Archive for the ‘Access Technology’ Category

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

Walking the Walk with Day Al-Mohamed

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Day Al-Mohamed and guide dog Gamma
Today is the right day to shine the spotlight on Day Al-mohamed. We’re focusing on her creative endeavors such as writing books, short stories, comic books and scripts. now she adds Film director and Producer to her list of credits. Hear how she began writing, learned to produce a documentary on the virtually unknown disabled Civil War soldiers known as the “Invalid Corps” and provided yours truly with some early inspiration in my adjustment to Blindness process.

Plus, she shares a story and piece of American and disability history that I guarantee you haven’t heard.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Radio turning through different FM stations.

TR:
Rise and shine beautiful people.

Audio: Lovely Day, Bill Withers

You’re listening to WRMM better known as Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host T.Reid.

If you just stumbled across this station while turning the dial on your virtual radio, welcome!
This is the place where you’ll find stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by blindness and disability. When I’m in the mood or have something of interest to share about my own experience I’ll serve that up to you with a bit of my sofrito if you will. My combination of spices!

Today’s episode is long overdue and that’s my bad.

But, as it turns out, it’s just the right Day to tell you a story!

Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Day:

“I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.”

TR:

That’s Day Al Mohamed. She encompasses all of those things and more. An Advocate, someone pursuing her interests and a person with a disability.

Specifically on that last point, she’s a visually impaired guide dog user.

We’ll discuss her advocacy work of course, but there’s just something I find so cool about people pursuing their passion. for Day, that’s writing.

And just as she said, disability comes up!

Some of you may be familiar with Day from her time at the American Council of the Blind. But here’s something you may not know.

Day:

I think most people don’t realize even with a last name like Al-Mohamed they assume I’m American. I don’t have an accent when I speak English or anything like that. However, I was born and raised overseas in the Middle East in Bahrain. A small island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It’s like 15 miles across, it’s that small. I didn’t come to the US until I was 17.
[

It’s one of those things that people are like wow you’re actually a foreigner. Then I have to reveal the small cheat that my mother is American so … And then they go wow that must have been really rough for her because she’s an American and she went to this whole conservative like Middle Eastern country. And I’m like my mom was from Missouri so she went from conservative Mid West to conservative Mid-East. It was not that big of a change.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs… So did you go back to Missouri when you came back to the states?

Day:
I actually went to college there at the University of Missouri and stayed on there for law school as well. I think that’s kind of where I got my start with legislative issues and policy issues were actually there in the state.

TR:

Day was presented with An opportunity.

Following a discussion about sponsoring a bill around disability employment, a Missouri State Legislator decided:

Day:

“I should put my money where my mouth is, I should get a disabled intern. You know that’s what I should do just get a disabled intern.”

And so he just put out this call for a random disabled intern and I kind of randomly got it. When I showed up at his office he was like can you answer the phone can you talk to people. So he had no idea about the capacity of people with disabilities at all.

I think that’s kind of always stuck with me and I look for other people who kind of have that same walk the walk.

TR:

That sort of attitude can really pay off; for all involved.

Day:

And by the time I’m done he’s like “Hey I need you to write this up as an amendment for the floor Go, go, go

TR:

Ever since then, Day’s been moving.

Day:

you know when you get a job it kind of starts you down a path.
I ended up actually doing an internship at the US Senate in Ron Wyden’s office and so I ended up doing more policy work there.

Next I did law school and then I actually did some stuff with the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court
before there ever was an ICC over at the Haig in Europe. They were trying to design an build it over at the UN up in New York and so I got a chance to spend a good part of summer there working with folks who were on the commission and it was amazing .

TR:

Then Day learned that the American Council of the Blind was looking for a Director of Advocacy and Legislative Affairs. This gabe her the chance to go to D.C and work on national policy.

Throughout her career, she’s worked on a wide range of topics.

Day:

social welfare, employment, technology, education.

I actually worked on Missouri’s conceal carry.

I kind of ended up falling into doing more disability but in general I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.

I was with the American Psychological Association and for them I did do disability policy but I also did racial and ethnic minorities indigenous populations, some of there international development work. It was a nice mix in broad areas and I wanted to help them get started on creating an immigration portfolio because we were seeing a lot more activities in that rhelm and I think we had something to say.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Do you have a special area that is very close to your heart?

Day:

It’s hard to say because I tend to fall in love with all sorts of different things. Which I guess in many ways means I’m a Lobbyist at heart. That word gets such a bad rap but honestly all it is is an advocate who gets paid.

You learn how Congress works and then you find people who are the experts or you find people with stories to tell and then basically you are connecting those pieces

TR:

Yes, the pieces are connecting! This advocate, is a storyteller.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You can definiely talk that policy butI do want to get into the creative side.

I was looking on your website, DayAlMohamed.com, and you have a page that has different versions of your bio. What I thought was interesting was the policy stuff doesn’t come until the very end. The last two versions, the long version, but the other versions are really focused in on the creative endeavors, your writing. Am I reading into that too much? Is that your focus, do you really like to focus in that area?

Day:

I think part of it is (ahem!) I need to redo my website. Laughs!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs!

Day:

For anybody looking at DayAlMohamed.com I’m trying to get it to split. One is Day in Washinton which is where I cover all of my policy work and that’s where you’ll find some policy analysis and disability related stuff.
One of the things I’ve been doing , it’s almost 10 years now is writing fiction and in the last couple of years I’ve been doing more and more writing . I write fantasy and science fiction so we have books, short stories, a couple of comic book scripts, although it’s not fantasy and science fiction I recently put out a 30 minute film and I have 4 or 5 other short films as well. And so there’s been a lot more of the creative stuff.

It started out as something to do when I first came to Washington DC. My wife actually stayed back in Missouri to finish her degree and so if you’re away from your spouse for along period of time it gets kind of boring but it also gets kind of lonely so I signed up for a writing group. and started meeting with them.

I cannot laud enough the benefit of joining a group. You have other people who are striving for the same thing you’re doing. You have people who can kind of act as a sounding board for ideas, folks to critique. Having that kind of ability to have people to do that it only makes your writing better. I would say no good writing ever came out of a cave.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So let me anticipate a question that someone would have when they hear that. Someone new adjusting to blindness would say well what about the fact that I’m blind and I’m assuming that wasn’t a blind writing group

Day:

It was not.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

How did that play. And you know, obviously this is something you’ve been doing for a long time but did that play into it in anyway?

Day:

Not as much as I thought it would. Really,..

[TR in conversation with Day:]
How did you think it would . And I’m sorry to cut you off but I want to get that…

Day:

No, no I think it’s a good one.

I think I worried that I wouldn’t be seen as a serious writer, which never happened. Or that they would question my capacity which also never happend. The group always made a point of meeting somehwere that was metro accessible. And we’re in the DC area so they were like well yeh not everybody drives and although at that time everybody else did drive they continued to make a point to only choose metro accessible areas. Even though I know that for a couple of metings it got very tough trying to find a location.

TR:

The benefits go beyond access.

Day:

There was one member who was a copy editing guru and oh my god the number of times she yelled at me about misplaced commas which you know with a screen reader is not necessarily the easiest thing to find when you put them in wrong and to go back and read to figure out where you got it. She was nice about it but she certainly still expected me to make sure I followed through on that .

That I had a strong story arc, character development. All the same kind of things. So realistically it end up with there not being any real difference blind or sighted.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice, nice!

TR:

It was a nice experience for Day.

Unfortunately, she did mention how some people with disabilities reported negative experiences in other writing groups. That however, shouldn’t deter you.

Day:

I would encourage anybody, if you want to write go find a group and do it. Make a point of talking to other people about their ideas or ask them about their ideas. You can also find out about how other people have built things.

Find a group that meets regularly and a lot of things are like anything else they tel you. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

TR:

Ocasionally you may find the support going beyond notes on character development or punctuation. Llike the time day was feeling less than confident about her work.

Day:

“Oh my God I’m the biggest hack on the planet. I never want to write another word again.”
And she’s like we’re going to go out and drink some wine.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s cool. That’s a nice supportive group.

I think for folks who are adjusting and new to it, it’s refreshing in a sense to know that it’s ok to have that doubt in the beginning. So you still were concerned about it but you went through with it. That’s a really important thing I think for people to grasp.

Day:

I think even if it’s a recent loss and it’s kind of tough and you’re struggling it’s a good excuse to get out . It’s a good excuse to start thinking of things you can do. What does it requirewell one is reading books so you can get an idea of what is out there and the second is trying to put your own thoughts down and whether that is personal journaling that you share with no one. Essays about your own transition or putting together fiction it’s all that same process.

I find it therapeutic but at the same time I look at it more professionally.

The more you do it the more you start finding other people like you.

TR:

Specifically other people like author of The Duff, Kody Keplinger, who’s book was made into a movie. She by the way is Blind.

Day:

Recently I had an essay that was published with one of the big Science Fiction magazines and the editor is Deaf Blind. I was like hey there’s more of us out there than you know once you start looking

TR:

Yet, it’s still a pretty big challenge to find us in the pages of books, screen plays and scripts.

Day:

I think one of the reasons I like science fiction is because it tends to be more future looking. A lot of it is very political. Things people don’t want to deal with today they’ll look at in Science Fiction.

One of the biggest problems with science fiction in general though is it
does not usually portray disability. If it does it portrays it very poorly. So basically, we don’t exist in the future. I have a huge pet peeve with that.

TR:

What would you expect then from a self described Lobbyist at heart – who uses stories to help advocate for those things that she’s passionate about.

Day:

So part of me is like I want to write it. You know we’re there. Not everything gets cured. That’s not how it works, that’s not how people work.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Talk to me about any Sci-Fi films or books that reflect a positive image of disability. Are there any?

Day:

Ooh

There’s one book it’s actually book 2 in a series.

I think the first book is called The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The second book is called The Broken Kingdom. It’s by N.K. Jemisin. The protagonist is actually blind.

It’s a fantasy setting. Most of the time when you think fantasy people think like Game of Thrones. They think swords and wizards, it’s very Eurocentric

what Jemesen did is she does this in a lot of her things
she actually builds fantasy that is not. Culturally a lot of it is more African than anything else. And I love that. I love it. I’m seeing parts of the world reflected and cultures you don’t normally see reflected, that you don’t normally think of as fantasy.

I think this last year Jemesen won the Hugo Award think about it as Science Fiction’s Oscars. She won it for the third year in a row. Nobody has ever won it three times.

TR:

Day’s love of writing goes beyond genre and form.

Day:

When I started writing I actually didn’t want to write novels I wanted to do film scripts. It requires a team so I wasn’t sure I could do that as a Blind person so I kind of slid in to doing the novels and the other writing.

I had built up enough cache that I felt secure in my writing and so I actually went to a couple of local film groups. DC Film Makers and I also visited Womens Film and Video. They meet every month and they do … we’re gonna doa movie. Who wants to do different roles. It was a chance to try and experiment a little bit.

I originally came out going I’m just going to be the writer. Guess what I can do writing, no big deal. So I started meeting some other folks doing that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, so now, when you started that you said something so I think it revealed a little bit more…

(laughs)

Day:

Laughs…

]

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I’m peeling back some stuff here.

Day:

Here wwe go!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You said that originally the intention there was to go for film.

Day:

Yes.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, so when you were younger was that the thing you kind of wanted to do?

Day:

As a kid, nah, I think it was still novels that were my thing. But when I first started writing in DC and I found that writing group the first stuff I submitted to them were scripts.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, I gotcha!

So when did the interest in film come into play?

Day:

I don’t know! I may have to think about that because I don’t know!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

And probably the reason that I’m asking, well number one, I’m interested.

I’m in this process now of kind of going back into events from my past sort of thing right, and then seeing where these interestsstarted and its just been interesting to me. So i ask everybody right now (laughing) I’m like do you know where your thing started from. (Fading out)

(Fading in) It’s a really cool thing because it’s like oh wait, I’m supposed to be doing this because I’ve always been interested in it. And that’s what that process kind of unveiled for me. I think it’s probably the same for a lot of people. I’m just letting you know, there’s something there. Which is great. Which means you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Day:

I tend to like a lot of the writing so film, I like the short stories I really like doing the novella length work and I had a good time working on the two comics that I did. It was a lot of fun.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Visual, it’s comics, but you wrote it.

[
Day:

I wrote it. I was partnered with some really good artists and the nice thing is generally in comics the decisions of what the art images are supposed to be is usually left to the artist.

TR:
Quick recap.

Day decided to pursue her interest; writing. Ultimately she was interested in writing for film, but she was uncertain how she could go about that being Blind.

Then she found her “in”. It’s specific to her, but the idea is universal.

She found a bridge or a means of getting her to her destination. In this case, writing films.

There can be multiple ways to create such a bridge. Sometimes it’s having someone close to you to share in the experience.

Day:

As the fun couple thing, my wife and I usually take turns a couple of times a year. We pick out something we want to do. She picked ballroom dancing one fall so a few years ago I said I want to do a film class and I want you to do it with me because I don’t think I can do it. There’s that as a Blind person I don’t know how it would work. I’m totally secure in writing one and I’ve been meeting with these other film groups so I have an idea how it works but I don’t know if I can actually do it. Getting cameras and all these other thingngs working well , so she said sure.

We signed up for a film classwith Adel Schmidt, who’s with Docs in progress – which is a documentary organization in Silver Springs. I’m just going to call her out by name because she was awesome. She’s like yeh, I’m not sure if you can either but let’s just go with it and see if we can figure it out.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice!

Day:

She says you always start with the story.

It was like a 6 to 8 week class. You should have a one or two minute either short film or clip or trailer.

So you write out the narrative about what you want to say. You need to make sure it has a good narrative arc , it has rising tension and a climax. All the things you want in good writing. Then you record the whole thing.

Audibly reading the script. That helps give you the timing.

Then figuring out what images you want to slotin at what time.

So I know at 1 minute and 10 seconds where I say this I probably want an image of this. And being able to kind of almost wriggle this grid of what the film would look like.

And then you can go to either finding a way to record the film or finding images that already match that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So is that storyboarding?

Day:

Right, I guess you could say it kind of was storyboarding out the whole thing.

We figured out that would be a way that I could control what was happening when making the film. It’s not somebody else making it and then me going here are the images that I think and then if we did or didn’t get those what would be the next alternative. Let me see if that works Maybe I need to change the language and then slot in the images. We talked about would there be good transitions and how to do those. I’ll admit the transitions I had to rely on somebody else to figure out whether it looked really great or not. And then adding a layer of sound effects and then a layer of music on top of that. When I got done that’s what the trailer to The Invalid Corps is. And I used that for my Kickstarter video to fund making the 30 minute documentary.

At least now I know I have a way to make videos that this will work where I can say I control it. It’s mine because there was always that little bit of doubt that if I did it with somebody else oh yeh the the person who is sighted really made the film. With this one there was no question who made it.

Audio: Civil War Marching Drums…

TR:

The Civil War, is the setting for The story of the Invalid Corps.

Day:

My wife is the Archivist at the University of Maryland , University College she does all sorts of historical research and she often heard about them because there was this song and it ended up being real popular in the 1880’s but it really made fun of them. I’m like what is this Invalid Corps. So I started playing around on the internet and finding out more and a little bit more and then I’m like wait a minute, there’s a lot more to this.

Audio: The Invalid Corps (Song)

Day:

We hhear about how many amputations there were and how many injuries and how many deaths, but nobody ever stopped to ask what happened to those guys after they were injured or after they lost a limb.

TR:

Low on man power, rather than discharging injured soldiers, an all disabled regiment was created.

They did things like;

guard supply stations, trains and other property
Work in hospitals and prisons

Day:

They created 24 separate regiments.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Confederate?

Day:

Union.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, good! Laughs.

Day:

They did a lot more than people give them credit
for.

It’s a pretty awesome story.

Audio: Snare drum: colonial marching…
So the year is 1684. The war has been going on for three years now. General Grant’s making his final push through Petersberg and on to Richmond to take them down at the end.

He pulls every soldier, every able bodied soldier out of the North and basically their all marching on to Richmond.

So he’s putting a lot of pressure on Robert E Lee. They can’t get out they can’t get supplies. In this kind of desperate attempt to break that siege Robert E Lee sends General Jubal Early, this Confederate General, he sends him North…”Cause as much trouble as you can”

Here’s the issue, because Grant had pulled everybody out there wasn’t really anybody to stop Early . So Early heads North through Virginia and rather than crossing at Harpers Fall he goes up and around through Maryland and then he comes down South towards DC — think of a reverse question mark.

Because there’s nobody there to stop him, he makes it all the way to Fort Stevens which is about 4 miles North of the Capital.

There’s nobody there except some clerks, some government officials, and this Invalid Corps.

You got these Invalid soldiers on the wallsof Fort Stevens and in front of the fort basically having to hold out against like 15,000 Confederate soldiers.

Until Grant suddenly realizes “Oh my God we’re about to lose the Capital! puts the entire Civs Corps on boats and sends them up river going as fast as they can to get to Washington before Early does.

These guys hold out for 24 hours until reinforcements arrive.

The thing is Abraham Lincoln was on the Ramparts of the Fort that day and they even took pot shots at him. They ended up shooting a soldier who was a few feet away from him. They could have taken down the Union or at least taken out the Presidency.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Wow! That’s an awesome story!

Day:

I know!

History that’s kind of gotten lost and there’s some amazing things. One of the soldiers, he was assigned to the Provost Marshall’s Office, so people knew of him as a Provost Marshall soldier but He’d actually had a disability and was with the Invalid Corps and they just decided to put him there. He was one of the guys doing the detective work to figure out who assassinated Lincoln. So he helped with the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. So he’s like I know where he is. He was doing the tracking, but he was called back to Washington so if was a different unit that got the prestige of saying they caught him. Well, basically he died!

The soldiers who were supposed to guard the conspirators, all of them were Invalid Corps.

The only soldiers who were allowed to carry Lincoln’s caufinalso was that unit.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow!

Day:

I know!

This piece of history, basically disability history that nobody has really researched or talked about.

TR:

A significant amount of research time went into creating this documentary. It’s not as though there are books available on the topic.

According to Day, there are a couple of people currently working on writing them now.

In the meantime, the documentary is done and ready for the festival circuit.

Day:

I want to give it a year where I’m sending to festivals and trying to look for places to screen it and after that I’ll look at finding ways that people purchase it.

It has both captioning and audio description.

The film was crowd funded Shout out to all of the amazing people who helped fund that.

As a part of supporting disability creativity sort of thing, I think there are maybe one or 2 exceptions and this is out of a couple of dozen.

Every single person who has worked on that film either has a disability or is a veteran.

It’s not like I asked flat out going do you have a disability because the 2 I don’t know about I didn’t really ask.

I wanted to make that a part of the way the film was made.

TR:

I get the sense that “walking that walk” and pursuing one’s intrests, aren’t just personal practices for Day. It appears to be a message she spreads.

I want a talk about your bucket list.

Number 1 that is so cool and scary at the same time. I said Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I would want to put out my bucket list because it kind of keeps you accountable because people are going to be watching it.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Which is a great idea. And then I saw that you challenge people to put their own bucket list . I started reading that and I was like awh damn!

Day:
It’s accountability but it also gives a picture of who you are to other people and it encourages other people to go yeh, what do I want and where do I want to go.

You’re doing this thinking where you going back and looking where you started. I think a natural out growth of that is a bucket list looking forward.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I never really considered doing one. I never really did, that’s something I’m going to take away and start thinking about.

Two things from your bucket list I found kind of interesting.

How are you doing with the guitar? You have an electric and an acoustic now?

Day:
Yeah, I do. I still only know like 6 chords.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s not bad

Day:

It’s not bad but I still need to work a little bit more on it.It’s actually one of the very few things I do that I can say is just for me and only me. And one of the only things I find relaxing. I have a hard time whinding down.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

The reason I ask you that is I got me a guitar a couple of years ago also an electric. My daughter has an acoustic and I kind of took that and started playing and now I like the acoustic better. It’s more forgiving than the electric.
Similarly I find it very relaxing. I have to get back into it because I had a little carpel tunnel…

I do want to someday be able to play with some other folks. I think that would be cool.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That might be on my bucket list.

Day:

You know when the best time to have and use a guitar, Christmas. If I could do 5 Christmas songs. they aren’t usually that complicated. Everybody knows a Christmas song. I have a whole year to come up with 5 songs. That means I need to learn one every other month.
I could do that that’s not terrible.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I’m gonna have to checkup see how you’re doing. Laughs

Day:

Laughs I’m gonna be in so much trouble come Christmas.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Now you have one on there number 5 and it says something about being a mentor /inspiration. I don’t think I told you that in 2006, that was my first PCB Conference.

Day:

Was it really?

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Pennsylvania Council of the Blind . That was the first time you were there.

Day:

I do not believe that man, when you rolled in with so much swagger. Come one. Seriously.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Yeah, That’s just that New York thing!

Basically two years after losing my sight.We were a new chapter and I was one of the folks who started the chapter out here in this county. I just learned so much that week. You were a big , big part of that learning. You did a keynote at that banquet and it was all about whose in your audience.

Day:

Yeah!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I know, I remember this. And so I really took a lot away from that.

Then later on in 2007, was my first time going to the ACB Legislative Seminar and once again there you were. You were talking about Eugenics and disability. And againI’m very new to disability at that point. So you truly opened my mind and inspired me to kind of dig deeper into what disability means and what it doesn’t mean. I think you should reconsider number 5

I think that this interview has been long overdue. You know I get a little nervous too. I look at certain people as inspiration and I usually don’t like to use the word but in this case it does apply.

Day:

Well thank you . That totally makes my night. Actually it totally makes my year. That’s kind of awesome!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs.

That’s along overdue thing I should have told you.

TR:

I truly mean that. It’s not only long over do that I share that story with her, but to also share Day’s story with the RMM Radio Family.

Thinking about it, this actually is the perfect time. This episode is a great follow up to the last; Disability Representation in Media

Day is telling stories including disability whether in the subject matter like the Invalid Corps, the inclusion of characters and of course making it all accessible.

And she’s continuing to inspire yours truly, this time not as much from a far.

Day:

So I got to ask, what are you thinking about writing?

[TR in conversation with Day]

(Breathes in deeply!) Laughs!

Day:

You hinted at it, you hinted at it! I’m not letting it go.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow! You know what I always wanted to do. And this would be something that’s on my bucket list. That’s why I was interested in the documentary. I love documentaries. Like I love that.

I’m really just trying to figure out what that specific topic is what that story is that I want to tell. I do love stories, period.

Day:

Well awesome. You should totally do it.

TR:

Big shout out to Day Al-Mohamed.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Day, I truly, truly appreciate this. Thank you so much it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Day:

Well, I am so glad you invited me to be on your show. I kind of love listening to it so I’m like look, look I’m on the podcast!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Laughs!

TR:

How cool is that?

Does that make you want to pursue that thing you always wanted to do?

You too can find a way to take you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. It may not be a direct connection, but remember, it’s not necessarily about the destination it’s all in the journey.

I hope this podcast can serve as a bridge for those adjusting to blindness and disability. Connecting this group of people with cool blind and disabled people. Exposing them to new ways of thinking about disability.

Since this conversation I’ve already been doing a lot more thinking about creating a documentary. I believe it’s something I could really do!

I’ll have to add that to my bucket list.

You can check out Day’s bucket list with over 150 items. Plus so much more about policy, writing and more.

Day:

My websites:
DayInWashington or DayAlMohamed.com
If you ran a search on Amazon you can find all my books and writings.
I still have a lot of fun on Twitter That’s my name @DayAlMohamed

TR:

Remember, if there’s a guest or a topic that you want to hear from or about let me know. Chances are if you’re interested so are others. Here’s how you can get in touch, but first, stay in the know, don’t miss a show.

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

Beyond the Sea with the Blind Captain

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Ahmet Ustenel paddling his kayak with scenic mountains off to the side.
Continuing our check in with the 2017 Holman Prize winners I speak with Ahmet Ustenel. When we last spoke with him he was preparing to kayak the Bosphorus Strait.

Take a listen to hear all about the technology developed to help him independently navigate his kayak from Turkey to Asia. We’ll learn about the pressures, lessons learned and hear from his team.

As you’ll hear in this episode, this trip represents much more than a kayak adventure… it goes beyond the sea!

When you’re done… Subscribe:
Apple Podcast, Google Podcast Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.
Follow @tsreid on Twitter

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up everyone?
I hope you all are doing well.

Hmm, I think I see a few new faces out there today?

Ok, this is pre-recorded radio so I can’t see faces.
Oh wait , I’m blind so I can’t see faces!

If you are new to the podcast, welcome.

Reid My Mind Radio is not only my space to demonstrate my corny humor, but it’s also a place to highlight topics and people I find compelling.
Occasionally, I share stories from my experience adjusting to blindness as an adult.

This is a welcoming space where I hope every episode provides a bit of thought, empowerment and a hint of entertainment.

Today, we’re continuing with our updates from the 2017 Holman Prize winners.
For the newbies, this is the point where I usually find some way to bring in my intro music…

Rather than doing that this week I thought I’d share a poem.
Now, I used to write rhymes as a teenage but these were raps for the lunch room.

But after a bit of inspiration, I figured, this is a safe space so I’ll share.

Ahem! (Clears throat)

Some states are red
Others are blue
Let’s all unite
over my theme music Boo!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

Audio: Siri: “Facetime Audio”
Face time phone ringing…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Hey, Ahmet!

Ahmet:
Hey Thomas!

TR:
Ahmet Ustenel, the Blind captain is back!
Here’s how he introduced himself in the original 2017 episode.

Ahmet:
I am originally from Turkey. I have been in the US for about 11 years now.
In my free time I like water sports. I like swimming, kayaking, fishing, sailing.

I’m totally blind since the age of two and a half or three due to Retinoblastoma.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

I’m also a Retinoblastoma survivor Sir.

Ahmet:
Man, yeh, wow!

TR:

While we share the same childhood eye cancer, our experiences were different. Ahmet lost his eyes around 3 years old. I lost one as a child and the other as an adult due to a second cancer.
When I brought you his story last year, he was in the early stages of preparing to Kayak the Bosphorous Straits.
He explains

Ahmet:
##Istanbul is a city on both continents. And we have this Bosporus Strait that separates the city into two different parts. And the area I’m going to cross is about three, three and a half miles which is not a big physical challenge, but it has heavy traffic.

A lot of ships like tankers, containers, fishing boats, tourist boats, sailing boats you know all kinds of stuff.

I’m not worried about the physical challenge – I can paddle you know three miles right now, no big deal. Being an expert using the technology is the key because I don’t want to have hesitation right in the middle of the shipping channel you know. That could be fatal.

TR:

One piece of off the shelf technology or downloadable app wouldn’t do the full job for Ahmet’s project.

It requires customized devices.

Ahmet had to be more than head navigator of his kayak and provide the leadership enabling his team to accomplish the goal.

Ahmet:
You plan everything.

The physical part – I have to go train and find people to train with and then I need to figure out my logistics. Like even simple things like how to carry my kayak. I have the technology part and I have to find people to work on those technologies.

TR:

In addition to all of that, this is an international project so there are additional logistics to coordinate.

But lots of things can force a change to any plan. Especially technology.

Ahmet:
Something works great in a nice dry environment, but when you put it on a kayak (laughs) it gets Corroded and you need to eliminate maybe external batteries or external cables.

We needed to redesign. there was a lot of trial and errors until pretty much a couple of weeks before the crossing.

TR:

While managing all of the moving parts and people associated with this project, Ahmet continued working full time as a Special Education Teacher.

One of those people heavily invested in the project is Marty Stone.

An AT&T project manager who was creating a device to help Ahmet navigate his course.
Marty:
I’m just one of those people who likes tinkering with things.

TR:

I caught up with Marty to hear his thoughts on the project.
Marty:
Well you know things of course always go slowly. We nearly ran out of time but we got some really nice help from AT&T. What’s known as the Internet of Things Foundry. There’s several of them. This one was in Houston Texas.

Ahmet:
Marty was actually in Turkey.

TR:
Now that’s a true indication of what this project means to Marty. After working throughout the year, traveling to Turkey to further show his support for Ahmet and the project.
Marty:

I got to meet Ahmet for the first time. Quite an emotional experience!

Audio: Turkish Drum instrumental music

TR:

Let’s go back to this past July 2018 to
Ahmet along with his family and team in Turkey, preparing to set off on his journey across the Bosphorous.

Ahmet steers us through the big day.

Ahmet:
First of all, my idea was crossing on the 22nd without telling the Coast Guard, without telling the Traffic Control.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughing… Editor’s note — in full support of this idea!

Ahmet:
Like a pirate crossing.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughing… Yeah!

Ahmet:
Quietly with just one support kayak in case something goes wrong my coach will be following me. But then the word got out and a lot of people heard about it . The Coast Guard heard, the traffic Control heard about it and then they said oh, no no no no you cannot do that.

TR:

The Coast Guard now aware of our blind pirate Ahmet’s intentions decided to slow traffic and give him a window of time to make the crossing – 90 minutes to be exact plus they changed the launch date to the 21st.

Ahmet:

I said ok, you know we’re going to do it officially. That’s cool!

Then in the morning of crossing I was at the Marina just you know getting ready to prepare. We were having tea. We were not even close to our kayaks yet and I get a radio message.

“You have an hour to get ready and cross”
Audio: As if over walkie talkie radio

I was like woh! I was expecting an 11 o’clock start and I got the message at 9.

TR:

Not only rushing through the process of assembling the kayak, Ahmet had to speed up his mental preparation. And then there’s all of the technology.

Marty:
Nothing ever happens as you expect or as you planned.

TR:
Marty should know, he’s a project manager after all.

Marty:
Unfortunately, at the last minute we had a hardware failure. on the system.

It was the keypad . So he was no longer able to enter any commands.

We had recorded a trip the day before and we were getting ready for him to play that trip back and basically follow the course but we couldn’t get the system to take a command because the keyboard had shorted out.

Thankfully there was a backup system. Not what we worked so hard to have him use but it was a backup system that worked nonetheless. So very grateful for that.

TR:
We return to Ahmet in his kayak ready to set sail and cross over to Asia.

Ahmet:

When I was on the water
I got another message
saying

Note: Sounds like coming from Walkie talkie
“you only have an half hour to cross”

My original route was going to the other side, go under the bridge and make a U-turn and come back to the other side. So it would be like 90 minutes crossing both sides with some you know nice view and stuff, but when I heard I have only a half an hour I said ok you know can I even make it to the other side in half an hour. (Laughs)

Audio: Under Pressure, Queen

TR:

“Can I make it to the other side?”

Sounds like a simple question, but for Ahmet it symbolized the pressure that accumulated throughout the process.

Ahmet:

I felt so much pressure.

People were focusing so much on the crossing, but actually it was a lot more than that. The background of the project was a yearlong even longer than that. All people see is can you do it or not.

So many people actually worked on this. It was a team effort a team project. So many layers and so many people and so many organizations were involved. And I felt like I really don’t want to disappoint people. People traveled from US. they came to Turkey to support. I had a lot of people in Turkey as well. If I fail was going to try it again anyway but I felt like if I failed all these people will be so disappointed or they will feel like they failed.

TR:

After a year of planning, now sitting in the kayak with all of the people there to support.

Even reporters and others from the media are there to find out whether he can make it to the other side.

Now, the extra pressure of only having a half hour to complete what he estimates is a 90 minute trip.

Ahmet:
I start paddling…

Audio: sounds of oar and kayak increasing in speed…

I think that was the fastest I paddled in my life.

When I heard cheering on the other side …
Audio: Sound of crowd cheering

I was like woh that’s it. It was only like 20 minutes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

Laughs!

Ahmet:
Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
You were moving then,huh!

Ahmet:
Yeh, I was moving man. Adrenaline rush.

TR:

He just about doubled his average kayaking speed from 4 or 5 miles an hour to about 7 or 8.

On top of that, he was dealing with boats getting too close taking pictures along with spying drones hovering above.

Ahmet:

It was not a quiet and relaxing paddle. Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

Laughs…

TR:

the Holman Prize is after all, all about adventure.
How much adventure is in everything going according to plan.

Yes, he completed the trip across the Bosphorous, but there are other measures of success. Like, the level of enthusiasm and commitment from his team. Like Marty Stone.

Marty:

What an amazing person. (Sniffles ) Sorry, it’s hard not to be emotional

[TR in conversation with Marty:]
Nah, I get it.
When he (Ahmet )was going through the story of what happened throughout the year one of the things that stuck out to me was once it started he realized ok, wow, there’s other people involved. He was worried about you all his team. He didn’t want to let you all down. And I’m like Dude?… (Laughs)

Marty:
Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Marty:]
He had a lot of pressure, just talking to him.

Marty:
Oh! Oh no kidding!

He’s a super hero man he really is. And I’ve talked to him I said yes, crossing the Bosphorous going from Asia to Europe, wow, that was the main deal. But everything you’ve done to get to that point . You know you’re an amazing project manager I told him, you’re an amazing inspiration.

TR:
I know that word inspiration, for those in the disability community can be a sort of trigger.

Often misused towards a person with a disability.
As in exclaiming a blind person is amazing for completing the most trivial task.

These sort of praises are often more indicative of the other persons low expectations.

However , Marty and Ahmet have been working together for over a year. Marty’s compliments appear to be based on Ahmet’s actual work.

No shots fired!

Marty:
Think of all the things you had to do in order to pull this off and then you pulled it off. I said you got some real important knowledge here that no one else has.

TR:

Along with improving his physical and technical kayaking skills, the most important success metrics are probably those things that Ahmet himself gained from the experience.

Ahmet:
I learned about technology. I learned about myself.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
What did you learn about yourself.?

Ahmet:
When I have a goal, a big goal, I work better, I work hard. But if I just have some idea in my mind with no clear goals and objectives then I go off track.

I’m 38 years old I had a lot of ideas a lot of projects but sometimes I didn’t have enough motivation to start. But now I realize if I started then like 10 15 years ago most of them would be done by now and I felt like man you know I lost time but it’s not too late. I can still do stuff.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Yeah man, you’re young. I’m turning 50 so…
Editor’s note – birthday wishes welcomed as I already turned 50. 😉

Laughs…

Ahmet:
Laughs. Yeah, we have time man!

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Yeah, absolutely.

Ahmet:

When you have something in your mind, don’t lose time. That’s my new approach. Just start somewhere and it’s going to happen.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Your skill set from this has probably greatly improved. Project management, you’re leading teams . Do you see any relationship to your career and then also I have a feeling you’re going to be a little rougher on your students. Laughs!

Ahmet:
Laughs…

I always seen myself as a team member. Whenever I worked on a project I was a good team member, but I haven’t seen myself usually as a leader in the team. But after this project actually I was coordinating a lot of stuff. I was managing a lot of stuff and now I realize actually I might have some leadership skills as well. That’s a very important thing to know about yourself. I feel like I can take more responsibilities in the school district now or do some other projects with different organizations.

In terms of career, I think I will be teaching for a long time. I like teaching But in addition to teaching I might take some different roles in the district or in some different organizations in the Bay area.

Maybe I might do some recreational stuff with some blindness organizations.

In terms of being rough on the students I was always rough on students

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs…

Ahmet:
Expectations are high. There’s no slacking for students.

TR:

After managing all of the moving parts of the project, the pressure and last minute changes I wondered if Ahmet had plans for more adventures.

Ahmet:

It was a life changing event for me this year. I got the bug now.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs…

Ahmet:
I cannot stop now. I cannot stop. I have to think about my next project.

TR:

That bug apparently, is contagious. Ahmet says Marty too was bit!

Ahmet:

He was excited as I was about everything. When we finished crossing he was like wait a minute, this is not the end . You know we will start new projects, we will keep working on this. So right after he came back to US he started working on a new device. laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs… Alright!

TR:

In fact, when I reached out to Marty he was working on hardware changes improving on the original design.

In my first conversation with Ahmet, prior to him taking on this adventure, I asked him why.

Ahmet:

Everything could be adapted. Everything could be more accessible, that’s what I want to show. I don’t want it to be a success story of one person … he’s blind but he did that, he did this. It doesn’t mean anything you know one person did this.

He had a network of people, all in different locations, exchanging information with a shared goal.

Like teammate Marty Stone.

Audio: Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye

Marty:

Complete strangers can get together and do something amazing together. Volunteers, nobody got paid fr this. We put our heart and soul into this to help out another human being.

If human beings can do stuff like that, why is it that we still have people being separated at the border and we’re not able to treat our neighbors with respect?

Audio: Wind blowing…
The following audio clips taken from news items fade in from left and right.

a. The Caravan of South Americans seeking Asylum in the US
b. The over 13 pipe bombs sent to critics of 45
c. The 2 African Americans killed by a White Nationalist Terrorist in Kentucky
d. The 11 Jewish worshipers killed by a Nazi White Nationalist Terrorist in Pittsburgh.
– Wind blows

Marty:

From a species standpoint, we’re capable of so much wonderful greatness and yet we’re also just able to be just really horrible nasty creatures.
I still marvel in the fact that a whole group of people who didn’t know each other pulled together and made something really beautiful happen for another person. And if we can do that, hell we should be able to straighten out our problems.

Audio: Makes me wanna holla, throw up both my hands”, Marvin Gaye
TR:

Ahmet’s journey offers a chance to represent more than its face value for anyone interested enough to see it.

It’s more than kayaking.

He created a proof of concept. providing the power for a self-navigating water vessel. Expanding on methods for blind and low vision people to independently participate in activities like kayaking, rowing, canoeing.

Now Ahmet wants to share all of his accumulated kayaking knowledge here in the states and Turkey.

Ahmet:
Just introduce kayaking to blind people. Independent kayaking using the devices we made.
Just empowering people.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

That sounds awesome!
Man, I salute you the Blind Captain…

Ahmet:
Warmly laughing…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
The Blind Captain, baby! Yeah, alright!
Laughing…
My man! Laughing…
I’m so happy for you!

TR:

How could you not be happy for someone who becomes empowered and wants to share that with others.

I’m reminded of our first conversation in 2017 when Ahmet described his relationship with the water.

Ahmet:

I always loved the water, it’s my happy place. It’s the place I feel good about myself I feel free.

Audio: A very calm kayak moving through the water.
Fades into sounds of 45 at a rally, news commentators recapping the deaths and current events.

Fades back to the peaceful sounds of the kayak on the water.
TR:

Free! That does sound good!

Ahmet’s planning to take a month and camp and kayak the coast of Turkey’s Black Sea.

He’s not sailing off into the sunset just yet.
He and his journey are part of a documentary currently in production. And he knows he has to come back to the family – the Reid My Mind Radio family and let us know more when the time is right.

You know the time is always right to subscribe to this podcast. You can do that on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or your favorite podcast app. All you have to do is search for Reid My Mind Radio. That’s R to the E I D!

Don’t miss the next episode where we catch up with our favorite Social Entrepreneur, Bee Keeper and honey farmer Mr. Ojok Simon.

Until next time where I once again strive to answer the question that started this podcast in 2014.

Ahmet:
Can you do it or not!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Blind Travel Network – A Holman Prize Win for You Too

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

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

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

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

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

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

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

TR:

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

Music continues…

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

If this is your first time here, welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

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

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

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

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

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

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

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

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

Hide the transcript