Archive for the ‘Access Technology’ Category

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

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

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

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

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TR:

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

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

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

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

The answers and more are up next.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

First, budgets.

Audio: Music…

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

Audio: Sound of a Adding Machine

TR:

We’re talking about a few thousand dollars.

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

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

Eric:

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

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Well, that’s just parents! Laughs…

Eric:

You know!

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

TR:

Who watches on DVD anymore? We’re streaming.

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

That service would have to commission their own AD track.

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

As consumers, we want both; quality and quantity.

Eric:

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

TR:

Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s!

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

Eric:

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

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

Audio: Music

TR:

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

Audio: Music

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Yeh… (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs… Oh boy! Wow! Aw man.

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Laughing… Oh, thank you!

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: Music ends

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

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

Liz:

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

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Right, and to not make the assumption.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Absolutely.

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Liz:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

Eric:

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

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

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

Eric:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

Audio: Music

TR:

Feedback should be a gift, so make it constructive.

Eric:

Don’t just say hey you suck!

Well, thanks, that doesn’t really help!

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

TR:

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

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

Reach out…

Eric:

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

TR:

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

TR:

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

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

What about the perspective of those producing AD?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

Audio: Stay Golden

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Eric:

You suck!

TR:

That really isn’t helpful!

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

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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Taking A Ride with Planes Trains and Canes

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

A logo features a square with  a black plane flying over it and a black train coming out of the globe. In white lettering at the top reads Planes Trains and Canes.

2019 Holman Prize winner, Dr. Mona Minkara along with her production team from Planes Trains & Canes. join me to talk about the documentary series. The show which is available on YouTube follows Mona as she travels alone to five different cities around the world using only public transportation.

The series highlights many of the challenges those with vision loss experience on a daily basis. If you pay close attention you even learn some useful skills for managing these experiences. For Mona the trip was about independence, freedom and more.

The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelts sign so hit play and get ready for take off!

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TR:
Hey Y’all.

I try to produce this podcast several weeks in advance of the release. I don’t always have as much lead time as I’d like.
In this particular case, I did.

With the latest police murder of George Floyd and the world wide protest that followed, I don’t feel comfortable releasing an episode without acknowledging this senseless and shameful killing.

I love producing this podcast and I truly think what you’re about to hear is a great episode,
but as a Black man I can’t help but feel like my focus should be on fighting for change. Truth is though, it’s not just Black people who should be fighting.
It’s all of our responsibility and if I’m being honest, I think the burden should be less on the Black community.
If you have the urge to inform me that there are white people fighting, please don’t. I know that. I’d ask you to consider your own role as I’m trying to figure out mine.

Not acknowledging the pain just felt like it would add even more.

Rest in Peace & Power to Mr. George Floyd and the rest of those murdered by the Police.

Thank you Reid My Mind Radio Family and I hope you understand why that was necessary.

Now, let’s shift gears and get into what I think is a goodie!

Audio: Sounds of airport fades into the inside of a plane.

From the planes PA System…
Flight Attendant:

Good day passengers.
Welcome aboard flight 99 to a better place!

Inflight service will be coming around soon with snacks!
In the meantime, please sit back, relax and enjoy your trip.
We now have a message from the captain.

From the planes PA System:

Music begins…

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome aboard the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

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

My name is Thomas Reid and I’m not only your pilot, but I’m traveling on this journey with you.

Now if you are new to blindness and have some reservations about this flight I can tell you the ground control has approved us for takeoff. the forecasts a mix of clear skies with some possible thunderstorms. We are expected to hit a bit of turbulence along the way, but don’t worry, I got you!

Wheels up baby, let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

TR:

In 2017 & 18 , this podcast featured profiles of each of the Holman Prize winners. If you haven’t checked out those episodes I definitely want to encourage you to go back and give them a listen.

While I decided not to produce Holman prize episodes in 2019, early this year, I came across one of the 2019 winners, Dr. Mona Minkara. She’s a Bio Engineering professor at North Eastern University and the host and producer of Planes, Trains and Canes.

MM:

Which is a documentary series on YouTube showing me traveling to five different cities around the world and using only public transportation on my own.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So the first show that I started to watch, that was your first one when you were headed out of Boston to and going to South Africa. I’m trying to figure out, what is this feeling that I have. I said wow, I think this is a little anxiety. I’m like wow, this is good though, this is really good.

My podcast, I really like to reach out to those who are adjusting to being Blind. That’s my target audience. And so I’m thinking they’re going to feel what I feel but for different reasons. I travel independently, not necessarily like you’re doing. I’m watching because I thought about doing some of the things you’re doing where you’re walking through an airport and not getting the guide and I’m like wow this is exactly how I thought I would do it but I wasn’t sure if there was a different way. People who are new to blindness need to see it because I think some of the stuff like the constant questioning that you’re doing, the constant asking and figuring it out, people need to know that that is ok. And I love that!
So that’s why I contacted you.

MM:

That so awesome to hear you say that, so awesome because I’m going to be honest with you, I feel like this project actually even pushed me even more than I normally push myself. I would have never risked on my own a two hour layover in Atlanta going by myself to the gate. I would have never risked that on my own. But I did for the sake of this project. Like uh, we’ll see what happens.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Oh my god, I’m so glad you said that because people need to know that. people definitely need to know that

MM:

I completely agree. And then what’s the worst thing that could happen. I think what’s really important to discuss with something like this is being flexible. I was willing and ok and at peace with getting lost. I told myself Mona it’s ok if I get lost, it’s ok if it takes me like three hours … it’s ok!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

The other thing that I like about what you’re doing and we’re going to get in to the questions in just a second but…

TR:

Ok, fine, I was excited! I don’t usually include me geeking out over my guests but it definitely happens.
I knew this would be a comfortable conversation from the start.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

How are you doing Mona?

MM:

Good, how are you Thomas?

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Good, I’m good. Do you prefer Dr. Minkara? My bad.

MM:

No, no not at all. I’ve been told I probably should but no!

TR:

I’m not really into formalities, but I realize she earned that PHD and. When she’s on that campus, at those conferences put some respect on her name! Especially considering the early advice given to her mother when learning Mona would be Blind.

MM:

I had a doctor tell my mom that it wasn’t going to be worth spending a penny on my education. The bright future that I had was over with that sentence. But it wasn’t. (laughs) My life is great! (Laughs)

TR:

From an early age, Mona was interested in pursuing science and knew she wanted to be a professor.

Audio: Magic School Bus/Bill Nye

MM:

even though a lot of times I got people discouraging me because it wasn’t very practical for a Blind person to be a scientist.
I’m probably a scientist because of Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Shout out to Bill Nye!

MM:

Yes! I am a PBS Kid!

Audio: PBS Kid

I think a part of who I am is I truly just follow my passion and I really value freedom and independence. That kind of carried over to Planes Trains & Canes because it was the ultimate test of my independence to allow me to have my freedom.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What came first, was it the Holman prize or was this a dream to kind of do this?

MM:

That’s as good question a very good question. I was a judge for the first year of Holman Prize. I remember going out there and helping to judge the applicant pool and being taken by this concept. Even the story of James Holman and why these people were applying.

TR:

James Holman AKA, the Blind traveler, completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.
The competition is sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse. $25,000
is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

Following that first year, Mona had a thought.

MM:

I’d like to apply one day. What is it that I like to do? I realized, I really love public transportation.

Public transportation is a tool that is under appreciated by a lot of people but it’s a tool for me that really gives me freedom.

TR:

Currently living in Boston, the third city where she’s lived on her own as an adult. Each of these cities having a completely different public transportation system.

MM:

And then it just clicked, the concept for Planes Trains and Canes. Traveling on my own using public transportation.

TR:

In addition, she sought out cities on different continents which meant diverse cultures.

MM:

I didn’t have a deeply scientific method other than I also wanted to go to cities that I didn’t speak the language. It’s another barrier right. You feel like you might be more lost in an non English speaking place.
It was fascinating, you can see in my upcoming episode for Istanbul, you don’t really need the language. It was mind blowing for me to realize how easy it was to still navigate in a city like Istanbul or Tokyo.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Laughs… It’s funny to hear the Scientist say that there was no scientific method about… (Laughing)

MM:

Laughs… I mean I knew London
[TR in conversation with MM:]

From the videos, it doesn’t seem like you spend that much time there. How much time do you spend in each place?

MM:

It was like four days.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

To go all the way to South Africa for 4 days is like damn!

MM:

I know, I had to squeeze them with my new job it was insane. I just started being a professor.

TR:

In addition to Istanbul & Tokyo that’s four days in Johannesburg, South Africa, London and Singapore.
While Planes Trains & Canes is all about independent travel, making the videos requires a team.

MM:

I remember thinking like 3 years ago that whoever I did this with I have to have a Videographer that was somebody I could easily travel with , a solid person. And somebody who’s really not going to break character.

NG:
Hello

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Hello Natalie?

NG:

Hi, Thomas, how are you?

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Good, how are you doing?

NG:

Good!

TR:

During my initial conversation with Mona, she suggested I speak to her entire team. And I did. First up Natalie Guzi.

NG:

I’m a Camera Woman for Planes Trains & Canes. I’m 23 and this was my first time doing anything camera work related.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That was one of my first questions. (Laughs)

NG:

(Laughs)
Cool, ok!

[TR in conversation with NG:]

From my understanding you were a friend or a co-worker of Mona’s?

NG:

Co-worker turned really good friend

So, I went to school to be a technical writing major and I saw an open position. One of those pull tabs job posts with a number and email. Mona had put up signs for that. the interview went well I guess. Laughs…

TR:
In a way, working as an Access Assistant for Mona, helped Natalie develop one of the most important skills for the videographer role in Planes Trains & Canes.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

You ask any Blind person and they’re pretty much going to have a similar experience about being with someone who is sighted going somewhere and then having the person who is sighted being talked to as if the Blind person wasn’t there. When did you first experience that ?

NG:

The first time I experienced that was at a Chemistry conference, like an international conference where I was Mona’s access assistant. it must have been like just checking into a hotel. it’s under Mona’s name, Mona’s the PhD Scientist, I’m the 23 year old, but the person checking her in was looking at me.

TR:
This experience isn’t exclusive to those who are Blind. I hear the same from others with different disabilities too. There’s two components; first, directing the conversation away from the person with a disability and then there’s the gaze. Focusing the eye contact towards the non-disabled person.
Now, check the technique!

Audio: Musical intro…

NG:

How we work together with that kind of an issue is that I would just make eye contact with Mona so if you’re trying to look at me my gaze, then that’s going to get redirected to her. So they know where I’m looking and they should be looking. Sometimes people would pick up that and make that adjustment. Sometimes not. Or if we were talking and there was no counter between us then I would almost step over to their side so I was also facing Mona.

TR:

As the videographer, Natalie has to make sure it remains about Mona.

NG:

I tried to be as fly on the wall as possible. (Laughs) Which is a little bit hard. It wasn’t like an undercover operation. (Laughs) It was like someone following a blind woman with a camera. There were a lot of like stares and or questions about why the camera. people addressing me that I shouldn’t film even though Mona was the subject.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

They didn’t know that she was a part of it they thought you were just following her or something?

NG:

Yeh. They would like wave their hand in front of the camera.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And then you would have to explain things?

NG:

It depended on the situation. That’s a great question too. I’m remembering a time when at a train station in Johannesburg. I was trying to capture footage of Mona buying her train ticket. One of the staff there came up and told me I couldn’t be filming although all I really wanted to do was film the interaction of Mona buying a ticket. No, no, like here’s the business card we’re filming a documentary. We’re not mapping out your train system for any weird purpose.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That seems stressful to me. Can you talk about that.

NG:

Sure. By nature I lean towards wanting to make people happy and feel comfortable and welcomed. And when you’re walking around with a camera and people don’t know why that’s not really a possibility.
It’s difficult having those eyes and feeling those emotions from other people coming your way and having to remind yourself of the situation and the mission in that moment.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Did that get easier?

NG:

We had the opportunity to go to lots of different countries and experience different cultures so it shifted every place that we went. Like people would in Istanbul, being like welcome and we love it and come to our store as we were walking by trying to get video.
In comparison, the experience in the London tube wasn’t as welcoming.

TR:

These are the things making Natalie the right person for the job.

NG:

A thick skin. You got to have that self-confidence and confidence in the mission and in the team too.
I think Mona and I’s relationship we just always have each other’s back. So I think that trust and that collaboration really was like the heart of the whole project that kept us going.

TR:

That trust could even mean stepping in and putting yourself at risk.

NG:

In Johannesburg, Mona was crossing the street and this car was taking a corner really fast. I had to jump into the street and like put my arms out. I just thought that car was going way too fast. I wanted them to see two people in the street at least like saying stop.

TR:

Mona and Natalie have the foundation making up a real team.

NG:

We kind of work together. She gave me the feedback on what worked in different situations. It was nice to have a collaborator with that too and just follow Mona’s lead.

TR:

After watching Planes Trains & Canes and then having the chance to speak with Mona, it’s apparent, what you see is what you get.

MM:

I’m pretty assertive I would say as a person, but I understand not everybody has that personality. When I’m tired and exhausted and getting off a 16 hour flight I’m not the sharpest. I’m just like excuse me (said lethargically) my energy’s low. I could be ignored more easily in that situation verses when I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed , I’m like hello!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

You’re quick not to give off any pity vibe or anything like that.

MM:

Yeh, cause I don’t want your pity. I want you to treat me like any other human being. I just happened to be Blind. Sighted people ask for directions all the time. All the time! Just adjust yourself , just a little bit by verbalizing your directions. I appreciate it, thank you!

Audio Bumper for editors

TR:

In order to win the prize enabling Mona to start her adventure she would have to first accumulate enough likes on her Holman prize entry video.

Contestant’s seeking the 25 G’s must first posts their videos to YouTube. The videos need to explain their ambition and cannot exceed 90 seconds. Mona and Natalie paired up to shoot the video with Natalie taking her first shot at editing. The video foreshadowed some of the reactions they’d eventually receive while traveling.
Audio: Clip Planes Trains & Canes Ambition Video

TR:

Winning the prize enabled them to purchase a camera and wireless
microphone.

Natalie and Mona learned more than expected from editing that first 90 second ambition video;

MM:

How much work editing would be.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Chuckles…

TR:

Mona recruited Anxhela (Angela) Becolli
, her current Access Assistant at Northeastern.

MM:

She actually was the one who edited Johannesburg. She’s actually with me right now and…. Ok, I’m bringing her in…

AB:

I wasn’t expecting to be on the call…

[TR in conversation with AB:]

So that was your first shot at editing?

AB:

I had done editing a little bit before. In college I studied Photography in China and there I had done a few projects in videography but mainly photography. This was my first full paid project.

TR:

The thing about creating a documentary series such as Planes Trains & Canes is that you don’t know what your story is until it happens.

MM:

We recorded with no story line in mind. Recording as life unfolds in front of you and then extracting the story. So there’s an element of being able to story tell what you lived as opposed to the other way around – you are building the story and then you record the story.

You don’t know what life is going to give you.

As I was living it I remember taking mental notes like oh my God this would be really interesting to share with the audience.

TR:

Construction takes place in the editing room.

AB:

The main part is the story part. When Mona and Natalie give me the videos they also gave me this list of what they wanted the story to look like. What there idea was and what they wanted to portray to the viewers. What the most important parts were. What parts were light hearted. What parts were very specific to being Blind, to traveling and what needed to be kept in no matter what quality the video or audio was.

TR:

Mona is clearly directing all aspects of this project.

MM:

This part needs to be sped up and it’s kind of boring. I think we should add more of this part. I would say ok, let’s find music that represents the fact that I was feeling fearful or excited. I only used music connected to whatever city I was in. So all the music in the Johannesburg episode in part two, is from musicians from Johannesburg.

I personally have a certain vision for the vive and what was happening and Angela would work with me and hear what I have to say and implement it.

TR:

Creating content like this means investing real time.

AB:

If you have 40 hours of video you’re taking about 60 hours to watch the videos because you’re going to make notes, you’re going to cut things and you’ll re-watch those.

TR:

Angela was already committed to other projects so Mona had to find another editor.

Ted:

I’m Ted Jimenez, I’m the second editor put on the team to work on the new episodes; London, Istanbul, Singapore and Tokyo.

I am a self-taught editor. I worked with small independent studios before back in my home the Philippines I worked for States Sessions. It was a company that put on productions for Indy musicians in the Philippines. I did music videos for them. Promotional videos for them. Now I’m in Boston.

TR:

Where he too works at Northeastern making psychological self-help videos.

Mona decided early on that Planes Trains & Canes would not be a narrated style documentary.

Ted:

This is where Mona and I have conflicting views. I was going in with like my script saying oh Mona could you narrate this portion for us. And she is more of a fan of in the moment. I’m not going to pre-record a script that tells a story I’d rather the audience live through the story because it tells the Blind experience more naturally than if it was just said by her.

TR:

Show, not tell!

Mona’s voice over narrations that you hear in the series are sort of a means of accentuating specific moments.

Ted:

And it’s also to make it lighthearted.

MM:

I wanted comedy to be a main element. I want people to laugh while watching this because I want my message to really be heard and it’s going to be heard more through a comedic tone than through a lecturing serious tone.

TR:

Lighthearted may be the goal, but come on traveling Blind just like living Blind, you will have some encounters.

Audio: London…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So you know where I’m going now. We’re going to London! You know the episode. (Laugh fades out) you were told that you had to register.

MM:

Yeh, yeh, yeh! I had no choice.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So my anxiety woo, went through the roof! Mona, I’m going to tell you, I’m not that good at that situation. I’m from the Bronx Mona, I get a little aggressive. Ok! (Laugh fades out)

MM:

Laughing…

Dude, I’m going to tell you honestly, I held myself together because I didn’t even know if Natalie was videotaping me or not. But just in case she was I was like I need to make this point clear.

TR:

That point is at the core of this project; independence and freedom.

Ted:

I really like London as an example about how we kind of tell that story.

First, Mona getting off the plane into the subway. We foreshadow that Mona likes the choice of being able to ask for assistance or not ask for assistance.

In the second section of London where she’s coming from the airport to the Metro, that’s when we see that whole belief that she has of accepting or not accepting assistance.

TR:

You’re going to have to head on over to YouTube and check out the series to find out more.

Audio: Next time on Planes Trains & Canes…

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes is all about perspective.

It’s filmed from the perspective of a woman who is Blind and enjoys traveling independently and values her choice.

Along the way she interacts with people who may view the world differently.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Wait up. You said he was nice?

MM:

I’m saying he was nice yes. (Laughing)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Did you feel that way in the beginning? From the video, I took this guy like he was being condescending.

MM:

Oh, he was totally being condescending. I think it’s just the norm there to kind of treat people with disabilities like we are a bunch of 5 year olds. An underlying patronizing vibe!

TR:

As we each bring our individual perspective to the series, chances are there will be opposing points of view.

MM:

Did you see some of the comments that were on YouTube. Let me tell you. There was this one person who goes by SocietySister she wrote that I was selfish for not accepting help.

TR:

probably the same type of person to find the inclusion of Audio Description as a default in the series videos to be selfish.

MM:

I really wanted to make every video we create accessible to both Blind and Deaf individuals.

TR:

That’s a pretty inclusive approach giving a variety of viewers a chance to benefit from Mona’s experiences.

What did the production team take away from this experience? First, Natalie.

NG:

People are people wherever you go. They’re curious, they’ll probably want to know what’s going on if you walk into a new situation. maybe concerned if they see something new if they see something different. No matter where you go people do want to understand and to and connect. Also, trust and partnership with Mona . Just a profound sense of gratitude for working together for collaborating for trusting me to capture her experience and to be an observer.

TR:

Angela, who edited the first two episodes from Johannesburg, had hours of video to review. This gave her the chance to really see what Mona experiences.

AB:

I had a lot of moments where I went what I can’t, what why I can’t believe someone would do that. I can’t believe someone would say that. Why would someone treat you like that. Mona mentioned that Natalie was able to keep her calm, I’m the kind of person that would be like no what are you doing, you can’t do that. You can’t treat someone like that. Yeh, I’m not someone that would be able to keep her cool. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with AB:]

Laughs.

TR:

I could see Angela and I teaming up in some bar fights together.

Ted, the editor of the remaining episodes, it should be noted is not only editing, but he’s doing all the Audio description and captioning. As someone making a career as an editor I had to ask him if he’d become a proponent for Audio Description.

[TR in conversation with Ted:]

You’re working with, I don’t know Steven Spielberg. You’re like Steven we got to put some Audio Description on this man… (Laughs)

Ted:

Laughing… Hey Steven! (Said in a serious tone)

Oh yes of course. Right now it’s normalized for me to kind of like say well what are the options for everybody if I’m viewing piece of media. Mona has made it specifically clear that the deadlines are the deadlines for everything. The captioning, the Audio Description. The video, It needs to be accessible to everyone.

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes was Mona’s way to not only highlight the benefits that public transportation affords her, but also show the ingenuity and abilities of those who are Blind.

Mona’s travels reveal lots of valuable lessons for those adjusting to blindness.

MM:

Even though I am 32 years old, I feel like I am more at peace with it then I have ever been. I don’t know if I want to share this with the world but yeh (laughing…)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Well, let me just say something to you right now Again, it’s totally, totally fine if you don’t want to share.

MM:

Yeh!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

But that right there, again, think about it from the person who’s adjusting.

MM:

Yeh! No, I think it’s good I’ll explain why I say this.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

yeh!

MM:

I thought I was at peace. I used to take comments of you look sighted as compliments. I realize the detriment of that, only until like last year. Why should that be a compliment, you know? And I realized that I had built up all these techniques to almost compensate for blindness as opposed to work with it.

I had internalized this concept of blindness as weakness. I think it’s really important for Blind people to realize, we are inherently better problem solvers because we have to work around a lot of things. Blindness is not weakness. And to truly believe that I don’t know if I’m a hundred percent there.

TR:

I so respect and appreciate that honesty. It’s what I personally believe, adjusting to blindness is a continuous process. And if that’s ok for this Bio Engineer professor, well, I’m just saying, she’s doing something right.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What have you taken away from this whole experience?

MM:

I think I pushed myself more than I would have for the sake of the videos. I learned that there’s a lot of good out there and there’s a lot of like negatives that we need to fix and that’s ok.

I don’t know how to explain this feeling. it’s almost an internal shift where I want to go to Mongolia, I can go to Mongolia. Where maybe before I’d be like well I really don’t know how I would go to Mongolia. I need to find somebody to go with me or whatever. And now it’s like this state of mind. If I want to go I can go!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

It sounds like, like you’re free.

MM:

Exactly! Exactly I obtained more freedom than I ever thought I could. And I think I have more freedom than the average person gets to mentally experience and what a privilege.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And it’s attainable. You did it one specific way but that’s not the only way to attain that level of freedom and access.

MM:

Yeh. It’s like I learned it from my travels but I feel like it’s not about the travels, right. You can learn it in your own backyard. it’s about the mindset… you want it, go for it!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Mona, this was better than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be great, but this was even better. (Laughs…)

MM:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

One hundred percent!

Congratulations! I’m going to keep watching. I want to make sure other people watch. So you got a fan over here ok, I just want you to know that.
MM:

Thank you very much, I’m a fan of yours too!

TR:

Please welcome the latest members of the Reid My Mind Radio Family. Planes Trains & Canes, that’s Natalie Guzi, Angela Becolli , Benjamin Ted Jimenez and leading the way with her white cane in hand;

Audio: Put some respect on my name!

Dr. Mona Minkara!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

where can people check out Planes Trains & Canes and also where can they learn more about you Mona?

MM:

They can go to PlanesTrainsAndCanes.com or go to YouTube and type Planes Trains & Canes or you can go to MonaMinkara.com to learn more about me. If you want to learn about my research check out MinkaraCombineLab.com.

If you’re on Twitter follow @PlaneTrainCane (singular) and @Mona_Minkara

You can subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.
Transcripts, resources and more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Live Inspiration Porn – I Got Duped

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Podcasting as a passion project takes some real perseverance. There’s always some excuse lurking around the corner just waiting for you to take
hold.

In this episode I’m working through one which has been nagging me for a while. Giving it some real consideration led me to recall a story from my own adjustment experience. A time when I got duped into being a part of a live performance of inspiration porn. Well, sort of. Let’s just say I wasn’t there for the same reasons as those running the event.

Like most episodes, I believe this one can give those new to blindness and disability some things to consider. In fact, like all episodes I don’t think it’s restricted but that’s not really up to me. I’ll leave it right here for whoever wants to partake.

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TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family?

Yo soy Tomaso, Thomas Reid, host and producer of this podcast – Reid My Mind Radio.

Welcome to those of you who are new here.

This podcast introduces you to compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

every now and then, like today’s episode, I share some of my own thoughts and experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. And yes, I say adjusting, I don’t think I’ll ever really use the ed suffix on adjust. That’s not to mean there’s no progress. It’s just a continuous journey. Once you get to the understanding that it’s not one to be feared or even think negatively about, it gets better. But It’s like life, there’s always going to be change, and vision loss or any disability is now a part of that.

If that’s part of your reality, a family member or friend or maybe people you work with, well you’re definitely in the right place. If you yourself are going through some other sort of life change or you just like podcasts. There’s something here for you too, if you are opened to that.

Everyone is truly welcomed here with the exception of those with real hate in your heart. Energy works in mysterious ways and I don’t want that negativity being passed along to me or any of the family.

So let’s get this poppin!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio theme

# Intro

Today I’m sharing some thoughts about this podcast. These are not stream of consciousness. No way I wouldn’t do that to you. My mind can be a scary place when I’m trying to figure things out.

Audio: Sound of chaos!

Chances are as I navigate these thoughts they will prove to be applicable to more than this podcast and hopefully useful to others. That’s exactly how I feel about every episode. I focus on those adjusting to blindness , but lots of others can relate and enjoy.

Audio: Typing sounds….

Since I began this podcast and maybe even prior, I have been very specific about saying I don’t see myself as a journalist. I’m an advocate, straight up! If you listen to the podcast, you know there’s a certain message about blindness and disability. My opinion or feelings in most cases are evident. The overall message is one of empowerment. I’m not impartial.

Audio: Possibly use old episodes here

As if journalism is really impartial.

There are times though when I need to make all sorts of journalistic decisions. It could be the way I edit or the specific questions I ask, even the overall feel of the show, the sound design. It’s intentional. My approach is different from your standard so called impartial reporter.

I’m connected to most people who are guests on the podcast. Usually, the connection isn’t personal. Rather it’s through blindness and disability Sometimes it could be race or we have something else in common.

I feel a responsibility to both my guests and listeners.

I want my guests to feel what I hear when they tell me their story. I want them to know I respect them and their experience.

I want listeners to find the multiple ways they relate to my guests. Yes, there’s the disability experience, but maybe they share a similar motivation, desire or goal.

That’s what I want, it doesn’t mean I can always make it happen.

every listener brings their own past, prejudices, preconceptions and experiences to the podcast.

That makes sense, it’s like anything else. Two people hear the same song , see the same film or read the same book and have drastically different interpretations.

Some people see a reflection of their own lives and goals while others never see themselves in a podcast where blindness and disability is so prevalent.

It’s probably not one or the other. I think there are some who have a bit of both. Either way, I can’t control that.

Which leads me to this statement…

“You should always remember, there are people worse off than you.”

Audio:

“No matter how you’re sad and blue, there’s always someone who has it worse than you”, Shaggy

YouTube Videos
* ” If you’re having a bad day, just consider the day ….”

* “Bare in mind, there’s always someone worse off than you”

Song sung by Little Richard at a MS Telathon.

“… As I look around, so many people who cannot walk, not talk nor see, I thank God for the health and strength that I have, for there’s someone worse off than I am.”
TR:

First things first…

I’m pretty sure I said this same thing at some point in my life. it’s a common statement and an accepted way of thinking.

But, what does it really mean?

How can you compare someone’s life and happiness without all the information??

Is this really pity?

As a content producer, I cringe when I hear it now especially in relation to my podcast.

There’s never been a guest on Reid My Mind Radio that’s in need of someone’s pity.

I then question the choices made for that episode

Did I present this person in a way that says they should be pitied?

I don’t think I focus on the illness side of things. I do include or mention mainly because;
Others with the same diagnosis can relate.
It can also serve as a way to normalize illness and disability. They are a part of life and not a mysterious thing that happened to one person.

AudioFx: Ambiance head in skull
Am I creating inspiration porn?

Most of you are probably familiar with that term. It’s the
idea of presenting people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability.

This idea that this person’s story which often you don’t even get, well it should inspire you or just give you that warm fuzzy feeling reminding you that most of the world is so considerate.

Watch how the rest of the high school students cheered on as the coach let the intellectually disabled kid in the game for the last 20 seconds.

News Report Audio:
Crowd cheering.Coach: He comes to ppractice everyday, he shoots with them, he cheers them on…”

TR:

Or…

News Reports:
Reporter 1: A very special student indeed…
Reporter 2: All thanks to the compassion of one of his classmates….
Reporter 3: But the emotion of this night involved a student who cannot take the field, but is universally admired for his determination…
Reporter 4: A special needs student with Williams Syndrome. He’s a fixture on the sidelineduring football games always rooting on the team. But hi fives are one thing senior prom is something different.
Student: She could have picked anybody to go to prom with.. her.

TR:

I just don’t want to put that sort of thing out in the world.

Does it sound like I’m making a big deal out of this? Maybe because I’ve seen inspiration porn live and in full effect. In fact, I unknowingly was recruited to be a part of the performance.

Audio: Dream Harp

Many years ago when I was still very new to blindness, I was asked by a local organization serving those with vision loss, to give a access technology demo during an event.

I took to the technology pretty quickly and they thought I could be helpful sharing that information.

There was no money involved of course, but they’d provide my transportation and I think there was going to be a lunch. Whatever, I was down to help the cause for sure.

I was setup y’all!

Arriving at the center, I was shown to the main room where the event was taking place.

There were three or four individuals with vision loss seated up in the front of the room. The rest of the group was seated around a large conference table.

I was shown to a table in the front of the room off to the side where I setup my laptop.

Shortly after, the host of the event, the director of the center, welcomed the guests and kicked off the agenda.

Each of the men and women seated in the front of the room were asked to share the story of their vision loss.

Here’s how I recall that event;
Audio: Trap Beat!

each individual told their story while the event host accentuated the misery.

Storyteller:
” Before I went blind, I used to take long walks in the park
Now, I can’t see anything, my whole world is dark!”

Host: “Pitch black, the world is dark, too dangerous for you in the park.

TR:

Laughs! I said, that’s how I recall it today, but that’s not exactly what happened. But I do recall the questions and comments from the host were obviously selected to highlight the negative.
She was playing to the fear of the guests seated around the conference table.
these were potential donors.
All who probably already had beliefs about blindness;
“it’s probably the worst thing that could happen to you and if we don’t help these poor people they won’t be able to do anything. They can’t do for themselves.”

I was setup to be a part of a dog and pony show to help fundraise for the organization.

the fact that it was a fundraiser isn’t the problem for me. I would have still agreed to attend.
However, I would not have participated if I was aware of the approach being used to raise that money.

My so called presentation was probably less than 5 minutes. The host asked some specific questions and then made it seem like it was my technology background that enabled me to grasp the tools and less about the technology as a tool for independence.

Then they pulled out the glasses.

Audio: Glasses clinking and sliding down a bar!

No, not drinks. I don’t even think that would have helped. . No, it was the blindness simulation glasses. These are created to help sighted people understand what it supposedly looks like when you have certain diseases like, macular degeneration, RP, glaucoma and others.

At first thought, you may think ok, that’s probably helpful. It helps people understand and therefore empathize? Sympathize?

Well, in this particular case, while the dog and ponies sat up in front and this one off to the side a bit, the sighted donors were led into their temporary world of vision loss.

Reluctantly at first, one after the other each slowly began trying on the glasses.

“Oh my”…. “wow”
“where did you go Jeanie?”

And then the real fun began as they exchanged glasses with one another. Laughing as they realized how little they could actually see. Unable to find things they placed on the conference table. The host joking as she moved their cups of coffee.

Meanwhile, the dogs and ponies sat up front. While the jackasses continued with their disability experiment.

Empathy, I didn’t see that. But a check was written.

I don’t remember how the event finally ended, but I do know that was it for me. I checked out. There may have been some additional conversation but I doubt I had much to say to anyone after bearing witness to that display of ableism. I vowed to never be a part of anything even remotely like that.

I could easily imagine each of the donors around the table going home fulfilled and thinking “I should really count my blessings, because there’s always someone worse off in the world.”

As far as I could tell, I was alone in my review of the event. I believe some of the others continued to participate. I pretty much severed ties and ended up having a sort of reputation, so I was never asked again. perfect!

All of this leads to my final question.

How are we telling our own stories?

I highly doubt any of the people sharing their story were given instructions on how to tell it. Chances are, the director simply knew these individuals would supply what she wanted for the audience.

Some may say the ends justify the means. The center received the money and therefore can do good things for the clientele. I don’t agree. I believe several of those in the room were employers in positions to someday hire a blind person. I doubt they would. But that’s a subject for another day.

What thought do you put into telling your own story?

In most instances, we’re doing the telling of our own story. We don’t have a videographer, podcaster, journalist.

We’re probably not standing in front of an audience equipped with a PowerPoint presentation. We’re simply talking to people. Most often one on one.

Crazy thing, I tell other people’s stories but not my own. I can do it in a presentation, no doubt, but one on one not so much. I feel strange.

Audio: Cameo Strange! moves into “Children’s Story” Instrumental Slick Rick

I should tell my story as if I’m giving a presentation. it’s mine, it’s a good one. It’s worth telling. It can be helpful.

And it’s the only one I have.

And in the event someone hears it and their thought is
“Wow, I’m so grateful because I’m not like Thomas!”

My response, Bruh, you should be so lucky!

I’m not flexing’ or being conceited or anything like that. But this is my life why shouldn’t I be proud of what I do, when I do it and how I do it.

the same decisions I make for my guests and you all the listener, shouldn’t I put that much time and thought into my own story?

If you say yes, then maybe you too should do the same.

I told you this wouldn’t just be related to podcasting. In fact, it’s not just related to disability.

Or is it?

“Here we go!” Slick Rick, Childrens Story

You can find Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts. And if for some reason that isn’t the case, like teddy said, come on over to my place… ReidMyMind.com. That’s R to the E I D

Slick Rick “D, and that’s me in the place to be”

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro

Peace

Hide the transcript

Audimance: Transforming Dance and Movement into Sound

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Alice Sheppard is a former Professor turned Dancer, Choreographer and the Founding Director of Kinetic Light. A believer in access, she knew it required asking the right question. “Not how you make dance accessible, that’s boring. The question really is how do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.”

fellow Dancer, Engineer and Kinetic Light partner, Laurel Lawson had the idea; Audimance!

A mobile phone screen sports several pastel colored dots'; the word “Audimance” is visible. The dots represent different soundtracks, and a brown skinned hand reaches into the image pressing on a dot and thereby choosing a mix of tracks.
Hear how they became Dancers, the challenges of finding physically integrated dance schools, the film “Inclinations” and all about the app that is changing the way we think of Audio description. Plus, do you recognize that voice?

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to the podcast featuring essays of compelling people
impacted by Blindness and Disability.
it’s called Reid My Mind Radio!

Every now and then, I include some of my personal experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

I’m Thomas Reid, producer and host of this here podcast
living up to the claim of making blindness sound funky!

I’m not only referring to the actual sound, but I’m talking about the energy.
It’s positive, yet real and always upbeat. Funky is my way of challenging how you the listener may
think a podcast geared to those adjusting to blindness is supposed to sound.
Should it sound sanitized, institutional? Not here it won’t.

So if you’re riding with the Reid My Mind Radio family well then you must be funky too!

On the podcast today…

Audio: “Dance”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

“Once you start asking; how does your body move? How does it communicate movement? Movement is a rigorous and tough beautiful way of communicating. We owe it to ourselves and to our audiences to find, nurture and develop the greatest range of nuance in physical communication that we can. It’s an amazing kind of vocabulary.”, Alice Sheppard

TR:

Today we’re exploring some of that vocabulary with Dancer and Choreographer, Alice Sheppard. She’s also the founding Director of Kinetic Light;

AS:

Which is an ensemble of disabled artists making immersive dance experiences.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Tell me a little bit about your first experience with dance.

AS:

I was a Musician, an Orchestral Pit Musician. Dancers were just simply the things above me on the stage pounding away, being late, needing the music to go slower, needing the music to go faster. (Laughs) I didn’t understand much about the art form . Dance was not something that my family had access to or I would have had access to even try. Dance just wasn’t there.

TR:

Eventually, She’d gain that access but the steps to becoming a dancer were far from choreographed.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

My understanding is that you became a professor… Yes?

AS:

Yes!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Laughing…) AS:

Laughing…

[TR in conversation with AS:] I just want to make sure the internet is correct.

AS:

the internet… in this case the internet is correct! Laughs…

TR:

A professor of Medieval Studies to be exact.

in 2004, Alice saw a performance by a disabled dancer.

AAS:

I didn’t really know what to expect. I was worried it was going to be cringe worthy and it wasn’t.

It was, … amazing! It was smart. It was political. It was sour. It was bitter. It was funny. It was tender, loving and joyful. It was the fullest expression of what you can hope for a body and mind and a heart. It grabbed me. It transported me and transformed me in ways I had not imagined possible.

TR:

Following the performance , Alice had a conversation with the dancer, Homer Avila.

AS:

We were talking about Disability and art and aesthetics and integrity and how you could work from a position of wholeness. He had an amputation to his leg, but he wasn’t saying things like he’s working from a deficit position, he was just working with the body that he had and reforming the art around his body. I was all into this because it was in line with what I was reading and thinking and writing about as a professor.

At the end of the evening he had issued a dare to me and a couple of other people who were hanging out

TR:

The dare?

Take a dance class.

AS:

I said yes because you know when you’re drinking you say yes to a whole pile of things.

[TR in conversation with AS:] Laughing…

AS:

Yeh, maybe this should be a lesson in bad alcohol. Don’t drink!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughing… Maybe it’s good though because it seems like it worked out for you.

AS:

Yeh, yeh! (Laughing)

[TR in conversation with AS:] Not that I’m promoting alcohol. Laughs…

AS:

Laughs…

TR:

Sadly, that was Avila’s last performance. He passed away six weeks later.

AS:

I really felt like I had to honor that dare.

TR:

Finding a dance class doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, but it took Alice some time to find a school that would actually teach her. Instead she received responses like;

AS:

Well I don’t really know how to teach you or you can just be over there and maybe you can figure something out or make something up.

I never actually got to be in the dance class.

TR:

One school even had security post up outside of the class. We’re still trying to figure that one out!

I personally have never seen dance outside of that performed by someone with full use of their legs. So I asked Alice to describe how she does it.

AS:

Mostly in a manual wheelchair. Sometimes on crutches and some of my work is actually being done in a wheel chair with crutches on my arms as well.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

So tell me what does that look like?

AS:

If you can imagine a pair of manual crutches with rings like the European Lofstrand forearm crutches, they just have hoops at the top so you can hang them off your arms. I made them too short to stand up on, but long enough to be able to push my wheelchair like ski’s. Then I have these huge like 9 feet long, I can reach all the way up to the ceiling up to 11 1/2 feet and 9 feet wide. it’s just the incredible feeling of this huge wingspan and you can whirl those crutches. You can turn like nothing on earth, you just whirl them. Because they’re so wide they give you this incredible balance. It’s awesome! (Laughs…)

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Wow!

You’re going between the chair and the floor sometimes too, right?

AS:

Oh yeh! We use the floor in our chairs. We wear straps so the chairs come with us and we come with the chair. And then we can dive to the floor and roll and do all kinds of things on the floor. Sometimes we’re on the floor without our wheelchair.
It’s an amazing kind of vocabulary. I think once you start asking how does your body move. How does it communicate in movement? Movement is a rigorous and tough and beautiful way of communicating. We owe it to ourselves and to our audiences to find, nurture and develop the greatest range of nuance in physical communication that we can.

TR:

Eventually, Alice found her way to the Access Dance Company in Oakland California, where she took her first physically integrated dance class.

[TR in conversation with AS:] What was the experience like for you?

AS:

No one has ever quite asked me this before. Give me a moment to actually tell you the truth of it.

It was a sense of being at the beginning of something. Something I knew I couldn’t do. I knew I didn’t have control. I didn’t have the skill but it was being at the center feeling this whole area open up wide, wide, wide before me. And the joy and the pleasure of if I could be in there it would be amazing. I was aware that I sucked massively. I wasn’t doing the things that they asked, well. Even though I was doing them to the best of my capacity at the time. As a musician I recognized that I was at the same level of inquiry that I was at in the music practice. Where you’re like oh right I can see it, I can feel it, I don’t know what it’s going to be but I know that I have to work to get there.

TR:

Meanwhile, on the east side, in Georgia to be exact, Laurel Lawson was preparing to enter grad school.

LL:

I grew up playing music both as an amateur and as a professional and acting. I saw this dance class. It was in a great time slot right before I needed to be at one of my acting jobs. I thought it would be interesting, you know pick up a little broader skill base and it would be a good warm up. I’ve done a little bit of jazz like that minimum amount of theatrical dance that you need in order to get through musicals. So I went and signed up for this six week class. Boy I sucked so badly!

TR:

Well Douglas Scott apparently saw some talent there. He’s the founder and director of Full Radius Dance, a premier physically integrated dance school. He invited Laurel to audition for the dance company.

LL:

Two months later I was on stage in my first professional appearance.

It’s a little weird right. I often think about that. It’s like the most “bass awkward” way of falling into this field in some ways. A field that is so competitive that people work and dream and hustle from the time that they’re five years old and I took this weird circuitous path and almost wound up dancing by accident. Maybe that’s the title of my autobiography, “The Accidental Dancer”.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughs…

TR:

The community of professional dancers isn’t that large. Eventually, Alice and Laurel met. First chatting about technique, exercises and shared experiences.

LL:

We always knew we had work to make together. It was just a matter of getting to the point for us as individuals, for us as artists where we were ready to do that. Where we could put together the kind of structure to support it and for the rest of the world to get to the point where we had this little bit of an entry to be able to get other people to realize hey we have something to contribute here. The funding and presentation landscape makes a huge difference in what gets presented and what does not.

TR:

That structure is Kinetic Light.

LL:

At the core of it, Kinetic Light consists of this collective of three artists, Alice, myself and Michael Maag who is our production, projection and lighting designer.

Kinetic Light is a little unusual in the way we operate compared to what you might call a conventional dance company. We’re a multi-disciplinary. In some ways we’re not necessarily a dance company. Dance is front and center but there are also ways in which we are a multi-modal performance company. Are we a tech company? That’s a question that we keep going back to because we’re not quite a dance company.

TR:

There’s multiple functions associated with running a dance company.
Of course, there’s the choreography, but we can’t forget the administrative work of funding, managing projects and more.

And then there’s something of particular interest to those with vision loss that Alice explains has always been a part of the plan.

AS:

My thought was always that we would do access. What I didn’t know was the kind of journey that it would become.

TR:

We’re talking about audio description. Well we’ll call it that for now. But the question is really how do you take a visual art experience like dance and make it available to those who are blind?

First, Alice invited friends to attend a live performance.

AS:

Georgina Kleege who is a Blind professor at UC Berkley. She’s a professor of Blind aesthetics and the arts and writing. She’s got this awesome book out right now called “What Blindness Contributes to Art”.

TR:

The goal was specific.

AS:

We want all of our people to come and have a good experience. How do we do it?

This was in 2016, but in 2012 I began exploring these types of threads anyway in my work. And then she picked up those threads and pushed them to the next level. And I was like ok, let’s do that.

Georgina and Josh Miele who, if you don’t know Josh you should talk to Josh, he’s an amazing technologist.

TR:

Shout out to Reid My Mind Radio Alumni Josh Miele. I’ll link you to his episode on this episode’s blog post.

AS:

Cool!

Georgina and Josh said yeh, ok, so you did better than the average and your definitely on some pathway but that isn’t it. It isn’t enough. We aren’t getting what everybody else is getting.

At that time what we were doing was making description of the physical movement.

LL:

That was really painful for us. this was our community that we had invited to come see us and we failed.
[
We hadn’t offered them an equitable experience.
]

TR:

Describing a dance performance isn’t a straight forward task.

Let’s take an example I feel almost everyone is familiar with.

Let’s say a dancer puts his left foot in.

Audio: Horn!

then puts his left foot out.

Audio: Two horn hits!

he does the Hokey Pokey and turns himself around.

Audio: Hokey Pokey song

Now that’s description!
It’s actually conveying all that’s taking place.
Well, if there’s only one person.

But let’s make that dance a bit more complicated.
say our dancer’s left foot is in while his right hand is up
and his partners right leg is up
and another dancer is flying across the screen with a particularly dramatic facial expression.
I’m not even getting into the lighting or stage props that often accompany the Hokey pokey!

AAS:

What you’re getting is this kind of displaced description. You’re not getting a sense of the art.

This is where Laurel comes in, she’s an engineer and designer and she thought of a way in which you could play multiple sound tracks on an app and a way for it to actually sync in time with the show. And so with this kind of technology at the basis the question became not how you make dance accessible, that’s boring. The question really is how do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.

LL:

I had a little germ of an idea that would become Audimance.

TR:

Audimance was developed in association with Kinetic Light’s DESCENT.

AS:

Descent is a queer inter-racial love story between two disabled women.

Basically invents a backstory to the sculpture the Toilette of Venus and Andromeda by Rodan.

It figures out what does this goddess from Greek myth doing with this figure from Roman myth and why are they put together. Why does Rodan do that with them? It challenges Rodan’s own notions of feminism and lesbianism. It challenges the place of the incomplete body in Rodan’s thinking and sculpture. It’s an incredible kind of imagining of the relationship between the two. A love story maybe. It shows the ways in which disability and art go together. It re-imagines access ramps. It’s a thing this Descent!

TR:

With that in mind, let’s walk through how a nonvisual audience member experiences this performance using Audimance.

It starts with the pre-show. Here’s Alice.

AS:

The program is recorded. In the program there’s some background context to the work, and overall plot summary, a background on the set, an overarching narrative context if you want that. Rodan’s sculptures so there’s some information about that. Basically, information that is contextual.

TR:

That one aspect of Audimance is already surpassing how many of us experience description. Meaning, no longer are we confined to the strict time limitations dictated by the performance. Audience members may be able to access this pre-show information days before the event itself.

And then, if you arrive at the theater early, before the show…

AS:

One of the things we’ve been developing is a kind of tactile experience. This was something that josh was essential in thinking through. We 3D printed the set. The ramp and you could hold a model of the set in your hand and feel some of the things around that. There’s samples of the costumes, the surface, the flooring of the set, the kinds of material elements.

TR:

You may wonder, why a 3D rendering of the set if you’re physically there? the set of Descent is a ramp. And not just any ramp.

AS:

It’s 24 feet wide, 15 feet deep and it goes to 6 foot high at a kind of pointed mountainous peak that I sit on top of.

Each part of the ramp has its name. There’s the peak it’s a top of a mountain. At the bottom of the peak there are waves and there’s water, projections of waves water and rock. And then there’s this huge deck, this angled deck that is sometimes grass and sometimes a mountain range and sometimes an ocean. And the water waves whip up and down the ocean. It’s incredible!

TR:

You have all of the context information about the upcoming performance. And now, it’s ShowTime!

AS:

“How do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.”

(Repeated from above but with an effect as if reflecting.)

TR:

That one question became several more that she proposed to her friends experiencing the performance non visually.

AS:

What are you listening to? What is communicative sound for you? How do you get art out of sound? What sounds mean something?

And then the question was what sounds are actually in the dance itself? Here’s where we ended up. We have to be able to convey the sounds of the work itself as a sound.

I rang Disabled Queer Trans gender Poet Eli Clare and I said, will you write poetry for this dance? Eli turned the dance into poetry. And I was like wow!

TR:

Audimance empowers the listener with choice and control. Pairing for example the poetry of Eli Clare with the original sound scape composition of Dylan Keefe from the sound rich podcast radio Lab.

Laurel tells us about other tracks and possibilities.

LL:

We can be working with people who are writing prose. For example maybe even describing it technically so that a nonvisual audience member whose also trained as a dancer is actually hearing in dance language about what we’re doing and understanding it in that medium. We can work with sonification of the stage or our bodies or interpreted sonification of the choreography itself. So for example you might be hearing a breath, a heartbeat a sound (slap, slap) as we contact each other as our chairs hit the stage

If you imagine you’re in a big room, a museum gallery, imagine that there are 20 speakers scattered throughout this room. They could be on the ceiling, floating in the middle of the air, on the walls or the floor and every speaker is playing a different track. But all the tracks are part of the same performance. As you wander through this space you can control what you’re listening to. You’re creating your own experience of this art. You can go cuddle up to a single speaker and listen to one track from beginning to end. find a mix, maybe between three or four speakers that appeals to you. Keep moving and keep listening to the way that the tracks and the performance shifts and changes as you’re constantly in motion between these speakers. Got that image. Ok, condense all of that down into a phone screen and you got Audimance!

Since I am sighted every bit of process all along the way we were going back and forth with non-visual audience members, collaborators, testers.

From the describer side I think we’re opening a lot of stuff up to. We’re trying to involve the describer as collaborator through this process. We’re not replacing audio description, we’re blowing it open.

TR:

With other options for Descent’s nonvisual audience members like an interpreted dramatic dialog, a description track specifically for those with kinesthetic imaginations or those who actually feel what’s being described, plus description of lighting… yeah, kaboom!

LL: on centering blind

Audimance is specifically designed for nonvisual users. It absolutely centers Blind users who have advanced listening skills.

TR:

You know you’re an advanced listener when you have the ability to audibly synthesize simultaneous streams of information. Probably more common is the ability to comprehend information at an increased rate. 25 percent, 50 maybe even double or triple its normal rate.

For example, a more seasoned screen reader user probably sounds like this…

Audio: Fast screen reader reading
“You know you’re you’re an advanced listener when you have the ability to audibly synthesize simultaneous streams of information. Probably more common is the ability to comprehend information at an increased rate. 25 percent, 50 maybe even double or triple its normal rate.”
TR:

Someone new to vision loss and therefore new to screen reader technology and synthetic speech and in general active listening sounds more like this…

Audio: Screen reader voice reading in a slow speed.
” You know you’re an advanced listener when you… Oh my goodness this is slow! I’m getting sleepy, sleepy”

LL:

obviously anyone who is hearing can use it but this isn’t a question of trying to make it work for everyone. It is made for and it centers this population that was being underserved artistically

TR:

With multiple choices, someone new to vision loss may be more comfortable simply choosing one or two tracks such as the poetry or traditional description.

Audimance allows users to make selections at any time since the tracks are synchronized to the live performance.

LL:
Are we providing an identical experience to a sighted audience member watching the dance? No Because that does not exist and saying that we’re making something identical is false equivalence. Do we think we’re creating something that is equitable in terms of a rich multi dimension complicated artistic experience? Something that has been crafted by the artist as part of the piece from the beginning?

Yeah! And that’s the feedback we have gotten about it.

TR:

Audimance is Open Source software that’s still in the early alpha phase of development. But there getting close to where anyone will be able to download the program.

LL:

Where venues will be able to download a creator interface and you can just go in a venue and have it pull up the experience for the show that you’re going to see.

TR:

That could be the more traditional description. But I’m hoping for a more artistic, thoughtful, equitable experience.

LL:

It was created for performance art, but certainly any theatrical performance, potentially even for music performances or for speakers to provide visual descriptions of the people on stage.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
That’s going to be fun to watch when people just kind of take that and say I want to play with it because they’re not even thinking about it from the perspective of inclusion or audio description. And it’s just I want to play with this and see what I can do.

LL:

I am so looking forward to that part of it because technically well when you think of it it doesn’t necessarily have to go with a performance. It can be an independent audio only artistic experience. Having people play with this kind of spatialized durational sonic art is going to be fascinating.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
And so that’s open source meaning anyone is going to be able to have access to that. There’s the equity component of that too. Or is this going to really cost people thousands of dollars? (Laughing…)

LL:

(Laughing)

Well you know the problem with that is if we make it cost thousands of dollars we’re going to have a real hard sell telling venues okay, there’s no excuse for your performance not to be accessible. Or dance companies, choreographers here, even if it’s just you describing your dance. You go into rehearsal and you just do the description if you have to. We’re not telling you you have to pay to bring an additional artist in for the week and house them and so forth.

TR:

Audimance is currently being supported by donations. That’s financial and labor.

LL:

If you are interested in contributing to this software itself as a programmer, as a designer, as a technical writer we need everybody right now. If you’re a project manager. If you’re interested in helping us write instructional content. We need tutorials and how to use it. We’re going to need tutorials to introduce presenters to it eventually. You can find the project on GitHub.

People can make financial donations on our website, KineticLight.org.

TR:

you can even earmark your donations specifically for the Audimance project.

Want to learn more about Audimance, Descent, Alice and Laurel?

AS:

There is a newsletter!

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Really and how would someone subscribe to that?

AS:

On your phone you can text 66866 to sign up.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Wow, look how fancy you are? (Laughs…)

AS:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Playfully)
So you’re telling me, you don’t go to a website and put in all your information. All you have to do is text?

AS:

You can do that too. You can go to the website and put in your information.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

What website would that be?

AS:

(laughs…)
KineticLight.org

[TR in conversation with AS:]
What would folks get from the newsletter?

AS:

That’s a really good question. You would meet some of the team. You would learn about the performances or film screening. You might learn about an award. Sometimes we put in cool ideas about Disability culture. Sometimes we’re talking about work friends of ours are doing.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Yeh, I like it! Cool!

TR:

I’ll tell you something else that’s pretty cool!
That film screening she mentioned? It’s a film featuring Alice and three other dancers . It takes place…

called Inclinations. it too highlights performance on a ramp. This one however is outdoors.

This particular film consists of audio description with two narrators.

Audio:

TR:

you should recognize that voice. That’s Cheryl Green, a podcast alumni and part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

And the other describer…

Audio:

TR:

Yours truly!

Big shout out to Cheryl Green, Lisa Niedermeyer and everyone else involved in making that happen! That was fun!

Inclinations has been screened at Festivals in Canada and the US including;
National Dance Day at Kennedy Center
Superfest Disability Film Festival 
Cinema Touching Disability

For more on Inclinations checkout Alice Sheppard.com

Audio: “Check it out y’all!”

TR:

there’s a lot to be excited about Audimance. The feature that in my opinion means the most; It’s empowering.

It shifts the conversation from providing access to creating nonvisual experiences.

There’s so much possibility. Especially when you factor in that the technology is open source. It’s made for live performances but the same concepts can be applied to recorded performances.

We’re in a time where audio production is on the rise. I’m talking about the growth of podcasting. I think about the potential in the live podcasting space. Moving away from the Q&A format to a sound rich experience.

Forget about that idea that we need to wait for the kind help from others. Audimance is a collaborative effort from the cross disability community. If you’re not throwing your fist up in solidarity for that one, check your pulse!

Salute to Alice Laurel and everyone involved with the project!

And if you like what you heard?

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

AS:

And I was like wow!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Audio Description: More than Movies Television and Theater

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Most people familiar with Audio Description or Descriptive Video have probably experienced the art access through movies, television or live theater. Today we hear about other applications where the art form provides access.

Headshot of Kat Germain
Kat Germain, a Describer from Toronto Canada tells us about providing description during conferences, sporting events and more. Plus we hear how she is training future describers on more than narration and post production.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up family. Reid My Mind Radio family!

You know, we’re growing. That means, our message is spreading to more people. Slowly we’re changing what people think about blindness. With every episode we’re challenging the perceptions of what it means to be blind.

Unfortunately, some people think it means life is over. They no longer see the life as being filled with opportunity. I get it, remember I’ve been there and felt that. But today I can definitely tell you there’s lots of opportunity if you’re willing to see them as such.

If you’re listening that means you are. And I got you.

If you want to assist in getting this message out especially to those newly impacted by blindness, low vision disability; tell a friend, to tell a friend…

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR:
today, we’re continuing with our look at the opportunities available through Audio Description. Both from the consumer perspective as in additional applications and production.

To do this, we’re going North.

KG:

My name is Kat Germain and I am an Audio Describer based in Toronto Canada.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So let’s start with the definition of Audio Description as described on your website KatGermain.com. You mentioned talking pictorially.

KG:

We’re trying to use dynamic language. language that is descriptive , multi textured and vibrant. Painting a picture with words and filling in information in ways that is not going to distract from that which we’re describing but is going to add to it and help the understanding of the listener.

TR:

A multi textured vibrant painting with words.

That’s a cool definition of Audio Description or AD. If you’re a regular here you’re probably already familiar with AD.

I’m pretty confident however that you’re less familiar with description in the settings Kat tends to apply her artistic skills.

Like conferences and workshops.

KG:

If there’s a presenter they’ve got a Power point presentation, video clips associated with that, they’ve got photographs, whatever it is and my job is to describe those things to the listener. There’s also often a lot of signage around, people places, the size of the room, where the washrooms are all of those things to help the listener be as A., independent as they choose to be and then B., to give them information.

TR:

I know what you’re thinking. Wow, Canada. First health care and now this. Well it’s not yet as common as you may think.

KG:

I have sort of two or three people who are from the Blind partially sighted and low vision community and when they go to conferences they specifically ask for the accommodation of Audio Description and so I’m called for that. I have a close relationship with those people and so I know the kinds of things that they want and I also adjust it to what their needs are.

[ and so for example a lot of them are going to conferences where there’s a large number of people who are disability identified or parts of the conference are specifically geared towards or celebrating people with lived experience of disability or people who are working with those communities. And so they often want to know what people look like. If the person who is speaking about a lived experience actually potentially has a lived experience. And those kinds of questions are potentially a little bit politically incorrect. I wouldn’t announce that over a system with a large number of listeners but if it’s one person I’m always very happy to answer a question. And likewise even if it’s a lot of people after the show or the event or whatever it is if they want to ask me a question about perceived cultural background of a character or a person I’m happy to do that as well.
]

[TR in conversation with KG:]

So can you describe how it actually works because if you’re there for one person I’m sort of imagining that you’re sitting right next to the person but my understanding is that’s not the way you do it.

KG:

That’s not the way I do it but it is a possibility. Generally speaking I am a little further back and away from the crowd and mostly that has to do with so other people are not distracted by me speaking because while I’m trying not to speak on top of the words of the person whose presenting as best as I can because it’s going to be improvised, it still can be a little distracting for people that are around. So I separate myself from the group and I speak through a little microphone and then the person has a receiver that’s about the size of a fold up wallet and they listen through a single ear piece.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So then in that case it’s a one way communication?

KG:

Correct.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ok. So those questions they would ask you later on. They wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity to ask you right there unless they’re texting you.

KG:

Which as happened as well. Yes.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ah, ok!

TR:

While these accommodations are often for individuals, Kat requests that the service is advertised so others can also benefit. Just in case, she’s prepared with multiple receivers.

So is this available here in the states?

KG:

I’m not familiar with anybody who does conferences in the states but I am familiar with lots of Describers down there.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Ok, so for our purposes if you do want it you have to call Kat Germain. How about that! Laughs…

KG:

Laughs… Yes that is exactly the rule.

TR:

I mean it makes sense! Not only does she have the experience, but there’s a knowledge of best practices for the describer. And, she also has great suggestions for presenters.

KG:

Accessibility doesn’t have to always be on the describer. We can be a little bit more interdependent and a little bit more inclusive. For example the presenters can talk a little bit about their video themselves. They can introduce themselves and what they’re wearing that day.

TR:

And what about group or panel discussions where multiple people are contributing.

Whether you are participating in the discussion or in the audience, from a blindness perspective, it can get tricky.

KG:

Often people who rely on visual cues can tell that somebody has sat back in their chair, they put their hands down and are looking around , there’s a visual cue that they’ve stopped speaking. But if you’re not accessing things visually, if you’re not accessing them in the same way visually then you don’t have that cue and so the person if they say that’s the end of my thought then the person knows ok maybe I can put up my hand now , I can say something, I can interject without interrupting them etc.

TR:

What are some of the other applications for Audio Description that you may have not experienced or considered.

KG:

I love my theater, I love my conferences, I love my Descriptive Video, but sports.

Audio: Play by Play from the NBA 2019 Championship … Toronto Raptors Win!

TR:

Yes, there’s the play by play, but have you ever wondered what you’re missing especially when attending a live game? Like when Kat described a game of Wheelchair Basketball.

KG:

I worked with a colleague and he has the sports commentary background and I have the Audio Description background. And we worked in tandem. The way that we presented what we were doing is a little bit more of a hybrid. We did do the straight up description, but then also we did a little bit more commentating as well; what does team Canada need to do to catch up? How is so and so playing in this game? We made that decision to do it that way and the people who listened enjoyed it.

TR:

I think what makes this exciting is how the description goes beyond the action on the court.

KG:

In more detail than you would hear for example on a radio broadcast. Additionally though, I was describing what was happening in the stadium. I was talking about the antics of the mascot and where the t-shirt cannon was pointing. What the half time dancers were doing and what the logos look like that were all around the stadium. What was happening on the Video-Tron because they had a bunch of gag things. A kiss camera where they put a heart around you and filmed you when you were about to kiss. A bongo camera where they super impost bongos in front of a person who was on screen and they had to move their hands up and down as if they were playing the bongos.

TR:

Now, I’m not the biggest sports fan, but I do enjoy the energy of a live game. So I was immediately interested when Kat mentioned that they’re looking into describing a baseball game.

KG:

I’m really hopeful we’re going to sometime in the near future get a baseball game. We’d ask the arena to offer us a box and then invite folks in the community to come and we’d do the description in the box with them there. I promise to invite you.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Oh yeh, please do!

TR:

Just when you thought you knew what to expect from Audio Description. Someone pushes the boundary a bit further because they believe in access.

KG:

I’m doing a sketch show right now because I have a comedy background. I did the Second City Conservatory. I love comedy and want very, very much to support it and for the audience to get the jokes and hopefully get the jokes as close as possible to the same time as the rest of the audience.

TR:

AD in this particular application gives Kat a bit more room to use techniques that she would otherwise forgo.

KG:

I do feel to support the work and to support the people listening presumably who are there at the show because they want to laugh with everybody else that I felt like it was a little bit of nudge was needed for a couple of spaces. Not throughout the whole thing. For example there’s a witch scene. A witch does a spell and the lights and flicker. And there’s another one… flash and flicker and the third one, she does her spell and, …. nothing. So I can do a little bit of that inflection. A little bit of pause so it’s that comedic timing within the Audio Description itself without being comedic myself.

TR:

A sense of humor is important in live events, you never know what you may have to describe.

KG:

One of the men gets completely naked we had a long description of what the average size of a man’s…

Audio: Ahem, Ahem, Got Damn! “Let Me Clear My Throat”, DJ Cool

TR:

With such vast experience, Kat’s recently started her latest role in Audio Description; training future describers.

KG:

I’ve trained ten people to be Descriptive Video Specialists. It was a three day workshop and there is another one planned for the very near future

TR:

Kat couldn’t devote time to teaching voice work, so she sought students with a background in either acting or voice over. Additionally she wanted those interested in writing description.

KG:

Post production as well. Editing the voice recording, getting it all up to spec, mixing it etc. Sending it off to the broadcasters.

TR:

Creating AD is more than technical.

KG:

Identity is a huge topic here, particularly in Toronto. It’s my understanding that we have the most diverse city in the entire world. We have the most number of languages spoken here, the most number of countries represented here. It’s a thing!

TR:

It’s a thing that finally we’re talking more about.

Respecting cultural differences through inclusion and representation. From all perspectives including the consumer, and creators.

KG:

It’s a pretty challenging balance. What would fly in Toronto is not necessarily going to fly in a teeny tiny town on the northern east coast. [of Canada]

TR:

Similar to the U.S. Canada is trying to figure this out. Currently there aren’t any rules just some generic guidelines recommended by Accessible Media Inc.

KG:

Describing a person’s race or ethnicity or disability is not necessary unless its perceived to be relevant to a plot or character development.

To me the question is who’s doing the perceiving.

The majority of describers in Canada are generally speaking white people, probably sis gender. There is not a huge ton of diversity with the describers and I don’t think that matters in and of itself but I think it would be fantastic if we had a little bit more diversity. And certainly with my Descriptive Video students I actively went and sought out actors of color that I knew and thought might be interested.

TR:

While she follows the guidelines, she does have a particular point of view when it comes to diversity.

KG:

I feel that it’s always relevant who is and who is not represented on a stage or a screen. I work in inner city schools with a huge group of diverse kids and I want those kids to see themselves reflected on stages or screens. Or again, know that currently they are not. I want my students to have heroes and people to look up to and if they don’t know there’s a Blind person on a stage or a person who’s Japanese on stage then to me I feel it’s not doing them or the play a service.

TR:

During a recent live theater performance, one of the actors was Blind. In no way was this relevant to the role.

KG:

I had the chance to speak with the actor himself and he said yes he would like them to know that he’s on the stage and he’s Blind.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

how did you get into Audio Description from the jump? What made you interested in it?

KG:

Representation and equity and access has basically been a part of my life’s work. It started when I was two years old and I went with my Nana to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They had a residence there. We would go shopping, grocery shopping for the residence. That was the environment I grew up in with a grandmother who’s very interested in volunteerism and working to support communities who are traditionally marginalized. Growing up in downtown Toronto we got all kinds of beautiful skin colors and hair textures and heights and shapes and everything. My friends and my family were not being represented on stages or screens in this extremely diverse city.

Which put a bee in my bonnet.

TR:

My apologies for that rough language!
[
Too often when we hear the term diversity, it doesn’t always include all marginalized groups.

KG:

Cultural heritage, physical, neuro, gender fluidity, so diversity in its full spectrum.

TR:
]
Eventually Kat began working with Picasso Pro. An organization providing training and workshops to artists with disabilities who were not being represented on stage.

KG:

They were the ones who applied for funding and got a grant to bring a woman up from California, Deb Lewis. She was the one person who essentially seeded Canada with Audio Description. She taught the group on the west coast in Vancouver, 8 of us in Toronto, and then there’s also Stratford Ontario and they have the Stratford Festival. Since then Steph, who is the woman on the west coast trained some other people around the country but it’s still only like four or five groups of us in Canada.

TR:

I asked Kat to identify some opportunities for Blind and Low Vision people to participate in the creation of Audio Description. She’s actually seeking funding to develop such a practice.

KG:

The easiest one would be straight up the narration part of Audio Description. I also feel that there is room for people if they are interested in doing the post production for Audio Description as well. They would edit the sound files and mix it and make sure it’s up to broadcast specs. Leading teams who are providing the service in sort of management positions as well.

TR:

Of course, there’s quality control consultants. Not only do they provide feedback on the actual description

KG:

Every time I’m hired to do a workshop I always bring a community consultant with me. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to be teaching any skills about community when there’s no body from the community there. They’re going to know better what their needs are.

TR:

Not everyone involved with AD is familiar with people who are Blind and Low Vision. There’s a lot of power in personal interaction.

KG:

I also think probably it makes everything more immediate and more meaningful for the learners as well.

Kind of the concept of nothing about us without us.

TR:

That’s the perfect way to wrap up these last two episodes around Audio description

I challenge those in the business of AD and in fact, I’ll take this even further, any business that serves the disability community, if the community isn’t participating in that business in a non-consumer role, it’s time you ask yourself why. And it’s crucial you question any response that ultimately keeps a member of the community from doing so.

A big shout out to Kat Germain

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Now where can folks learn more about Kat Germain and what you do, your trainings and possibly contact you to get you to describe a conference?

KG:

Hint, hint! Or sports!

My website is www. KatGermain.com. That’s (spelled out) Kat Germain.com. There’s no E on the end of Germain.

TR:

She can be reached by email as well

KG:

At Kat @KatGermain.com

You can also contact me in Toronto as well. My area code is 647-292-3359.

TR:

Instagram and Twitter?

KG:

Kat_Germain

TR:

You can find links to Kat, transcripts to each episode and more on ReidMyMind.com

There’s only one way to make sure you don’t miss an episode…

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript