Archive for the ‘Access Technology’ Category

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!

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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!

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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!

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Transcript

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Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

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

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

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

TR:

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

Music continues…

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

If this is your first time here, welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

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

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

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

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

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

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

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

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

Hide the transcript

2018 Holman Prize : Blind Empowerment in Mexico

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

2018 Holman Prize winner Maria Conchita Hernandez smiling at the camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

Audio: “More Peas”, The J.B’s

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

I’m your host, T.Reid

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

Ladies, Gentlemen.

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Theme

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

Our first 2018 Holman Prize recipient is Maria Conchita Hernandez.

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

TR:

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

Conchita:

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

TR:

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

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

Conchita:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Audio Conchita Holman Prize Submission

TR:

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

So you don’t have access to public education.

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

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Wow!

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

TR:

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

the goal is 200 people .

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

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

TR:

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

Conchita:

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

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

TR:

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

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

Conchita:
Yeh, exactly! (Laugh)

TR:

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

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

Conchita:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR: Close

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

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

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

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

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

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

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

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

Conchita:

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

No Half Stepping with Loud Steps Indoor Navigation

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

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

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

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

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

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

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

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

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

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

I’d really love the feedback.

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

Audio: Stepping Out, Joe Jackson

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

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

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

TR:

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

PC:

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

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

PC:
No, we do not use beacons.

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

However, that could be significant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PC:

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

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

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

PC & TR Laugh…

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

[TR in conversation with PC]

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

PC:
Pokémon?

[TR in conversation with PC]
Pokémon, exactly!

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:
To contact Loud Steps…

PC:
www.loudsteps.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations, that’s your business.

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

But that’s really not how the world works.

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

Technology is about increasing options.

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

Options are good!

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

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I know what you’re thinking …

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

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

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

And..

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

TR:
He knows what he’s talking about!

Peace!

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