Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio: Employment Challenges for People with Disabilities

Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

With all the hype about the economy and employment rate it’s seems like a good time to remind or inform people of the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities.
RMMRadio Alumni Joe Strechay, Director of the Bureau of Blindness & Visual Services in Pennsylvania joins me to talk about the challenges faced by people who are blind and exactly what they’re doing to make a difference.
Picture of Joe Strechay

This episode includes some good advice for anyone impacted by disability looking to transition to employment.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
There’s been some discussion in the news about the positive 2018 employment figures. The facts show that , the unemployment rate has been on a consistent decline throughout President Obama’s presidency.
I’m just saying’!

Depending on what you read, the percentage of people with a disability who are unemployed range anywhere between 45 and 75 percent.

So, I want to talk about employment among people with vision loss and disabilities in general.

[phone Ringing]

I decided to call an alumni of Reid My Mind Radio.

On that note, before I get into it… I’m T Reid and this is my theme music.

[Reid My Mind Radio Intro]

So I called Mr. Joe Strechay, also known to any listener of this podcast as the man who literally taught Charlie Cox, the star of Marvel’s Dare Devil how to be blind.
If you haven’t heard that episode I suggest you give it a listen.

Sometime after that interview, Joe took on the role of Director of The Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services or BBVS of Pennsylvania which is part of the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation.

I asked Joe about the dismal unemployment percentages for people with disabilities.

JS:

When you look at the statistics I think your 45, 46 percent sound about right for unemployment.

But they would say 12 to 15 percent of people are not even engaged in the employment process and are not even counted.

Often the percentage you hear about, the 70 or 75 percent includes under employed, so people working at a level under their education or training. Some people like to provide the positive side of things, 54 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired are working, but again there’s a 12 to 15 percent that aren’t even included in those types of stats.
[TR in conversation with JS]
From your perspective, what are the challenges?

JS:
Employers knowledge and understanding and awareness around individuals who are blind and visually impaired…

I think it was back in 2011, the National Industries for the Blind did a study with Human Resource professionals asking them what their big questions were or concerns were with hiring someone who is blind or visually impaired. And these were the gate keepers in the employment process from a lot of big businesses, small businesses. Their number one question was could they do the job and number two was transportation. How were they going to get to work, but not even just the transportation to work how were they going to get around in the work place. Am I going to have to guide them to the bathroom?

TR:

That question for some, is more upsetting than surprising.
Unfortunately Joe says some of those whose focus is creating diversity and inclusion in the workplace,
are just as unaware.

JS:

They’re really worried that like you’re coming out of the elevator that the lip of the elevator is going to make you trip and fall down.

[TR in conversation with JS]
Wow!

TR:
This first barrier of employment for people with disabilities
could be summarized as social challenges. Joe recommends dealing with these by taking control of your messaging. This means being proficient in your choice of mobility, access technology and effectively advocating for yourself.

JS:

When an employer has those types of simple concerns about hiring someone that’s a problem. We have to address those because if you walk out of an interview and that employer has concerns or questions about you, they’re not going to hire you. The employment process is really about creating trust between you and the employer. Some other obstacles are actually transportation. The more rural you live, the harder it is to commute. The harder it is to get access. If you don’t live on a street with sidewalks or near bus routes it’s going to be more difficult. Persons with disabilities battle with isolation and the more isolated you are the less opportunity you’re going to have. Proprietary software corporations and business working with the companies or contractors to build out software to fulfill needs in their employment setting and if these software’s are not built in an accessible manner, most are not, that’s a big barrier. If you get the job you won’t be able to do the job.

TR:

Further examination of the unemployed population of people with disabilities, reveals separate more specific needs based on demographics.

For example, teens and young adults have a need to acquire different skills in comparison to others adjusting to vision loss with
workforce experience.

JS:

We’ve developed out a lot of different types of programs that provide job shadowing, work based learning experience. Programs like Project Search – which works with the Human Resources department in a business and develops out different jobs within that business and working with individuals to fit into those situations.

It’s not just how you do the job it’s how you interact with your co-workers, the customers, your boss as well. Individuals learn those basic skills from experience but also from seeing how other people interact. Individuals who are blind or visually impaired may miss out on some of that incidental learning.

[TR in conversation with JS]

What does that training process look like?

JS:
It could be starting out with job shadowing, occupational interviews, mock interviewing, actual interviews, work based learning experience where they’re actually getting to work a part time paid job. One of our emphasis is providing paid work experience because people are two and half times more likely to be employed after their education if they’ve had prior paid work experience. They’re even more likely to be successful if they actually found that employment setting themselves.

[TR in conversation with JS]
Can you give us an example of some of those successful projects?

JS:
We have a partnership with the Overbrook School for the Blind where they’re doing the Transitional Vocational Initiative, which is a three week summer program where students around the Common wealth of Pennsylvania go to Overbrook in Philadelphia and they work for two weeks doing those soft skills and then they move on to job shadowing and then the last week they’re working. They’re going to extend out the length of the working period in the coming year. That really is where the kids get that real world experience to work in an employment setting and learn about interacting with their co-workers and boss.

[TR in conversation with JS]
I know people listening would wonder, especially those not familiar with blindness would say ok, what kind of jobs can a blind teen do?

JS:
All kinds of things. Working in stores, point of purchase systems such as Square because those can be accessible, busing tables. We have kids that are washing dishes. WSe have kids…

[TR in conversation with JS]
Alright, alright hold on Joe!

TR:

Ok, I know! Some of you may struggle with the idea that a blind person
can hold a job as a bus boy. It’s ok!

I’ll let Joe answer that but in general when it comes to people with disabilities and employment
consider if the question should be; What job can the person hold or
how can we accommodate this person to make sure they’re successful fulfilling the job?

Back to Joe.

JS:

I’ve known a couple of bus boys who were totally blind. I know some dish washers who were totally blind. Some individuals working at a store on the register were totally blind as well. We’re also utilizing our Business Enterprise Program so our Randolph Sheppard Programs as locations; cafeterias and vending. The more opportunities the better. We don’t want to limit someone at one opportunity if they can get experience in multiple settings we’re all about that. We have people that are working in offices as receptionists answering phones and a little more high level if they have some more technical skills.

TR:

Getting teens with disabilities prepared for employment begins as soon as the summer following 9th grade.

In partnership with other organizations and agencies, the Pennsylvania Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services offers the Summer Academy.

JS:

It’s a post-secondary preparation and career exploration program. Really an emphasis on that post-secondary preparation giving people a realistic college experience. Making sure they have the assistive technology skills. Getting orientation and mobility skills around the campus university and town. How to organize things. How to access things, cooking their meals and also to find out if college is the right avenue for them. They may be looking at more vocational training or opportunity.

TR:

Students even get the chance to take a college level course where they receive 3 credits upon completion.

This successful program is currently being replicated in other states.

When it comes to adults with vision loss of working age, BBVS provides services through the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. Services include;

* vision rehabilitation therapist who teach daily living skills like cooking and organizing household goods; things which often require a different approach following vision loss.

* orientation and mobility or teaching a person how to effectively travel using any remaining vision and or a white cane. This includes traveling through your home, neighborhood and taking public transportation.

* Vocation Rehabilitation counselors who help with finding employment or returning to work.

JS:
We also utilize programs that are out there. Whether it’s the Blindness Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh which can provide a setting a location if someone needs more in depth services they can go and stay there. Training centers around the country as well. We have the ability to develop out internships or other programs and we’re going to be looking into more internship opportunities for adults who are blind or visually impaired. We’ve been having some discussions with bigger corporations and businesses . We’ve seen some success like with SAP, one of the big financial software companies and Microsoft working with individuals with Autism and why couldn’t that also happen with individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

[TR in conversation with JS]
In general, I’m not asking about any specific company, what are those conversations like. I mean are they kind of open or what?

JS:
I think they’re more open then they have been in the past. Typically for a really successful relationship it takes having a champion within. Some of these companies they can’t create products or services that meet the needs of customers they don’t know about.

TR:

Now that the prospective employee has learned proper orientation and mobility skills, is comfortable using their technology and
ready to advocate for themselves there’s still one question they need to answer.

In fact, anyone with a disability, especially those that are visible, deals with the question of when is the right time to disclose that disability to a potential employer.

JS:

I’m really passionate about that subject. I call it addressing the elephant in the room. Every time I walk into a room with an employer or business I have a visible disability. I have a long white cane and most likely you know I’m blind from that.

[TR Laughs]
I believe I have a duty if I want to really reach that employer to dispel any myths, but also address the elephant in the room. Make sure that they understand that I am a competent individual who’s blind. I talk about my background my work skills and how I deal with being blind and how I navigate that employment setting and I really think you’re better off building in to your sales pitch , the end of your sales pitch, you’re not going to lead with it, but how you performed tasks that will be related to a job. You use a screen reader and explain what a screen reader is and how you navigate and that you can use Microsoft Office and Excel, Access. I did HTML coding and explaining how I did that . I have my white cane, I’ve been trained in how to use it. My last job I traveled about 18 days per month all over the country independently and explaining that type of information otherwise you’re leaving the room without addressing the concerns and questions of the employer. And they’re not going to hire you if they have questions and concerns about you. I believe that persons with disabilities need to take charge of it. Own who they are. Not that your disability defines you but if you’re not comfortable talking about it, that employer is not going to be comfortable with talking to you about it and that can be a problem in itself.

[TR in conversation with JS]
So that was the interview process but what about when you’re trying to get the job whether that be your resume, cover letter. What do you guys recommend on that?

JS:

Point of disclosure. And I’ll tell you with the disclosure process there’s no right or wrong answer. Every situation’s different, every persons different. I can tell you that the employment process is about building trust and the earlier you let them know the more likely they’re not going to feel that you were dishonest with the. On my resume I don’t like write “blind guy”. I make sure that they know. I would want them to know before I walk in the door. As an individual who’s blind I’ve been in that situation where I didn’t let people know. I was going in for an Orientation and Mobility internship position. It went from a meeting about my internship to a three and a half hour interview where they basically grilled me on everything. I was supposed to have that internship but they didn’t know I was visually impaired at that time. I had to address it. At the end of it I knew I wasn’t going to have that opportunity , I could feel it. I felt it right when I walked in the door. You’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. There are positive and negatives to disclosing at any point in the employment process. I really believe at the time of scheduling an interview to talk to the person about it and explain that you are a person who’s blind.

TR:

Sounds like some real good advice and Joe should know, he’s been focusing on employment issues even before taking his current position as the director of BBVS.

JS:

I worked for the American Foundation for the Blind for about seven years. I supervised their employment initiative such as career connect which was an online career exploration , job seeking skills and E-Mentoring program. And also advising state agencies and even countries on their employment initiatives and also initiatives around transition from school to work.

TR:

Let’s recap the ingredients that go into improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities;

* A shift in the way we as a society think about disability in general and what is possible
* Training for both prospective employees and employers
* Policy changes in both the public and private sectors

From what I can tell, Joe has a very specific quality that seems like an essential requirement to take on this task; optimism.

JS:

One of the big impacts I’ve seen is around section 503 and their aspirational goals on federal contractors and sub-contractors around the hiring of persons with disabilities and also maintaining their employment. I really think that has made an impact. I’ve seen companies looking to hire persons with disabilities and there’s a 7 percent aspiration goal for federal contractors and sub-contractors and it depends on the size of the organization. I really think that is a big step and you know that stems from President Obama’s Executive Order where he pushed the Federal Government to being a model employer and looking to demonstrate that federal agencies could show the corporate world and the private sector how it could be done. And they were successful as of NI believe November 2012. In reaching that goal. Prior to Obama leaving office he was expanding it within the Federal Government. We’re hoping that these standards really continue and only grow to give more opportunities to persons with disabilities .

TR:

Joe says he’s looking at more opportunities that will come from mentorships and less traditional routes for employment and entrepreneurship
through freelance and job outsourcing web sites like Fiver and Up work.

If you are or know of a person with a disability interested in talking about the employment experience, I’d love to listen. Send me an email at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. I’m especially interested in sharing stories of people with disabilities in nontraditional roles or finding creative income streams whether via employment or entrepreneurship.

Now I have a job for you, whether you’re a person with a disability or not… subscribe to this podcast if you are not already.

You can do that through Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio, Sound Cloud or just visit Reid My Mind.com and all your options are right there.

I’ve been trying to come up with a slogan for Reid My Mind Radio. Maybe something like

JS:
Some people like to find the positive side of things!

I’ll keep working on that, but for now break time is over yawl…
let’s go to work!

[RMMRadio Outro]

TR:
Peace!

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Reid My Mind Radio: A Career Launched from Print Disability

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Happy New year! Hopefully you my favorite Reider (my name for any Reid My Mind Radio listener or reader of Reid My Mind.com) is well rested and revived following your holiday and hopefully time spent with loved ones.

Today on the podcast, an interview with George Kerscher the creator and founder of Computerized Books for the Blind and Print Disabled.

For those who weren’t around for this company before it became part of what is now known as Learning Ally, you’re probably familiar with DAISY books like those available from the National Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, E-Pub, or Bookshare. If you’re a person impacted by vision loss or some other print disability, Mr. Kerscher has directly impacted your access to information.

Plus, his practical advice taken from his own experience adjusting to vision loss is in itself worth the listen.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

GK:
Judy Dickson who works at the library of Congress she said if you like puzzles, if you like solving problems being blind is just great.

TR:
I’m pretty sure that this quote doesn’t refer to games but rather the life puzzles and challenges that come with living in a world with the dominant form of communication assumes you have a pair of perfectly functioning eyes. Today’s guest on the podcast has spent a career working to improve access to print for people with disabilities. Before we get into that, Happy New Year! Now you know we can’t start this show without the theme music.

[Reid my mind radio’s theme music plays]

TR:
Allow me to introduce you to George Kerscher. Mr. Kerscher has been a key figure in improving access to printed material for people with vision loss around the world. In fact, his role was significant enough that he was named the 1998 innovator of the year by USA News and World Report. His career in accessibility began with his own vision loss due to Retinitis pigmentosa.

GK:
I didn’t learn about it until I was 21 back in 1971. The prediction was that I be blind in 5 years. I ended up meeting my wife and we go out on the first date, I said “well you know I have a bad knee, I got a bad shoulder and oh by the way I am going to go blind”. It was full disclosure on the first day. After we got married, we took three months off and in 1974 we went all over Europe with the backpack and the Euro Pass. In 1977, I was declared legally blind. I was fired from my first job because of blindness. I was finishing furniture I worked for an antique store. I went to Social Rehabilitation Services and I said “Can you help me?” They arranged for an eye exam and I was declared legally blind.

TR:
George went back to school and became a teacher. Which is where he remained until he could no longer fulfill a promise he made to himself.

GK:
If my blindness ever prevented me from being the best teacher possible, I would quit. I don’t want to do anything that wasn’t really great.

TR:
George returned to school and this time pursues a master degree in computer science. He made use of magnification and until that proved to be limiting because of painful headaches. The only accessible textbook was produced by recordings for the blind; however, they didn’t produce any of the books he needed for his master level course work. He began using human readers to help complete his work.

GK:
It was at that time that I just met an author and he was doing a lecture. He said “Well you know, I don’t have the files. The publisher has the files”. I wrote letters to several publishers asking them for the files that drove the printing press. This was in 1987, I had a publisher that sent me 3 diskettes and I looked at them and it was all garbage. And, I threw them in the drawer and I finished my course work for that semester and over Christmas break I pulled those files out and I started to write software that could convert them to the first digital book. Took a couple of weeks to write the programs but by the beginning of 1988, I had three books. One on Word Perfect, Lotus 123, and D-Base. And I had brought these up on the screens and had the screen reader read them to me and I just said “Oh my god, this is just fabulous! This is absolutely amazing!” I got in touch with Microsoft and kind of asked them for the same kind of things. People at Microsoft and other places would say “you know blind people have been asking for this for a long time”. I wasn’t the first one to think of this, of course. They said “but we don’t have any place that we could go to, to provide these materials for people who were blind”. I contacted recordings for the blind and they said we don’t do that, we do audio recordings, we are not interested. So I wrote back into Microsoft and said “I just started a company that would provide this to blind people and I call it Computerized Books for the Blind”. They sent a contract with a copyright release for all of Microsoft Corp. and all of Microsoft Press to do all their materials, a blanket copyright release. This was 8 years before the Chafee Amendment and the copyright exceptions were passed but I had literally the right to produce any of the Microsoft documentation and get it out to people.

TR:
George’s reaction for not having access in comparison to his new improve method for reading course materials…

GK:
It was just torturous for not having access to the information.

TR:
In 1988, George began Computerized Books for the Blind under the University of Montana. As in often the case, accessibility accommodations prove to have benefits that extend to more than just to an originally targeted audience.

GK:
I had a fair number of people with Dyslexia that had contacted me and asked if they can use these materials as well. And, I said well sure, no problem because I had a copyright release that allowed me to send to literally anyone with a disability, the copyright release was very broad. So I added the print disabled that coined the term ‘Print Disability’ which is a word that is commonly used today.

TR:
George put about 10,000 from his own savings into Computerized Books for the blind and Print Disabled. After hearing about the company’s impacted, Recordings for the blind later changed their opinions on digital books. They offered to absorb the company.

GK:
July 1, 1991was the first paycheck I got from 5 years. Boy that was great. Later they changed their name to Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Tell me how this became what we all know as DAISY.

GK:
The library serving the blind saw the writing on the wall about cassettes going away and going to a digital format was something that they were very interested in. So they formed a consortium in 1996 called the DAISY Consortium. Half a dozen aid companies in Canada, Europe and Japan that wanted to develop a digital format and they called it the Digital Audio Information System. A few years later it became, Digital Accessible Information System. They needed to figure out how to take analog recordings and digitalized them. I believed that if we were going to do something with digitalized audio books that you had to have the possibility to synchronize texts and audio. And, also have a navigation system that would allow you to move to headings and pages. There was a conference I attended in Sweden, I attended in ‘97. They were talking about this proprietary audio format. Mark Hanken, he is now with ETS, Educational Testing Service and I went to that meeting and we had this long prepared document about how this approach to proprietary system was wrong. And, we were like the 6th or 7th speaker and every one of the speakers who came before us said the same thing that we were going to say. So we just stood up and got to a white board and started explaining. In two months, I was hired as the first employee of the DAISY Consortium. We did such a good job on that, trying to get into the next generation with EPub is one of the barriers. People are saying “Why do we need anything else if we are making an audiobook, the DAISY format is just fine”. Now we are trying to move people more into the mainstream so that the mainstream products are accessible right out of the box.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What do you see in terms of the future for folks with print disabilities?

GK:
I think that we are real close to essentially having all textual contexts being access. We should be there; there is no reason that shouldn’t be access out of the box. Same thing with all textual contexts in textbook materials and websites and learning management systems. All of that stuff should be accessible. The hard parts like the data visualization, photographs, we are seeing a lot of good progress on facial recognition and photograph interpretation automatically. I think we have a long way to go there, I think it is going to be important for educators to identify the concepts that are being communicated in a particular visualization. Newton’s Law of Motion is in every physics book and each physics book has a different visualization but the underlining concept is the same. And, we should be able to identify that concept and the person should be able to go to like image share from book share from Benetech is an initiative where we are trying to get those concepts and if you want to learn that concept you can just go here and learn the same concept at image share that has been treated to be fully accessible. And address the needs of people with disabilities as this visualization of a pool table that is in the book. Log motion of pool table or marbles or planets it is all the same principle that I think we can refer people to. This is all with personalization of educational materials; I think that is going to be very important as we move forward.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
There has been a lot of improvement with people with print disabilities but there are still several challenges. PDF’s, are coming out of Enterprise programs, different companies, various different things. And, they are supposed to be accessible but often it’s not. Will DAISY end up being something that could help that?

GK:
Yes, absolutely. When PDF came about in the mid-90s, it was a printer driver format; PDF is the name, Printer Driver Format. The marketing people at Adobe changed it to a portal document format.
Fundamentally PDF is a huge problem. I would like to see PDF use for its intended purpose which is printing but you got something is intended for human’s consumption use a EPub. The mobile movement now is everyone reading on tablets and phones is the biggest reason for companies ditching PDF. Reason for going from PDF to EPub is that you can use it anywhere, any size device and it’s reflowable and it is just a much better way to go.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
If you can access a book downloaded in the EPub format, those are accessible?

GK:
iBook, Google Play, Kobo… All of these companies, the publisher wants a single file that they can distribute into their distribution markets. So the trade books… novels and things are pretty straight forward because they are usually just paragraphs and straight texts. You get into a textbook science and math, you get into another level of complexity and that’s really where we think the certification comes in so that the publisher takes that table and makes sure it is a real text table and not a picture of a table. so publishers will do that and that is wrong and it will fail the accessibility conformities that we put together because it is a table that you should be able to read with a screen reader, you can’t read pictures with a screen reader. The publisher industry is excited about it, the USA there is a lot of legal requirements in education that the school needs to purchase access materials and that is really important.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
You sort of mention infographics and I know that it is supposed to be some sort of a picture is I guess symbolic to something and it is taking information and making it easier to understand by using pictures but what other than that, why is it so popular in the internet and what are folks doing to make it accessible?

GK:
Okay so first of all it’s a great question, we hear a lot about big data, data visualization, and infographics. I like data visualization, in the simplest forms if you think of a pie chart where you got some information about cars sold in the United States and how many Chevy, how many fords, how many Chevrolet, how many by Toyota and who got the biggest market share and say you have ten companies with their statistics and there is a ton of statistics that go to make up the pie chart and it is easy to see when you have this pie and there is this big chunk of the pie that says Ford and this small chunk of the pie that says Honda, it is easy to visual that this has the biggest market share. That is an example of data visualization, it’s automatically generated by things like excel and statistical packages, SAS and others will take the data that they got and create this visualization that makes it easy to see the trends in this data. Benetech book share is the company that does book share but they do other things as well. They have a grant from the department of education called the diagraph project to try and work on issues like this. That picture is generated by data and so we can go backwards and try to get the data and try to get the information about the data and have it presented directly to the person through text and speech. What is the meaning of these things and the scatter plot? I think that data visualization can potentially is one of the greatest benefits for people that are blind that is out there cause some much is presented visually but that data is there and can be presented in different ways than just visual. We heard about sonification, I saw Ed Summers from SAS did a presentation in …. Where he had this scatterplot divided into nine parts like a tic-tac-toe and he could press on each part of that tic-tac-toe and it will explain the data that is underneath it. And that was fabulous; he just unfolded that data visualization as texts and presented the underlying to me. It was great. I am concerned about the complexity of all of these things where I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all of the time. Most of the times I win but boy you know it is complicated and my concern is that these interfaces and how to use the technology gets to be so complicated that average people have a hard time using it.

TR:
Being concerned about the challenges that computers present the average person doesn’t stop George from getting his hands on the latest technology.

GK:
I use GPS apps and they are very good. But with the AIRA glasses it is actually a human being looking at the video of what is in front of you. Walking up to my son’s house that is a mile away, heading up there and I had the glasses on and of course there is road construction that blocked by path and we had a pretty significant detour if I just was using GPS, then I would have just abandon that trip.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Computerized Books for the blind and Print Impaired began with not only George’s need for access but much more importantly what sounds to me like a bit of self-advocacy.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What made you think that they would send you the disks in the first place?

GK:
Well, at this point in time, every publisher was using computers to format and publish and it was driving their printing processes. I knew that it existed and it was I am blind, I am a student, and I need these books, can you send them to me?

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
I am thinking about those people who can be listening that are new to vision loss and your life path some of it might been dictated by vision loss but I am wondering also the other way around in terms of the things you done. How have they impacted your adjustment?

GK:
[sighs], I was denying that I was going blind, I would do downhill skiing with guidance and two way radios but I would never put a vest on that said blind. I would put on visually impaired. I avoided the ‘b’ word; I didn’t use a cane for a while. Hopefully it is a fully incident where you get into a situation where someone knew if I was blind, it would have been a lot easier. I don’t know if you want to put this on the air but I was at a basketball game and went to the men’s room and there was this urinal with a clear plastic on it and a little sign up of above that says Out of Order. Well it was opened and I just walked up to it and the guy next to me was like 6’8” and weighed 300lbs and he was really mad at me. Well the next day, I started to carry a cane. It just helps. I have seen people who are blind and they are pretty good at accepting it but they are always hoping for a cure. It is great to hope for a cure but you should not build your life around it. You should charge forward with what you got right now and do the best you can. Solving problems all the time, listening to people who already solved the problems learn from them on how to get things done. Cane is super important, your navigation skills. You can’t get a guide dog at least from Guide Dogs for the Blind unless you got adequate mobility skills to get you around. A dog is wonderful, they are fast but you got to have those fundamental cane skills that come first. Don’t let yourself become sad over vision loss just say okay this is it and go forward.

TR:
Allow me to send a sincere thank you to anyone who has ever benefited from a digital book. All of those students who didn’t have to worry about finding people who could read their textbooks for them and subsequently probably had a better educational experience. Anyone who like myself after vision loss who yearned for a faster way of navigating through a book and all that comes from all that improved access. Let me echo Mr. Kerscher and encourage you all to go forward and subscribe to this podcast. It is called Reid My Mind radio and you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune in Radio, and of course Reidmymind.com. So hear me now, believe me later. This podcast is becoming more popular every day and I will tell you the secret.

GK:
Yeah, I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all the time. Most of the time, I win but boy you know it is complicated.

[Reid my mind Radio’s outro music plays]

TR:
Peace.

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Reid My Mind Radio: Get On Board With The Blind Captain

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Ahmet in his kayak on a blue sea with a beautiful beach in the background.

Holman Prize winner Ahmet Ustunel says the water is his “happy place.” Hear all about his plans to be the first blind person to independently kayak from Europe to Asia… alone!

Plus the water being my Happy place means Ahmet and I have at least two things in common.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family…

If you’ve been here before, welcome back! If you’re a new jack, come on in…
take your shoes off if you like, it’s
not mandatory in my house, but I do want you to be comfortable.

Let’s get it! All aboard!
All Aboard!

[Audio: Ship Horn]
[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
In this second of our three part series, we’ll meet another winner of the Holman Prize.

The prize is named in honor of James Holman.
Known as the Blind Traveler, Holman completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.

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

Ahmet Ustunel Our featured Holman Prize winner today like James Holman, is quite comfortable on the water.

I spoke to him via Facebook Audio while he was at home in San Francisco.

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

I’m also a Retinoblastoma survivor Sir.

Ahmet:
Man, yeh, wow!

TR:

Retinoblastoma, is a rare childhood eye cancer that usually affects children before the age of years old.
By rare we’re talking about seven thousand children a year.

In the US and other developed nations the survivor rate is
around 90 percent with significant children losing sight.
In under developed nations, the rates are reversed and children’s lives are lost.

One common sign possibly indicating Retinoblastoma is a
white reflection in a child’s eye resembling that of a cat’s eye reflecting light.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to saving both lives and sight.

By the time Ahmet’s cancer was detected, doctors in Turkey
were out of options to help.

Ahmet:

One of my relatives was in Germany working at a children’s hospital as a janitor so my Gran Ma took me there and they treated me there with radiation an enucleation.

TR:

Enucleation or the surgical removal of Both his eyes, Ahmet returned home to Turkey now as a blind child.

Ahmet:
I was lucky in terms of having really supportive people in my family. I grew up in a really big family. Everybody had a different approach in terms of blindness.

I was the only blind person in the family and even in the town I guess. I didn’t know any other blind person.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Wow! How big of a town are you talking about?

Ahmet:
Maybe like ten fifteen thousand people.
Then I moved to Istanbul which is like fifteen sixteen million people and that actually changed my life.

TR:

Ahmet was aware of the contrasting dynamics in his family as it pertained to his blindness. Some were over protective while others wanted to help him do the things other little boys were doing.

Ahmet:
Ride a bike, tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:

These early lessons in the ability to make something accessible played a role in his education and future.

After not being accepted in a mainstream school , Ahmet watched as his peers went to school at around 6 years old.

Moving to Istanbul his parents tried to enroll him in the only school for blind children. With a waiting list Ahmet wouldn’t begin until he was 8 years old.

Attending school during the week and returning home on weekends, Ahmet credits this school with teaching him valuable life skills.
After 5th grade he would attend a mainstream school.

Ahmet:
They send you back to mainstream school with no support. So you go back to school with no books and no teachers for the blind.

I was the first blind student in the school. I had to prove myself as a blind person.

TR:

At an early age, Ahmet took his education and future into his own hands.

Ahmet:
I was walking around with my Walkman and asking everybody you know, can you read me a page or two.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So you were basically learning to advocate for yourself at that young age?

Ahmet:

Oh yeah I mean absolutely I mean there was nobody to advocate for me.
I could choose to sit around and do nothing you know get a C and pass, but if I really do well then people and teachers and you know the principal will understand that I can do stuff and they will let me stay. And if I cannot do it
I will just withdrawal myself.

TR:
Ahmet when on to not only prove himself to the administration but gain the confidence in his own abilities.

He studied Psychology in college where he met his wife, a US exchange student.

But his early life exposed him to more than academics

Ahmet:

When I was in high school my school campus was right on the water, you can literally jump into the water from the campus.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So is that where the kayaking came in, from high school.

Ahmet:
No actually I did a lot of you know water related activities since my childhood as I grew up by Black Sea.

When I was in college I use to go rowing and stuff, but I haven’t started kayaking until I came here.

TR:
A Kayak is a very narrow boat like vessel. You steer and move the kayak with a paddle that has a blade on each end. They average about 25 to 35 inches wide and 12 to 19 feet in length.

Ahmet:

So let’s say you have a kayak nineteen foot long and twenty eight inch wide. You can go really fast but it will be a little tippy.

If it is twelve feet long and thirty five inches wide it will be really stable but you will go half as fast as the nineteen foot one.

It’s made of either corrugated plastic or fiber glass, there are some inflatable models.
So you sit in it. And you’re like really close to the water if you put
your hand your right there the water is right there. So you’re like maybe four inches above the water.

And you have a spray skirt which covers the kayak. So if you have a splash water doesn’t get in and if you flip over you are upside down but know water gets in.
So you have to pull the skirt off the kayak and get out of the kayak and flip it over and get back in. Or you can do the special row it’s called Eskimo row. Without pulling the skirt off you can flip the kayak back and keep paddling.

If you go paddling in cold water like San Francisco the water temperature goes below fifty degrees most of the time. So you don’t want to stay in that water more than 15 minutes. If you stay more than 15 minutes they say Hypothermia kicks in.

TR:

So what does Kayaking have to do with the Holman Prize?

[Audio from Ahmet’s Ambition]

You’re listening to Ahmet’s Holman Prize Ambition video where he explains what he would do with the 25 grand.

[Ahmet in Video……]

I have been kayaking for about 10 years and I always wanted to be able to paddle independently. If I win the Holman Prize I will equip my kayak with high and low tech devices that will enable me to navigate the kayak by myself.

TR:
His mission…

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
You heard him correctly…
[Audio: Tape rewinding ]

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
Exactly what is required for someone to non visually, independently navigate their way through the Bosporus Straits from Europe to Asia?

Let’s start with the Kayak

Ahmet:
The kayak I’m going to use has kind of like fins going down from the bottom of the kayak kind of like penguin feet. And so you can pedal with your feet if you want or you can just do a classical paddle strokes.

I want to keep my hands free because I’m going to use whole bunch of different technologies.

TR:

No surprise here the technology includes an iPhone.
Ahmet:

I’m going to use a G.P.S. app – Ariadni G.P.S.

You can mark way points and it will let you know when you get close to that way point.

It also has a compass with degrees and tell you how far you are from your way points. And then I have a talking audible compass. Similar thing it will tell you degrees and you will set you course before you start and it will tell you if you are off course.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
and you will South your course before you start and it will tell you the field

Is that a separate device or is that an app?

Ahmet:

It’s a separate devise.

I will also have parking sensors or security cameras sensors.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Probably the same thing they use when the cars park themselves… right?

Ahmet:

Right, right right! You know when you’re backing out so if you are about to hit something it beeps.

I have a depth whisperer.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

D E P T H?.

Ahmet:
Yes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Ok at first I thought you said death (laughs) I was like I don’t like that one!

Ahmet:
Laughs… I hope not!

It tell you if there’s shallow water underneath the kayak. If you are about to hit a rock or something .

TR:

Ahmet does have to prepare for all scenarios.

There’s redundancy in his technology so if one device fails another can provide the same or just as useful information.

Not all the technology is off the shelf. While searching for the best methods for non-visually navigating his way through the water Ahmet
came across Marty Stone.

Marty is an AT&T I.T. Project Manager by day and after hours…

Marty:

I’m just one of those people that like to tinker with things.

TR:
Marty created a device that simply put:

Marty:
It was developed to allow blind people to get a kayak and race it in a straight line and then turn around and come back.

TR:

Reading about this device, Ahmet reached out to Marty who decided to expand on the original design.

Marty:
Now we’re working on something that not only includes a compass but gyroscopes, accelerometers, and three different axis.

So you get a lot better information as far as movement and heading. We’ve got a G.P.S. module that’s it’s married to along with Bluetooth. That’s going to be interfaced with a device Ahmet will be able to wear on his life vest that will have some buttons that either he can program in some coordinates or commands to the system that he’ll just wear a headset and it’ll talk to him.
It’ll tell him that in order to get from where he is to his next way point he needs to row in a certain heading direction. And if he gets off course the system will tell him to paddle more on the left or paddle more on the right. And when he gets to a way point it will let him know and then he needs to change his heading to another course direction and then it’ll tell him that.

TR:
With both equipment and technology accounted for, Ahmet needs a few more things to be fully prepared to reach his goal; first a plan..

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

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

These tankers are the size of multiple football fields. A small kayak would probably go unnoticed anywhere near such a large vessel. And getting out of the way even if you could see it would be virtually impossible.

Ahmet:
I don’t want to take my chance with those guys!

TR:
The Bosporus being such a very narrow waterway. Authorities closely control the traffic flow in each direction.

Ahmet:

I will listen to the traffic channel. Usually they have half an hour or forty-five minute break in between and I will do my crossing during that time.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Do you have to schedule this?

Ahmet:

Well, I talked to the Coast Guard in Turkey and they .. first they didn’t believe that I could do it and I showed my videos to them and they said ok do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility.
(Ahmet and TR Laugh)

There will be a really fast boat watching me from the shore. If something goes wrong they will come and pick me up in like few minutes.

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Why are you doing this man?

Ahmet:

I always loved the water, it’s my happy place. It’s the place I feel good about myself I feel free. I grew up in a fishing boat when I was a kid. My father was a fisherman. In the fishing boats I used to ask my Dad, you know can I steer the boat. he said yeh, you know, it’s water there’s nothing around you, it’s like miles and miles of open water. I used to take the steering wheel and just feel like I was the captain of the boat. And I was imagining like how can do something like this as a blind person as a blind kid. I always wanted to do something water related but my option were very limited in college.
If I grew up in the US I would have probably do something like marine biology.

I love what I am doing right now, I’m teaching special ed. It was always somewhere in my mind to do something water related and being able to do it independently. I have been thinking about it for a long time and I thought you know, it’s doable if I have the financial support I can do it.

TR:
I believe him. And I will admit it, partially because he is a fellow Retinoblastoma Survivor but mainly because he began as a child.
Think about the early lessons from his family helping him adapt all the different activities so he could participate…

[Audio in flashback Ahmet]

Ride a bike… tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:
Then becoming his own advocate at such a young age and showing such determination to get an education.

I imagine these are some of the qualities seen by the Holman Prize judges who awarded Ahmet the 25 thousand dollars to complete his objective.

Ahmet:

You know, I’m not saving the world or I’m not creating job opportunities or changing the lives of blind people , but I think I’m doing something cool!

At least it might encourage younger kids to try new things. I see that my students, high school kids, they get discouraged in terms of finding alternative ways… I think it will help.

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

It’s cool, you focus on kids, you’re a teacher so that’s what you do, but for anyone, you’re pursuing your passion and that’s something that we forget in life. To be able to say you’re going to go and pursue your passion and have a dream and do it that is a universal thing that goes way beyond any sort of disability. There are people who are perfectly sighted, physical abled who are not pursuing their passion and we can all learn from that.

Ahmet:
Absolutely, yeh, I mean you know, it’s not a blind or sighted thing. It’s just I think being adventurous and take a risk take a chance.

TR:

That’s probably the final ingredient necessary to complete this mission. courage!

As a young boy on the fishing boat with his Dad, Ahmet dreamt of becoming the captain. It takes real courage to go for your dreams. I’d say Ahmet’s been captain of his ship for quite some time.

If you’re interested in wishing Ahmet safe travels or want to follow his progress, go and Like his Facebook page; Ahmet The Blind captain.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio,
[Audio repurposed: Ahmet ” do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility! ]

audio for independent living!

[Audio: Grand Funk Railroad… The Captain]

TR:
Being affected by the lack of accessibility is frustrating. Especially when you know the so called limitation isn’t real.

It could be a website or program that doesn’t work with a screen reader. That was a choice. Probably not an intentional one, but if made aware of the problem and
a solution isn’t sought well, that’s intentional.

Companies usually fall back on the cost and yes there could be a cost to updating a product, but there’s no real cost to changing how we think and design for the future.

Inaccessibility is frustrating when you know that the reason for technology is to make our lives better.

That was one of the reasons I wanted to reach out to Marty Stone, the developer creating an enhanced device to help Ahmet stay the course.

Marty:
You can never accuse me of being an optimistic person I’m afraid, but I do hope that we can save the world with science, I really do. The world needs a lot of help and a lot of people really don’t trust science or scientist it’s kind of shameful.

[TR in conversation with Marty]
This is what technology is all about.

Marty:
Helping people…

[TR in conversation with Marty]

Yes!

Marty:
Absolutely, the stuff I do for AT&T is great and all that but doing this other stuff… this is the best stuff in the world. Volunteering and doing this other work. Taking some of that Geek ology and helping other people’s lives.. make them better. Man that’s just the dandiest thing in the world.

TR:
We need more of a bridge between the users of technology and the programmers, engineers, scientists … nerds.
Marty:
It’s cool to be a nerd now, yeh…. laughs.

TR:

The opportunity to profile Ahmet and his story came at the right time for me personally.
For the past few years, September has been a pretty busy time here on the Reid Compound.
As a survivor and a family impacted by Retinoblastoma, my family and I have spent the past few years telling stories to bring awareness of this childhood cancer.

September is childhood cancer awareness month. This year unfortunately we couldn’t produce the stories so being able to bring you Ahmet and drop a little info about this eye cancer means a lot to me personally.

In fact, I’d encourage you to check out some of the prior videos we have produced and see how the cancer impacted their lives. While these are videos the visuals included are enhancements, the story is told verbally.
I’ll have some links on this episode’s post on ReidMyMind.com.

I’m always hopeful that a story like Ahmet’s when presented in the mainstream media is done the right way. By that I mean, find and convey his message to the wider audience. In addition to the accessibility and self-advocacy I’m always personally encouraged when I see others going for their dream.

Ahmet was already preparing for the dream. He just needed the funding. His fortune, the San Francisco Lighthouse created the opportunity. Ahmet was prepared. Some say that’s the definition of luck… being prepared for opportunity

That’s another take away for me, be prepared for that opportunity. Begin moving towards your dream.

I hope the Holman Prize winners; Ahmet and Penny are encouraging you the listener to go for your dream if you’re not already.

I hope they’re encouraging you to subscribe to this podcast just
about anywhere podcasts are distributed… Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In and Sound Cloud

The world is going to be buzzing with this next episode, featuring
the final Holman Prize winner. Don’t miss it.

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Meet Holman Prize Winner Baking Blind

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Penny of Baking Blind in her garden.

Penny of Baking Blind, in the kitchen.
What would you do with 25 G’s?

That question was posed to all legally blind people brave enough to submit their video to YouTube explaining exactly how they would use the money. It’s a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse called The Holman Prize.
Today in this 3 part series you will meet the winners and learn the answers to…

  • Who is Holman?
  • Who is Penny Melville-Brown? * What is Baking Blind?

I got the answers… just hit play and hear how this winner is bringing “more than buns!”

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Today I’m bringing you the first of a three part series. And you know what they say about three right…

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]
TR:
You’ve probably heard of well-known explorers like Magellan, Columbus, Marco Polo? What about Holman; James Holman.

Born in 1786 Holman went on to join the British Royal Navy and became lieutenant in 1807. In 1810he was struck by an illness that first afflicted his joints, then finally his vision.

By 25 years old he was totally blind. He eventually decided to go on to study medicine and literature.

Holman became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Holman eventually was forgotten.

In 2006, Jason Roberts published the award winning biography
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.  

Today is the first in a three part series where we meet the three winners of the Holman Prize.

Brought to you by the San Francisco Lighthouse, 25,000 dollars is given to each of the three legally blind winners. Each in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and describe how they would use the money.

A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and selected three winners.

Let’s begin with one winner in particular, who you will notice, has several things in common with James Holman. Plus, I was taught, ladies first!

PMB:

Well I’m Penny Mellville-Brown and I live in Hampshire in the United Kingdom. My first career was in the Royal Navy.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Why did you want to enlist in the Royal Navy in the first place?

PMB:
I needed a complete change of life.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
What were you doing prior to that?

PMB:

Well I was at university so I completed my degree. I done a postgraduate qualification. I was due to get married the following year and my fiancé was killed in a car accident so I decided that I needed a complete change.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh, I’m so sorry!

PMB:
I applied for every job that was going that looked vaguely interesting and I ended up in the Royal Navy. think in those days the women had their own service so I actually joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service WRNS) and twenty seventeen is the Centenary of their formation.

in the late ninety’s the women were integrated with the men so although I started off as a third officer which is the same as a sub left tenant, by the time I left I was wearing navy gold braid and had naval rank. I was what was in those days called the secretariat officer so I was doing NATO intelligence. I was doing home defense war planning, corporate public relations in the Ministry of Defense. Running the naval units in the universities and then I literally sat next to somebody at lunch and they said. “OH what we need is a female barrister.” I said, “I could do that.”

TR:
A barrister is a lawyer- mostly specializing in courtroom advocacy and litigation.

The US equivalent;

PMB:
Think of me as Tom Cruise…

[Audio: A Few Good Men Starring Tom Cruise & Jack Nicholson]

PMB:
Laughs, But not too much!

and then within about a year of qualifying my eyesight started deteriorating. I struggled on for about a year or two and went on to do another job. And then it all got pretty critical and I was having to lose the sight in one eye or actually I was going to die so I gave up that I. Went back to work in the Royal Navy and then the other eye started going and then I got promoted but by that stage I probably wasn’t driving. I used to be on one of those great big old tri-cycles. Do you know what those are? You know a three wheeler bike and that’s how I used to I used to cycle around the dockyard the naval base, terrifying everybody.

In the end it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to carry on a really successful career in the Navy so I was medically discharged as a war pensioner

## TR:
Penny’s vision loss was caused by Uveitis, a form of eye inflammation affecting the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall known as the uvea.

Possibly another connection to James Holman.

One similar trait that appears pretty certain

PMB:
OH! I Can do that!

TR:
That’s right! A can do attitude.

Her response to going blind?

PMB:
I think I was really lucky.

Firstly because the onset of my vision impairment took probably four or five years. That meant that I could adapt to it to some extent. I think it’s really difficult to do the adaptation. At least I had a bit more time rather than having some major injury which of course some of the naval veterans and other veterans have but I think so important was that I was able to work in the Royal Navy for probably three or more years with
very little vision and that proved to me that I could still do as good a job as anyone else. Just because I was blind was completely immaterial.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Did that take some advocacy on your part or were they just open to that?

PMB:
They were pretty supportive.

You will hear that I’m quite a determined person

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh yeh, I can hear that already!

TR & PMB:Laughs!

## TR:
Although Penny knew she could work and be productive and
sought assistance in planning for her future,
service organizations weren’t as helpful as expected.

PMB:
They didn’t know what to do with me. One just kept taking me out for lunch which was very charming but pretty useless.

TR:
A can do attitude means,
you find or create the solution.

Penny decided helping others with disabilities gain employment
was a worthwhile goal that she could work towards fulfilling.

PMB:so actually I took my uniform off one day and two days later I set myself up as a disability consultant and within a year I’d set up Disability Dynamics.

So I spent lots of time helping employers with employment policies around disability.

TR:
Serving on boards like the UK’s equivalent of the IRS and working with other governmental agencies was one aspect of Disability Dynamics, Penny’s disability consulting company.

Working directly with people with disabilities, Penny found real joy and success helping others gain their independence.

PMB:
One of the things I found most successful and most rewarding was helping people to start their own businesses and become self-employed. It means that they’re in control of their work where they work how they work when they work so that they can manage employment alongside a health condition. We had you know hundreds and hundreds of people contacting us for help and turned out lots and lots of businesses everything from a funeral director, people who did dog walking, somebody was training microlight pilots all sorts of things. Really inventive different ideas often built from their own hobbies that they turned into a
business that made them feel great again; independent, financially not reliant on the state and usually improve their health and it particularly improved their family relationships.

PMB:

TR:
Seeking a way to reach more people. Penny began with an idea sparked from something she enjoyed.

PMB:
I always make Christmas hampers for my friends and family.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
A hamper to me is where we put dirty clothes! Laughs!

PMB:
Here we would call that a dirty linen basket.

TR:
A hamper simply put, is a gift of food.

PMB:
I was making at least fifty little Christmas cakes to go into these hampers and I thought well why don’t we video that. And just see whether this has got any legs whatsoever. My brother had some spare time so he came up and videoed it and I’d made some little Pewter Christmas cake decorations, so we popped those on the top and that’s how Baking Blind got started.

TR:
This was late November early December 2016.
Posting the videos to YouTube, Penny’s aspirations were more than sharing recipes.
PMB:
I was looking for something to demonstrate to others that just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Let me stop you…

PMB:
Sure.

Me sitting on the board well perhaps twelve other people see that. Me delivering projects well perhaps five hundred people might know that. Yes, thank you for spotting that. That is, that is what it’s about. It’s getting real traction in the much wider population.

TR:
Putting yourself in the public can risk being seen as seeking attention.

Penny is very clear to note that this isn’t about her. She’s only 1 person who is blind, 1 person with a disability.

PMB:
there are loads more of us with all those capabilities who just want to do a good job, integrate into society, have a place in their communities rather than sit at home and be lonely and miserable.

TR:
That’s one of the objectives of the Holman Prize; challenging the misperception that people who are blind are limited to four walls.

Contestants vying for the 25,000 prize had a wide range of goals including establishing businesses, providing technology for others and even becoming president of their country.

PMB:
And there was me just saying Oh I think I want to cook some buns you know.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
But it’s so much more than buns! How exactly are you going to fulfill your mission using the Holman Prize.

[Audio: Up tempo music begins…]

PMB:
I’m going out to San Francisco to have an orientation with the lighthouse team and then we’re trying to line up some cooking opportunities while I’m in
San Francisco.

I’m then going to whiz down to Costa Rica where I’m cooking in it’s called the Jungle Culinary Adventure Restaurant and we’re toying with
the idea of whether we could do dining in the dark down there. And I said well actually I think he I want him cooking in the dark.

Then I’m going back to Virginia Beach and I particularly welcome anybody in the Virginia Beach area to get in touch who might like to do some cooking with me. They don’t have to be blind it could be anybody. And I’m looking for professional chefs to.

then I’m coming quickly back to the U.K. really just to do
the washing and catch up on some sleep.
Then I’m whizzing over to Chongqing, n China where I’m going to be working with the Rotary Club there who are already running a project to help local visually impaired people.

Then I’m going down to Australia to a place called Chioma where I’m hoping to cook with a local M.P. who happens to be visually impaired. And there’s also somebody who does bush tucker; So when you’re out in the outback where do you get
food from but from the bush and then you turn that into something my fingers are crossed edible. Not too wriggly and creepy crawly.

Then I’m going down to Melbourne and I’m already linking up with another Blind Cook down there.

Then I’m going on from there to Malawi and then back to the U.K.

And then I’ve got a whole program of more activities back in the U.K. particularly exploring some of the things that James Holman and might have understood and recognized. Because of course I worked in the Naval Base, the dockyard and many of the buildings he might have known. His ship was just on the other side of the water Portsmouth here in Hampshire.

We’re going to make videos all the way through. So I’m hoping to publish a video every week for a year. And they’ll be blogs and of course all the recipes.

TR:
What would you do with 25,000 dollars?
I’m sure there are lots of ideas out there, but
ideas aren’t worth anything by themselves.

I’d imagine that , contestant’s ideas were only a part of how the winners were determined.

I think it’s more like investing in the person. You want someone who can show the ability to see things through.

[TR in conversation with PMB]

A lot of people have the idea , but then they don’t make that step. How did you make the step?

PMB:
I did say I was a bit determined didn’t I.

But I think I’m also quite a creative person so I’m always looking for that sort of added different approach

TR:
Cooking is just one of Penny’s creative outlets;

In addition to making jams and preserves, she does pottery, flower arrangements. Hammers out crafts and more using Pewter –
a metal mixture that includes mainly tin.

PMB:
I design buildings as well. I’m sitting in my conservatory which I built as a birthday present to myself. I had it very clear in my head what I wanted and I have this great architect. We designed it absolutely right down to where the power sockets would go on the walls from my head. Then he built me a little cardboard model so I could check that he done it right and now I’m sitting in it.

Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t use your hands really
well.

TR:
Or your legs, your mind… you get the point!
Unfortunately, not everyone believes that’s true.

And too often those who lose their vision internalize these misbeliefs.

Yes, adjusting to blindness or any disability can cause depression. This could lead someone to feel their creative lives are no longer an option.

Penny offers additional insight and an approach to slowly breaking through.

PMB:

Much more of it is about the social isolation. The fact they can’t work. They’re sitting at home, they’re poorer, their health is suffering with that extra depression.

Their family and friends may be supportive but they still find it really difficult interacting across the broader community. yet underpinning all of that here is huge frustration determination motivation and if you can just tap into that and help them explore that, they’re away. And so I think people can convince themselves that they’re not creative the not. Aspirational because it’s a safe place to be. But actually once you can show them that you can achieve lots of things without risking safety too much you know we all need to know that you know life is a secure as we can make it. That all sorts of great things
are out there.
[TR in conversation with PMB]

That place to me, where I think they think they are, is a very scary place to me.

PMB:
Well status quo bias is where you believe that where the condition that you’re in at the moment is safe and secure even though that condition may be quite miserable.
And even if people demonstrate to you the benefits of making change you still resist it because you have that bias towards the status quo.

Here in the U.K. if you’re unemployed you may be in receipt of government benefits to help you live and people. feel that that safe and secure because at least they know they’ve got some income for the foreseeable future. And to break through that. Into it explain to the matter if you’ve got a job you’d be happier if family be happier your health would be better and have more money. It’s still getting across that big jump. Which is quite tricky for them and so the answer is you take in very small steps very small incremental steps so that at no stage are they having to make a huge decision to make that break from benefits into work. You help them make it gradually so that they’re not being faced with huge risk. The driving force behind I’m going to stick where I know I’m safe is very important but let’s just expand that area of safety so that it’s a bit more ambitious in the longer term.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Yeh, just dip the toe… dip the toe in the water!

PMB:
Yeah

TR:

That moderate approach to adjusting can allow a person to slowly realize what they once viewed as a cost of vision loss could
prove to be a real benefit. Something I had to learn myself.

PMB:
people miss that huge advantage of being slightly vulnerable relying on somebody else and the benefit you get out of it. The number of delightful people that I meet and the bonding you get supportive bonding you know it’s a joy. I travel down perhaps I’m Darbyshire and they’ll be eight people that I will meet on that journey all of the other people traveling just passed their ticket to the ticket collector and don’t speak to anyone. I’ve had all that delight in that person interaction all that way.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
For me I know for a long time I was thinking that the first way, just passing my ticket and being quiet was the best way. And I have to remind myself that no this new way actually probably is the best way.

PMB:
the benefits are huge.

TR:
Baking Blind is a winner of the Holman Prize because Penny as a history of making things happen. That’s just one reason to be a fan of Penny & Baking Blind. Plus there’s that ability to adapt, the desire to create using what she has not wanting for what was lost, going for big goals like changing how the public views disability.

And of course the laugh!

If you’re interested in cooking with Penny go ahead and drop her an email at Penny@BakingBlind.com. Which is where you can find more about Penny, follow her journey and of course grab some recipes.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[Audio:
PMB: oh I could do that.]

Audio for independent living.

RMMRadio Outro

When I learned about the Holman Prize I actually
thought about entering. the truth is I really didn’t have an independent ambition. I wanted to tell the stories of the winners.
I wanted to have real access to the winners to shadow their progress and really see the inner workings of their projects and
them as individuals.

But who knows, maybe the future has something like that in store.
For now, I have Face Time, I have Skype and if that’s what I have to do then it’s all good baby!
Isn’t that the Holman spirit!

Penny, like Holman, could have easily taken that Royal Navy Pension and sat in her chair and found some other way to entertain herself.

Like Penny, my response to that…

[Audio: Penny Laughs]

Sorry it’s just such a great hearty laugh I couldn’t resist.

Make sure you visit and subscribe to Baking Blind on YouTube.
All the links are on the blog post accompanying this episode on Reid My Mind.com.

Next time you are going to hear about
a man who is planning on Kayaking alone from Europe to Asia. And no he’s not crazy!

And then, we’re going to Uganda, well via Skype for now
to visit with a gentleman who already has the country buzzing with
how he’s directly changing the lives of others who are blind.

Make sure you subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss these episodes.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio, Sound Cloud!

And if you like what you hear on the RMMRadio, give a brother some love by leaving a review wherever you download the show … especially Apple Podcast.

You know they say, Podcasters need love too!

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – 14 Year Old Makes Talking Laundry Machine

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

TReid in front of washing machine which appears to be talking... machine says "47 minutes remaining on the wash cycle!
Touch screens and digital displays look sexy and futuristic, but for those who are blind or low vision these can present a real access issue.

Jack DuPlessis, a 14 year old programmer stepped up to the challenge of making a washer and dryer talk! Hear how he did it and the possible impact this can have on the future of appliances.

Resources

More of Jack’s work on Git Hub
* Purchase from First Build

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR :
What’s up RMMRadio family.
We’re getting right into this today.

And I can tell you from the jump, there’s know original musical creations in this episode.
[Applause]
Oh seriously who did that… that’s not cool!

[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
Accessibility issues are everywhere. Transportation, information like the printed word or that which appears in movies but isn’t spoken and too often employment.
When you think about the problem solvers who find solutions to these types of access issues, you may not think he’d sound like:
[TR in conversation with JD]
How are you?
JD:
I’m good!

TR:
… Well, like a 14 year old young man.
That’s Jack DuPlessis,.

Jack developed a way to make an otherwise inaccessible washer & Dryer talk.

Many of the newer appliances on the market today whether stove tops, microwaves and laundry machines are using digital displays and no real tactile options.

I spoke with Sam DuPlessis now known as Jack’s Dad.
I wanted to learn more about First Build, where this project all began.

SD: First Build was started about three years ago by G.E. appliances. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of G.E. appliances. We want to incubate new products and
we want to do it in an open and collaborative way. We have all the tools to design build and sell new products and new innovations. And we invite anybody to come in and collaborate with us. Truly we mean anybody. We’ve got an on-line presence. You can come in and sign on and use our tools and create with us or you could go online and submit ideas to our website – we call it Co creation.

TR:
Others in the community and those who visit the site vote for their favorite ideas. The more votes and idea gets;

SD:
We put them in queue to make them and see if we can make products out of them. So really let the creativity of this place and ideas of a large group, come in and help us accelerate product development where from a G.E. appliances point of view things used to take years, we want to just take weeks and months to get these ideas out there tested.

TR:
First Build isn’t just sitting around waiting for ideas to come to them.

SD:
Once a year we do something called a mega hack a thon.

TR:
Hackers usually refers to computer programmers .
A hackathon is a fast paced event that
can last for a few hours or over a weekend.
The intention is to design a new piece of software often with a specific goal in mind.

In the case of the First build hackathon, hackers includes
programmers, engineers, machinists and others.

SD:
We just take things apart and put them back together and try to create new concept products in a weekend.

This year’s Hackathon is September 9 & 10.

TR:
Last year’s hackathon inspired what would become a talking laundry machine. But it started with a Stove or cook top.

SD:
An induction cooktops that was really designed specifically to address some of the cooking issues for the visually impaired. It was a great idea it had a pan locator on a smooth cook top where the visually impaired person wouldn’t have to feel with their hands where the burner was starting to warm up. They could just feel with the pot and it kind of self-locates over the cooking surface. we’ve never seen that before. We happen to have here in Louisville. the American Printing House for the Blind. It’s been here for one hundred fifty years and it’s where they print almost all the materials and teaching aids for blind and visually impaired education in the United States. When their leadership came in and reviewed the cooktop, it had like a cap touch control. It’s not very accessible.

TR:
It was through this outreach and communication with those who are impacted by the inaccessibility, where Sam received a request.

SD:
As things get more electronic like laundry, the knobs just spin three hundred sixty degrees they don’t have a home position. They don’t even have a home beep. You’ve grown this capability but you haven’t really addressed a good universal control. If you can give me a home beep . On Something that would be great.

So I took that as an idea for laundry. Something that here at first build we could just program a test for that and have something maybe that we could
update have in the field and just have a home beep on laundry. Really easy to do. I came home and I asked Jack would he be willing to work
on something like that.

[TR in Conversation with JD]
So your father comes to you with the idea, what did you think about it when he first asked you?

JD:
Yeah, I never thought about visually impaired people using a washer and how hard it would be without something as simple as a home position. So that was just a new take on controlling a washer, but I thought it would be a fun project.

[TR in Conversation with JD& SD]
Jack did you get into programming because of your Dad? Dad, how did it happen
SD:
The cool thing that I did was I brought home a Raspberry Pi and connected to a T.V.

TR:
Sam’s not referring to an actual pie here.
He’s talking about the tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects

Getting his hands on this in 4th grade along with a visual coding interface, Jack began working on small projects that included making his own games.
Eventually that led to him learning other languages and other projects like a website that lets users test their typing speed and proficiency

And of course, talking laundry machines!

JD:
So yeah, I went with it and got a working like prototype version in about a weekend or so.

[TR in conversation with JD:]
For some kids, that would deter them to even continue. “Ah this is gonna take too long”, but that’s not you, it doesn’t sound like that.

JD:
[long pause]
No!
[TR & SD: laughs]
## TR:
Jack is humble which is an endearing trait for a very bright talented young guy.
Plus, he has Dad. And Dad’s love to talk about their children.

SD:
What took a few hours that weekend, was a very limited functionality and as this thing developed and we got the feedback, Jack rewrote this to not only address just the knobs but to address many of the buttons that are on the laundry and went through four total structure rewrites. and it has turned him from a very simple piece of code into a very very elaborate piece of code and it’s all self-taught.

I’m an engineer and I lead the technical development here at First Build. The passion that we look for in successful engineers is you got to see the problem and want to solve it and Jack has that and spades. He really
sees problems and really likes to dive in to figure out what it takes to solve it.

When Jack makes a significant improvement in anything the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.

TR & Dad laugh!

TR:
That code Jack wrote is now on a small device that attaches to both washer and dryer via a cable that plugs into the diagnostic ports in the back of each machine.

Turning the knob on the machine gives you immediate feedback:
[Sample Sounds]

It even allows you to press a button on the device while the machine is running and hear how much time is remaining.

[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Have you gotten any feedback from anyone who is visually impaired who may have used the device?

JD:
Yeah…So we put a device in the Kentucky School for the Blind. So we’ve gotten good feedback from them.
And that same person who gave us the feedback about the cook top from the American printing House for the Blind, he has given us great feedback on it as well.
SD:
Not only has he been able to take their feedback you know one on one, but he’s since been able to release software that provides the features that they asked for.
[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Congratulations to you young man! It’s a really cool thing you’re doing. Dad you too. Obviously you introduced him to it. What are you learning about accessibility?

SD:
I’ve made appliances for twenty five years and we’ve got we call it a heuristics evaluation. Where we look at the usability of controls. And from a I mean just a basic use of what could be in a control to make it more accessible I’ve learned that there are they they can actually be free and we can start putting them in appliances that we make today. If something has a tone capability instead of having it beep the the same beep as it slews through maybe a couple different selections. If it has a high and low tome Automatically it’s much more usable. With these types of insights you know we can put a home beep, it the minimum and that’s free.

We started to update our heuristics evaluation. I’m taking what we’ve learned in this point of view and seeing how we can update our control algorithm so that everything comes
out a little bit more accessible.

TR:
Of course, I had to ask about an iPhone app

SD:
That’s probably where in a few years I think many of our appliances will end up.

Wi-Fi has started to be added to our top end appliances including laundry and there is
a laundry app. One of the things Jacks work has done is uncovered these communications that Go back and forth in the app don’t exist. He’s actually telling
them the things that they need to do to create a more accessible app experience..

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
What’s your favorite piece of technology right now Jack?

JD:
My favorite piece of technology right now that I want is probably a Mac Book.

SD:
Santa Clause is getting some hints!

[Tr in conversation with SD:]
And it sounds like he’s been a real good boy!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Do you see yourself going more into what area? Do you want to stay with manufacturing coding, I heard games what do you want to do?

JD:
I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. As long as it involves computers, programming it will probably be good with me.

[Tr in conversation with JD:]

And accessibility too, right?

JD:
Yeah!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Laughs!

TR:
It’s refreshing to know that this talented young man and possible future leader in technology is already showing signs of committing to accessibility.

Right now, the First Build Talking Laundry Module is available for one GE washer and 2 dryers 1 electric and one gas.

The modules right now are being produced on demand and available for purchase
via the First Build website; firstbuild.com

It costs $99 and works for both washer and dryer. and comes with the cables and AC adapter.

The device is 5 x 5 x 2.5 inch and has built in speaker and volume control knob and includes magnets on the base to hold the unit to the side of dryer

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[JD: from the piece… long pause and he then says… No!]

Audio for independent living!

TR: RMMRadio Outro

The purpose of technology is to help us accomplish a specific task. The first tools used by our ancestors in Africa could be considered assistive technology.

Accessibility, just extends the us. For too long us only included those with fully functioning… fill in the blank.
More people are understanding and being informed that just because your eyes don’t function at a certain level, you don’t hear the way others may or any other disability, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get the same things accomplished.

I can really appreciate this story for several reasons.

I can relate to the Dad, Sam, recognizing that his son’s interest. Then challenging him to get involved with a project that has a real world purpose. Encouraging him to not only get better at coding but gaining an early lesson about technology – it should improve our lives.

There’s another lesson that can be gained… it’s about disability but even more so it’s about humanity. Everyone has unlimited potential. Disability doesn’t reduce that in anyway. People do.

People who see limitations and then whether directly or otherwise restrict someone from reaching their potential.

People who internalize that idea and restrict themselves.

People who refuse to make their products accessible even after learning that by doing so they are restricting 20 percent of the population who has some form of disability.

Whether from a business or creative perspective, not working towards a fully accessible product is a very limiting move. Convincing me once again that the limitations are in the eye of the beholder.

Accessibility advocates will tell you the goal, is accessibility included in the design phase. The time when all those involved with the creation of the product are beginning to figure out what the product will look like and how it will work. It sounds like Sam is taking steps toward that. Especially realizing that it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We can say that Jack getting involved at 14 is right in line with that. Part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t often included in computer science curriculum.

Getting introduced to the concept of accessibility at 14 years old, makes me optimistic about the future.

You might say this is one person, one story, but that’s never really the case unless the story goes untold.

Well Jack’s story has definitely made its way around the web and I’d like to think that the accessibility conversation has been advanced a little further.

Shout out to Sam and Jack DuPlessis First Build and GE for advancing access for those who are blind or visually impaired.

And here’s hoping Santa is listening to this episode of the podcast and Jack finds some cool stuff under that tree this year!

You know what else is cool? Yes, you do!
Subscribing to this here podcast. You can subscribe on Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and follow on Sound Cloud.

Give the podcast a rating, a review and or tell a friend or two to take a listen.

Peace!

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