Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

Let Me Hear You Say Black Lives Matter

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

In gold lettering on top of a red, black & green background appears "Reid My Mind Radio."

the title says it all! It’s the place we have to start if we are really going to make change in this country & world. I’m talking about individuals as well as society. And included among that group are the blindness consumer advocacy organizations; ACB and NFB. While there are differences in the founding philosophies of each, at the core both of these groups strive for Blind people to have the same rights as our sighted peers. Do they really mean all Blind people? I want to believe they do, but I guess I’m going to need to hear them say it; Black Lives Matter!

I’m trying to remain optimistic but right now, it really takes a lot of effort to be hopeful. I was reminded of a story from the Reid My Mind Radio archive that in a way illustrates some of what needs to happen in order to really move forward.

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Transcript

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Audio: Music… “Mission Start”

TR:

Welcome to or back to the podcast! My name is Thomas Reid and I’m the host and producer of Reid My Mind Radio – the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. Sometimes I share experiences of my own as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

today, well, it’s right there in the title. That is, the place we have to start if we are really going to make change. I’m talking about individuals, society and yes blindness & disability advocacy organizations.

If you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family, you know I’m pretty optimistic. It takes a lot of effort right now, but I’m trying y’all, trying to remain hopeful.
Audio: News commentator announcing global protests in London, Australia, Japan, Korea & Germany. All mixed with the chants of Black Lives matter!

TR:
That solidarity & declaration that I’m hearing from around the world, feels good, but I
need to hear it from voices much closer to home.

Audio: Montage of voices saying Black Lives matter. Each panned along the stereo spectrum.

TR:
Let’s go!

Audio: The final voice says;
“Yo, Black Lives matter!” The voice of Siri from the IPhone says” Send”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Audio: Sounds of dinner table/kitchen conversation from the Reid family household.

TR:

Like a lot of families meals are a time to come together. Not only to prepare and enjoy the food but also to check in with one another.
In the Reid household, we established some rules years ago around what was acceptable during meals. Like we don’t answer phone calls, we don’t look at our devices but rather we stay in the moment while we are eating together.

Audio: News commentator on the killing of George Floyd and protests.

TR:

Unfortunately, no matter how much I would like the rule to be in effect, just while we’re eating, there are times we can’t really afford to keep them. The most recent murders of Ahmaud Aubrey and George Floyd, the protests and of course, the self-described nationalist in the White House have caused us to rescind the rules. Both of my kids need to discuss all of this.

Riana who will be 23 soon is extremely passionate when it comes to issues around social justice. She needs to be active and she’s figuring out the best ways for her to do that. For example, donating to protester bail funds, continuing to educate herself through reading and research and sharing resources with her network.

Raven is younger, more internal and is really figuring out how to articulate her thoughts. Her friend groups are very diverse and she recognizes the differences and really appreciates them. Recently, she had to deal with the outing of a classmate, one in particular which has garnered a lot of national attention. This young 17 year old made very public awful racist comments. Listen to the statement from a young girl from Generation Z. Some thought this would be the post racial generation free from racism. Notice how deliberately she shares her revelation.

If you are triggered by little racists using the N word, skip ahead about 34 seconds.

17 Year Old Racist:

So, I’ve been seeing this video going around about why Brown people should be able to say the N word. So I’m here to tell you why white people should be able to say the N word. Because we made it up and none of you guys would be able to say that word if my ancestors didn’t decide to call you Black people Niggers all the way back in those old days. And so what do you guys do to try and show your appreciation, for coming up with your best word to call your best friend Nigga as you pass each other in the hall? You do what all good Black people do, you stole it. So all I’m doing here is trying to take back what’s already ours.

Audio: Ambient music

TR:

If it was shocking to you because you never heard this sort of language, it’s time to acknowledge your privilege. It’s not a time to pat yourself on the back because you raised your children to be color blind. It’s not a time to feel the need to share how you cried when Dr. King was assassinated or even you know someone who is Black. That doesn’t work towards a solution which makes you part of the problem.

Not even the four walls of our comfortable home can keep my family protected from the reality of violence against Black men, women and children. Like trying to explain to my kids how Travon Martin’s murderer was not going to face prison. Michael Brown’s killer would just walk free.

Riana has goals of moving out on her own. Meanwhile Breonna Taylor a 26 year old Emergency Medical Technician gets shot 8 times in her own home by police after wrongfully busting in her house in search of a suspect already in custody.

Audio: Two young children saying “Black Lives Matter”

Raven right now is learning to drive and I have to think of Sandra Bland and the others who have ultimately have fatal encounters with police because their driving while Black.

A word of caution:
What you’re about to hear is an example of the trauma and fear associated with police brutality. If the threat of violence is triggering, please skip ahead about 2 minutes.

Audio: Woman passionately trying to help a young Black man while he is being surrounded by police. We find out her boyfriend was also killed by police. The audio ends with her sobbing for them to simply put their guns away while begging the young man not to move.

TR:

Y’all know this isn’t about my privileged dinner time, right?

for Black people, it’s not only the threat of violence and interactions with police, but not dealing with the feelings around these murders is like allowing a virus to infect our bodies. We can wash our hands regularly, sanitize every package that comes into our homes, eat organic food but how do we protect ourselves from feeling as though we don’t matter.

Audio: A woman saying Black Lives Matter.

TR:

Being totally Blind doesn’t stop the images of these horrible killings from being engrained in my mind. I don’t need to see video of Michael Brown’s body left on the street after being murdered, I don’t need to see Ahmaud Aubrey being shot down or this deranged so called officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck to understand what that looks like. In fact, these images involuntarily flash in my mind without ever having seen them.

Recently I tweeted that I was waiting to hear a show of solidarity from the blindness organizations. I soon read one from NFB and then specifically questioned if ACB was going to show their support. They did. They also directed a tweet to me that they were waiting on a review before posting.

My response was that I was happy to see them done but the real statement will be seen in their actions like representation on their boards and leadership position and outreach.

Both statements were weak. In general, any solidarity statement at this point in time that does not include the simple phrase acknowledging that Black Lives Matter, it doesn’t have much weight in my opinion.

Audio: fire engine racing towards a burning building.

If a house was burning on a block of 10, should the fire department show equal attention to each house. Wouldn’t it be fair to first put the one fire out? Save the family in the house. Apparently some would prefer the fire department drive right past the burning house in order to make it clear that all the houses on the block are important. Meanwhile, do you all smell that smoke, the other homes on the block are beginning to burn.

Audio: Young man says Black Lives Matter

TR:

If a solidarity statement had to be generated by the Black or multi-cultural segment of the organization, it’s starting from the wrong place. Is that because some blind people like to think their blindness makes them immune to racism? Funny thing is most Blind people have had sight at some point. In fact, most Blind people aren’t even totally Blind. You’re not being honest with yourselves if you think racism doesn’t affect you. As if you don’t benefit from white supremacy.

Audio: Do Blind People See Race…

From Tommy Edison YouTube Channel:
“Martin Luther King always talked about don’t judge a man by he color of his skin but by the content of his character. And I have to be honest with you I think people like myself and other Blind people are the best at that because we don’t see the color of their skin.”

From YouTube, “Can Blind People See Race” Freedom is mine official.
“Can Blind people see race? Given that we identify a person’s race primarily by their appearance, what elements do the visually impaired use to perceive race. Several studies have been done into this area and the conclusion is definitely yes, visually impaired people can perceive race.”

TR:

History has shown when it comes to so called racial issues, America is all about weak statements.

America doesn’t want to examine their role. You know what, let me say that again to not sugar coat it …

Audio: Music…

TR:
White America doesn’t want to do the work to fix racial injustice.

I see the same right now from blindness organizations. Asking Black people to lead this effort isn’t the fix. Rather, once again for Black people, our dinner time with our families are being interrupted.

Why not start with a real self-evaluation. Have a conversation among the organization’s leadership and board about race. Whether personal but more specifically as it relates to the organization. Look back, how many members are even in the organization? How often does the leadership interact with them and what have those interactions been about? How often do we hear from Black people at our meetings and conferences. have we ever truly done any outreach or did we wait for those Black people in the organization to recruit others?

This is a problem that existed in this country for 400 years and won’t be fixed with one statement. it won’t be fixed in our lifetimes. It requires a lot of work that starts with honest self-examination.

To be clear, I think it’s time for these organizations to truly look at the intersections between disability and other identities. The majority of police brutality cases impact Black people with disabilities. Women with disabilities experience an overwhelming number of sexual attacks, LGBTQ and Trans communities have a significant population of people with disabilities. And Black Trans gender men & women need our support. Honestly, if you have a problem with that then you need to ask yourself if you’re really about justice.

All the organizations that are either of or for the blind want the same thing; independence, security opportunity for all Blind people. Who does this really include? For some, blindness skills training isn’t going to be enough to have an opportunity to reach that goal.

For me personally to believe these organizations and others are really about independence for all, I’m going to have to see them lead the way. That leadership needs to come from those in power right now.

I’m going to need to hear them simply say it; “Black Lives Matter”

Audio Montage of individuals saying “Black Lives Matter!” Concludes with all simultaneously saying it.

TR:

In producing this podcast, I’m always searching for the right mix of education, resource sharing and entertainment. As I usually believe our stories have more to offer outside of those adjusting to blindness, I recalled this travel story from the Reid My Mind Radio archive.

Audio from “Traveling Zen”

Audio: Biggie Story to tell

TR:
Just this past Thursday I was traveling to Mobile Alabama –
Yes, Mobile Alabama…
Why?
Well that’s not really for this discussion.

In fact, let’s go revisit the day…

Audio: Car pulling to curb

TR:

Exiting the chauffeur driven Suburban I’m met by one of the Allentown Airport staff responsible for
Assisting travelers through the airport. I refer to them as the Meet and greet staff.
Normally, I have to get to the check in counter in order to request this, but luck
Just had it a very nice gentlemen by the name of Tom was waiting on the curb for someone who needed assistance.

Audio: SoundOfAirport – Check-in/Security

Smoothly clearing the check in process and
Security, Tom informs me that my flight is delayed just as we reach the gate.
It was close to 12 PM. And my flight was originally scheduled to leave at 1 O’clock and
Arrive in Atlanta at 3 PM for a connecting flight To Mobile at 5:15 PM.

Ok, no worries a departure at 2 is fine, I’ll get to Atlanta by 4. No problem, even though Atlanta’s airport
Is huge, I’d still have time to make my flight. And I’d rather wait in Allentown airport which is way smaller and comfortable.

At 2 O’clock I’m told we’re now Departing at 2:30.
Now this is a potential problem! With a connecting flight at 5:15…
There’s a good chance I’ll miss my flight.

I go over to the ticket agent to see what I can do about this potential dilemma.
Rosita, the ticket agent schedules me for the later flight Which leaves Atlanta at 9:15,
In the event I missed the 5:15 flight.

Requiring the assistance of a meet and greet means I’m one of the last people off the flight. This Adds to the probability that I
May miss my connection. On the flip side, I’m one of the first on the plane!

I’m pretty relaxed already, but now I decide it’s time for me to go into a Zen state of mind. One thing about adjusting to blindness, it means
Becoming accustomed to waiting.

The ticket agent announces over the PA that it’s time to board.

I grab my coat, bag and cane and proceed to the counter. I board with one of the ticket agents.
I ask her if she could somehow call ahead and make sure a meet and greet is there
When we arrive so I can exit the plane quickly and make my connection. She takes my boarding pass and says she would do that.

Sitting in the window seat, I strike up a conversation with my seatmate when he arrives on board Delta Flight 5387. I tell him about
My connection issue. He seems to think I have a strong chance of making the flight.
We chat a little more, I put my headphones on, and open my Audible app to read my book. I’m good, I’m pretty relaxed and calm… I accept what I can’t control!

At around a little after 4, the pilot announces that we’re about to descend and
We’re scheduled to arrive on time 4:40. My seatmate, nudges me,
I think you’re gonna make it, he says. Knowing what I know about the wait for a meet and greet
I tell him, “Meh, we’ll see! I’ll still have to wait for assistance…”

At 4:45 we’re on the ground taxiing to the gateway
I take out my phone and check the Delta app to determine the status of my next flight. There’s significant bad weather so I’m hoping
My next flight would be slightly delayed. Nothing…
The pilot announces we’re going to terminal C gate 33. By 5 PM we’re still on the tar waiting to be directed into our new gate, D 33.
My seatmate is excitedly telling me I can make that flight.
“Just run out of here you can make it he says. I’m thinking did he not hear me when I said I need to wait for assistance.

I check the app again, it now says my next flight is boarding and scheduled to leave on time.
At gate D29. I tell my seatmate… Aww you can do it! He says as
he stands up to retrieve his bags from the overhead. I ask him to pass me my back pack and folded up cane.
Is this yours too, he asks
A folded up white cane, I ask… Yes! Now, He sounds confused… I think it sinks in…

My man, I say… do you think you can help me Get to d29… it has to be right near this gate.
I didn’t think it would be a bother, he wasn’t connecting to another flight. Yeah! He exclaims
I say to him… “get in front of me and let
Me hold onto your right elbow.” He complies…
I grab my bag and we take off.

Audio: Victory music

My seatmate now ripping through the narrow aisle. And my shoulders knocking into chairs and walls
He apologizes… Bro, I can take a hit let’s do this… turn it up. Yeah, he exclaims again now even more determined to accomplish his goal…
We zoom past the flight attendants who say something about An assistant… I don’t bother responding, no time for that
My seatmate and I are now a team and we’re on a mission.
“He’s my blocker “I think to myself and we’re gonna score this touch down…

We can do this, I hear him say as we rip past the ticket agent at gate 33… As we’re quickly and purposefully walking, in search of gate D29-
I hear my name. … Paging Mr. Reid, Thomas Reid… That’s me I tell him.
“He’s here, he’s here” yells my Blocker… He’s here, he’s here…says the ticket agent at D29 into a telephone…

We get to the podium at gate 29… Touchdown!!!

As if rehearsed, We do a two hand high five, chest bump, all While the ticket agent and bystanders applaud….

Ok, that would have been the movie version celebration.

Instead, the ticket agent asked for my boarding pass… I retrieve my boarding pass
Thank my team mate and I’m hurried onto my next flight.

I didn’t get his name or even had the chance to Shake his hand, but man I appreciated him.

Sitting on my final flight to Alabama considering how through that entire process
I felt quite comfortable and calm with just going with the flow. I thought about the first part of that very well known
Serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

This experience reinforces what I believe is the power of team work. I thought about how this pertains to lessons
for those adjusting to blindness or for that matter adjusting to any sort of change.

I’ve always been one to think of that very broad definition of independent as doing something by myself.

Could I have done this by myself… Some may quickly say no, others may argue yes with the right circumstance as in accessible information…
like a good indoor navigation app. But honestly,…,…., it was way more fun with a team!!

Audio Bumper bringing us back to the present.
Audio: Music starts…

TR:

My seat mate and ultimately my team mate for a few minutes at least, was as far as I can tell a white guy. We worked together. I was in a position where I needed him to be out in front if I wanted to make my flight. It wasn’t my only option, but missing that flight would have meant a really long and possibly very uncomfortable delay. Not for him, but rather, just me.

Reid My Mind Radio will be back on August 4th. I have some really good episodes planned for the second half of the year but right now, I need to do a little recharging. If you’re new to the podcast, feel free to check out the archive. We have over 100 episodes and they don’t expire.

You can get that just by subscribing to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get your podcasts. None of my stuff is behind a pay wall because I really do want it to be an accessible resource for those adjusting to blindness.
Transcripts, resources and more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace! And I really mean that!
Audio: Headphones dropping on table.

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Taking A Ride with Planes Trains and Canes

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

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

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

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

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

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Transcript

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TR:
Hey Y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the planes PA System…
Flight Attendant:

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

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

From the planes PA System:

Music begins…

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

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

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

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

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

Wheels up baby, let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

TR:

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

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

How are you doing Mona?

MM:

Good, how are you Thomas?

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

Audio: Magic School Bus/Bill Nye

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Shout out to Bill Nye!

MM:

Yes! I am a PBS Kid!

Audio: PBS Kid

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

Following that first year, Mona had a thought.

MM:

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

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

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

MM:

It was like four days.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

NG:
Hello

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Hello Natalie?

NG:

Hi, Thomas, how are you?

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Good, how are you doing?

NG:

Good!

TR:

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

NG:

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

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That was one of my first questions. (Laughs)

NG:

(Laughs)
Cool, ok!

[TR in conversation with NG:]

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

NG:

Co-worker turned really good friend

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

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

[TR in conversation with NG:]

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

NG:

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

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

Audio: Musical intro…

NG:

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

TR:

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

NG:

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

[TR in conversation with NG:]

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

NG:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And then you would have to explain things?

NG:

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

[TR in conversation with NG:]

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

NG:

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

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Did that get easier?

NG:

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

TR:

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

NG:

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

TR:

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

NG:

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

TR:

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

NG:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

Audio Bumper for editors

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

MM:

How much work editing would be.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Chuckles…

TR:

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

MM:

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

AB:

I wasn’t expecting to be on the call…

[TR in conversation with AB:]

So that was your first shot at editing?

AB:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

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

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

TR:

Construction takes place in the editing room.

AB:

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

TR:

Mona is clearly directing all aspects of this project.

MM:

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

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

TR:

Creating content like this means investing real time.

AB:

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

TR:

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

Ted:

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

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

TR:

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

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

Ted:

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

TR:

Show, not tell!

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

Ted:

And it’s also to make it lighthearted.

MM:

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

TR:

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

Audio: London…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

Yeh, yeh, yeh! I had no choice.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

Laughing…

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

TR:

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

Ted:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Audio: Next time on Planes Trains & Canes…

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes is all about perspective.

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

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Wait up. You said he was nice?

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

MM:

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

TR:

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

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

NG:

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

TR:

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

AB:

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

[TR in conversation with AB:]

Laughs.

TR:

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ted:]

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

Ted:

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

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

TR:

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

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

Yeh!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

yeh!

MM:

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

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What have you taken away from this whole experience?

MM:

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

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

It sounds like, like you’re free.

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

One hundred percent!

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

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

TR:

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

Audio: Put some respect on my name!

Dr. Mona Minkara!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

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

MM:

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

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

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

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Viewing Audio Description History Through Audio Eyes with Rick Boggs

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Audio Eyes LLC Logo - graphic of film transforming into brain waves with the text "Turning pictures... into words"
Continuing with the exploration of Audio Description, I’m very happy to have one of the founders of Audio Eyes, Rick Boggs on the podcast. We get a bit of a lesson on the history of Audio Description with an emphasis on the role Blind people played in its creation and advances. Why is this important? How can we be proactive in promoting AD? How can we become more than consumers of AD?

Listen in as Rick doesn’t hold back sharing his thoughts on the problems with AD, Blind consumer organizations and more.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Audio: Crash Crew Hi-Power Rap.
“We don’t want to be left behind, all we want to do is just blow your mind, just one more time!”

Instrumental.

TR:

What’s up Family!
Back again! Bringing you more of what you bargain for. Reid My Mind bringing you the baddest guests and topics we can find!

We are here to tell the world, just who we are.

I’m Thomas Reid your host and producer of the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Every now and then when I’m inspired, I bring you some of my own experiences as a man adjusting to becoming blind as an adult.

Audio Description is and will continue to be an ongoing topic on this podcast. it makes sense. We focus on those adjusting to blindness. Audio Description in my opinion, is a part of that process.

Its access to information, entertainment, bonding with family and friends and maybe even career opportunities?

If you’re new here, check out the link on this episodes blog post that has a page with all of the podcast episodes featuring Audio Description.

Today we’re looking at the contributions of Blind people in Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

RB:

I needed a job as a young guy, 17, 18 years old. I have many, many as most Blind people do, many grueling stories of discrimination. Just in telemarketing to sell the local newspaper here in Los Angeles and I don’t mean the LA Times, They hired me on the phone. But then when they told me to come to their office and were giving me directions they were vague. I said would that be the second building from the corner? They said, don’t worry about it just come down the street you’ll see the yellow sign. I said well, I don’t think my guide dog will notice the yellow sign. They said your what? Wait a minute, put me on hold for 20 minutes and came on and made an excuse; “Oh you know what, I didn’t understand my partner was also interviewing someone on the other line. We already filled the position.”

I’m Rick Boggs, professional Audio Engineer and am responsible for making Pro Tools, the state of the art audio recording software accessible for Blind Audio Engineers. I’m also a musician, playing multiple instruments. I’m a composer and song writer. Something of an accomplished actor. many appearances on television and film between 1987 and 2007. And for the last 20 years I’ve been operating the company that I founded which is called Audio Eyes and we produce Audio description for film and television.

TR:

As you can see, Rick came a long way from that 17 year old young man in search of a job.

Today, we’re specifically exploring Rick’s career within Audio Description. As he has been involved with the industry for over 20 years, we get a bit of a history lesson on the role Blind people played in Audio Description.

Rick’s own introduction to Audio Description, from my understanding illustrates how many people felt at the time.

RB:

When I first heard of Audio description was when the American Foundation for the Blind was conducting their research and creating the booklet that eventually became “Look Who’s Watching”. Where they surveyed Blind people and asked them if we could add a voice to TV programs describing what was on the screen when no one’s talking would you like it?

No, I feel very independent. I can watch TV all by myself. I don’t need some voice telling me what’s going on.

TR:

AFB’s next step was to invite a group of those surveyed to watch a film.

RB:

I think it was a Forrest Gump film with Vince Skully doing the description.

TR:

The group was then re-surveyed.

RB:

90 percent of the people who said no, like me, changed our mind and said well actually, this is really cool and I didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy it. I would like to have this.

TR:

No, like he really liked it!

RB:

In 95 and 96 when WGBH, which is now Media Access Group, they were installing Audio Description systems in movie cinemas. they called me because I was very visible on television at the time. they figured I would be a good representative of Blind people and they asked me to find other Blind people to come to these events. I helped recruit Blind people to come to their installation celebrations and then of course the media would come. I was interviewed on cable news and broadcast news, talking about what the value of Audio Description was. I became a volunteer promoter and the face of WGBH.

TR

This was in addition to his actual career at that time.

RB:

From 1987 to 2002 I had a record label and recording studio. I built a recording studio from money I had earned as an actor. My desire to get into audio recording was driven by my passion as a song writer. I wanted to be able to record and produce my own things mostly because I couldn’t afford to go to a bunch of other studios and hire a bunch of musicians, so I wanted to be able to do it myself.

TR:

And he did. He produced bands and song writers in his studio located on his residential property.

Doing it yourself can present very specific challenges .

RB:

That led me down the path of the transition from analog audio to digital
I wanted to make sure that we weren’t left out. That’s a long and interesting story of how that ended up happening.

TR:

For now, we’re focusing on another sort of accessibility.

RB:

Then moving forward to 2002 when my good friend Mike Hansel who at the time was working for Caption Max, he came to visit me and my good friend Jack Patterson. We were in the music studio and he was coming over to play drums and we were going to jam and he said, rick, I don’t get it, how come you’re out there promoting this Audio Description stuff. You’ve got the studio and you got the chops as an engineer and all the equipment to produce and you’re not producing any. I was just stunned.

Well, I guess I never thought of that.

I immediately said let’s look into that. maybe that’s not a bad thing to do.

TR:

Even today, when we discuss Audio Description, it’s more than often from the perspective of a service FOR Blind people.

During my conversation with Rick, it was apparent to me that Audio Eyes should be viewed from a historical perspective.

So let’s go back to the beginning of Audio Description.

RB:

Well this is one of my favorite topics, I have to tell you. I’m so proud to say that United States of American has invented many, many , many things and has held many, many patents. And many of the things we’ve created and invented benefit people with disabilities, but normally those things are created, invented, delivered by people that don’t have that particular disability. Hey we will help those that are less fortunate kind of thing. What I’m proud to say about Audio Description is Audio description as created by Blind people. And every innovation and advancement in Audio Description that has really contributed to what it is now was made by Blind people.

TR:

According to The History of Audio Description, written by Joel Snyder, the idea of Audio description in its current form was first conceived in the 1960’s by Chet Avery, who lost his sight at 17 years old.

In 1981 Margaret Rockwell, a blind woman with a PhD in Education decided to pair the assisted listening devices with her future husband, Cody Pfanstiehl. An expert in media and public relations, Pfanstiehl read for the Washington Ear, the radio reading service founded by Rockwell.

RB:

Cody and Margaret, their gone now, rest in peace, but they set the standards for how description should be done so that it’s not condescending, so that you’re not explaining the plot. And they trained some people.

TR:

One of those trained was Allen Woods who continued training others in the Pfanstiehl method.

RB:

Another Blind person, a wonderful guy that I know, Jim Stovall, created the Narrative Television Network, NTN. He set out to try to apply Audio Description to television programs And in 1989 he worked I believe with WGBH, a television station, to demonstrate how it would be done. They used the SAP channel that was originally devised by Congress and the FCC to facilitate foreign language broadcast. They demonstrated it successfully in 1989. Jim received an Emmy actually for technical achievement.

TR:

During the 1990’s the only television network broadcasting Audio Described content was PBS.

RB:

Commercial TV wouldn’t do it no matter how much we pushed and advocated. They resisted.

In 2002, the FCC made a rule that commercial broadcasters would have to do three and a half hours of prime time described programming on their network. That’s how I got my start and some of the other companies got there’s

TR:

In hindsight, it seemed obvious. Rick familiar with recording technology was already promoting Audio Description and learning the business.

With his good friend Jack, Rick formed the first iteration of Audio eyes known then as We See TV.

RB:
I was invited by my good friend Jolene Mason who is a Blind person who should receive a lot more recognition than she has for her contributions to Audio Description. She insured that the Tournament of Roses parade every New Year’s is described live on television for Blind people. And has done so since the mid 90’s at least. Putting that on through her nonprofit, the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service.

Well, she invited me to a meeting with Deborah Shuster.

TR:

Deborah Shuster did the captioning for ABC television. She was approached about creating Audio Description for the network.

RB:

Deborah having the integrity to realize that Audio Description was not her forte and she didn’t know it was going to go look for a company that was good at it because she cares about providing good services in the industry, unlike some people who were caption companies who just said let’s just throw something out there and call it Audio Description. No one will know the difference because no one knows if it’s good or bad anyway, which we’ll get into at some point.

TR:

That meeting led to him describing for ABC television.

In 2007 Rick renamed the business.

RB:

Same company, same service same people and everything, but it became Audio Eyes.

We secured various clients and now we’re on as many as 9 broadcast networks, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix. Large venues and many corporations that produce corporate videos and so on.

The Pfanstiehl’s created it and trained sighted people to do it. Jim Stovall put it on television and GBH took it, but it became sighted people doing it without any input.

Yet another important stage in the development of Audio Description was made by another wonderful professional Blind person, Dr. Josh Miele.

TR:

Long time listeners should be familiar with the Smith-Kettlewell Physicist Dr. Josh Miele. He’s an alumni of the podcast and a member of the Reid My Mind Radio family. I’ll link to his episode on this episodes blog post.

RB:

He has developed a lot of really cool adaptive stuff for Blind people, but he was interested in description. He found that there was a grant available through the Department of education which he applied for initially.

He did the impossible, he brought together all of the major providers of Audio Description services and created the Description leadership Network under the Video Research and Development Center. the legacy is its website VDRDC.org

TR:

It served as a resource on Audio Description related information and provides a communication platform where leaders in the field discuss topics like inclusion.

As Josh too is a proponent for the inclusion of Blind people in the Audio Description production process he began an internship program.

RB:

Paid internship so that any description provider, who’s writing description could experiment with having a Blind employee and not have to have a financial risk for whatever the time period was three months, that any, six months and experience the value of having that person. The disappointing part of it was that really only one other vendor besides myself did it. I shouldn’t say one I think it’s technically two. One of them absolutely did take on the intern as a staff member for whatever the period of time was. The other one simply contracted with a Blind person as a third party to review their work after it was already done. It’s a little different to have a Blind person critique your work when it’s already out there on television as opposed to give the Blind person the opportunity to have input before its finished.

TR:

As for the company taking on the Blind intern, the feedback was positive. Full of praises for the intern and admitted to it being a mutual learning experience.

RB:

Josh had the great courage and integrity to ask well then does that mean going forward you would consider maybe employing the Blind person in your process. And there was a long silence and the person answered by saying. Well, we think maybe it will be a great idea since there’s so much work going on the internet right now, these Blind experts could volunteer their time helping companies that providing description on YouTube and other places on the network. The whole room kind of ooo’ed!

Maybe in an unintended way it sounded very much like they were saying that they should work for free.

TR:

Meanwhile back at Audio Eyes…

RB:

Our staff is now 30 people and it started with just two of us back in 2002.

Our desire was to provide the best quality description out there. And we emulated WGBH who was doing the best Audio Description. The only difference was we were going to be inclusive. We were going to make sure performers with disabilities had opportunities to work in it and Blind people in particular would always be included in the company. We would recruit, find train Blind people to work in production and we’ve always done that.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You have 30 employees, can you talk about how many of those are Blind/disabled?

RB

Seven staff members that are totally Blind. Actually one guy might be qualified as Low Vision but it’s pretty low. (Laughs)

TR:

Rick was active as an advocate within the Screen Actors guild serving as an alternate board member and co vice chair of a committee creating opportunities for actors with disabilities. This and possibly those early experiences in the job market, helped form his early hiring policy.

RB:

I was very connected to a lot of disabled talent. for the first two years I willingly practiced reverse discrimination. I would only cast Voice Over artists with disabilities. I just felt like there was so much discrimination in the industry. We’re never giving people with disabilities and opportunity. I wanted to make my statement. I boasted about it on the internet and I naively thought it would make other companies feel the pressure and they would start hiring people with disabilities too, but it didn’t work.

TR:

Now looking towards the future and how we improve Audio Description.

RB:

Making sure that Blind people have a voice; what’s good, what’s bad, what are the standards, what should it be. I was eventually invited to edit and re-write a lot of sections of the style guide for one of the major streaming services. The big dog in the industry. To their credit, they recognize hey this guy is the expert he’ the professional let’s take his notes on what our style guide should be about, what description should be.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You mentioned that this was your favorite topic, what’s the importance of this topic? Why do you think it’s important that people are aware of that history?

RB

I think it’s really important that people understand Audio Description was created by Blind people for Blind people because I want the industry to be accountable to the consumer. I want the industry not to be like many services for people with disabilities which are well intending but also have unintended patronizing elements to the services they provide. In other words, making people feel less than, less powerful, helpless, creating a dual class system. Sort of treating the people you’re helping like they’re not really equal to yourself
.

TR:

Audio Description is not a charitable venture, it’s commercial. The need for inclusion is therefore even more relevant in my opinion.

Making sure not to leak any revealing information, Rick shared a recent experience. One of his Audio Description clients received some complaints about description from the general public.

RB:

(In a mocking tone)

What’s with this annoying voice? Why do you have to put that in here? We don’t like this. How can we get rid of it?

They decided to address it in the TV program itself. Which I thought was a unique decision. The comment wasn’t very flattering of description itself. It offended some of my staff who are Blind. To the customer’s credit, when we notified them and said you know this is offensive. They decided to change it. And kudos to that organization that was willing to do that and showed some sensitivity to their patrons and actually care about the feelings of Blind consumers.
[
[TR in conversation with RB:]

What are some of the other hurdles that seem to be in the way , “in the way” (laughs) of Blind people being involved in the production side of Audio Description

RB

Blind people are not loud and vocal about wanting good service.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

Talk about it!

RB

Blind people are all too often grateful to have anything. In recent online forums…

TR:

I’ll include links to these forums on Reid My Mind.com.
They include the Audio Description Discussion Facebook group and the ACB Audio description project listserv.

RB:

A lot of Blind people and describers are on there. Unbeknownst to the members of that group there are actually a whole lot of network executives and TV people that watch that group sort of lurk there. Someone was complaining because the description on a particular series or program was poor. They told us stuff we already know. They didn’t tell us stuff we wanted to know. Bla, bla, bla!

Now I love it when Blind people get up and go hey man if you’re going to describe it for me do a good job otherwise I’ll turn off the description and listen like I used to.

So the discussion was fruitful, it was very constructive. But then some Blind person, inevitably, comes on and says guys I don’t understand why we have to be complaining about the description that we’re getting. Can’t you remember the days when we didn’t have anything at all. I mean can’t we just be grateful that these people are providing something.

That is the most destructive thing that Blind people can possibly do.

TR:

I have a feeling this attitude exists in any marginalized group. Perpetuating the idea that Blind people should just be happy with what they get implies they don’t deserve quality.

RB:

I have been told by one of my customers. And a major customer at that. Rick we’d be happy to even pay increase rates for this stuff if we could verify that what you’re saying about the quality of your service is actually true. Basically, they said if you can point us online to anywhere Blind people are saying this is what makes good description and it lines up with the kind of service you provide Rick well then yeh, we’re not going to grind you on the prices as much as we do because we want to pay for the best service there is.

TR:

At the end of the day, are these really just excuses based on what they already believe to be true?

RB:

the public perception of blindness and Blind people is really inaccurate. And really flawed and really is the greatest barrier to inclusion of Blind people in anything. Anything at all! Social services, employment of any kind. From my perspective in particular in inclusion in Audio Description production.

TR:

Misperceptions that ultimately question the abilities of blind people. Assumptions that lead people to think it’s amazing that a Blind person can do even the most basic things that have little to do with the ability to see like brush their teeth, get dressed…

RB:

People trying to drag them across the street, talking loudly because they can’t see or all these stereotypical things that do happen to all of us. Those same misperceptions are the same barriers within the entertainment industry, that prevent production companies, caption companies, localization companies these post production companies from thinking about Blind people and considering employing Blind people in their operations. And I have story after story I have so much inside perspective and direct contact with people.

TR:

The type of stories, based on real experience, that can provide insight into the industry that we as consumers may otherwise never
know.
RB:

It really is far and away public attitudes toward blindness and Blind people. That’s why I became affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. I always sort of walked the fence between that and the American Council of the Blind and been a member of both and participated in both. I appreciate the American Council of the Blind’s advocacy. It was there advocacy really that led to the FCC ruling in the first place in 2002 to make description mandated for commercial television. They really deserve the credit for that.

What I’m about to say may sound like sour grapes, but it really isn’t.

TR:

The difference between organization’s as Rick sees it conflicts with his own philosophy of employing Blind people.

It stems from the initial development of ACB’s Audio Description project.

RB:

Committing themselves to ongoing advocacy and promotion of Audio Description. They did not include a plank that would strongly advocate for inclusion from an employment perspective. I felt that they should have consulted me because I had already been employing Blind people in this field for eight years. they knew very well of what I was doing. And yet when they created this initiative they didn’t even call me to say hey do you have any thoughts on this or that or the other thing. As a result in my opinion, they failed to include the professional opportunities and the importance of inclusion in the process in their initial manifesto on Audio Description.

TR:

While he appreciates both organization, for Rick, the difference between the two is clear. The National Federation of the Blind…

RB:

In my view, walks the walk. When they needed a lawyer they hire a Blind lawyer. When they need a travel agent they look for Blind travel agent.

TR:

The two teamed up and Rick and his colleagues offered a training.

RB:

It was a 50 week intensive training program. To train 10 Blind people to become Certified Description Quality Specialist.

TR:

The NFB’s support not only enabled Rick to provide this training but it also helped lead to opportunities for those trained.

RB:

We found that we definitely had a like mind.

I would like to have the legacy that providers of Audio Description automatically seek to include Blind professionals in their own operations. We are really far from that now, nobody does that, but that is my goal. I eventually want to return to producing music and get out of Audio Description but I would really like to establish that first.

TR:

As far as finding ways we can help, Rick suggests that those with a platform, podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, no matter what your topic is, find a way to include discussions about Audio Description.

RB:

Get people talking about it whether they’re Blind or not. Kind of introduce people to it that don’t already know it.

TR:

And from the consumer point of view, well let’s share our comments; good or bad.

RB:

And they need to get those comments directly to anybody and everybody. In other words; tell the network, you write to the show, and to the description company that did it. And then publicly on social media. On your FB timeline on your Twitter account. Hey saw a great Audio Description and name where it was and when it was. And why? I love the voice that they chose or they had a horrible voice or the mix I could hardly hear the movie the description was so loud. Whatever it is be vocal about it.

TR:

If you want to be vocal about Rick, well, he’s on social media;

RB:

@BoggsBlogs (spelled out) on twitter. Facebook at rick Boggs.

TR:

You can find links to his social and more by visiting AudioEyes.com. Remember, that’s plural
RB:

AudioEyes (spelled out)

TR:
Or…

RB:

Give us a ring 818-671-6190. We’ll take your phone calls. We’ll talk to people, sighted people, Blind people, Voice over artists. I take demos over the internet all the time. Any Blind person interested in getting involved in this kind of stuff, I’m the only way in right now. We’re pretty busy but I do get to everybody eventually, if you’re patient and persistent. And I thank everybody really, if you listened this long, thank you so much for your interest in the whole topic, really!

Shout out to Rick Boggs! I enjoyed this conversation. Audio Description as you hopefully realize is about so much more than entertainment. It’s adoption, the level of commitment given by entertainment producers and broadcasters is a reflection of how Blind people are perceived in society.

Scripts censoring on screen scenes or talking down to the viewer, expecting quality control work for free,
overlooking the contributions and minimizing input from Blind people…

That to me sounds like a statement about how much Blind people are valued.

As Audio Description evolves it becomes more important to understand and assure its original purpose is maintained. All the more reason for more Blind people to be involved in its development.

I personally suggest Audio Description to those who are not Blind, however, I would not want to see Audio Description move away from centering Blind people and possibly becoming less about making the visual accessible.

How do you feel about Audio Description? Do you like this sort of dive into topics? Let me know; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or leave me a voice mail at 570-798-7343.

If you liked what you heard today, Tell a friend to check out Reid My Mind Radio. It’s available wherever you get podcast

Transcripts, resources and more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D…

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

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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CoronaVirus – So Many Parts

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Corona – So Many Parts

Covid 19 and CoronaVirus is the most immediate & serious thing we as a human race have dealt with at the same time. Simultaneously, we’re all a part – as in a community. Yet, we see so many all over the world trying to tear apart any form of cooperation between nations and people – apart as in separate.

It’s been hard to focus on something other than this pandemic, but there is a connection to blindness, to disability… take a listen, I got something to say!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Sir Joe Quarterman- (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind

Women yelling…
“I got something to say” (Fades out )
“I got something to say” (Fades out)
“I got something to say” (Prolonged yell fades out)

Ice Cube, NWA: “Yo Dre!”
Dr. Dre, NWA: “What up”
Ice Cube, NWA: “I got something to say”
Dr. Dre, NWA: Scratches on turntable

Lyric from instrumental mixes in… “I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind”

Audio Sample: “You have got what appears to be a dynamite sound”

Instrumental music…

TR:

Greetings Family!

I’m hoping everyone is healthy, safe, comfortable and optimistic

I’m just trying to find the right words now. Well the right words for the opening I know are …

I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer. of this here podcast known as Reid My Mind Radio.
Bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss and disability.

Every now and then I share my own thoughts and experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

Finding the right words to express how I feel about all that is going on today isn’t so easy. The introspection though, can be helpful. It forces me to step back and get perspective. That search for the right words can even inspire a bit of creativity.

Audio sample: “Don’t toot your own horn honey, you’re not that good!”

TR:
I guess you can be the judge of that!

Audio sample: Woman yelling, “I got something to say” (Fades out )

Audio: reid My Mind Radio intro

Audio: Sir Joe Quarterman- (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind(continues from intro)
– Musical loop

Audio: Covid19 related News montage

– “It’s been another painful weekend in the CoronaVirus pandemic. The death toll is now more than…” (Fades out …)
– “More than 20,000 people have died from Covid and more than… ” (fading out …)”
– ” “More than 100,000 Covid cases in New York City. There’s also a serious shortage of swabs used to test for the CoronaVirus. That’s according to the city’s health department, which is now telling medical providers only test hospitalized patients.” (fading out…)
– “Perhaps because of The New York Times story, last night saying Republicans were trying to get the President to talk less every day, today’s White House briefing went on for over two hours. The president said some of the coverage is fake news. He said today flatly, everyone has the ventilators they need. He said we’re in great shape in every way.” (Fading out…)
– “Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of push back about shutting things down” – Dr. Fauci

TR:

During my intro to the last episode, I purposely kept my thoughts about Covid19 and the CoronaVirus to a minimum.

It’s not as though I didn’t have anything to say, but I like to let my thoughts form fully before getting into a rant or ramble that I may end up regretting.

Today, I hope it’s okay that I share some of these feelings and thoughts I’ve been having, all triggered by Corona!
(stutter effect on corona_

Yeh, that’s right, this Corona has me stuttering. I’m shook!
I’m in no way making light of the situation. There’s just so much about what’s happening that is so ironic.

it’s the most immediate & serious thing we as a human race have dealt with at the same time. We are all a part – as in a community.

Meanwhile, so many all over the world trying to tear apart any form of cooperation between nations and people – apart as in separate.

That got me thinking…
Audio: Music stops… echo…
If this isn’t your first time listening to this podcast, you know that I tend to think about and focus on the process of adjusting to blindness.

Part of that adjustment includes things like employment, technology, orientation and mobility and just learning how to do the practical things.

From my own experience and conversations I’ve had with others, I know a very challenging aspect of adjusting is how we view ourselves after Blindness. Our self-image. It’s why many of those newly blind don’t’ want to refer to themselves that way. blind.

When your only substantive exposure to Blind people isn’t positive, well, why would you want to be a part of that group.

So chances are you wouldn’t see yourself as part of the disabled community either. I get it, I was there too.

There’s the titles we assign to ourselves and then there’s how we’re identified by others.

Growing up, I’d often be asked, what are you Black or Puerto Rican? My self-identification doesn’t separate the two. Those with an understanding of the history feel me right here… Look up Arthur Schaumburg and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Society has assigned me a label that often dictates how many choose to interact with me.

When I was stopped by the police, .
Ran out of neighborhoods while being called names,
Followed in stores…

I was never asked, what are you Black or Puerto Rican?

However you decide to self-identify, if your vision loss or disability is visible or recognized , society sees you as Blind. Society sees you as disabled.

I’m not here to tell you how to self-identify .

I want this podcast, at the very least to stimulate some thought around adjusting and all that comes with it.

Personally, my belief is that when you get a better understanding of the people the history, expand your understanding of what disability is and isn’t, defining yourself may be an easier process.

With all of that said, there’s a connection between blindness, disability and this pandemic. Even if you don’t see yourself as disabled, it’s worth knowing how this pandemic is impacting the community.

I’d encourage you to go check out RMMRadio alumni Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility project podcast and website for more perspective.

The pandemic’s impact on us all is different. Disability, economics, location, housing… so many factors that play into how this pandemic impacts us.

Audio: Instrumental “Quiet Storm” Mobb Deep

Audio: Covid19 related News montage

– “The Pandemic seems to be disproportionally affecting people of color”
– “African Americans have been hardest hit by the virus. Despite accounting for 14 percent of Michigan’s population they represent 41 percent of it’s Covid victims. And in Detroit where the majority Black population, more than a third of them poor it’s even more stark.”
– “There are many reasons why Black communities are disproportionately being impacted by CoronaVirus according to a range of experts I spoke to. Historic disparities between access to healthcare, education, information and government resources in Black communities compared to predominantly white communities. throughout American history there’s been great tension between Black communities and the healthcare industry. Tuskegee Syphilis experiment. Ongoing studies that show that black women particularly those who are pregnant, are less likely to be listened to by their doctors and healthcare providers.”
– “African Americans are being hit disproportionately hard. We broke down some of the reasons. Medically why do you think that is. (Second speaker-Doctor) People of color are generally more susceptible to diseases and we know that they have those pre-existing conditions; the Diabetes, the heart disease, the asthma that makes them more likely to suffer consequences because of the CoronaVirus.”
– “Can you describe the make-up of the people in your waiting room right now. (Second speaker- Doctor) We’re noticing more Black and brown and immigrant patients that are seeking care. A lot of these patients are essential workers. A lot of them are service workers.”

“The Real” Mobb Deep

TR:

Salutes to all of those men and women right now doing the work that will get us through this awful situation. I’m talking about the medical professionals, staff including technicians, receptionists, janitors, food workers and others. So many of these people have been doing this work for years and have been unseen even looked down upon. Now in the midst of a pandemic, it helps us see the value in their work.

Corona has revealed some truths about society that people have been trying to either hide or not think about.

We need each other!

We all have something to contribute.

Can I share a story?
(Well, I’m going to anyway, because it’s my podcast!)

My wife and I went to this party. this was post blindness. It wasn’t my first time attending a party Blind so I was familiar with the challenges:
Some are physical;
learning new spaces
dealing with the crowds in those space

Others are more emotional, philosophical;
Should I use my cane?
How can I meet or start and interaction with new people
Where’s the bar? (It’s a party, right!)

Although I knew the challenges, I had not yet figured out my method of dealing with them. By this time, I think I was intent on not letting avoidance be my answer.

There was nothing about the party that was overly memorable except how it felt like we were shown to a section of the space and sort of left there. We only knew a few people outside of the person who invited us. My wife and I both felt the tension.

I remember thinking about how the experience would have been so different before vision loss. Those who did know me would have called my name when we walked in, maybe we would have made eye contact during the evening, we would have been introduced to others. Instead, we didn’t feel welcomed. We were there, but not a part of that party.

Ultimately we came to the decision it was in our best interest to leave that physical space as it was crowding our emotional space.

Sitting there at the edge of this party, feeling as though we were on display, I wanted to be included. I wanted a role and not that of a bystander.

This pandemic triggered those same feelings. Chances are, it’s not just me.

Doing anything right now that doesn’t relate to Corona, just doesn’t feel right. I like other people want to be helpful. In some way.

Despite what seems like the world coming to a halt because of the virus, life is still happening. With or without this pandemic there are lots of people new to vision loss. Some of them are former nurses, doctors, EMS workers. Similar to how I felt at that party, these men and women I can imagine aren’t satisfied with being bystanders. Are there opportunities for these men and women to contribute if they so desire? Are there people with disabilities on the frontline.

This reminds me of the documentary produced by RMM Radio alumni Day Al-Mohamed, called Invalid Corps. It features the story of a virtually unrecognized troop of soldiers who served in the civil war. All were soldiers with disabilities.

Shout out to Day and let me encourage you to check out that episode.

Do I actually believe a Blind nurse or doctor can somehow be effective?

If you’re asking that question this must be your first time here! Welcome!

Am I proposing these newly Blind men and women are sent to the ER?

I’m not a doctor and I haven’t played one on TV. Even though I do have lots of experience watching medical dramas on television I don’t think I can make that determination. However, I don’t think the answer is a quick no like so many people would assume.

As people with disabilities We’re so used to being dismissed and hearing things like;
Well, it’s just not accessible…
It has to be done a certain way, we can’t just change how we do things.
Change can’t take place overnight.

Inaccessibility is somehow treated as if it’s natural.
The majority of inaccessibility is manmade. Physical access like getting into a building. Software constraints that keep many of us from either participating on the web or employment and then process restrictions that mandate how a job is performed.

And then, all of a sudden!

Audio: Gazoo (from The Flintstones)

Have you noticed all of the corporations now accommodating their employees with work from home access?
The online conferences and entertainment now available.
Everything getting done online.

If inaccessibility is manmade then maybe man can fix it,
Audio: “That’s right!” from Harry Belafonte’s “Man is Smart Woman is Smarter”

TR:

Huh!

Audio: “That’s right!” from Harry Belafonte’s “Man is Smart Woman is Smarter”

Audio: Bill Withers Lean on Me Instrumental

TR:

Right now, I guess my role in this pandemic is staying home. It’s continuing to do this podcast. In thinking about how I can do more, I sure don’t want to do less so I’ll try to do what I can. I’m going to remain optimistic and not get caught up in conspiracies, although they can be very entertaining.

Eventually, this too shall pass. I just hope we will move forward and be honest about how we got here. I’m talking about the impact of years of all the isms, racism, sexism, ableism…
the neglect, , the poverty, the gaps between the have and have nots.

None of these things are new. They’ve been here way before any of us were here. Corona just highlighted those on the margins, the party goers who have always been apart, never actually partying.

I know many people are calling for a return to normal, but that doesn’t seem like what we should be striving for.

I hope you don’t mind that I shared this with you. I just needed to put my two cents out in the world in my own way.

I have some non-Corona episodes in the lineup. I can’t promise I’ll be silent on this topic, but at least I’ll try to make it sound cool and make you smile along the way.

I hope when you listen to this podcast you feel a part of this community, my Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Last month’s episode titled Live Inspiration Porn – I Got Duped, attracted some new potential listeners to the web page over at ReidMyMind.com.

According to Google, a bunch of people in search of the term porn, were served the episode’s web page. I can only imagine the disappointment they had for google when they saw this particular episode in their results.

But wait, according to Google, several actually clicked on the page.

I don’t necessarily consider myself a good writer but I’m sort of proud of this one! I mean wow, shout out to me for what must have been a fantastically written blog post to redirect that person away from they’re original search.

I’d love to know if someone actually ended up listening to the episode based on that discovery term. And man if you actually came back… email me at ReidMyMindRadio at Gmail.com because that would be the best testimonial ever!

Don’t worry, no judgement here! Get your freak on!

If you like what you heard here today, tell a friend to check it out…

Let them know it’s available wherever they get their podcasts. Of course you can take a ride on the information super highway and get off on the ReidMyMind.com exit. That’s R to the E I D. (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Climbing Accessible Heights with Matthew Shifrin

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

Matthew Shifrin is a musician, Inventor, Entrepreneur and Advocate.

His story of bringing accessible instructions to Lego is a great example of the power of individual advocacy. Hear about his other projects including virtual reality, comic book access, rock climbing and a new podcast.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Greetings everyone, from at least 6 feet away!

First and foremost, I hope everyone is doing well, and you each are as comfortable as possible. Most importantly staying safe and keeping each other safe by following the recommended protocol.

for right now, I’m going to keep my Corona Virus thoughts and observations to simply wishing you all the best. And reminding you all to protect yourselves physically but also pay close attention to your mental health.

By the way, my name is Thomas Reid host and producer of this podcast where we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. Occasionally, I share my own experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. All of this by the way has been brought to you since 2014 from the safe and sanitized studio located in my home. So really, ain’t nothing new here folks! We’ve been riding ahead of this curve for a minute!
Now, only one way to start this episode…

Audio: Water flowing from sink…

TR sings…

“Wash your hands, Wash your hands, Everybody wash your hands.
Wash your hands, Wash your hands, Everybody wash your hands.”

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

MS:
I’m Matthew Shifrin and I’m a Blind Musician and Inventor.

TR:

You may be familiar with Matthew. He’s received a fair amount of press in regards to his work with Lego. Specifically, his work making Lego instructions accessible to Blind children.

It all began when he himself as a five or six year old child followed a very specific instruction given to him by his close family friend.

MS:

Lilya who later created the text based instructions, she and I were driving back from somewhere , she stops the car and yells “Get out.” Ok, I get out. She says pick up this crate. This crate is like half my body weight. And so we manage to muscle this crate into the trunk of her car and she’s like, “C’mon open it.” I open it and this crate is full to the brim with Lego bricks.
And that’s really how my journey with Lego started.

TR:

Matthew began building Lego sets with the help of his parents.

MS:
Because they could read the instructions and I couldn’t.

TR:

Lego instructions are visual. They’re diagrams detailing how to connect the various pieces completing the design.

MS:

We were mainly building bionicals. , which were these action figures that Lego made. They were very formulaic. If I built one of them, then I could build the rest of a certain type on my own. Those were the only types of sets I could build on my own.

TR:

Building the sets required the help of Matthew’s parents.

MS:

So they’d just say okay you need to find such and such piece. I’d go scrounging around the bottom of the box to try and find something and then they’d say okay well here’s where you put it and I’d put it there and we’d go piece by piece. It would just take 4 to 5 hours to build a $20 set that was 200, 300 pieces.

TR:

While appreciative of his parent’s dedication and time, Matthew recognized the difference between his Lego experience and that of his friends.

MS:

They were building sets all the time. They’d come into school and say hey I built a spaceship yesterday and I’d say oh that’s so great. How did you do it? Then there’d be silence and they’d be like well, I looked at the instructions and they told me what to do and I just followed them. I just remember thinking all this time I wish I could do that.

TR:

In case you’re thinking Lego is just a toy.

MS:

When we look at Lego instructions they really provide a lot of insight into how things are made. How things are built. How mechanisms work.

And when I built on my own I really had none of that vocabulary.

TR:

This was evident from the experience his sighted friends had with Lego.

MS

they could build trains that ran, crossbows that shot actual darts because they were familiar with the engineering concepts that made these devices work.

TR:

Working with his parents gave Matthew[emphasis on some] some insight…

MS:

But as the Blind builder I was just following directions. I had no idea where we were going. yes, I knew it was some sort of frame that we were building but I had no idea what it would end up looking like. As opposed to the parents who did. There wasn’t a lot of vocabulary gained even then because I couldn’t see the instructions on my own I couldn’t flip ahead. I couldn’t imagine structures in my head because I had no vocabulary

TR:

Remember Lilya, the family friend who had Matthew lug that first box of Lego bricks into the car? On his 13th birthday, she brought him the next step in his access.

MS:

She gives me this big cardboard box with a big fat binder. And mind you this binder is thick, we’re talking two copies of the yellow Pages thick. In this binder there are these instructions that she’s hand Brailed on a Perkins Braille typewriter. And in the box is this Middle Eastern Lego Palace. This palace was big, 830 – 840 pieces. these instructions she created completely on her own. She invented her own vocabulary to name every type of Lego piece that was in that set.

TR:

That was the vocabulary Matthew longed for.

MS:

Put a flat 6 by 1vertically on the table. Put a flat 2 by 1 on its rear most button over hanging to the right horizontally. Put a flat 4 by 1 vertically to the front.

I got to a point where I was able to read instructions and imagine what it would be like to build a certain model or a certain sub section. That’s just spatial awareness, spatial reasoning, these sighted skills that are developed over many years in sighted children. The fact that I was able to really visualize on my own was a very valuable skill and I would argue an under taught skill when it comes to Blind children.

TR:

Getting access to Lego instructions was just a part of Lilya’s goal.

MS:

Her goal was that I should have the same experiences as other sighted children. And so she brailed board games, she brailed books. She did all of tshe did all of this stuff, but Lego was just the one thing g that she could not figure out how to make accessible for many many years just because the instructions were pictures.

TR:

Once Matthew gained access.

MS:

I just wanted people to have this resource because I’d benefited so much from it. Not all Blind kids have people that could write instructions for them. Everyone deserves to be able to build and to learn from what they’ve build.

TR:

making this information available to other Blind children required some steps.

MS:

We had to create more instructions, build more develop some sort of language. Make sure that this was durable and then we had to get it out to Blind people. I think Lego themselves were always an end goal but Blind people had to come first because we had to be sure that Blind people could engage in this content as much as I could.

TR:

Realizing the instructions could be produced digitally, eventually led to the website.

MS:

LegoForTheBlind.com where all our instructions live. there’s 30, 40 sets there.

Our end goal was always getting it to a larger entity.

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Would you consider yourself an advocate?

MS

Sure. Advocacy is like a blob, you can shape it mold it. One might argue that lilya making those instructions was advocacy. After she made those instructions and we had that website, I’d always wanted to get it through to Lego but I really didn’t know how to go about it. To infiltrate such a massive company you need to know people.

TR:

His first attempt, contacting Lego customer service didn’t yield any results. But sometimes, all you need is to know someone, who knows someone…
MS:

I was interning at the MIT Media Lab. I had a friend who worked there adn there’s a group there called the Lifelong learning Kindergarten Group and they have a very long and fruitful collaboration with Lego themselves. So I went to this friend of mine and said hey I have this project and I told him about the project and he said yeh, I have a friend who just moved to Denmark two weeks ago and he’s working with Lego. I’ll send your story along to him. We’ll see where that gets you. This friend of his emailed back and he said oh yes this is a very interesting story I’ll send it to the head of the new projects division which is like Lego’s version of DARPA, all their secret mysterious projects that no one really knows about until they get released. Then when I got in touch with this guy Olaf Gyllenstenthat was really a pivotal moment

because this guy was in on it. He wanted this to happen as much as I did.

TR:

That’s known as an internal ally. Someone in the organization to help advance your cause.

MS:

Mind you this guy had no connection with Blind people. He had just never thought about Blind children as a possible segment of people who could enjoy Lego and their instructional aspect just as much as sighted children. Just because he never met Blind children. When he realized this impact that this could make on Blind children, he bulldozed his way forward through the ranks of the company. He talked to the head of Lego Niels B. Christiansen who runs the company now and Christiansen was very enthusiastic and when your project goes that high up , it’s going to go somewhere.

TR:

And it did. Lego decided to produce the instructions.

MS:

The Lego Foundation, they’re kind of their charitable we have cool projects arm. They were showing off these instructions and they wrote me an email and said we have a press conference we want you to present. Could you come and we also want to introduce you to all of the people that have been doing this. Could you spend six days in Denmark. (Laughing…) I was like well, I guess I can. It was a conference of Lego fans. They are very committed. They have blogs and websites, YouTube channels. We’re showing the kind of text based instructions and comparing them to the graphical ones and just kind of talking about the thrill of being able to build on your own. Just the response form these people was amazing. They and I are just united by a love of Lego. It was amazing to see how touched these people were by these instructions and by the spreading of this medium to people who previously could not engaged with this medium as your average sighted person could. That was just a really energizing moment.

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Are you still working with the company?

MS

Very much. I do quality assurance. Checking instructions and making them as understandable as possible. We’re hoping to have 25 to 30 accessible instructions out in the next couple of months for sets that are currently out.

TR:

Users will be able to purchase a Lego set from their favorite retailer and download the instructions from the Lego website, LegoAudioInstructions.com.

MS:

Hopefully they’re also going to redesign their packaging so that they can Braille the numbered bags. I don’t know how long that’s going to take but that’s just something they’ve been looking into and hopefully that would happen.

[TR in conversation with MS:]
Wow!

TR:

I really shouldn’t have such a reaction in 2020. Unfortunately, the response from Lego, isn’t the norm. Even companies who make they’re product accessible, packaging, well that’s another story.

MS:

When Lilya and I were making these instructions on our own we really wanted Blind children to have the complete experience of building the set. So we would describe the box art and the advertising from the back of the manual and the art and the little prints on the Lego people because we really wanted the Blind child to engage with the set as much as the sighted child could. And it’s wonderful to see that carry over to Lego’s instructions. They describe the little Lego people and they describe this and that . They really tend to energize the experience. They really guide you through the building process and they complement you once you finish something they’re like congratulations you finished the car. An adult might kind of get annoyed by that but for children this is what they need when they’re fist getting into Lego. It’s really important for them to feel really included in the process and engaged by the process not just I’m stacking pieces but hey I built a thing. Now I can revel in this thing and then can move on to the next part of the build the fact that Lego are really making their instructions so human, I’m very glad that they’re doing that.

[TR in conversation with MS:]

It’s funny because you said adults can get annoyed… I don’t know, I guess because I’m coming from a particular perspective…

TR:

I wasn’t a Blind child. I don’t even recall having any Lego sets growing up.

When I became Blind as an adult, I had small sighted children, but man, I wish I had a Lego set with accessible instructions to actively engage in with my kids.

I did have a set of Braille Uno cards. That was one of the ways I practiced Braille. Unfortunately my daughter only three years old then would beat me constantly and it just wasn’t any fun! And for the record, I didn’t let her win. I’m not that type of parent. She was just a little card shark. I’m still not over that!

Matthew recently found a cool way to pair Lego bricks with a new interest.

MS:

A few months ago I started climbing with a team of disabled rock climbers. I saw that the Blind rock climbers were really struggling because there’s a person at the bottom of the climbing wall who yells directions at you. And that’s great because then you can get up to the top, but you have no opportunity to think ahead and really plan for yourself. As opposed to the sighted climber who’s able to come up to the wall look at it and really strategize as to where they put their various appendages. I thought well wouldn’t it be cool to make a Lego based mapping system for rock climbers.

TR:

Next time he went to the rock climbing gym, HE brought his Lego bricks and figured out a method for mapping the wall.

MS:

Different types of pieces are used for different types of holes. Two by ones are jugs which are large rounded holes and then one by ones are crimps which are smaller holes. Three by ones are legends and one by one flat round pieces are foot holes.

TR:

The map is laid out by working with that sighted person who yells directions.

MS:

They can do it in a matter of minutes. A minute or less. And so this could easily be used in climbing competitions.

[TR in conversation with MS:]
And then the person right before they’re climbing could actually kind of go through it . Now do you retain that information?

MS:

I try to retain but sometimes when someone yells out it’s also useful because you’re able to correct yourself on the fly and you’re able to kind of rethink your process if you’ve taken a slightly different path up than you initially estimated the yelling person is really valuable because they’re able to make you reassess your situation in a very sensible way.

[TR in conversation with MS:]

You’re younger than me man, I don’t retain as much anymore. Laughs…

Has this an impact on your view of advocacy? Do you have intentions on kind of moving forward and doing more of this type of thing?

MS

I have a comic book accessibility project where I’m building a virtual reality headset for Blind people with engineers at MIT. This headset makes you feel different motions by affecting your sense of balance and messing with it.

TR:

It sounds like the lessons learned with Lego are being applied to his latest project.

MS:

I thought about the way comics were made. I found that comic books run on scripts. These scripts are like movie scripts that they’re incredibly detailed and they tell the artist exactly what to draw and how to draw it. I thought this is our way in. What I need to do now is to network with authors and artists and comic book companies and really energize them. I’ve been in talks with Marvel Comics and combining this helmet that we’re working on with their comic books really provide a new dimension to their work via blind or sighted

The total strangers who owe you nothing but who are still incredibly enthusiastic. I go to comic book conventions every year to network with authors and kind of tell them about it engaging aspects of advocacy the project and Blind people and how comics help Blind people learn about the world around them.

These people are really energized by the fact that comics are being interpreted in a new way. I’m a random Blind guy with ideas. When I come up to their table and say I’d like to kind of look into how you write. Are any of your scripts available on your website? Could I figure out how to do this and make this accessible? They don’t owe me anything. They could say, sorry I only sign books goodbye. But no, they’re thrilled that comic books are going beyond the newsstand, beyond the bookshelf even beyond the television screen into new medium. The more success you have with advocacy the more energized you are to go out there and advocate more and make more things accessible to Blind people or disabled people or whoever.

TR:

Matthews latest project is looking at a different sort of access.

MS:

We have practically no Blind people in the mainstream podcasting space. And it’s interesting because podcasting seems to be such a Blind friendly medium, but when you look at places like I don’t know MPR, major broadcasters no one there is Blind. I started a podcast called Blind Guy Travels. First couple of episodes are hopefully going to come out in a month or two. It takes these mundane experiences like going to the movies or gestures or making funny faces from the standpoint of a Blind person. I’m doing it with Radiotopia who are kind of the podcast branch of NPR.

TR:

To me this story of making accessible Lego instructions is not only about the power of individual advocacy, the importance of stimulating a child’s imagination but also one of friendship and commitment.
MS:

When Lilya died she left a couple of instructions for sets that we hadn’t built yet. And it’s interesting now finishing those sets and building them and just kind of keeping the energy alive. Lego will do their own thing but hopefully Lego for the Blind will do its own thing just because Lego are going to start adapting from a certain year. Everything before then will be inaccessible. I have a list of sets that people want made accessible. The goal will be to find instruction writers. I can teach them easily how to do this and the goal will be to find instruction writes and to teach them to craft instructions and to keep the Lego For the Blind website growing and going beyond what Lilya and I have done.

TR:

How many times have we heard; a picture is worth a thousand words.

I don’t think we need a thousand words to describe the benefit of making the images that are the Lego instructions accessible.

MS:

I just remember building that set and feeling completely (exhale…) very free!
TR:

If you’re interested in helping this effort or just want to know more about any of the projects mentioned or more about Matthew including his music, contact him.

MS:

On Lego For the Blind there’s a contact uplink at the bottom and they could find me there. On Twitter @MatShhifrin Mat with one t. And on YouTube I’m Shifrin2002.

TR:

If you liked what you heard hear, all I ask is that you share the podcast. It’s safe, you don’t have to be within six feet of anyone to do so. Just send a text, email, a tweet a post on FB. Let them know you’re listening to something that you find enjoyable and informative.
It’s available wherever you get podcasts. And transcripts and more can be found at ReidMyMind.com. Just make sure you let them know, it’s R to the E I D (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

TR:
Like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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