her family had no explanation for her hearing loss until she was 17 years old.

Catarina:

I was diagnosed with Usher syndrome, which is a combination of progressive vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa. And hearing loss depends on which type of Ushers you have

TR:

There are three major types of Usher syndrome, known as type 1, 2 and 3. They’re distinguished by the severity of hearing loss, the presence or absence of balance problems, and the age at which signs and symptoms appear.

By 17 years old, Catarina, adjusted to her hearing loss, fully accepted wearing hearing aids and was comfortable in her own skin.

She was on her way to Duke University on a scholarship when diagnosed with vision loss.

Catarina:

When I first got diagnosed, I felt like it was a huge tragedy in my life. It was upsetting, surprising. And it felt like a very big loss. I think that I had to go through the stages of grief in some way. When I was reacting to this, when my parents heard about it, they were very upset. And I felt pain for them. So, I felt like I had to be strong for them.

TR:

Presenting that strength doesn’t give much opportunity to deal with the emotions. Even sharing with friends who often don’t know how to respond doesn’t feel right.

Catarina:

I felt like I was dropping a bomb. I felt really heavy. I don’t tell people, hey, I’m going blind, I find that when I would do that, it would really evoke a sense of pity. People feel sorry for me. And I was feeling bad. At the time, I was feeling bad about it. But as I progressed, in my journey, that language doesn’t resonate with me anymore. It’s not the way that I tell my story. It’s not, it doesn’t feel like a tragedy anymore, but I can definitely empathize with myself at that time.

TR in Conversation with Catarina: 10:05
You never said anything about even exploring the idea of postponing school where I’ve heard from other people, and it would be sort of understandable where someone might, hey, I gotta take some time. It sounds like you still went straight to college.

— Music Ends…

Was there ever any sort of, thing about Oh, okay, maybe I should postpone this because of the vision loss?

Catarina:

That’s a very interesting question. I have not heard that before. And I mean, I get it, it makes sense, every person is going to have their own response to something like that.

I never felt like I needed time away from school.

TR:

Retinitis Pigmentosa is progressive so the early diagnosis didn’t impact her studies as much as the hearing loss.

With an accommodation allowing her to register early, Catarina avoided the large classes in auditoriums and opted instead for smaller classes making it easier for her to hear the lectures.

There was more of an impact on her social life.
And she wisely considered her vision loss in her decision-making process.

Catarina:

I decided not to drink alcohol, because I didn’t want to impair myself any further, I saw that people were really cutting loose, you know, and partying. And I remember thinking to myself is it’s every person for themselves here.

I would focus more on dancing, because I couldn’t hear people when the music was loud, and I love to dance. So, I never stopped myself from having a good time.

TR:

All of this considered, it’s not surprising, Catarina didn’t feel a part of the blind community. For a while she could still drive and wasn’t using a white cane.

It wasn’t until she moved to New York City after graduation and began seeking out community.

Catarina:
When I moved to New York, I didn’t have a job, I had decided to go into the field of education. And I was very motivated to make a difference for the Latino community, for my people. I had applied to a program called Teach for America, where you commit to working in a low-income classroom for two years. And I was very lucky, because not only could I move to New York, to access great public transit, I also was able to go even further than what I had hoped.

I basically got a job as an elementary school teacher teaching third grade, and bilingual education and I was working with students who had Spanish as their first language. It was exactly what I wanted to do, it felt meaningful. I taught at that school; it was in the Bronx.

— Music Begins, a strong, dramatic intro to a driving Hip Hop beat

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

(Laughing) I can just imagine the people who have their preconceived notions, not only about disability, whether it be the hearing loss and the blindness, but then you know, you threw in my beloved bx borrow, okay, you know. And so, then they’re like, oh my she’s, she’s, she’s deaf and blind and she teaching in the Bronx, you say?

Tell me a little bit about how you did your job.

Catarina:

Sure. Yeah. So, I was really happy to be in the Bronx, my fathers from the South Bronx, he’s Puerto Rican. I felt like, Okay, this is like a full circle moment, where I can kind of be in a space that my father grew up in and give back. So, it felt amazing to me.

Now, as far as just some of the logistics, I purposely chose where I was going to live based on the commute to work, I ended up living in Washington Heights, which was just across the river. And I took a bus every day, to my school, I basically only had to walk five to 10 minutes to catch the bus in Manhattan. And I, the bus stop was directly across from the school. So, the only issue that I would have is when I would fall asleep, because it was really early in the morning, and miss my stop in the Bronx and have to walk back. (Laughs)

I also had a really great teacher who also worked at the school who would drive in from Jersey. And so, if I was ready early enough, I would be able to meet her, and she would just pick me up from 100 81st Street and just take me to work as well.

I think people who have preconceived notions of any place need to check that and not make assumptions.

TR:

Word!

There were, however, real challenges of the job that she never actually considered.

Catarina:

One thing that was difficult was knowing who was bothering who, when you have a lot of children sitting there and I’m in the front. It’s very hard, like I don’t have that peripheral vision. So I’m not able to see like filano was poking filano.

Filano is a term for like anybody, like whoever. So that’s how we use it.

TR:

It’s not just behavioral. When young children have questions or want to participate, it’s important that they’re recognized.

Catarina:

That’s something I did do with them. I would let them know and it’s simple, hey I can’t see well. If you have your hand up, I might not see you. So, wave it around. I put it up high, I’m going to scan. I would feel so bad if the kid had their hand up and wanted to talk and I really didn’t see them. That’s demoralizing. So, I would try to make sure They were aware of what was going on with me and I’d give recommendations for what they could do.

TR:

In classroom is challenging enough, but what about field trips?

Catarina:

Generally, on a field trip, the teachers in the front, you got to lead the way, you got to set up the access to the subway present the form to the conductor. That was so stressful for me, because I do well in environments that I know.

TR:

And then there’s dealing with parents.

Catarina:

Phone calls were also hard to the parents being able to hear well, on the phone, I didn’t know about any of the programs that were out there and that I had been able to use now that has somebody transcribing the phone call while you’re on it or use AI for that. I didn’t have any of that. So anytime I called home, it would be maybe a different voice that I had never heard before. I would let them know that I don’t hear well, repeat yourself. And then a lot of times, you know, it’s like parents are speaking in Spanish. So, I really worked on my Spanish as well during that time.

TR:

After three years Catarina left that job and worked for a charter school in Harlem for about a year.

— Music Ends

Catarina:

I realized that in education the way to move up was to move out of the classroom, to become an administrator. And that wasn’t really the way that I wanted to go, I didn’t want my daily life to be about that. So, when I started to become interested in food, and seeing the food that my kids were eating in the classroom and starting to question why they are eating so many bags of chips and candy in the morning.

TR:

Actually, that’s a great question especially coming from the person responsible for educating these young minds.

— Music Ends…

And we should know, proper nutrition impacts your ability to focus and learn.

So, she began researching.

Catarina:

I remember going to Western beef, the supermarket and looking at all the products, the corner store and seeing, hey, the waters all the way at the bottom of the refrigerated case why?

The first part of my journey with food was approaching it from an education lens. I had this idea that people needed to be educated.

I started a community health program in my neighborhood where I started teaching families about health, including fitness and nutrition.

TR:

In addition to the research mentioned, Catarina also has a master’s degree in Public Health and certification in holistic health.

Catarina:

I realized that the system was also a huge force in people’s ability to eat well. And if I focus just on education, I was really missing the mark.

The great thing about working in the nonprofit space is that I did work with kids in the beginning, I was working on an after-school program. But once I transitioned into Program Administration, I realized how much less stress I had in my life, sitting at a desk and working in a different way. Working on partnerships.

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

So, is that the work that you do today?

Catarina:

So, I’m still in the nonprofit space working in food insecurity. And I’m so glad that I’ve had the opportunity to get training and public health, and learn about food justice, and food sovereignty, which are really important ways for approaching the issues with food and what we can do about it. And as part of that, I’ve been able to involve myself in community organizing. And I founded an organization in Washington Heights called the Washington Heights, Inwood food Council. So, it’s in both neighborhoods, Washington Heights, and Inwood. And this group is pursuing food justice in the community, they’re gardening, they’re working with people in the neighborhood of all backgrounds. And the group now exists without me that I’ve transitioned myself out there completely sustainable and continuing to do very good work.

— Transition
— Audio of Catarina from InstaGram:
“Heres a two minute inclusion tip from Blindish Latina. Caption all of your videos…”

Voice Over from IPhone: “Video by Blindish latina”
Catarina from video: “Happy International Women’s Day! I want to tell you about a women I really admite. And, it’s my mom!”

— Music Begins, A Latin influenced Hip Hop groove.

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

Talk to me about Blindish Latina. First of all, explain the name blind ish.

Catarina:

The name blindish Latina means a lot to me, I wanted to showcase my intersectionality the multiple identities that I have, especially because we don’t see a lot of representation of people of color, of Latinidad that within disability. So that’s why I chose a Latina. And the reason I put blindish is because I wanted to give a hint of the fact that blindness is a spectrum. And I know that so many people don’t know this. They think that when somebody is blind, they don’t see anything at all. They don’t have any space in their mind or any concept in their mind of someone like me, who can see really well in such a small window. But I still retain vision.

TR:

The mission of Blindish Latina?

Catarina:

To smash disability stigmas through storytelling, through training and through advocacy.

TR:

Right now, all of this takes place on Instagram.

Catarina:

I talk about my own disability journey. And frequently share stories even about things that might seem small to me. And like something that nobody else would be interested in, for example, I did a video about swimming with hearing aids. And just talking about the fact that I have to be concerned about where I put my hearing aids, when I go swimming, and that I get really scared about somebody stealing them off the beach. So, I might leave them at home, and then not here for hours. But I got so much response on this post that other people feel the same way.

TR:

It’s not always specific to the Deaf or Blind community.

Catarina:

I also share about disability awareness in general, for example, self-identification.

TR:

For example, the debate over using identity first language versus person first language. Identifying as a Blind person as compared to a person who is Blind.

If you gather the right people, this could be a full podcast episode, but Catarina’s point is that it’s up to that individual how they choose to identify.

In addition, she’s sharing best practices and awareness of all sorts of advocacy issues.

TR in Conversation with Catarina: 49:45
What is it that made you become more interested now, in sort of connecting with the cross-disability community?

Catarina:

One thing that made me interested was the documentary Crip camp on Netflix about the disability rights movement, and the story of this camp that brought people with all different kinds of disabilities together in the 70s.

People of all different kinds of disabilities coming together to take these actions. And it really occurred to me that I had not been in a space like that. It’s something that has been inspiring.

TR:

Catarina’s been involved in some of the digital communities, but it’s not as personal.

Right now, she’s focusing on taking Blindish Latina beyond IG.
Catarina:

So, one of the things that I’m doing with Blindish Latina, is public speaking, and offering workshops, and speeches. It’s very important to me to grow my impact and be able to talk to corporations and institutions about disability awareness, why they should care about disability and accessibility, and the actions they can take to create an inclusive workplace and implement best practices. So, this is a major component of Blindish Latina and where it’s headed.
— Music ends

TR:

Catarina is hopeful that corporations will be receptive to her message. Especially considering the attention being given to diversity equity and inclusion initiatives.

This is where that smashing comes in.

— audible smashing sound

Catarina:

I think for me smashing stigmas, or being a stigma smasher was exciting, because it was action oriented.

I’m all about actually creating change. I’m not on Instagram just to talk or post photos of myself or get likes, I’m on there to share best practices to activate allies to move people along this continuum, where they are now going to operate differently and make an impact on their sphere of influence wherever they live.

TR:

Check out some specific advice for allies or accomplices who want to work with the community in smashing stigmas, straight from Blindish Latina.

Catarina:

People have this idea that being an ally is a huge undertaking.

I’ve broken it down into three simple steps. One, you have to care. You have to believe that it is important to be aware of accessibility to do better.

Second educate yourself. You can learn without putting the burden on people with disabilities to teach you, there are so many people producing content, you can engage with them, follow them, this podcast is a perfect example. Books, websites and trainings and presentation. So, you can do a lot of self-education.

— Music Begins, a triumphant smooth Hip Hop groove
TR:

The final step doesn’t actually require a lot of expertise or going far beyond your comfort zone.

— Smash sound —
Catarina:

Wherever you exist. Whatever community you’re a part of you can take action. For example, if you’re part of a church community that’s going to have their masses on zoom, you can advocate for a platform that has closed captions, and speak up and say, Hey, we should consider this other option.

If you are managing your staff, and you’re going to have a meeting off site, you can create a registration form for people to RSVP. And you can have a question in there that says, what accommodations Do you need, and it can be anonymous. And you can create a space that is welcoming. That’s taking an action that’s being an ally.

4TR in Conversation with Catarina:
You see what you did there? You still teach Academy.

— Catarina and Thomas share in a laugh.

TR:

That’s the value of experience. The ability to apply what we learn throughout our lives in different areas. That’s wisdom.

Showing the world who you are. All aspects.

Catarina:

One of the reasons that I started Blindish Latina was to show that I am here, that I am a professional, disabled, Latina woman and I exist. I don’t think there’s a lot of representation of all of those dimensions of people who are disabled and are not white, of people that are disabled and are in the workforce, especially for people with blindness. I feel like there’s a lot of assumptions that blind people cannot work. And there are many of us in the workforce. So that’s why I use that term professional. Look, I’m here educated. I have two graduate degrees. I was Valedictorian of my mph, like, Come at me.

TR:

Better come correct!

You can check out all of the content including best practices, informative videos with captions, images with alt text and more on Insta Gram @BlindishLatina. You can also connect with her via Linked In by searching by name, that’s Catarina Rivera (spelled out)

Catarina:

And I have a website as well. CatarinaRivera.com

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

So, I don’t know if you know, but the fact that you are on the Reid My Mind Radio podcast. That means you are now officially part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

You perfectly aligned with what we are doing. And so, if I could borrow your turn because we’re trying’ to smash it up too.

(Laughs…)
— Smashing sound…

Catarina:

Love it!

TR:

Some great take aways in this one y’all!

Like using our experience, talents and interests to create impact.

Shout out to Catarina! We’re rocking with you Sis!

Continue to follow what’s happening here on Reid My Mind Radio wherever you consume your favorite podcasts. I hope we can one day make your list.

In the meantime, tell somebody you love or at least like a lot or even if you have no real feelings for this individual, let them know you are part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family. Let them know we have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com. Now this can be a challenge for some so be patient and no matter how long it may take, explain that it’s R to the E I D…
(“D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name!

— Music ends into the outro

Audi o: Reid My Mind Radio outro

Peace

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