Archive for the ‘Access Technology’ Category

Flipping the Script on Audio Description – Access 4 All

Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

“I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.”

Headshot, Maria Victoria Diaz
Maria Victoria Diaz PhD, an Electrical Engineer left Colombia to help “Flip the Script” not only on Audio Description but access in general for native Spanish speaking people.

President of Dicapta & Chair of Dicapta Foundation, her efforts continue to prove that creating access for one group can benefit others as well. In this episode hear about ;
* The struggle for Spanish AD
* Access 4 All – Dicapta Foundation’s solution assuring Audio Description can be shared across platforms.
* Go CC – providing access for the Deaf Blind to content and emergency information
… and more.

It’s fitting that I open this episode with my own Spanish translation.

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Resources

Transcript

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TR:

Reid My Mind Radio Family! Before we get into this latest episode, I need your help.
I want to take Reid My Mind Radio to the next level, that’s making it a sustainable venture.
But I need to know more about you, the listener. I’d really appreciate if you could take a few moments to fill out
a quick survey. Just go to ReidMyMind.com and hit the link that says , hmm, what should I call it?… Survey!

— Music Begins A mid-tempo Reggaeton Hip Hop influenced groove.

TR:

Greetings, my beautiful brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
You know, the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of
blindness and disability

TR in Spanish:
Saludos, mis hermosos hermanos y hermanas.
Bienvenido a otro episodio de Reid My Mind Radio.
Ya sabes, el podcast que presenta
a personas atractivas
afectadas por todos
los grados de ceguera y discapacidad.

TR:
We’re continuing with our Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

TR in Spanish:
Continuamos con nuestra serie Flipping the Script en Audio Description.

TR:
By now, you should have an idea of where we’re going in this episode. If not, give me a moment for my theme music, and then I’ll introduce you to my new friend and she’ll make it clear.

TR in Spanish:
A estas alturas, debería tener una idea de hacia dónde vamos en este episodio.
Si no, dame un momento para mi tema musical, y luego te presentaré a mi nueva amiga y ella te lo dejará claro.
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

MV Diaz:
“I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.”

TR:

That’s Maria Victoria Diaz.

MV Diaz:
I used to be Maria Victoria and now I’m just Maria, in this country.

TR:

I like people to feel at home around me.
And she said I can call her Vicky.

— Music begins –
MV Diaz:
I’m from Colombia. I’m Latina. I have tan skin and brown eyes, my hair is over my shoulders usually is how I wear my hair.

I’m the President of the Dicapta and the director of the board of the Dicapta Foundation.
I’m an electronic engineer. I’m hard of hearing.
My pronouns, she/hers.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Tell me a little bit about you. And let’s start with how you became interested in audio description.

MV Diaz:
I started working as an engineer in a television company in my country.
The first time that I saw captions in my country was working in television, and I was like, What is that for?

I started to be interested in captions.
Specifically being hard of hearing, that was like natural to be interested in that kind of service.

Then I started working, specifically researching about accessibility features, specifically, to make television accessible.

That’s where I started like, 20 years ago, trying to push in my country for some policy or regulations for captions to be included.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
How successful was that?

MV Diaz:
It was just good luck.

At that time, I had friends in the television industry, some of my colleagues from school, were the technical director of different television stations there.

TR:

Actually, that wasn’t the so called good luck. Those friends in high places didn’t make it happen. At least not until the government got involved.

MV Diaz:

So they came to me suddenly, one day, like, oh, there’s this new regulation that we need to comply, then help us please.
I think that one person, the government had a child who was deaf, and then that’s how they became interested. Sadly, that’s the reason most of the time.

And so I started doing captions for every single television station in the country and training.

TR:

What began as a two person team in 15 days grew to 20 people.

MV Diaz:

We needed to cover all the regulation that came at that time.

We help them to install the technical facilities for captioning

So the sad part of the story is that that regulation came at still the same 20 years after just like, two hours per week one newscast in the per channel.

TR:

Soon after that work began with captions, she met a guy who was Blind. He had a question.

MV Diaz:

Have you consider doing something for me?

And I was like, what kind of service Do you need, or how I can serve your needs?

And so he was telling me about Kurosawa’s “Dream” movie. And
he was describing for me every single scene of that movie, and I was like, how you can tell me those details about that movie If you don’t see. So I was so interested in his specific process.

TR:

That movie, Dreams, a 1990 film by acclaimed film maker
Akira Kurosawa was subtitled.

MV Diaz:

It was like a team effort, in a way with friends from his university.

I started researching how I can be involved in that field. It was like 20 years ago.

It was aligned with my interest in I wanted to be a musician, when I finished my high school, and I couldn’t because according to my doctors, being hard of hearing, it was not a good idea to be a musician.
I was like, Okay, I have to fight to do something else to overcome barriers.

TR:

At this point Dicapta, Vicky’s team of 20, was working on caption and Audio Description
when she was approached by one of the 2 private Colombian broadcast company’s.

They wanted to buy her out and control the market. Her response?

MV Diaz:

No, I’m not interested.

I started looking for options to serve to in Spanish in other places. And I found out that in the United States, services in Spanish were like really nothing available, not for captions, not for description at that time. So I decided to write an email to the Department of Ed asking how I can participate in your initiatives. And they told me, no, you have to talk to the television stations or to the channels. And you have to ask them. We’re not the right source for business.

TR:

Vicky’s response set her on a path and in my opinion says a lot about her motivation.

MV Diaz:

I’m not looking for business, I want to know how I can contribute in the discussion.

So they just mentioned it to me that they have a television Access Program. I’m talking about 15 years ago, 16 years ago.

TR:

It’s government, so that means lots of paperwork.

MV Diaz:

I can tell you that I was in Colombia, in my office preparing a proposal for the Department of Ed,

I had no idea how to do business in the United States… the right words to use or how to fill these forms. And I just started reading the forms , filling them up giving my ideas there.

I guess that it was a really good proposal, because we just got funded,

TR:

Come on, you know it can’t be that easy.

MV Diaz:

They call me but you can’t run a project, serving the Latino community from your country, you have to be here. And I was like, okay!

TR:

In about two weeks, she gathers her belongings, leaves Colombia and is in
the states.

MV Diaz:

I just really thank the Department of Ed gave us the opportunity to just try to add value, and to discuss and to tell what we think.

It’s wonderful for me that I every single time that I try to do it, sometimes I have to work a little bit more. I can talk with whoever I wanted to. And I can, I can just at least try. Most of the times the answer is no, we’re not interested. But it is okay. Just to have the opportunity to share what you think.

TR:
Thankful for that opportunity, Vicky uses her voice to continue her mission.

MV Diaz:

I came to this country to start leading the project and start putting all the technicalities together to start doing captions and audio description in Spanish, serving the Latino community.

TR:
While Dicapta is a for profit company, most of the work being done has been through the nonprofit Dicapta Foundation.

MV Diaz:

We really have some new partnerships doing dubbing in Spanish but most of the work that we do in audio description and captions is funded by the Department of Ed.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
So accessing audio description for television, and cable here in the States requires the sap the secondary audio programming.
And it just happens to be that that’s the same channel that delivers Spanish translations in for shows in English. So does this mean that it’s impossible for a person who speaks Spanish to be blind? Hashtag sarcasm?

MV Diaz:
(Laughs)
Kind of…

Spanish language television, They don’t have a Spanish in their SAP, they don’t have anything in the sap.
So we’re not competing with the Spanish translation in the Spanish television, we’re competing with the Spanish translation in the English television.

The big problem here is that the CVA didn’t include Spanish.

So the first thing is audio description in Spanish has to be mandated.

What I have learned is that the FCC is following the mandate from the Congress. So how to push for Spanish to be included? I don’t know Tom

TR:

Remember, the CVAA or the 21st Century Telecommunications Accessibility Act
requires local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS,
Fox, and NBC located in the top 60 TV markets
to provide 87.5 hours per calendar quarter.

How’s this for a regulation; AD on everything!)

MV Diaz:

Telemundo Okay, they are part of NBC. NBC is under the regulation, why? Telemundo is not under regulation?

TR:

Hmm good question. But, bad answer.

MV Diaz:

No, because it is not. Period.

But why, if they are under regulation and Telemundo is part of NBC? No,

I became part of the disability Advisory Committee of the FCC, and I was like, I’m ready. This is exactly the place where we’re gonna change the story.

No, no, no, no,. (Said slowly with lots of frustration)

TR:
When it comes to advocating for Spanish AD, it often comes down to priorities.

MV Diaz:

We have different problems in our community, bigger than the accessibility, I have to say that.

We are in a different place in history right now. Our concern is more, jobs, education and immigration. We are trying to fight different fights. We don’t have Latino consumers as organize. The Blind Latino consumers that we have been working with, it is not enough.

I don’t know, my grandma said something, but I can’t translate. How is your Spanish Tomas?

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Well!

— Sample Price is Right loser tone!

MV Diaz:
My grandma used to say just one little bird is not able to call winter.

TR:

There’s power in numbers.

MV Diaz:

The consumer organizations, they know that that’s a problem.

If you have to go to the Congress, or if you have to go to the FCC, asking for specific questions, is going to be like priority number 10, maybe or, let’s say, five to be more generous.

, but is never going to be their first priority. I kind of understand now

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:

I think that can be said about a lot of communities.

There are definitely people who say, oh, why are you talking about audio description all the time, we need jobs. I get that. I also see a relationship between jobs and audio description, education and audio description.

TR:

Couldn’t these lower priority issues serve as vehicles to elevate those considered higher priority. Especially when putting into context?

That’s what I mean when I say, “Audio Description is about much more than entertainment.

MV Diaz:

Our a Latino community communicates in Spanish. We are trying to have that. In here. We are trying to find our space and our beliefs, our roots, our culture alive.

It is incredible. The amount of kids that are Spanish speakers coming from different countries don’t speak English yet need access and they don’t have the access that they need.

We are working with the DCMP and they are doing a really great job. And we are trying to include some educational titles there. But in entertainment we are really, really far

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
I’m thinking about the streaming companies, they’re not obligated under the CVAA. But they do decide to go ahead and stream audio description, Univision, Telemundo, none of them are interested in doing it at all? Have you not been able to talk to them?

MV Diaz:
Yeah, I have talked to them. I don’t know. They think that I’m just a girl trying again.

But no, the thing is that, for example, Telemundo at the beginning, what they told me like three years ago, they didn’t have SAP in the whole network.
So they didn’t want to provide the service for this kind of part of the audience and not to others

We have been working with funds from the department of Ed.

TR:

Those fund enabled Vicky to have one request.

MV Diaz:

We’re gonna provide you with the description. You just have to put it on there.

Even that is really hard tom.

We included audio description but the cable companies. Don’t pass it.

For example, Channel 22. They are an international television channel. They are in DirecTV, they are in

we provided Audio Description. we created all the audio track.

Okay, DirecTV, No audio description. Spectrum, no audio description.

TR:

Cable companies, you had one job!

But regulations do really go a long way.

MV Diaz:

Caption is not that bad. I can tell you because of the regulations. The FCC regulation includes Spanish captions. So we are safe there.
Just because the regulation is there, they just know what it is. They know what it’s about.

TR:
In the rare event that the cable company does pass the AD, you better catch it that first time being aired because it probably won’t happen again. Whether on that same channel or another.
The problem, many of us have experienced.

we know a show or film has AD,
maybe we saw it on one channel or on a DVD,
but another broadcaster or streaming network doesn’t pass it.

MV Diaz:

Let’s try to do it ourselves. And that’s why we started working in a different direction creating technology and creating Access 4 All.

TR:
Access 4 All is a central repository for any accessibility asset.
That’s the actual digital caption, audio description and ASL files for example.
No matter the language! They’re all stored in one location.

Access 4 All serves as a clearinghouse.

MV Diaz:
Dicapta is a really small organization. We need influential organization or powerful organization to believe in the value of a clearinghouse the importance of sharing the resource that we have.

That’s why we are creating like a membership model under the foundation. The idea is for people to come and say, okay, I created this audio description and no matter if you are in Mexico or if you are in London or if you are in Italy, that specific program is going to be accessible.

So that’s the big dream.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
When you say a membership, so for example, Netflix would come in as a member, the BBC would come in as a member, Argentina television would come in.

so they would have a membership. And they would upload all of their audio description tracks to this repository.

MV Diaz:D

So who’s member of this repository right now?
New Day films, some movies from PBS POV and the Spanish content that we are creating with funds from the Department of Ed.

TR:

Plus, it empowers us as users to access the assets ourselves.

MV Diaz:

You just download the app. You just can watch the program with audio description, you can read captions, or you can do the ASL version of the program if it’s available.

TR:

The app developed with funds from the Department of Education, is free!

Check it out!

download the app…

Start the film, while your app is open… And voila!

TR:

Right now Dicapta is working on creating a searchable catalog. Already, they have over 300 hours of content.

— Dicapta audio icon

TR:

That little tune or audio icon was created by consumers of audio description and members of the Dicapta advisory committee.
It’s formed by the notes D, C, A, and G.
D for Description, C for Collaboration, and
A Accessibility.
The sequence finishes with a G major chord that stands for Go!

It includes a graphical element as well.
It’s formed by two purple triangularly shaped capital letters “A”.
The letters are thick and slanted toward each other so that
the adjacent sides are in a vertical position.
A blue number 4 sits over the letter A on the left.
The horizontal bar that goes from left to right on the number 4 matches the horizontal bar that goes from left to right on the letter A and also covers a small portion of the letter A on the right.

MV Diaz:

What we are proposing is to add that icon at the beginning of the program or during our in them guide, just to show that is in the repository.

I have tried to talk to the big players in the industry. But it is not an easy conversation.

my invitation is this Okay, so that if you don’t have a solution, we have one maybe you can use these one or you can start trying it and see if it if it works and if not someone come with a better one, right? But today we don’t have any solution. We are not sharing, we are creating the same track twice instead of Sharing the one that is already created.

— Sesame Street Cookie Monster shares with Elmo

Elmo:
Oh, Cookie Monster would share his cookie?

Cookie Monster:
Yep, it’s against my primal instinct, but you share with me, and me share with you.

TR:

There are some who understand.

MV Diaz:

Nickelodeon. Latin America, we launched a project with them using “Access 4 All” and they did audio description for some shows. And then they are promoting the show.

Maybe that’s kind of the support that we would need.

TR:
There’s more to be hopeful about.

MV Diaz:

the world is changing. And I see a better scenario for accessibility now that the one that I found when I came 15 years ago, the conversation is different. More people knows about accessibility and about the descriptions. So I think that consumers are more aware of that. Okay. Maybe it’s possible. I just have to say, Tom, I really thank Netflix. They are, they are they’re showing different ways. To support accessibility, and they are including Spanish, they are asking for audio description in Spanish to be included.

Hopefully, if they are showing that the assets are going to be there, or maybe somebody is going to decide to share.

TR:
It’s probably worth mentioning that Apple too offers access in Spanish.

I know there are decision makers or at least some who have the ear of decision makers
who listen to the Flipping the Script series, and
hopefully the podcast in general.

I believe many of them are sincerely about providing access because they see it as fair and just.

If you are an independent content creator, I encourage you to talk to Vicky and get your captions, audio description and any access assets on to Access 4 All.

MV Diaz:
it’s supposed to be a membership.

For now Dicapta Foundation, we’re not charging anything to independent producers.

We have a basic agreement saying that you are donating for the Clearinghouse and you’re not charging the user to use. And in case that someone else is interested in having that, that specific accessibility, they’re going to contact the owner to say like, Okay, I’m interested in this audio description to be downloaded to put it somewhere else

I think that we Dicapta, we’re going to concentrate our effort in educational programming and in independent filmmakers.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Let’s talk about the work that you’ve been doing with a community that’s often overlooked, and that’s the deafblind community. Tell me how Dicapta is serving that community?

MV Diaz:
I invited the daughter of a friend of mine who is Deaf Blind to one of our advisory meetings. We were talking about television and about movies and about access. We were trying one app. We asked her for her opinion, oh, my goodness. She was like… Are you serious?

We don’t have access to television. I haven’t watched television in my whole entire life, how you think that I’m going to go to the movies. And it was really a bad moment in that room.

TR:

Come on, we know by now, Vicky turns these sorts of situations into good.
She reached out to more consumers for input.

MV Diaz:

And so we started trying to, to bring captions to braille displays in a in a way that that they can have some kind of access, those of them that are Braille readers. So that is a minority among the minority and the minority. But given access to the caption streams through braille displays, was the general idea to start working with. So it was like four or five years ago that we started working with that project, and we got funds from the Department of Health. And we were able to produce the solution but then again, the problems came and the industry and the practices

TR:

Of course they did!

Technically, captions on Braille displays is easy. The problem is when your captions don’t include the name of the person speaking. So it’s just an endless stream of words without context.

MV Diaz:

We try to push again, like, changing best practices just include identification of the speaker in the captions or streams just to serve the deafblind community. And so we produce documents and we spread the word in the industry in the caption providers to whoever is creating captions just provide identification for the speakers to make sure that no matter what technology is coming, captions are gonna serve the Deaf Blind community.
[
TR:

The service is called Go CC and provides even more for this community.

MV Diaz:

We work with FEMA to provide emergency alert information.

we work with the Helen Keller National Center. And that’s the reason why the product is as good as it is because we work with the consumers and they created what they needed.
It was not our invention, we just did what they asked us to do.

Next step in that is just to find a foundation or an organization that has all the capacity to share that into the community in a way that we can’t do.

TR:

Dicapta’s expertise is in solving problems and creating access.
MV Diaz:

We put together captions and audio description in stream text to make sure that the deafblind communities serve. So we’re doing that through Access 4 All. So if you use access for all you can use it from your Braille display too. And you can read captions, read the descriptions. And it is done. It is already there.

TR:

The challenge is the speed of that stream of information in relation to the actual film. It could be difficult to stay in sync.

Yes, someone could read the transcript and avoid the movie all together, if watching alone.

MV Diaz:

I don’t want you to go by yourself to the movies, I want to go with you.
Same thing with television, coming from our culture, we don’t do things alone, we do things with families all the time. So it is the idea is to have sync it with the movie, just to make sure that you can be part of a group of people watching the movie.

it is the experience of being with someone else. What is different,

TR:

Family. Friends. Community!
Sharing… y’all feel what’s happening here. It’s about more than access for Vicky.

That young lady who never had access to television, they’re on Vicky’s advisory team.

MV Diaz:

$
I’m here to show you that maybe I apologize. But we do we do better now and then try to do better things.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Congratulations. I believe you got a television access award. Is that what it was? Tell us about it.

MV Diaz:
Yeah. It is wonderful.

I have to tell that that the Department of Education hasn’t been recognized enough for their support to access. So those who have been working with them, we know that they have spent I don’t know how many millions of dollars supporting captions at the beginning before that, the regulation of captions and then audio description for years too.

But it was really not clear if they had plans to continue supporting description, especially after audio description is already mandated by the FCC.

The educational part of it is not as regulated for the network’s.
So that’s why the Department of Ed decided to continue the program.

We got one of the television access awards. We are so happy.

TR:
We should all be happy!

At least those of us who say we care about access.

MV Diaz:

We’re going to make sure that Access 4 All is a reality. Not just for our community, we’re working with English language content two. So every single hour of audio description or captioning that we create is going to be shareable in our clearing house, and is going to be accessible, no matter if you are watching it in one television station, or in any other is going to be accessible using their app

It’s gonna be five years collecting audio description, collecting captions, and asking others to join this effort.
So at least for the educational programming, I think that we’re going to have very good news to report at the end of these five years.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
Okay, so this is a hard question. What are you doing? When you’re not creating all this accessibility?

MV Diaz:

Laughing…

Oh, I’m playing my flute. I’m learning piano. Okay. They pandemia show me my piano in the middle of the living room.

My daughter’s used to play piano because mom wanted them to be the biggest artists. They decided that they don’t like to play.

TR in Conversation with MV Diaz:
they said that was you Mom, not us.

MV Diaz:
Yeah. So I had this big coffee table in the middle of the living room. Coffee Table.

(Hearty laugh along with TR.)

So I have to decide I have two choices. The first one is just giving my piano to someone that is going to use it. Or taking some piano lessons. Yeah.

And I love the music that you play.

I think that we would go to the same party.

TR:

If you’re throwing a party and
you want to invite a strong advocate and someone who is dedicated to access or
if you want to learn more about the great work taking place at Dicapta, open your favorite browser and point it to;

Smashing Disability Stigma with Blindish Latina, Catarina Rivera

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

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

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

Listen

Resources

Catarina Rivera.com
Blindish Latina

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Greetings Reid My Mind Radio Family!

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s get this Poppin’!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

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

— Music Begins – A smooth chill Hip Hop beat…

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

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

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

— Music Ends…

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

Catarina:

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

I never felt like I needed time away from school.

TR:

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

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

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

Catarina:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

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

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

Catarina:

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

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

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

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

TR:

Word!

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

Catarina:

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

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

And then there’s dealing with parents.

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

— Music Ends

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

— Music Ends…

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

So, she began researching.

Catarina:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

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

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

So, is that the work that you do today?

Catarina:

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

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

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

— Music Begins, A Latin influenced Hip Hop groove.

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

The mission of Blindish Latina?

Catarina:

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

TR:

Right now, all of this takes place on Instagram.

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

Catarina:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

This is where that smashing comes in.

— audible smashing sound

Catarina:

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

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

TR:

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

Catarina:

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

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

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

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

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

— Smash sound —
Catarina:

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

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

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

— Catarina and Thomas share in a laugh.

TR:

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

Showing the world who you are. All aspects.

Catarina:

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

TR:

Better come correct!

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

Catarina:

And I have a website as well. CatarinaRivera.com

TR in Conversation with Catarina:

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

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

(Laughs…)
— Smashing sound…

Catarina:

Love it!

TR:

Some great take aways in this one y’all!

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

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

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

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

Like my last name!

— Music ends into the outro

Audi o: Reid My Mind Radio outro

Peace

Hide the transcript

Envizion – I Don’t See Nobody!

Wednesday, April 14th, 2021

Whether you’re someone adjusting to blindness or a creative person with a specific vision, sometimes being blind to those trying to alter your goals is what’s required.

Envizion , his hair in Locs, is dressed in jeans and a hoodie, as he poses against a brick wall
Musician and artist Isaiah “Envizion” Woods became Blind while in his second semester in college. By the next semester he was back on campus, despite the advice from his counselors.

Hear what helped this young Musician/R & B Artist/Rapper walk his own path in the pursuit of his goals.

Plus, do you know about that Go-Go?

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

Whats up Reid My Mind Radio family!

Back again and right on time!
FYI:

Some thought we should have been here last week, but this podcast is being published on the second and FOURTH TUESDAY of the month.
In most cases, I’ll let you know if I’m taking a break because we family and that’s what good families do — communicate!

So `wlet’s start the conversation!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Envizion:

My name is Izaiah Woods, I go by RoZae in the gogo world. My stage name is also envision that’s an r&b title. I’m from the DMV, from Maryland to be specific.

TR in Conversation with Envizion: 57:49
Your spelling of envision, do you want to break that down? Because I’m seeing Zion in there.

Envizion:

SO, it’s just basically the Z cuz my name is Zay. And I always do that. And to be honest, InVision wasn’t my initial name. It was Vizion. But somebody had that name. I was like, What can I go with? Because I still want that. And I was like, Envizion. It just came out and stuck. Like a magnet to a refrigerator.

TR:

Envizzionn appears conscious about the type of energy he himself puts out in the world.

Envizion:

I’m an enthusiast for inspiration. I love to spread love and light. And I like to be an inspiration to those who are struggling with putting their best foot forward and beginning on a journey that they have a lot of passion for

TR:

Let’s begin with a glimpse into Envizion’s journey. Including aspirations and interests like sports…

Envizion:

I enjoyed driving. Love dogs, German Shepards to be specific. I had a few of those.

I played the piano and the drums. Not just the traditional drum set, but also the Timbales, a Latin percussion instrument as well as the Congas.

— from later in section —
I began when I was probably 12 or 13. My mom signed me up for drum lessons. And then my dad surprised me with a drum set. And from then on, I was just like, yeah, I want to play.

TR:

He’s about more than playing.

Envizion:

Really family oriented, went to church and always been a strong believer in the Lord.

I aspired to go to school, college after school.

— Ambient music

TR in Conversation with Envizion:

Tell me a little bit about how you lost your sight. Now, let me tell you, you share as much as you’re comfortable. I don’t make these types of pieces fully about the vision loss. Sometimes it’s irrelevant. SO, share as much as you want.

Envizion:

Oh, no doubt. I’m pretty transparent about that. Because I tell people all the time, like my story is mine, you get it? I don’t have any shame in or about what happened. Because at the end of the day, what ended up happening? happened and I’m still here.

I was a second semester freshmen at Boise State University. And I came home one weekend in April of 2011, to get my brother situated for his prom that weekend. We were coming from the barber shop and we stopped at the gas station across the street, to get something to eat and ran into somebody that I had issues with.

TR:

In addition to being a musician and singer, Envizion has bars… he’s a rapper.
He shared this verse with me taken from a performance he did with a friend on a Gospeltrack. It summarized the events that followed.

I want to be mindful of anyone who may be triggered by violence. If this is SO, please just fast forward about 50 seconds.

Envizion:

Lord, now if it wasn’t for you, I’d be sorry behind bars or locked away in a tomb
See, for a while I was doing whatever, they say birds of a feather flock together. That’s when the devil has room
But see me, huh, I could have been dead and gone. Came home one weekend to get my brother ready for prom.
We stopped at the store to eat and seeing somebody we dislike took across the street and we was prepared for a fistfight.
We started walking towards him, but he had a gun in his hand. I blacked out he shot once, my brother’s turned back and ran
16 that he popped up was 15 that he missed. Everybody thought Zay was dead and he would surely be missed.
He shot me right in my dome in the front of my home with a nine millimeter Chrome. But now my vision is gone.
And my father kneeled and told me son pray to the Lord.
And I said, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I need you.

And that pretty much sums it all up.

TR:

It sums up the cause of his blindness, but let’s be clear, it doesn’t sum up the man.

Envizion:

What’s so good about God is the fact that I didn’t lose my mind and the way that your senses operate. Yeah, everything that I could hear literally provided a picture for me.

TR:

And he had his family.

Envizion:

My next memory was me laying on the chest of my mother, she was just kind of cradling me.

And it hit me that I had been shot. And it also hit me that I was still living. And I cried so hard, thanking God, that I did not die. I never felt such a strong sense of gratefulness, like, I was so grateful to be alive. I don’t think anybody could really understand that feeling until they’ve gone through something where they could have lost their life. The gratitude was just through the roof.

TR:

One way of showing that gratitude is to resume life.

And that’s exactly what he did. The shooting occured in the spring and Envizion was back in school for the fall semester.

— Music begins – Bright calm melodic beat…

Envizion:

And I was ready to go. However, they set me up with a DORS counselor.

TR in Conversation with Envizion:

What is the DORS? You said DORS?
Envizion:

Yeah, yeah. Division of rehabilitative services.

Everything with blindness has that …

TR in Conversation with Envizion: 20:30
Yeah. some

acronym. (TR and Envizion say simultaneously and chuckle…) YOU gotta get familiar with all of them.

Envizion:

All of them!

TR:

Those acronyms are just part of the process of educating yourself with the available services.

TR in Conversation with Envizion: 21:08
How did you know? How did that happen? Who knew to do that?

Envizion:

I will say my dad, he is my largest advocate. My mom is too. But you know, she works and does more like, you know, office work. She’s occupied. But my dad, he goes hard for me, man. And he will always be calling and trying to find out information, just to get me help so that I can learn how I can help myself.

TR:

Shout out to Dad for that!

And to Envizion for that understanding that he would have to help himself.

Envizion:

No matter how much somebody is saying that they’re going to work on your behalf, you have to be able to advocate for yourself.

Self advocacy is the biggest thing, like when it comes to someone with a disability or not does anyone technically but when you have a situation where you’re dependent on someone, you have to have it within yourself, because they will begin to try to dictate your future based upon their education. And the most difficult thing for a sighted person to do is be blind, because they don’t know how to be. So as much as they empathize with you, you gotta have it within yourself to say, Hey, this is what I want to do. And this is the way that I want to get it done.

TR:

For Envizion that meant going back to school. Meanwhile the counselor suggested he postpone school and get independence training first. But Envizion had his reasons.

Envizion:

I’m in school with my peers, people that I graduated high school with, like, I want to do that, like that camaraderie, and just the whole image of in feeling of being around people that are similar in age to me and stuff like that, like, that’s what I want to be a part of. And she did not want that for me at all. SO, I did what I wanted. And I went to school.

TR:

Beginning with DORS in June, by the time the fall semester came around, Envizion didn’t have much in the way of computer training.

Envizion:

It was scary. But I was ready.

I went up to the school and talk to the people with disability support services. They assigned me a note taker. And everything just happens to work out just the way that it needed to. God is so good. And he’s all the time.

My first note taker was a girl named unique that I actually knew of.

TR:

They sort of met the summer before his Freshman year in a PRE-COLLEGE program.

Envizion:

I introduced myself to her because she was cute. I introduced myself to her when we were in that summer program, but nothing came up. And I was familiar with her.

We hit it off phenomenally. And that’s my friend to this day.

— Music ends…

TR:

In addition to his friend Unique serving as his scribe, Envizion received assistance in completing course work and getting around campus.

Envizion:
it got better and better each year, because I got more and more confident and more independent.

Self advocacy is a big thing.

I’m gonna tell you what I need. And I’m gonna tell you what I don’t.

I would always have to set the parameters for the relationships between my teachers and I or my professors and I, because one thing is that you’re not going to try to pacify me, baby me. But then another thing is you’re not going to treat me like a slave.

I definitely will advocate for myself and I will go back to the guidelines. The contract that you signed.

TR:

He’s talking about the agreement to have access to note takers, extra time for assignments or test taking etc.

Contracts are one THING BUT speaking with Envizion highlighted another part of self advocacy that we don’t often speak about.

Personality.

Envizion:

My upbringing was always to speak up, and not in a disrespectful way.

My mom has always been just a huge influence on me as far as being articulate, being attentive, and speaking to where I don’t waste my words, say what you mean. And mean what you say

TR:

For example, one of Envizion’s professors who gave him a hard time.

Envizion:

ACTUALLY, two of them. I ended up becoming one of they’re favorite

TR:

The issue with one in particular.

Envizion:

He just thought that I was an angry person. Because I got shot. And now I’m blind.

You can’t project how you would take this on me. I’m living and I’m here to get an education. You got to help me get that. Me breaking that down to him and him seeing my work ethic, seeing my test score and seeing how I complete my assignments

TR:
The other side of that is actually being personable. For Envizion, he uses his sense of humor to charm.

Like the time in class after the professor projected an image on to the screen and asked “Can everyone see the image?”

Envizion:

I’m like, Can you can you brighten it up and enlarge it a little bit? I’m nearsighted.

He didn’t know that I could take light. You know, he didn’t know that. He didn’t know that at all. SO, him becoming aware of that. It made him happy. It made him really happy.

He almost cried one day talking to me because he appreciated the joy that he didn’t know that I had then.

— Triumphant Hip Bewat begins….

TR in Conversation with Envizion

You graduated?

Envizion:

Yes, sir. In 2016, Cum Laude. Three point five cumulative GPA, I was excited, I had to FIGHT FOR that one.

TR in Conversation with Envizion

Salute! Nice!

Envizion:

Yes, Sir!

TR:

Envizion has no regrets on the choices he’s made.

Envizion

I feel like I made the right choice by going to school first, because I grew a lot and I met a lot of people that I still have to this day.

I wouldn’t have been able to come in contact with a guy named Jeff Gittens. He was the assistive technologist for the disability support services. He actually passed away a couple of years ago.
I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet him. It was a lot that I went through that I needed to go through.

It may not have all been perfect, but you know, the hardships that will really make you

TR:

Young Mr. Woods had the chance to share some of that knowledge with others also experiencing blindness.

Envizion:

I went to blind industries and services of Maryland, which is a company that helps blind people just get reintegrated back into society as far as independence is concerned. SO, I moved to downtown Baltimore.

I got through the program learning how to travel through the city, by bus or Uber or Mark train or light rail. They call it the trolley. I finished the program, but I did great.

after I successfully completed my training program, I got really close with one of the managers there, named Melissa Lomax. And she was the youth coordinator. And she would tell me all the time, yeah, I work with these students. And I tell them a lot about you. They can’t wait to meet you. Would you like to work on one of our workshops one weekend?

TR:

He said yes! And that weekend, turned into a month.

Envizion:
I went to the workshop and basically explained to them what it was that I’ve done and how I made it through the program, what I like, like fashion and how I like music. And those kids, they gravitated towards me.

I had two students that live with me in a dorm or it was like an apartment. I taught them how to cook, safety techniques. And there’s a lot that we went through and they kind of like little brothers to me.

TR:

And then, there are other ways to influence people.
— Music ends…

Envizion:

My goal is to inspire people. My goal is to bring back meaning to music.
People used to make music and a music video will be so telling. Or when you heard music, you could create your own visual, like, while you’re listening.

TR:

As a drummer and percussionist, the lyrical writing process for Envizion all stems from the same place.

Envizion:

It’s a feeling. I hear the beat. I just get inspired by whatever it is the beat gives. A good beat a lot of times it’ll produce a melody. And that melody will come with the words like you know, the energy of the song.

TR in Conversation with Envizion: 53:24
how prevalent is blindness within your music?

Envizion:

I featured in this song called “Money on the Line. (Laughs…) And I said a little cleveer thing now… I have this tag where I say (singing…) I don’t see nobody.

I don’t know why. I mean, its trueI’m Blind you know what I’m saying? It’s me.
(TR laughing…)

TR:

But we know it’s also a play on words.

Envizion:

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

TR:

There’s all types of distractions.

Envizion:

(Singing…)”Girls on my line. I said I’m not wasting a dime. She said boo, can’t you see I love you? No baby. I’m blind.”

TR:

We’re so used to NON-BLIND people using blindness as a metaphor in ways that conjur negative feelings

Envizion is using the term to empower. Saying I’m not paying attention to anyone trying to take me off my path. In fact, being Blind to you meaning, empowering myself.

While he has his tag line, he doesn’t play on the blindness much.

Envizion:

I really own my blindness. I really feel as though my blindness has granted me the ability to really envision true beauty. I’m able to see people’s hearts, I’m able to really test and know who you are from the inside.

I’m just a realist.

When it comes to music, I don’t force anything.

I don’t want to tell you how to feel when you listen to my stuff. I just rather give my perspective. And then you take and do with it what you will.

TR:

We know he RAPS; we heard his bars earlier. He sings R & B,

TR in Conversation with Envizion:

Do me a favor, talk a little about Go Go. I know a lot of folks don’t know about Go Go.

Envizion:
Go Go is dc, dc, Maryland and Virginia. originated by Chuck Brown. Inspired by like African, tribal music and feel like a little bit of gospel and blues and jazz. SO, it’s like a swing starts from a pocket beat.

Prime example. Jill Scott song. Do you want it on your rice and gravy?

— Insert song…

She got that from gogo.

But then it breaks down. There’s sub genres. You have the crank circuit, which more so sticks to the traditional side of gogo. And then you have bounce beat, which is like like what I do is for the younger generation, originated by the late Polo, rest in peace to him.

Go Go music, it really like is the heartbeat of DC.

TR:

Go Go found it’s way into the mainstream through songs like Doin’ Da Butt by EU and multiple hits from Salt n peppa…

Envizion:

I play for a GO-GO band, ABM, all about money.

and We also go by The M, which is a much more mature way of presenting ourselves.

We also take current songs and popular songs or old songs. And we just mix it to a GO-GO Beat.

TR:
Like Hello by Adel, remixed to a Go Go beat by Backyard.

— Music “Hehllo” by Adel covered BY BACK Yard

Envizion:

Nice song that kind of helps people to get warmed up into what it is because sometimes it can be a little aggressive.

Like, how rock and roll is to some people that don’t understand it.

TR:

That’s something I think many of us can relate to.

TR in Conversation with Envizion: 43:01

Before you were blind, what do you see, if any, any differences in the way you are perceived? And how people deal with you, how they approach you, how they interact with you?

Envizion:

I feel like I exude a different type of confidence. Now. I don’t feel like I’ve had more I don’t feel like I was more confident when I when I had sight. Although I was confident. I just walk WITH; I just work with more purpose now than I did before.

I had a lot of insecurities. As a sighted person that I used to hide them.

I just walk and talk different now.

I’m pretty easy going.

However, there was a lot of people that were intimidated by me when I was sighted. Why I never got it. But once I went blind, let me tell you… so now you think I’m weak and vulnerable. Now you think I’m easy pickings.

There are some people that try to get a feel for me. They’re trying to feel me out. They’re kind of close but kind of far.

Certain people really try to figure me out. And I’d be like, I see you looking like I just feel it. Like I know. What’s up. Nice to meet you. I’m still people, you know, I just can’t see. I’m blind. That’s it. Don’t get it twisted.

TR:

That’s an attitude we all can use. Even if you are more than just Blind, be confident in whatever you bring to the table.

You can check out Envizion’s music on Apple, Spotify, Tidal…

Envizion:
Better yet go to my Instagram. The Real Envision envision it has two ends with T H E R E A L E N V I Z I O N N.

In my bio, I have a link to my link tree and all of the links of music that I put out there.

my most recent single is call everlasting. We’ll be shooting the video soon is actually going to be my first video.

TR:

You can also find Envizion on Twitter, except it’s with one N at the end.
TR in Conversation with Envizion:

Envizion brother, you know I got this thing that I say, you know once you come on Reid My Mind Radio you become official part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family so Salutes brother, welcome!

Envizion:

Thank YOU, BRO, thank you. I’m …

TR in Conversation with Envizion:

Absolutely!

Envizion:

Glad to be a part, glad to be a part. Shout out to you I appreciate you for the opportunity.

TR:

Isn’t that all any of us really want? Opportunity? But before it arrives, we have to make sure we’re ready for it.

Brother Izaiah, had that drive following vision loss.
I’m not just talking about the will to live as in breath and remain on earth. Rather, self determination to follow his own path. Pursuing those things that he loves and appreciates.

I respect and admire that. Especially considering all of the self doubt that can accompany blindness.

If you feel the same, go ahead and let him know. You can also reach out here via ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. Tell a friend, a loved one a co-worker, co passenger or even your Uber driver to check out the podcast. Let them know they can find it WHEREVER they consume podcasts and there’s transcripts and more on ReidMyMind.com. Now the tricky part is you have to let them know, it’s R to the E I D
(“D! And that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Envizion” Baby I’m Blind… I don’t see nobody!”
TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Lachi: Building Bigger Plans for Going Blind

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

Recording Artist Lachi standing with white cane.
Lachi is a Recording Artist, Writer, producer … someone who grew up with Low Vision and now is going Blind. You may have expectations as to how someone would react to such news… You’re wrong!

Hear how the power of music and people helped Lachi expand her confidence and develop her own view of blindness and disability. And of course, there’s the music and much more!

Listen

Resources

LachiMusic.com
The Off Beat

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family.

I hope you all are doing well.
Feeling good. feeling like things are going your way.

Me? I’m good! I’m here with y’all!

Sometimes, we know, things change up.
That’s one reason for this podcast.
Where we feature compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

What we learn from the experiences of others can help us draw up our own plan

Because when things seem to fall apart you don’t just scrap your plan… nah, you just go out and make yourself some bigger plans!

Check this out!
Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

— “Not the One” Lachi, Michael Herrick

TR:

You’re listening to Not the One by Lachi and Michael Herrick. Lachi is an award nominated recording artist, writer, producer…

Lachi:

film producer, published author. I dabble in acting, I dabble in modeling. I am part of the Recording Academy advocacy Committee, which I’m very proud of. And I am also a speaker on the respectability National Women’s speaker’s bureau. I am trying to also be a YouTube star. And also do everything under the sun that anyone will allow me to do.

TR:

Allow?

As far as I can tell, I don’t think she’s waiting for anyone’s permission. Nor should she!

Lachi:

If I can give myself a really quick image description. I am an African American female. I have long hair, most of its mine, not all of it. That is curly and goes down my back with highlights. And I have big crazy, bodacious smile.

TR:

You can hear that smile when you get into a conversation with her. Even when the topic is something that most people wouldn’t smile about. Going Blind.

Lachi:

I was born legally blind. Always had to use adaptive technology. I’ve always had to sort of struggle with meeting other people that would be able to relate to me and things like that.

More recently, I did receive yet another diagnosis that is putting me on a path from low vision to no vision in a matter of years.

TR:

Her response to those who expect a different sort of reaction to the news.

Lachi:
I’ve been blind, so going from slightly blind to fully blind isn’t as traumatic for me as perhaps it might be. Or maybe I just haven’t really swallowed the pill fully. But I just been on that path already. So getting that diagnosis while it was quite a bit of a shocker. I wasn’t sitting here going, Oh my gosh, I’m gonna have to change my whole life around I mean, I already got the cane. I already got the large print, I already have sort of things that I would need to access the things I need. So the transition isn’t going to be as hard. But I will say it is a different beast. So I will acknowledge that going from low to No, is definitely a big step. And I just maybe I’m just not ready yet. Maybe I haven’t accepted it yet. And that’s where I’m at.

— Music begins and rises to a smooth beat. —

TR:

That’s where she is now.

We learn from our past, so let’s go back.

[TR in conversation with Lachi:]

Where did you grow up?

Lachi:

I tell people I grew up in the widest parts of upstate New York, the black is parts of Philly, and I Southern belt it down in North Carolina. So I’ve been all over the place. And I got all types of attitudes inside me depending on which me you get at what time and so people say, Well, you don’t have a New York accent or southern accent. I’m like, I have them all balled into one.

As much as I wish I had like childhood friends from kindergarten and this and that. I do appreciate the fact that I moved around a lot. But I have spent the last nine or so years here in New York, okay.

I’m New York to the heart but I got love for all!

TR:

Growing up with Low Vision, Lachi was the sixth of seven children.

Lachi:
The four older ones were girls. And the three younger ones were me and my two brothers. So I was really one of the boys.

We’d run around and play, we get hurt, we do whatever.

I was put into public school, I was not necessarily treated as a child with a visual impairment. Yes, we did have social workers and things like that. But I didn’t actually have the opportunity to get to know too many other people in my situation, whether it be blindness, whether it be other forms of disability.

TR:

Lachi received accommodations like extended test taking and adaptive technology such as magnifiers, CCTV’s and a monocular to see the board.

Lachi:
Because I held things really close, instead of thinking that I couldn’t see, they thought that I had maybe some other sort of other social issues or psychological issues.

It gave me sort of a complex of always trying to prove that I knew what I was doing. I was trying to prove that I was intellectually sound.

I was always sort of a creative kid. But there was never too many outlets for me to hang out with other kids and create with other kids and collaborate with other kids just because I was super shy and this and that. But I did spend a lot of time on my own just kind of drawing, writing and cultivating my musical skills really.

TR:

Being one of the youngest children in the family, Lachi benefited when her older sister lost interest in music. With access to a keyboard, Lachi found a passion.

Lachi:
I’d have all these little dolls and stuffed animals and I’d line them up, and I would make them sing all the songs I wrote. And I’d be like come on Alto section, now y’all know y’all messing up.

But they were very good listeners.

I’ve been writing and playing the piano ever since I was just, I can’t remember.

TR in Conversation with Lachi: 22:03

black families don’t necessarily always promote creativity in the arts. When I meet people who started off and seem to get that support from their family, I’m always interested in that, because back in the day, it was really like, Nah, you know, you got to go get a job And this is not going to pay…

Lachi:
You know, I mean, I did kind of glaze over a lot of that. You are, I’ll tell you right now, you are not being old school. That is definitely a real thing. Not only a black family, but most certainly in immigrant families, I identify as an immigrant family, because my parents both came over from Nigeria, in sort of the 70s 80s. And all of my older brothers and sisters are all nurses, doctors (says with over exaggeration and laughs) so I did get that as well. Part of the being blind, part of the being visually impaired, and being the only one with this visual impairment in my family did give me a little bit of leeway as the black sheep like, oh, okay, maybe she can be a little piano virtuoso, but at the same time, I was also very good at math. So I know that while my mother was very encouraging, of me just kind of doing whatever. My father was very much like, we need to cultivate this math thing you got going on, you better be you an accountant, you better be you some kind of financial, whatever.

TR:

She tried majoring in business in college for a bit.

Lachi:

I even dabbled in biology until I realized I was not going to dissect nothing. Sorry. Not with these nails.

TR:

Those nails and the artist they’re attached to had other plans – which became clear while at the University of North Carolina.

Lachi:

Every Saturday I would go down and play the piano in the dorm. And it was funny, because that began to blow up into people just always coming through Saturday evenings waiting for the piano girl to come and play the piano. It started turning into frat boys coming back from parties, or people going on dates kind of just hanging in lounging in the common area listening to me play the piano, and it really blew up in a major way.

It really did start out with me just playing. And then a friend or two would be like, hey, do you know that one song? Or do you know this and that, and then just got to a point where people are just yelling out Freebird.

TR in Conversation with Lachi:
Now now you just said which dorm you were in by the way. (

— Lachi and TR share a hearty laugh!

TR:

These Saturday night dorm performances helped increased more than Lachi’s popularity.

I started becoming more confident. Because I was sharing my talent with other people and people were going, Wow, you’re good at something. And I was like, Oh, look, I am and other people are telling me I am. I started getting that outside validation. I went to a counselor, and I was like I really want to pursue music. What do I do? And he was just like, moved to New York. You supposed to tell me to take like music theory classes or something. So I did!

TR:

Move to New York that is!

Arriving on bus in the big city, you know, sky scrapers and everythang! Her first stop.

Lachi:

I went to NYU and that’s where I started to meet some great guys out in things like Scoring for film, and things like that.

So I did get to meet a bunch of really great people. But when I say I really got into collaborating, was when I decided, look, I want to put a band together, I want to put some songwriters together. And so I really did just go out there and just start meeting people. Like it was amazing how much I just opened up as soon as I moved to the city, and would just be able to go up to people and go, hey, let’s you and me work together. And, and things began to kind of blossom.

TR in Conversation with Lachi: 17:05

You started off earlier, though, by saying you were shy. What’s the relationship between being shy? And then that creative spirit? Like, was that just that strong? Or was there a process? Because I think that, people adjusting to blindness, that could make somebody shy.

Lachi:

Yeah!

Whether you are born visually impaired, or whether you lose it later in life. And you don’t know other people in your space, you don’t know other people in your situation, you feel different, you feel misunderstood, you kind of feel alone

, you feel like you can’t really relate to others,

no matter how good people are trying to be to you, no matter how inclusive and everything, if they’re not really similar to your story,

the first place you go is well, you don’t really get it. And so you kind of coop up. And so that’s kind of where I was, like I did have friends, I did have a lot of support at home. And people you know, I was bullied, like everybody’s bullied. And I have some pretty crazy bully stories. But I can’t just sit here and complain too much. I did have some love. And regardless I was still putting myself in a shell. And that shell just could not stick when it came to me creating music. No matter how hard I tried to box it in, it brought me out

I was playing the piano in college for myself.

TR:

It’s so important to have something we enjoy doing. We’ll do it more and therefore, we get better. The result, confidence!

Now add the power that comes from meeting other people with disabilities.

I’m especially talking about those you can relate to. Those who share your interests.

For Lachi, it started with Visions.
Visions Center on Blindness that is…

Lachi:

It’s a camp. So you do all sorts of different activities, not just learning technology. I got to meet a bunch of people. Myself, being a musician, it was great to meet other musicians with blindness. And a lot came out of that.

TR:

Like the chance to create.

Lachi:

He played guitar. We were collaborating so much together. We decided we were just going to go to South by Southwest.

TR:

That’s the annual music , film and cultural festival that serves as a way of really introducing new artists to both fans and executives.

Lachi:

Right before we left, I ended up writing to a bunch of labels to be like, Hey, we’re going to South by Southwest, you should check out our show. Don’t ask how I got your email just come through. (Laughing…) And of course, I got no responses. But we went to South by Southwest, we played a few bars, it was a lot of fun. And funnily enough, at one of the shows we did, some guy came up to me and was like, I really loved what you guys just did, even though it was just vocals and guitar. Here’s my card. Call me when you get back to New York.

It turns out he was an A & R for a label under EMI. And it was just amazing. We had our meetings, we had another meeting, we had a third meeting, and then we eventually got signed.

TR:

In addition to being an artist, Lachi’s a producer with her own studio.

Lachi:

I am a Pro Tools girl. I use sort of a bunch of Antares plugins. I am a girl that has my computer, right at the edge of that desk, and I am two inches away from my screen. And it’s so funny because people will come in of all sorts. I mean, people have high celebrity to just independent artists will come into my studio, and the first thing they think is, uh, okay, let’s see how this goes.

— “Go”, Lachi
Lachi:

Couple years ago, when I first started really opening up my studio to other people, they would come in and then they would be a little alarmed.

I did get to a point where I did preface it with people. As soon as they came to my studio, I’d be like look I’m just going to tell you right now, I’m visually impaired and legally blind. But you came here because you heard my samples.

I will be all up in the screen, but I do use all shortcuts. Everything is shortcuts shortcut shortcut shortcut.

TR:

She makes it work for her. It’s not about the process, rather, it’s all about the art she’s making.

Lachi:

Ever since 2016, you’re going to get EDM, you’re going to get dance, you’re going to get trance, you’re going to get pop dance, you’re going to get things of that nature. But if you start listening to some of my older music, you’re going to get sort of more general pop, or pop rock.

As I got more confident, my music gets more confident, my messages get more confident. I don’t know, I really started to enjoy the whole, like, badass female sort of perspective. And I started to identify that way. And so my music kind of takes that journey.

TR:

I was curious if Lachi had ideas on how she would adapt to non visually making music. Yet, I was hesitant to ask because when she first brought up her diagnosis, she admitted that she wasn’t giving it too much thought. She later added that the gradual nature of the loss may also be a factor.

Lachi:

I don’t even notice it until I, you know, go into my doctor every six months, and he’s like, dang, girl, you really can’t see the big E.

TR:

The actual sight loss is gradual. Some other things become apparent when it’s gone.

Lachi:

it’s not really something that has hit my, my inner realm. I can’t necessarily tell you why. But I am sitting here trying to, you know, trying to psychologically figure that out myself, I actually think that that’s a very interesting thing about myself that I’m not freaking out about it. But I’m looking at it from a business perspective, instead of from a personal perspective.

TR in Conversation with Lachi:

And you know, you can do both.

All I guess I really want to tell you is that you know, you do your thing. But I want you to know that you have lots of options.

Right? That’s what I want you to know. You have lots of options.

You gone be fine!

TR:

Honestly, I think Lachi already knows that. Meeting a variety of people with all different degrees of blindness and disability ever since attending the camp in upstate New York.

But some things are relatively new.

Lachi:

I decided to incorporate my vision loss and my need for accessibility into my career path.

TR:

That includes her work with the Recording Academy advocacy committee.

Lachi:

I am putting together a number of inclusion and accessibility talks with the Grammys.

Anytime I’m in front of anybody from the board membership or anybody from any of these committees, I am talking about inclusion, I am talking about accessibility, and my voice is getting heard.

We’re talking a lot about Hollywood inclusion, we’re not really talking enough about music inclusion. And so I’m getting in front of these boards and talking. And they are coming to me and going, you know what, let’s go ahead and have you do some panels Lachi, you’re the expert on this.

TR:

Be on the lookout for some panel discussions around accessibility and inclusion in the music industry.

Lachi:
another thing that I wanted to mention, my manager Ben price of harbor side management, got an amazing grant from the UK Arts Council to do a huge sort of study slash article on music and its future when it comes to disabilities.

He’s out there having some great conversations with people when it comes to not just showcasing artists with disabilities, but also, with the accessibility of venues.

When we start opening up the city, when we start opening up the nation in the world. This is something we need if we’re starting from ground zero. If you’re just reopening, why don’t you add that ramp, add that handle, add that bar, do what you got to do to make your space accessible, because guess what? 2021 and 2022 is going to be Lachi out here calling you out!

TR:

She’s currently building a platform that could provide the space to amplify these issues and more. It’s on YouTube and it’s called The Off Beat.

— The Off Beat promo

Lachi:

I am a quirky little offbeat musician and I’m also just an offbeat person.

it’s going to be a series that Chronicles me, a black girl going blind, just trying to keep up with the sort of fabulous lifestyle.

Everything from, makeup, skincare and wardrobe, to Little things like learning how to fold a shirt to just getting my taxes right to even trying to figure out how to make a YouTube series like let’s be real meta and learn that together.

TR:

She’s partnering up with brands who want to support her message.

Lachi:

I’m also really interested in speaking with influencers and top folks in not only the blind space, but in the disability space in general. And even other margins like transgender, LGBTQ non binary. Just kind of calling on names in that space, to ask them how they handle different transitions as well.

I’m excited to share it with you, and anyone who will listen, that we are going on this journey, and that we are doing it from my perspective of I think it’s important for me to mention that is from the perspective of a black woman losing her vision and not just have a woman losing her vision.
— “We’re Not Done… Check this Out” From “You Must Learn” Boogie Down productions
— “Bigger Plans”, Lachi

TR:

And just when you thought it was over, you learn about her “Bigger Plans” …

Lachi:

That is actually the song where we are putting out our AD version of the music video that we put together. And so we’re very excited about that.

TR:

In the meantime…

Lachi:

We put this music video together with that song. We ended up getting backed by a company that does diversity styling, and
we shot the video and the company’s called diversity styling. We ended up shooting it in a space called positive exposure, which is a gallery that only showcases art from underrepresented groups. In the video, they had a bunch of pictures hanging from students with different disabilities. And the song as you can see, was written by a woman with a disability and the video was produced and directed by myself. And the diversity stylings woman, and then the star of the video is Zazell, gosh, she’s good!

She ended up sort of dancing in the video, and she starts out with a cane. And she’s unsure then she throws the cane away, and she starts dancing, and it’s so empowering. But by the end of the video, she actually picks the cane back up and continues to dance with it. Because that’s that’s her whole her.

The whole video from top to bottom is just made by folks with disabilities. And we’ve been entering it into all sorts of contests and all sorts of things.

We just literally won Best Music Video at the International Film forum New York. New York, Neil gallery.

TR:

We all need some wins every now and then, don’t we?

Lachi:

I’m always doing these little radio interviews, whatever, this little thing here, this little thing there. This is probably one of my favorites. Look we’re sitting here talking man. I’m not being rushed. We’re not trying to hurry up and plug something. I don’t have like, you know, my show notes. Like, let me make sure I hit this. I can tell that we are having an A and B conversation. It’s not just you reading a quick question and then just kind of scrolling through something while I’m trying to insert it.

TR in Conversation with Lachi:

Yeah. Definitely.

Lachi:

I really appreciate your perspective. I really love this show. When Ben sent me the link. I was like, Oh, God, I gotta get on this show. As I really love it, and everything that you come through and say up in the club is always just so insightful. So I just did want to throw that out to you as well.

TR:

Nah, it’s still Covid out here. Lachi and I haven’t popped bottles in the club just yet! She’s talking about Club House.

The audio only social gathering space.

I’m an Admin with the 15 percent Club, which is all about disability – as in 15 percent of the world’s population has a disability.

Lachi moderates a room on Thursday’s called The Blind Side. It’s poppin! All sorts of conversations around blindness. My personal favorite so far was the room highlighting Blind women. There were plenty of proud Blind women who know they are all that! That’s something I support!

TR in Conversation with Lachi:
I appreciate that. But this is about you. This is all about you. So you need to understand that once you come on Reid My Mind Radio. I need to tell you Lachi you are now an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

— Official
— Airhorns!

Lachi:

Oh my god
I love it!

TR:

You can find Lachi on all social media at LachiMusic. If you’re on Club House don’t forget to check her out on Thursday’s. I might be working the door, but if I’m not let her know you’re part of the Reid My Mind
radio Family and I’m sure you’ll get the VIP treatment!

(Visually Impaired Player!)

Of course, go on over and follow Lachi’s YouTube series, The Off Beat and show your love!

If you like what you hear, please follow this podcast where ever you like to listen. We outchere!

Don’t forget we have transcripts and links over at ReidMyMind.com. If you’ve been rocking with me, you know how this goes, but some don’t… I’m gonna do it real slow!
that’s R to the E I D…
(“D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

The Power of Friends Talking: Pramit Bhargava, Louie and More

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

There is power in conversation. A real friend can not only make you feel better by listening, but every now and then, they say something that affects you. Some times it lifts you up. other times it may not feel so good, but it’s meant to empower. Occasionally, it can even spark an idea.

Pramit Bhargava, is the founder of an Android app called Louie. Today, we explore his personal adjustment to blindness story. He shares an honest look into his experience with vision loss and how his view of blindness and disability has dramatically changed over the years.

And of course, there’s Louie!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

[show_more more=”Show the transcript” less=”Hide the transcript”]

“Friends” Whodini

“Friends! How many of us have them? Friends! Before we go any further…”

— Instrumental continues

TR:

Allow me to welcome you back to the podcast.

My name is Thomas Reid. I’ll be your host on this journey. even better, I hope I can be your friend.

See on this podcast, this podcast right here, we’re all about featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of Blindness and disability.

And one of my core beliefs as a person adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult is that the people we meet along our journey who have been traveling that path before us can be really important to helping us find our own way.

“Friends.”

Friends come in all shapes sizes and colors. Today, we even have virtual friends… You think you know what I’m talking about but let’s find out!

“Friends!”

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

— Audio of Louie sample from YouTube…

TR:

You’re listening to a sample of an app called Louie. It’s a virtual friend who can assist you in completing tasks within apps like YouTube, What’s APP, Uber and more.

We’ll get more into that later.
Right now, I want to share the story of how it came to be, which like the app, is really all about being of assistance to those adjusting to vision loss.

pramit:

I’m Pramit Bhargava, I’m the Founder of an app called Louie Voice Control for Visually Impaired people like us!

my life has been half with vision half visually impaired. I am by education a computer engineer. And then I went in for MBA. I had normal vision. So I was just like a regular guy.

TR:
A regular guy who attended both the India Institute of Technology and the India Institute of Management where he received his MBA.

Think M.I.T!

After graduating, well, he entered that race.
Pramit:
Running running to go up the corporate ladder. I was working like crazy. And with these global companies, you had to keep all kinds of hours giving the time difference.

I was in marketing, and then I moved on to managing businesses. For example, for quest diagnostics, I set up a couple of businesses in India. And life was all about, you know, moving up the corporate ladder and running and running.

TR:

He was about 30, living a very active lifestyle which included playing Squash. He began experiencing rheumatic joint pain.

Pramit:

it just came out of the blue, no family history, and they couldn’t diagnose it. So they put me on what we know as hydrochloriquine.

— Audio clips of Hydro chloroquine & Covid19

Pramit:

The good thing was that I could still get some correction. So I could still continue to work with these companies.

But then all along my vision was dropping and I kept sort of readjusting. I was also moving into a senior level position. So a lot of my work therefore involved strategy, thinking through problems, leading teams.

Emails, PowerPoints, and excel sheets are all there. The capabilities that I was leveraging, were really the strategy thinking, and execution, team leadership, so not so much, looking at the screen all the time.

TR:

There’s often discussion around when and how to disclose a disability to a prospective employer. Pramit opted for transparency.

Pramit:

I think the reason was very simple, because my vision was so bad they would have seen it
So I had a very clear plan of action. I would be upfront.

TR:

Not only did he disclose his disability, but pramit even suggested that hiring managers take some additional time to be sure of their decision to hire him.

Occasionally there were empathetic people in power, but the response he received let him know decisions were being made based on his skill set.

Pramit:

Look, it doesn’t matter. Because we want a certain skill set. We want your mind to work your brain to work, it doesn’t matter. Yes, they had expectations of some very basic,
I should be able to manage my emails, I should be able to read some stuff. they did have those expectations.

I think the fact that I was very upfront, and I didn’t want to sign on the dotted line, so to say, and I wanted them to think about it, , before we took the next step.

A couple of them in fact, asked me to go for eye test, , and of course, the eye test results. Were not great or anything, but at least , the whole thing was very transparent. It just knocked off the pressure.

TR:

Well at least external pressure.

We want to believe in the idea that we’re judged based on our skills. A meritocracy, but the statistics tell me that’s probably not a common experience for most people.

Remember, Pramit graduated from the top technical and business schools in India.

— Audio transition changing tone …
Pramit:
there came a time. Suddenly, I couldn’t read anything at all. I couldn’t make out any Excel sheets, PowerPoints.

And, , because I had that little vision, I wasn’t really using any of the technologies, I wasn’t using a screen reader,.

So the mind said oh, I don’t need it, I can manage it.

TR:

Over a 12 year period as his vision changed, his adaptations did not.

Pramit:

I hit that point where suddenly my confidence was gone.

In my mind the devil saying, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. If I can’t do this, how will I be able to do a job like this?

TR:

It wasn’t anything external, in fact, Pramit continued to get job offers.

Pramit:

I was sort of just sitting at home two and a half, three years doing nothing.

Every time I would get offers, , for similar positions, and something inside me will tell me no, no, no, , let me not make a mess of it, I won’t be able to do it.

I was getting very, very dependent for simple things. 

I mean, even to answer the phone, , I had to ask somebody, okay, Who’s calling? Or if I had to dial somebody on a touchscreen.

TR:

Pramit was living with decreasing Low Vision for about 12 years. Not passing as sighted, but also not working as Blind

At first glance, it might appear as if he were in a really good situation. He had a high level career, management was supportive, he had resources including assistants. So I had to ask in order to make it clear.

TR in Conversation with Pramit: 13:49
What made you lose your confidence?

Pramit

(Long pause… followed by a slight laugh)

I think See, I think combination of two things if honestly, if you asked me, I think a I was in that phase of life where I was trying to run, run and like I said, go up the corporate ladder. So let’s say if there was a goal, if at that time somebody had asked me, what is that one thing you want to achieve in life? I would have said, Okay, go up the corporate ladder, become a CEO, become a CEO of a bigger company. So that was one. Sometimes the way I almost think of it was that the higher you are flying, the bigger is the fall. (Laughs)

It’s A – about my aspirations and just not knowing what I should be doing next with life.

TR:

pramit wasn’t receiving negative feedback from his peers or management.

Pramit:

You know, that you are hitting that point where performing to that level is going to be difficult, just struggling for everything struggling to present struggling to analyze.

For example, let’s say you look at a trend on an Excel sheet. Now if you can see it, the numbers start speaking a story. When you try and do it with a screen reader cell buy cell buy cell, sometimes that story may get lost. And because I was not even using a screen reader. (Chuckles) So imagine, now, I’m not seeing anything, and suddenly those numbers are coming. I think a combination of, I was trying to fly high. My aspirations, the fact that I was not preparing myself for that, gradually I could have, but I didn’t.

That loss of confidence was not because of anybody telling me, it was all inside me all in my mind.

TR in Conversation with Pramit: 17:32
I definitely understand, and I just wanted to kind of pull that out, because I think it’s an important piece. So it’s like, you have your own standards. And if you’re not meeting your standards, well, that starts to impact you. It’s not always external. And so that’s why I wanted to drag that out a little bit from you.

Pramit:

Yeah, yeah! Absolutely!

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

TR in Conversation with Pramit: 18:32
My teacher that I always go back to he used to say, everything starts with the thought.

Pramit:

Yes!

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

How is blindness perceived from your perspective in India? Because in a sense you were very privileged, would you classify yourself as that?

Pramit:

absolutely no doubt. I mean, the fact that I had vision, the fact that I had that kind of education and the kind of experience Yeah, certainly.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

What are the opportunities for others who may not have been or may not be as privileged?

Pramit:

I’ll give you a personal angle to this and I think it’s really important Right. Rather than saying how others would perceive, I can talk about how I used to look at blind when I had normal vision, I think it’s very important.

Honestly, I never interacted with somebody who’s blind. It’s not that I didn’t see them on the road. Because typically I’ll see them with a stick, and, you know, somehow managing or whatever, you know, people helping them, I just had zero empathy for blind people, you know, I’m just being very, very truthful on this.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

I appreciate it.

TR:

He admits, he had tunnel vision – focusing only on his goal of making his way up that corporate ladder.

Pramit:
Now, if I were to, let’s say, Now, extrapolated to a broader world in India, I would say that there are people of all kinds, I think, fortunately, I think there’ll be fewer people like me, who will have no empathy.

I think in India, also on top of it, I think the facilities, you know, for example, facilities for the visually impaired are fairly limited. Now, now that consciousness is going up. Like for example, now, all metro stations in India are designed for visually impaired, they have a lot of help available, right. There are tracks specially for them, you know, which they can follow. So, now, things are changing, but, there is definitely a perception issue.

TR:

And one of the best ways to change those perceptions?

Pramit:

I started interacting only when I started developing the app, Louis voice until such time, would you believe it, I have not had a real interaction. When I say real interaction, I may have seen somebody, I may have exchanged a word or two. But you know, that heart to heart one on one conversation, I, you know, till about, I would say two years back, I had not met a single visually impaired person in that sense. I was just trying to solve my own problems. I was just doing things on my own.

— Audio “Gladiator”

Pramit:

I started realizing that look, you know, just living for personal gain and living selfishly the way I had been all along. You know, it’s not something that’s great. Because I was very transactional, everything was about what is the benefit for me. You know, there’s nothing called you know, selflessly doing something. Now I’ve been consciously trying to change it.

TR:

Pramit’s self discovery didn’t begin with the app.

Pramit:
I think it’s a broader change which happened 15 years back now.

I was doing well in my career.

All of a sudden, these thoughts started coming into my mind, where am I running? What am I doing? Why, why am I here on earth? What is my purpose in life? I mean, it just came out of nowhere.

TR:

That inner voice may have always existed. Maybe the volume is low at first, but at some point it becomes noticeable.

Pramit:

Of course, I ignored it. You know, I kept ignoring it. I think it was only about maybe six, seven years back that I landed up, you know, at a meditation center.

TR:

I know, he doesn’t seem like a meditation center kind of guy.

Pramit:

There is so much of what happens when you’re an engineer, and an MBA from a top Institute. I was so left brain that I thought I knew everything in the world. That’s also part of that ego.

so I had gone to meet a friend who is like me, you know, similar career. So you know, again, you know, and he himself same materialistic, same same kind of thing. just happened over dinner, I just asked his wife tell me some good books.

I had just got introduced to audiobooks, by the way. So for years, I had not read anything.

Initially, of course, I started with some business books and so on.

so and then she just said, okay, read this book and nothing else.

The title sounded interesting, because I would have read a lot of autobiographies of business leaders, but not a yogi. I had zero interest in anything about Yogi’s or spirituality or religion.

TR:

That’s Autobiography of a Yogi
(available on Audible & BARD from the National Library Service for the Blind and print Disabled in the US.

Pramit:

I read the book, then there was this a certain meditation technique in that, you know, so I have just feared having read the book that my life will go to waste. If I don’t do that, you know, don’t learn that. And then accidentally, I had gone to a place to buy a book.

TR:

A book on that form of meditation.

While in the bookstore, he noticed a large hall . He asked about it.

Pramit:

They said, We teach this meditation.

I just landed up there by accident. So this is like all coincidences.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

No, that’s not coincidence.

Pramit:

Yeah, but I mean, it just looks like that now,

Ever since I came onto the path , I can well appreciate a lot of these things. I’m not doing it. It’s really a lot of you know, higher forces.

TR:

No matter what you believe in, the outcome and resulting actions should speak for themselves.

Pramit:
today, if I’m self-critical, it’s only because I am able to now assess myself because I can pull out and I can assess how big a jerk I was. And let’s say up to this time, and even now, sometimes, so I think which is good, that kind of self-assessment, and which happened only because I got onto this path.

TR:

Before he arrived on his current path, he admits trying other routes with alternative destinations.

Pramit:
I wanted to go back to the same life, the same kind of jobs.

TR:

But his confidence for that life was gone.

Then, he had a beer. But before you get excited, this is not an excuse for you to do the same. See, it’s not about what he was drinking. It’s about the friends he was drinking with.

Pramit:

One of them asked me a very, very pointed question.

He said, look, you are still living in the past, you’re still chasing what you used to do earlier. He said, Look inside and tell me, what is it that you really want to do now?

That suddenly changed my position, you know, and that and then I opened up? I said, No, yeah, you’re right, you know, all that I’m not interested, you know, I really want to do this. And I actually had something, you know, I could actually tell them, but I was trying to keep it down.

TR:

Identifying the problem is one thing, but understanding why can really be helpful.

Pramit:

We are leading our lives based on what others around us think. Therefor you want to just do the acceptable thing.

Slowly I think I started accepting the fact that look, I don’t need to care whether somebody likes it or doesn’t like it. This is what I want to do.

TR:
Others like family, friends or colleagues in many instances.

But remember that beer with friends earlier?

— “Friends” Whodini!

Pramit:

Then we had another round, In fact, with a bigger set of friends, they called up more people. By that time, I had greater granularity, I said, Okay, this is what I really want to do. And then ideas started flowing. Nobody was being judgmental, nobody was trying to say, Oh, this is bad, this is good. They said, Okay, if this is what you want to do, let’s see how we can help.

TR:

Pramit began consulting, but on his terms.

Pramit:
Some of these guys then got me contacts. And then basically what I did was that rather than doing regular jobs, I said, I’ll go into consulting, but a very different way.

I will do it one day, two day, three day, whatever I feel comfortable with, I will go work inside a company, work with their team drive their team, and I will not give them a consultant’s report, but I will actually deliver for them, whatever results or whatever targets that they had in mind.

I was lucky because some of these guys were connected, they put me in touch with people

I started my first consulting work within 10 days. My confidence was back.

I knew that I am 95% as effective as I was earlier. And doesn’t matter because I was using screen reader effectively. And I mean, there were people around so once in a while, I couldn’t see an image so I can ask them. Okay, what is this image? Just tell me, right? I mean, you have to take help whenever you need to. Yeah, but then I was independent.

TR in Conversation with Pramit: 39:18
Wow, wow. How good did that feel?

Pramit:

See, it’s like a bird released out of a cage. And that cage was created by me by my mind around me, nobody else. I mean, I cannot blame anybody else. for it. It’s only you know, how my mind was processing it.

TR:

The impact of all that, went beyond work. He began traveling on the metro subway – which even further enhanced his confidence.

Enjoying his new found freedom and career, , pramit approached a potential client, the managing director of a large Venture Capital firm.

Pramit:

he knew that I am visually impaired. So he was very keen. He asked me, in fact, a lot of questions about what apps you’re using, how are they? Do they do the task for you? Where is the gap? And you know, it was almost like, you know, trying to assess a market? Yeah. And at the end of it, he said, Look, forget consulting, you are just wasting away your life.

Let’s build apps for visually impaired.

He said, I can see because I’ve been tracking this market for a while, and I have some personal interests. He was cited.

TR:

But Pramit was comfortably consulting and even booked some long term projects. Why leave that?

Pramit:
I had gone to meet an uncle who’s like, you know, very wise and old. He said something, he said, Look, if I look at it from a material perspective, I will tell you do not do the startup because it’s very risky right now, you are doing well in consulting stick to that. But he said at the same time, I will say one thing, there are very, very few people in the world who would leverage their disability, to do something that can help others with similar disability. He said, If you can do that, you know, and he said, I wouldn’t advise you, if you can do that. I mean, that’s something.

TR:

That really resonated with him.

Pramit:

Way back in 2009, early 2009, when suddenly, I joined quest diagnostics, and my blood sugar levels turned out to be very high, and had a family history of diabetics, I lost my father because of diabetes complications. And I knew that, you know, going on to insulin doesn’t really help because I’d seen him taking insulin injections, two times a day, from childhood. Something clicked and I just changed my lifestyle. And let me tell you, because I was on this whole corporate ladder trip,

I was leading a really bad lifestyle, lot of stress, very little sleeping a lot of junk food, because junk food gives you that instant energy, it makes you feel, you know, you got energy back and you’re you know, in control. Yeah. And I was overweight, obese, you know, not overweight. So I lost something like 20 kg.

TR:

About 44 pounds.

He shared his progress on YouTube ad free, by the way and he says he’s still contacted by people around the world in regards to his journey with Diabetes and weight loss.

Reframing the idea of developing apps from this perspective made a difference.

Pramit:

When I look at all my senior positions back then it doesn’t give me joy, honestly, you know, so that was when I said, Okay, I’m ready to do this startup.

It’s very easy to criticize the tools that are available around us, you may say, Oh, this is not good. This is not bad. This app doesn’t work. You know, it doesn’t work here. This gentleman who was in the venture capital company he said, Look, I’ve heard enough about this not being good, that not being good. Tell me what is good. define it for me. So next week, I want to see what is good.

TR:

Then one evening after hanging out with a friend, Pramit began to arrange for an Uber when his friend said something.

Pramit:

He said give me your smartphone. And let me book it for you.

There were all these options. I gave him a destination. I would say take this ride, take this, there’s so much fare this fine. I’ll pay by this method, and confirm and calling. So you know, that whole experience was so beautiful. What if I could create a virtual friend right there on the phone screen, which will do exactly similar kind of continuous conversation with me. It will do everything within an app, because my friend could have done anything, you know, including cancellation, including messaging. And that is how the thought for Louie was born

TR:

Concept in mind, it was time to test the effectiveness of both Siri and Google Assistant. What he realized is that what would become known as Louie, came out of a very specific idea.

Pramit
I can build something which can be just tailor made for a visually impaired, tailor made for a blind. Louie is keeping a blind person in mind. I think that’s the difference.

TR:

Exactly how to do that required answering a few questions.

Pramit:

Can I give just voice commands to Louie , can I control my favorite apps or key features on the phone?

Just by my voice commands and with the thought that I should be able to do each and everything and being in control all the time?
I think that was very important.

TR:

That constant control is crucial. You want to be assured that whenever you need to access the app whether for information or to provide detail it’s available.

Whether ordering an Uber while out on the town, contacting a friend via What’s APp or just chillin’ on your couch surfing YouTube.
Pramit:

You can manage your contact, edit, delete block so on, everything with just voice commands. You can call, text messaging and there’s a whole series of apps and pain points of visually impaired that we are working on.

Messenger on Facebook, Google search, basically being able to navigate around in a browser, being able to read articles, being able to read documents. Even simple things like these, like, for example, some of the visually impaired even have a problem receiving their calls, picking up their calls, disconnecting their call.

What I realized the aspirations of a visually impaired are no different from that of a sighted.

These two gentlemen said, Oh, food ordering, why don’t you do food ordering? E-commerce for example and with that two way continuous interaction which the voice assistant’s don’t provide.

TR:

Pramit believes Louie can do it.

— “You can do it Louie” —

In fact, others do too. Which is why they formed the company Visio Apps.

Pramit:
Currently, we have investors, both in India, as well as USA. And I think very importantly, I think one of our investors, which I think was really important for us, he was the Google India and Southeast Asia head. And he was in Google, at that time, when he invested in the company. He just felt that look, this is something great, I really want to be a part of. So I think that has really helped.

We have 14 people in the team. Apart from me, there are three more visually impaired, there are five people in technology who are cited. People in marketing. Visually impaired people are contributing significantly, both in testing as well as user experience.

It’s a small team, we have employee stock option plans, we’re all passionate about this cause.

TR:

Since the pandemic the team has been working remotely and it looks like that will continue.

Which means there are opportunities for developers worldwide. In fact, Pramit is interested in hearing from Blind developers especially those working in IOS and Java.

You’re probably already recognizing ways that this sort of an app can go beyond the Blind community which is great. But it’s Pramit’s response to that which really sums up the power of Louie to me.

Pramit:
I’m very clear that the focus will always be the use case of a blind person. And with the assumption that look, if it works for somebody who cannot see the screen, it should work, theoretically for anybody else.

TR:

I’ll have all the links to Louie and how to reach Pramit on this episodes blog post over on ReidMyMind.com.

Again, Louie is for Android users only right now, therefore understand I have not used this myself.

But I’m all about friends helping friends get through a challenging situation. Especially when we’re centering that Blind experience.

Pramit:

I’m everyday interacting with users, I like to speak to them. So my phone number, my WhatsApp number, you know, my email is like, freely available. to anybody, and I do get calls or you know, just out of the blue from a whole lot of visually impaired because that really helps.

Just talking to people one on one, understanding the challenges with the app. I’m just trying to make it better and better.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:
So you’re telling me the CEO is the customer service?

Pramit:

Laughs… yes!

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

I officially welcome you into the Reid My Mind Radio family, Sir.

Your story is one that I think would be helpful for people adjusting to vision loss. I salute you in terms of where you’ve been, and

Pramit 1:13:59
no, no, not really. No, I’ve been a jerk I’ve been, as you can see,

If my experience can help I look at it that way.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:
But I say that because I don’t think anybody can throw stones because we all have done something. But we all don’t admit it. So I’m not saluting your jerkiness, right? I’m saluting your openness and you sharing that that’s what I’m saluting and the fact that you recognize it. When I became blind and I became aware of inaccessible websites and whatnot. And I said to myself, Oh, my goodness, I built an inaccessible website before, because I didn’t know I didn’t know. So now I know. So it’s really like when you know, it really matters what you do, then. You know what I mean?

Pramit:

absolutely.

TR in Conversation with Pramit:

That’s what I salute, sir.

TR:

Our latest addition to the Reid My Mind Radio family just provided an incredible amount of insight and value to this conversation of adjusting to blindness and disability.

It’s worth reviewing and truly sitting with and thinking about the experiences he shared.

If you know of someone right now who is in the midst of such an adjustment, reach out and tell them about this episode, tell them about Louie.

Of course let them know they can subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever they get podcasts!

Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com.

Now be a friend and say that with me…

R, to the E I D!

(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!
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