Archive for the ‘Screen Readers’ Category

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

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

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

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

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TR:

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

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

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

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

The answers and more are up next.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

First, budgets.

Audio: Music…

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

Audio: Sound of a Adding Machine

TR:

We’re talking about a few thousand dollars.

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

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

Eric:

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

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Well, that’s just parents! Laughs…

Eric:

You know!

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

TR:

Who watches on DVD anymore? We’re streaming.

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

That service would have to commission their own AD track.

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

As consumers, we want both; quality and quantity.

Eric:

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

TR:

Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s!

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

Eric:

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

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

Audio: Music

TR:

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

Audio: Music

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Yeh… (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs… Oh boy! Wow! Aw man.

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Laughing… Oh, thank you!

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: Music ends

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

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

Liz:

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

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

Right, and to not make the assumption.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Absolutely.

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Liz:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

Eric:

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

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

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

Eric:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

Eric:

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

Audio: Music

TR:

Feedback should be a gift, so make it constructive.

Eric:

Don’t just say hey you suck!

Well, thanks, that doesn’t really help!

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

TR:

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

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

Reach out…

Eric:

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

TR:

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

TR:

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

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

What about the perspective of those producing AD?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

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

Liz:

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

Audio: Stay Golden

TR:

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

Eric:

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

TR:

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

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

Eric:

You suck!

TR:

That really isn’t helpful!

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

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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Audimance: Transforming Dance and Movement into Sound

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

On the podcast today…

Audio: “Dance”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

My understanding is that you became a professor… Yes?

AS:

Yes!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Laughing…) AS:

Laughing…

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

AS:

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

TR:

A professor of Medieval Studies to be exact.

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

AAS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

The dare?

Take a dance class.

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:] Laughing…

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

Yeh, yeh! (Laughing)

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

AS:

Laughs…

TR:

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

AS:

I really felt like I had to honor that dare.

TR:

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

AS:

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

I never actually got to be in the dance class.

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

So tell me what does that look like?

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Wow!

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughs…

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

That structure is Kinetic Light.

LL:

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

First, Alice invited friends to attend a live performance.

AS:

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

TR:

The goal was specific.

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

Cool!

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Audio: Horn!

then puts his left foot out.

Audio: Two horn hits!

he does the Hokey Pokey and turns himself around.

Audio: Hokey Pokey song

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

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

AAS:

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Laurel tells us about other tracks and possibilities.

LL:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

LL: on centering blind

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

LL:

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

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

LL:

(Laughing)

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

There is a newsletter!

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

AS:

On your phone you can text 66866 to sign up.

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

AS:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

What website would that be?

AS:

(laughs…)
KineticLight.org

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

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

This particular film consists of audio description with two narrators.

Audio:

TR:

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

And the other describer…

Audio:

TR:

Yours truly!

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

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

For more on Inclinations checkout Alice Sheppard.com

Audio: “Check it out y’all!”

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

Salute to Alice Laurel and everyone involved with the project!

And if you like what you heard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AS:

And I was like wow!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Walking the Walk with Day Al-Mohamed

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Radio turning through different FM stations.

TR:
Rise and shine beautiful people.

Audio: Lovely Day, Bill Withers

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

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

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

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

Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Day:

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

TR:

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

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

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

And just as she said, disability comes up!

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

Day:

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

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

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

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

TR:

Day was presented with An opportunity.

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

Day:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

TR:

Ever since then, Day’s been moving.

Day:

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

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

TR:

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

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

Day:

social welfare, employment, technology, education.

I actually worked on Missouri’s conceal carry.

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

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

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

Day:

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

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs!

Day:

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

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

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

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

Day:

It was not.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

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

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

Day:

No, no I think it’s a good one.

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

TR:

The benefits go beyond access.

Day:

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

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

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

TR:

It was a nice experience for Day.

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

Day:

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

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

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

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

Day:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

Ooh

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

Day:

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

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

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

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

(laughs)

Day:

Laughs…

]

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

Day:

Here wwe go!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

Yes.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, I gotcha!

So when did the interest in film come into play?

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

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

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

[
Day:

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

TR:
Quick recap.

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

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

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

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

Day:

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

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice!

Day:

She says you always start with the story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day:

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

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

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

Audio: Civil War Marching Drums…

TR:

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

Day:

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

Audio: The Invalid Corps (Song)

Day:

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

TR:

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

They did things like;

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

Day:

They created 24 separate regiments.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Confederate?

Day:

Union.

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

Day:

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

It’s a pretty awesome story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These guys hold out for 24 hours until reinforcements arrive.

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

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

Day:

I know!

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow!

Day:

I know!

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

TR:

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

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

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

Day:

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

It has both captioning and audio description.

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

I want a talk about your bucket list.

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

Day:

Right!

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

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

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

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

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

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

Day:

Right!

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

Was it really?

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

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

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

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

Day:

Yeah!

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

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

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs.

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day]

(Breathes in deeply!) Laughs!

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

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

Day:

Well awesome. You should totally do it.

TR:

Big shout out to Day Al-Mohamed.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

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

Day:

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

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Laughs!

TR:

How cool is that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Blind Travel Network – A Holman Prize Win for You Too

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

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

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

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

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

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

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

TR:

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

Music continues…

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

If this is your first time here, welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

SC:

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

SC:

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

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

SC:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

SC:

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

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

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

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

SC:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

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

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

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

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

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

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

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

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Black on Audio Description

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Earlier this year I posted an episode discussing my thoughts on Audio Description. While I’ve been consuming and thinking about description for some time, it was Marvel’s Black panther that sparked me to share some thoughts and ideas.

I decided to continue a discussion on the topic. This time it’s really a conversation. I called a listener who sent me feedback regarding the episodes question. Why didn’t Black Panther have a Black person narrating the description?

And as a bonus, the listener just happens to be someone I’d like to interview for RMM Radio!

So yes, we’re back on that subject or better yet, we’re Black on Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family? For anyone new to the podcast, my name is T.Reid.

This podcast more than often focuses on issues of adaptation and adjustment through interviews with people who have been impacted by vision loss – from low vision to blindness. I should say severe low vision because personally I’m tired of people telling me how blind they are without their glasses.

You Sir/Madam are more then welcomed here, but if you can put on your corrective lenses and get into your vehicle and drive off – you are not impacted by vision loss.

The people mainly profiled here are indirectly challenging stereotypes about what it means to be blind.

I’m always hopeful that listeners learn something new. Maybe it’s an unfamiliar subject or a new way of looking at or solving a problem.

Occasionally , I share my own experiences around becoming blind as an adult. These are influenced by all aspects of identity – including
gender, socioeconomic status, age, demographic location and of course so called race.
I mean, this is America!

A few episodes ago I discussed an aspect of blindness that can intersect with race.
Audio description!

Audio: “What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Well that could be two whats…

Audio: “What, What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Don’t be nervous! Let’s get into it…
After the intro…!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

## TR:

Back to the questions.
What is audio description & what does race have to do with it?

If you don’t know audio description, let me really welcome you to the podcast. Audio description or AD is the additional narration distributed with a movie or television show that describes scenes without dialogue,
enabling a person to non visually follow or access the content.

That other what?
What does being black have to do with audio description?

On the technological level , nothing! But as we know, race is complex. It’s ingrained into the fabric of this country. The complexity though, isn’t tied to the tech, rather its the subtle aspects of language, decisions about what is relevant and the voice of the narrator that impact some viewers experience

In the earlier episode on audio description, I was specifically referring to the Marvel hit movie and what many Black people looked forward to as a cultural event; Black Panther.

Following that piece I received a bit of feedback.
If you go to the episode blog post at ReidMyMind.com you can see one commenter’s response and I encourage you to follow the link to her blog
where she shares more. She is a person who herself is involved in the description process. Self described as a white lady she was appreciative of the issues and questions raised and thought they deserved to be discussed. Shout out to you for the link love and being in the accessibility field. I think sometimes we forget that AD is accessibility.

I also received an email from a young lady – who closely identified with the issues raised in the episode.

She was pleased to know that she was not the only one who felt that the description included with Black Panther, well sucked! My words, not hers.

No shots to the gentlemen who described the film, you sound like you’re probably a very nice person and quite honestly, I’d love to speak with you. In fact, I reached out to Deluxe, the company who created the description for Black panther but I never heard back. I really wanted to begin a dialogue.

It seems fair that a consumer would have something to say about a product or service.
And personally I think it could be helpful to have a bit of input from those who consume your product or service. And well that’s today’s focus.

Audio: James Brown: Black & I’m Proud – Instrumental

That email expressing agreement with my opinions, was from a young lady named Denna Lambert. Like me she experiences blindness as an African American.

She black yawl!

I don’t often get the chance to meet new people who are blind and who are people of color. So I’m not gonna lie, I was looking forward to the conversation. I had questions.

So, let’s get black on Audio Description.

Audio: James Brown: “Say it loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”

TR in conversation with DL:
You heard the podcast, what was it that jumped out to you to write the email and say “Hey I feel this too, I get it!”

DL:
Well being blind, sometimes just getting audio description feels like a luxury and your happy that somebody did it and it came out at the same time as everything else and I can just shut up and be happy. But at the same time with you being really thoughtful in what you were saying like “hey this was a mismatch” And I was like “Oh, you voiced what I was thinking!” Just knowing that I’m a consumer of a service and we should have a voice in how that service is implemented. If it’s missing a mark we can help take it to the next level. Yes people have fought and probably sued some theaters to make sure the equipment is functional and that is there from day one. But let’s take it to the next level to make sure that it is culturally confident. And it was like Oh Snap I got to support this too. I think that is why I reached out because I was thankful for being silently dissatisfied at some level. I felt like I didn’t get the full Wakanda experience.
TR in conversation with DL:
I’m still lacking some Wakanda experience myself. [laughs]

TR:

That Wakanda experience was what drove millions of Black people to get excited about the movie.

Some indeed were fans of the Marvel franchise, some may have even been fans of the comic book. But many were simply looking forward to a movie with strong diverse images of Black people on screen.
I talked a bit more about that in the original episode of the podcast on this subject.

Denna herself was anticipating the movie just as much as many others and got a bit more into it than I did.
DL:
I was in the hype just like everyone else when the trailer first dropped which didn’t even have audio description. I called my mamma and said let me get my dashiki so I got my dashiki and I was ready and had my headdress. When i heard voices of Andrea Bassett i was like “Yes!” So I went and thankfully the movie theater I went to they had the audio description devices ready and they were fully operational. From the first introduction where they were talking about how Wakanda was created with the different tribes and the describes voice coming up I was like “Who?! Who is this?!” But I’m still excited. So it was kind of a mismatch from everybody who was in the theater. Some people brought their gymbays and people had their dashikis and you know just black power. And you can hear the describer’s voice and not to say you can sum up a movie by their voice but it was like “huh.” The descriptions were definitely okay but that’s the piece as a blind viewer. But there was so much content for any viewer whether they were sighted or blind. I have to wonder what did i miss. Could there have been different words used that would have more aligned with the culture and the theme of the movie.
I started using AIRA and now i started seeing more AIRA agents of color. Im seeing Antonio and Annika and all them. And I’m like “Okay I’m going to need yall and come and describe some movies for me.”

TR in conversation with DL:
MMM you just made me think about something hold on one second. That takes that whole idea of description out of the movie theater because that’s the whole purpose of AIRA and then cultural inclinations about various things that you are doing.

DL:
Yeah. I’ve seen Black Panther abot 3-4 times just because anybody who wanted to go I wanted to go with them. There’s probably so much mystery and thoughtfulness that was put into it. SO like the scene where T’Challa and Nakia were in the club and they were trying to go after the main guy and they were in their attire. I don’t think the person described the attire, he described her movements but i was watching a video from one of the directors and he intentionally used the colors; green, black, and red to symbolize their african pride. And that’s something that just one little sentence could have brought that out. While I was very happy and thankful that the description was available since day one because that certainly was not the case 10-15 years ago that i could just show up whenever i wanted to. But i think there is some growth that could happen with this area of accessibility.

Tr in conversation with DL:
SO went you went a bunch of times with different people, did you go with anyone that was blind or no?

DL:
No actually no it was just with different sighted friends who just wanted to go.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Did you compare notes with them or anything at all?
DL:
A little bit because I went with some friends that were black and then I went with some friends that were white. And you know they were asking me what was this and what was that and i was like well I don’t know. [Laughs]

Tr in conversation with DL:
“I don’t live in Wakanda!” [laughs]

TR:

There are definitely some overlaps in this conversation around audio description that transcend cultural Competence.

Feeling as though audio description is a privilege, I’m sure is something many blind people have felt.

Going to a theater and the device doesn’t work, well you may not want to trouble the person you’re with to quickly exchange the device. That means missing part of the movie and chances are you don’t want someone to have to do that.

Shout out to ActiView and their audio description solution that puts more of the power in the consumers hands. You can check out the Reid My Mind Radio archives for that interview on that service that I personally hope begins to get more movies in their app.

Audio: Public Enemy: Party for Your Right to Fight

Privilege or a right?

If audio description is access to content, then I believe it’s a right. Like everyone else who has the right to pay money to watch a film or television show, people with disabilities have the right to audio description, captions and physically accessible theaters.

What makes our lack of excitement about Black panther’s audio description
so confusing is the lack of consistency between the big and small screens.

Watching the Marvel franchise on Netflix with audio description is vastly different from Black panther.

For the sake of comparison, I asked Denna about her thoughts on Marvel’s Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is the black superhero who calls Harlem home. He can’t be hurt. Bullets bounce off and knives can’t penetrate his skin.

The person describing Luke Cage, who by my account sounds like a white man, describes the other shows in the series, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher and more.

DL:
He’s been consistent through the marvel comic series as netflix has been rolling it out. So it was almost embedded in brain that this was the dude that’s going to bring it. There was definitely some awareness in hearing when they would say things like “he’s wearing a fedora.,” or “he’s swaggering down the sidewalk” or “he did a dab” or the hair. And I don’t know if just anybody can point these things out.
With Luke Cage there was nothing apologetic about how this is the blackest comic that you are going to get. What I really loved is that the describer, I don’t know if it was apparent to the visually to whomever was viewing it, but I love that they reference the specific artists as they came up in the Paradise Lounge.
So to me that was showing respect and it gave me the experience of thinking “okay let me go look for some of these people.”
Tr in conversation with DL:
It’s not only the ones who are actually performing, they also are good at including people who are just around and even in other scenes.

DL:
Yeah so even like the picture of Biggie, he described his expression, his crown and how it was kind of laid to the side. To me that, I don’t know, it just seems…

Tr in conversation with DL:
Just culturally confident.

DL:
And I think with you were saying earlier, it wasn’t like two different scripts. It felt like there was one different script with the description being apart of the verbalizations too.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I almost don’t even think of the description as description while watching netflix.

DL:
Right!

TR:

That term truly encapsulates what should be a part of the audio description checklist.

Is the description culturally competent – meaning are we informing the blind viewers about the subtle references that will make sense to them? This would probably require input from the films creator if there’s no one in the know involved in the process.

This idea is already relevant to the movie or television show’s dialog and choices made regarding character development.

It’s one thing being black and looking for true representation in Hollywood. What about as a woman? As a black woman with a disability.
Tr in conversation with DL:
What do you think about the role of the black woman in Luke Cage.

DL:
Oh now that was pretty sweet! I was really proud that Luke Cage he’s like the strong Black man. Hes caring. I was really glad to see his girlfriend, Claire. And she was holding on to that no this behavior of holding on to your anger, she grew up with that and she was not going to tolerate it.
I loved Missy. I loved that she was this strong woman who was feminine. She
Didn’t lose not just her sexuality bit sensuality.
There was so many different aspects of black women in this. You had Mariah.
Tr in conversation with DL:
[laughs] She was crazy.

DL:
She was great! She played that! I loved seeing Luke’s father.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I didn’t realize that he passed, I totally forgot he passed away.

DL:
Yeah! Because he was in House of Cards and I was so happy to see he was in there. SO there were so many examples, a whole spectrum of what blackness in. You know you don’t have to be the thug or the jessabella. There were so many different examples of black women in there that i was really impressed.
I love how Missy called out all of her coworkers cause they were staring at her prosthetics. SHe was like “let’s just get a look at it, im here, im not going away, this happened.” And i was just glad that she called it out. That was a way of handling disability, it became a part of who she was. She even described on when she was using her prosthetic arm or robotic arm and when she wasn’t. Which I don’t know if that was so important for me to know but the describer pointed that out.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think the whole idea was that shes statint to use it more and it’s even more of a part of her, she’s getting accustomed to it. And so I’m wondering if she’s going to get her own thing.

DL:
Yeah you know what, she was doing some things that were like humanly impossible so I was wondering if she’s going to get some superpowers.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah because isnt that a Stark arm?

DL:
Yeah yeah.
I loved the complexity of them having different territories; the choinese, the russians. They pulled in references for Katrina and showing that there can be disagreement. Like the judge who said “i had a family in louisiana who lost everything, don’t use this as an example for your shadiness. I don’t know I loved it I felt it was pretty cool. The ending ended with I think he changed the picture from Biggie to Mohammed Ali. But that’s the thing! I think the way that the description was, we noticed those things but we don’t know what we missed in Black Panther.

Tr in conversation with DL:
What i liked about it was how they would say it because the director meant for it to be. For example when Mariah and Shades were standing in front of the picture and the crown aligned to Mariah’s head to show she was the queen.

TR:

As we see with Luke Cage it doesn’t specifically mean the narrator has to be black. Or does it?

TR in conversation with DL:
What would you think about a woman describing that? A black woman doing the description in Luke Cage.

DL:
Ohh. Oh.

Tr in conversation with DL:
You think it could work?

DL:
It would have to be the right voice because I’ve seen on Netflix the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because it wasn’t really for me. But the person’s voice on there, I don’t’ know if she’s’ white or not, but no she could not do Luke Cage. [Both laughs] We don’t want her! She can do some other shows but she can not do this.
If Octavia Spencer or, why am I forgetting her name.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I know who you’re talking about you’re talking about the woman from How to Get Away with Murder.
DL:
Yes!

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah she has a great voice.

DL:
Yeah if she wanted to describe it, then yes.

TR:
For those who are fans of How to get away with murder… my apologies. The star of that show is the incredible Academy award winning Viola Davis.

Whether the description is voiced by a man or woman, Denna says:

DL:
It has to be somebody who follows that it was Harlem so you have to have somebody who has that Harlem… I don’t know.

Tr in conversation with DL:
That texture in their voice, I know what you’re saying.

DL:
It cannot be a very thin voice it’d have to be a full bodied voice.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think it could work. That is if they don’t give me the job because I’ve put it out there before that I wanted that job. Although I like the guy who does it, I’m fine with him but if he’s going im going to jump in there because that’s Harlem. I’m not from Harlem, Im from the Bronx but I can take Harlem.

DL:
Yes! You could do it. [Both laughs]

TR:
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to speak things into existence. But come on, , how cool would it be to have a person who is actually blind, from New York… born just a few miles away from Harlem, my Daddy’s from Harlem. And I’m blind. Universe, do you hear me talking.

#NetflixCallTReid

There’s much more to this discussion. Hopefully like the original episode, this will attract some feedback. I’d love to hear from others on this subject. Maybe you are a person of color and have some other examples of both disappointing and enjoyable audio description experiences. let me know. In fact, if you’re not a person of color and
was disappointed in the Black Panther description I’d like to hear from you.

When it comes to movies and television, Ultimately, , I think we all want the same thing; the right to enjoy the experience.

I’m interested in all experiences of blindness and disability in general, but I would really like to hear more from other people of color. I know there are some compelling stories out there .

For instance, corresponding with Denna prompted me to be even more nterested in her experience.
Let me show you what I mean.

Audio: Screen reader reading Denna’s email signature…
TR:
If you don’t speak screen reader, that was her email signature. Denna is a project manager at NASA.

Now, this wouldn’t be Reid My Mind Radio if we didn’t find out more about her journey. We’re going to get into that next time on the podcast.

So, if you’re new or if you haven’t just yet, may I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. Reid My Mind Radio is available on
Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. If you’re using a podcast app you can find it there.
Go on over to ReidMyMind.com for links to subscribe as well as a transcript of the show.

Remember that’s R E I D like my last name.

If this was your first time here I know what you’re thinking…
It happens all the time…

DL:
happens all the time…

TR:
Wait until you hear what more is coming up!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

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