Archive for the ‘Accessibility’ Category

Ajani AJ Murray – Starting with Imagination

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

AJani AJ Murray , a Black male with short haircut & facial hair seated in a wheelchair. He wears black & white print baggie pants with a blue long sleeve hoodie with words printed in black: "Young, gifted, black and disabled."

Pursuing your passion can take you down a road filled with all sorts of obstacles. Ajani “AJ” Murray knew from an early age that he wanted to act. his first school was television which he studied intently.

His latest role is in Best Summer Ever, screening at SxSW later this month

Hear how television and movies provided much more than entertainment for him and his family. His methods for navigating the obstacles along his journey and how he’s making his own place in an industry that isn’t always welcoming. In each case, imagination was at the start.

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Transcript

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Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

And me, I’m Thomas Reid
producer and host of this podcast.

I usually reserve the opening of the episode for me to
tell you a bit about what this podcast is all about,
but as you’ll see in a minute, AJ is a media connoisseur,
so I was like man, everyone needs to hear his review.

I like to let new listeners know that here,
we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability,
told in a way that sounds

Audio: AJ “Dope” “Fresh”

And I do always hope Reid My Mind Radio can be a

Audio: AJ, “Resource”

For anyone especially those adjusting to vision loss.

And with that said, let’s do this!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Audio: Tom Joyner show…

AJ:
I became a big fan of radio because of Tom Joyner. We went to one of his Sky shows in Atlanta and it was at Greenbrier Mall. It was the whole cast and we listened to the S.O.S Ban. From that point for about 2 or 3 years I did a mock radio show.

TR:

A youngster at the time, AJ study the format of the now retired
Tom Joyner, host of the number 1 nationally syndicated urban
(that’s code for Black) morning radio Show.
AJ created his own show which he put on for his family.

AJ:

To make a long story short as I told you earlier I can really talk and go on long.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughing…

AJ:

I kind of sort of gave up on going into radio because I realized that in mainstream FM radio you don’t really program your own shows. You’re basically playing the same music and also to get to where I really wanted to be and the kind of radio that I would do is something that you have to be in the game for years and years for, like a Tom Joyner.

TR:

AJ knew his true passion.

AJ:

I’m a huge, huge fan of the screen big and small. From the time I was a very little kid I was always just enamored by the screen . I grew up on three camera sitcoms; Cosby Show, A Different World, Facts of Life, Different Strokes. As I got older there was the Fresh Prince era, the TGIF era, the Martin era, the WB era. My love for television in the very beginning was the sitcom.

TR:

Of course, there’s the big screen.

AJ:

My mom loves film. When it came to film she wasn’t really restrictive on what we could watch. Now we couldn’t watch everything, there were certain films I couldn’t watch but like it was 1989 I remember actually going to see Do the Right Thing. I had to of course cover up my eyes during the Mookie ice scene.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughs…

AJ:

TR:

Shout out to Rosie Perez!
If you don’t know the scene let’s just say Ice cubes are for more than chilling your lemonade on a hot summer day.

AJ:

I appreciated that several years later.

TR:

Now, I’m from the era where parents let you ride in the front seat with no seatbelts,
where you were encouraged to leave the house and explore so
I cannot judge.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You know the movie Death Wish? Charles Bronson. I saw that at 6 and nobody cared (laughs) and nobody cared.

Audio: Scene from Death Wish: Knock at door and unsuspecting woman says she’ll anser it. She asks who is at the door and the intruder replies he’s delivering her groceries…

TR:

Don’t open it! He’s lying!

(exhale)

Fortunately, there’s a lot of good that can come from family movie outings.

AJ:

That’s one of the ways we connected as a family.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Very cool. So it was the whole family going?

AJ:
My mom and my two sisters. In my house it’s three women and me.

We’re all very very close. That’s one of the ways we bonded. Sometimes we’d listen to classical music or something really peaceful because I grew up in a very peaceful household.

TR:

Television & movies can also initiate conversations about all sorts of topics and
even ways to explore culture.

Just be careful about that last one there, we know Hollywood doesn’t always get culture right. (Ahem!)

AJ:

I always had this dream of being an actor. It was something that was always looming in the back of my mind. It was always in my spirit, but I didn’t know how to physically make the connection. I couldn’t necessarily afford acting classes at the time and I wasn’t in high school at the time to be a part of an acting club.

TR:

Financial accessibility, we don’t often talk about that in our conversations around access.

AJ, made use of what was in his reach.

AJ:

The screen was my classroom! Anything I could get my hands on or watch or any old interview s. I really appreciate actors that do interviews like I stay stuck on the Biography channel, on Actor’s Studio. Any time there was a documentary series about behind the scenes I’m all over it!

TR:

Screens bring their own access challenges.

AJ:

when I watched re-runs of television in the 50’s and 60’s even like 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they always had like a voice over guy read everything. One of the things I always laughed at is like watching re-runs of the old Andy Griffith show. the announcer says it’s the Andy Griffin Show, starring Andy Griffin and I always laughed because I’m like didn’t he just say it’s the Andy Griffin Show.

But I realize he said that because he was reading the opening credits. Everything was announced. it really helps me as a visually impaired person.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

People think Blindness is an on or off, so you see everything or you don’t. I know that there are real specific challenges for people with low vision when it comes to that.

AJ:

I’m glad you brought that up. There could be things that I can see one day and the very next day I won’t be able to see. I look like I can see and so people they start laughing or they think you’re lying or they think you’re not looking hard enough. I’m like I can’t see this.

Even when I’m in my power chair I would rather like walk behind someone so it could be like a human guide.

TR:

AJ’s vision loss is related to his Cerebral Palsy or CP.
It impacts all four limbs so as he described to me, he needs physical assistance with most things.

Most things physical that is…

AJ:

If I was watching Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company or All in the Family I would create a character, none of it is written down because I’m not able to physically write.

If I was watching Three’s Company, if Jack and Larry were going down to the Regal Beagle well I was too. If I was watching Law and order , no I couldn’t be a detective but I could help Jack McCoy as one of his assistant DA’s. I just made myself a part of the cast.

TR:

AJ’s imagination was open.

His opportunity to hit the stage came in high school.

AJ:

I had such a ball in high school. It was such an atmosphere of like were going to support you and you’re a part of us. My favorite drama teacher his name was Dr. McMichen. I was thanking him for making sure the stages had ramps and I was included in on all the trips.
He let me know, you are a part of this club and a part of these plays and it’s because you are good not because you are in a chair. And that made me feel so good.

TR:

following high school he continued working on his craft by attending workshops and finding a community of other actors.

AJ:

I would say over the last three and a half years I’ve gotten the opportunity to be on screen.

the first thing I booked when I got my agent was, we did an episode of Drunk History. And that comes on Comedy Central. That episode was actually about 504Act. That’s kind of the precursor to the ADA.

Then I was able to do an episode of ABC’s Speechless. I played a character named Charlie.

I was able to do an independent film called Bardo Blues. It’s an interesting very nonlinear artsy film that talks about depression and bipolar. I play the neighbor to the lead.

Audio clip from film…

TR:

His latest role is Best Summer Ever, A Musical.
It takes place in a high school.

AJ:

It’s a romantic story and all kinds of teenage angst ensues. I play the older brother so I’m not involved in the teenage angst but I do sing in the film.

TR:

The film consists of a cast of over
60 disabled actors as well as those without disabilities.
It’s being screened at South by South West on March 14.

You can also see AJ in Becoming bulletproof.
Every year, actors with and without disabilities meet at
Zeno Mountain Farm to write, produce, and star in original short films.

Audio clip from film…

AJ is the focal point of the doc.

AJ:

I also did a documentary, it’s called Take A Look At This heart. So I talk about my experience around my sexuality and dating. So it’s an ensemble so It’s not just me. I believe that’s now streaming on Amazon.

TR:

AJ’s getting some roles and definitely
making a name for himself by judging film festivals, hosting events yet
he found himself in a dark place.

AJ:
Heavy dark! Like I was really, really down.

I was on a walk with my mom. I was in California at the time and it was a beautiful sunny day. It came to me, instead of being down about not getting auditions or you know nobody’s calling or you’re having a hard time with employment; why don’t you write what you want to see?

TR:

By now you can tell AJ puts a lot of thought into what is on the screen,
big or little. So of course he would do the same for his script.

AJ:

A lot of characters that we see it’s either one person with a disability and I’m not saying you don’t ever see it, typically they don’t have any friends. To my experience I have a bunch of friends with disabilities. Not just CP, but all kinds of disabilities.

I just want to lend my voice to reflect that on screen.

TR:

Think Living Single, Friends or the Big Chill…

AJ:

These group of friends, People with disabilities in a more adult context. All with different types of disabilities like CP, like me. He also works. Then you have another character who has CP they walk with a gate. Another character she has a traumatic brain injury and she’s very athletic…

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
And may I lobby for a Blind guy who likes audio and…

AJ:

If we get picked up brother I’ll write you in a couple of episodes.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]
There you go man, there you go!

TR:

Alright, fine, it’s not about me.

In order to physically write his words, thoughts and ideas AJ has a very special writing partner.

AJ:
My mom helps me a lot with a lot of stuff behind the scenes. We’re actually working on a book and that’s going to be out sometime soon and we do public speaking.

TR:

The latter is done under the name, I Push You Talk. What a powerful statement.

Pursuing your passion can really be hard.
There are always reasons to throw in the towel or change course.
Legitimate reasons that wouldn’t in anyway classify someone as a quitter.

For example…

AJ:

Just because you perform in school, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to translate to the screen or you’re going to have this career.

TR:

There’s also the physical pain that comes with his CP.

AJ:

I’ve been in pain since my early teens to pre-teens. As I’ve gotten older sciatic pain and nerve pain over the years have like sort of advanced to like more of a chronic level as far as nerve pain.

My love for everything that I experience and everything that I’m going to and want to experience has to be bigger than my pain.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You don’t probably see people with disabilities in many of these films that you are watching.

AJ:

That’s a hundred percent accurate.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

So it doesn’t sound like that dissuades you.

AJ:

I didn’t necessarily have this as a child but with the combination of my mother speaking to me and my imagination, I just had this sense that it was put inside of me so I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing.

There’s people of faith in my family so I do have spiritual background. With all those things combined because of my atmosphere, I’m the man you’re interviewing today.

Audio: AJ Scratch… Ladies singing “AJ” while beat rides under…

TR:

That’s Mr. Ajani Jerard Murray.
Actor, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and soon to be Author Producer &…


AJ:
Things sort of have this way of coming back around full circle. I’ve gotten into podcasts and I want to start a podcast and I want to do it with a group of people like a morning radio show. Sometimes my dreams are very big and lofty, but I have a lot of faith and I believe it could happen.

TR:

It really does all start with imagination.
And it continues with that determination, persistence and faith.

AJ, brother, thank you for letting me share your story!
And you know what’s up, you are officially a member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

You can reach AJ via social media at:
Twitter – @GotNextAJ
Instagram: @AjaniAJMurray
Ajani Murray on Facebook

You can catch both
Becoming Bulletproof and Take a Look at this Heart
streaming on Amazon.
For those with that prime membership it’s included.
Unfortunately they don’t have Audio Description, however Becoming Bulletproof does at it included on the DVD.

Best Summer Ever is screening at South By South West so if you’re hanging out there go check it out.

I’ll have links over at Reid My Mind.com to AJ’s social media and more including a web series on YouTube.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know AJ as much as I have. I look forward to continuing our conversations and I have a feeling based on his thoughtful insight that you’re going to hear from him again in this space.

If you agree that what we’re planting here on the podcast can provide some nourishment or maybe a sweet treat, please share it with others.

Ya dig!

If you want to help it grow a bit, you can even go on over to Apple podcast and leave a rating (5 stars, a review would be pretty cool too!

Please, , do not apply water to the podcast, that will not help it grow at all!

Reid My Mind Radio is available wherever you get your particular flavor of podcasts. Remember links and Transcripts are at ReidMyMind.com.
That’s R to the E I D
Audio: Slick Rick, “D, and that’s me in the place to be!”

TR:
Llike my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Joe Strechay: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
A picture of Joe Strechay with his cane in hand, standing in conversation on the set of See.

Image Courtesy of Apple

An RMM Radio O.G (Original Guest) is back! Joe Strechay, former Director of the Bureau Blindness & Visual Services of Pennsylvania and Blindness Consultant tells us all about his work on the new series See from Apple TV Plus. Yes, he found himself hanging out with See cast members like stars Jason Momoa and the legendary Alfre Woodard, but the job required some real sacrifices.

Jason Momoa as Baba Voss stares out past the camera. His eyes are white, face is scarred. See from Apple TV Plus

Image Courtesy of Apple

We dive in to see exactly how the events from his past lead him to being the right man for the job. Let’s just say he has a particular set of skills!

But his adjustment to blindness wasn’t all glitter.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

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TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome bac to the podcast.

First time here? Cool. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Thomas Reid host and producer of this podcast. This is the place to be if you want to hear from compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness or disability in general. They all share one thing in common; their dope!

Not because they’re doing anything magical. No, their human. In fact, many of them have been where you may find yourself right now.

If you’re uncomfortable with those words, blind, disability, that’s ok for now. But take a listen to how comfortable my guests are with these words at their current place in their life journey.

Your journey will be different, but you’re definitely on one. And the R double M Radio family and I are here for you.

I think there’s only one way to bring on this one; lights, camera, action!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Scene from See…

TR:

This is a scene from the premiere episode of the new series called See available on Apple TV Plus.

Audio: Scene includes Audio Description Narration

TR:

yes, there’s audio description.

Here’s the synopsis from the opening scene

Audio Describer: Following the outbreak of a deadly virus in the 21st Century, the Earth’s human population was reduced to less than 2 million humans who survived all emerged Blind. Now centuries later the idea of vision exists only as a myth. To even speak of it is considered heresy.

TR:

Well RMM Radio you should be proud because in a six, well three, degrees of separation sort of way you are each connected to this new series. No, not because you yourself may be blind, but because one of our family members are let’s say, associated with the production of the show.

JS:

I’m Joe Strechay, I’m a Blindness Consultant for Apple TV Plus’s See, which is a streaming television show. And I’m also a Blindness Consultant out in the world outside of that working with organizations around blindness.

TR:

That’s right, our brother is back! He’s and O.G. in the R double M R Family.

Audio: Air horn

I couldn’t let 2019 end without discussing See and the role Joe played in its production. And even more in tune with this podcast is looking at his life path and how embracing his blindness helped his journey.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Why don’t you catch up the family, because you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family big time!

JS:.

Definitely!

My favorite podcast around blindness! You heard that, favorite one!

Audio: Joe singing “Radio”

Last time you heard from me I was the Director of Blindness & Visual Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, overseeing the services for people who are Blind or Low Vision. I’d been working in the entertainment field part time over the last years.

TR:

That includes working with writers of the shows like Royal Pains, The OA on Netflix and of course Marvel’s Daredevil.

Audio: Clip from Daredevil episode.

While working as the Director of BBVS Joe was presented with an opportunity.

JS:

Apple TV Plus’s See Production in their infancy days reached out to me to see about working on the show. I had an interview first with the creator of the show Steven Knight and Jenno Topping who’s the president of Chernin Entertainment one of the studios involved. I think one of the Executive Producers involved was on the line as well. And then I had to do a Skype interview with Francis Lawrence who’s an Executive producer and the Director for episodes one through three. Once I cleared Francis I was able to land the position. We kind of talked about it and I talked to the production staff and it sounded like it was full time. And I’m like I’m going to have to leave my place of employment.

TR:/

His responsibilities first began with part time work. Consulting on scripts and exchanging ideas via a secured platform and conference calls in the evenings.

A day or two after his final day at the Bureau

JS:
I flew to British Columbia to officially start my full time job.

TR:

So what exactly does a Blindness Consultant do in the making of a series like See?
Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

There’s the pre-production work like reviewing scripts and providing input…

JS:

We prep’ d for almost two months in person. We worked with a movement director like a choreographer type person and a team of choreographers.

I have lists of these little aspects of blindness that most people don’t know about. You’ll see more and more of that in the scripts I would say four through eight and maybe most people won’t notice them, but they’re in there.

Walking through some of the set pieces and saying oh, I think I would do this. Meeting with the set dressing department who puts out the objects that are set out in the space. Where I would put stuff, how I organize things.

Ideas for props. Even the weight of the props. How they might use that prop. Kind of help create the world with this amazing creative team.

TR:

A world, Joe points out is not of blindness.

JS:

It’s a Science fiction world probably somewhere between now and 100 or 200 years from now somewhere in there, a viral apocalypse happens. Kills off the majority of the population of earth. There are just a few million people left on earth and then those individuals emerge blind. Our show takes place centuries after that where civilizations have built out different environments.

It’s not a world of blindness, it’s a world of See really.

TR:

Definitely not a real world and therefore not a true depiction of how Blind people live. But representation matters. You know, sometimes you just have to take a stand!

JS:

There were definitely times. We did a lot of exploration around these people and making them different, each group different. Even differentiating the posture of people for their environment and like how they do things. There were times when I was yeh, I don’t think we’re gonna do that!.

TR:

Yet the science fiction format is known for exploring social and cultural issues.

JS

Our show battles with Ableism purposely at times.

TR:

Specifically, exploring, what happens when a set of twins are born with the ability to see in a world where everyone is blind

JS:

What people with vision might think versus people who are Blind. In a world where everyone else is Blind. Seeing that battle, seeing where people who are Blind are better at some things and people with vision are less than. I love that aspect. Everyone has different skills.

TR:

Multiple members of the cast are actually Blind or Low Vision. Again, representation matters.

JS:

One of the things I was really proud of in our background and some of our actors had other disabilities. We have background who are Deaf or Hard of hearing, a gentleman with Cerebral Palsy, all kinds of different disabilities. Our show embraces that. We want to make sure people have opportunities. These were talented interesting people that we could include in our show. There are people with other disabilities that you’ll never know that are within the show and even behind the scenes in production. It’s not because of their disability, it’s because they’re talented individuals.

TR:

As the majority of See’s characters are Blind, Joe is working closely with each. This includes the show’s lead, Jason Momoa.

Audio: Scene from see featuring Baba Voss played by Jason Momoa.

JS:

He’s super nice. He has a big heart and he brings so much consideration, energy, enthusiasm ideas. I’ve never met someone so creative. He sees things in the scenes. Most actors they see their role and their part in the scene, but he sees the whole scene at many times like where other actors are and what kind of story you can show with the angle. He’s directed.

TR:

Directed, co-wrote and starred in Road to Paloma a 2014 Drama thriller.

Also starring in the series is the 4 time Emmy Award Winning Alfre Woodard.

Audio: Scene from See featuring Paris, played by Alfre Woodard.

JS:

She taught me so much and continues to. Brings so much to our show and just as a person is an amazing friend as well.

That’s the thing I didn’t just make professional relationships it’s like so much bonding. We spent like six weeks at least in remote areas if not like 10.

TR:

That’s Joe with the cast of See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

JS:

So Nesta Cooper, Archie (Madekwe), Mojean Aria, Hera Hilmar and all of them became my friends.

We spent time in an isolated area in British Columbia which is in Vancouver Island. There was a pub at our hotel and pretty much was the only place you could eat or drink! We’d have like an hour and forty five minute ride to set and back each day, so long days. You’d go to the pub and hangout.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Now you’re there full time so you’re living there while you’re working. Were you the only Blind person there?

JS:

Yeh, at first I was the representative of Blindness originally, working through the setup of the show in person. I was there for 9 months originally and then another month for re-shoots. I became part of the Blindness community in Vancouver in British Columbia. The community really invited me in. I started going to audio described theater in the area. There was an international Goal Ball tournament I went to. I went to this organization’s Blind Beginnings events. Met with CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Blind Sports Association of British Columbia and Canada. They were fantastic. Going to fundraisers for different groups and going to see the Blind Hockey team practice. They actually started becoming part of our background in our show.

TR:

Away from home for about 10 months, eventually Joe moved into an apartment after spending about three months in a hotel.

JS:

Right next door they had one of the best breakfast or lunch places . I met a couple of people out at this Ramen shop in the neighborhood who work there. I was eating Ramen and having a beer and we just started chatting. We became really good friends. Charlotte and Sebastian. My wife hung out with her too when we came in. I met so many people in the community. I was definitely in the community doing things. Going snow shoeing with friends.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

Ok, so I kind of want to move this to your career. And what you just talked about I think is probably an important aspect, especially from what I know about you. Networking, but really I don’t want to just call it networking because I feel like you’re a relationship guy. How important has that been in your career? Like that aspect of your personality.

JS:
You know throughout my career I moved up and down the East Coast to places where I didn’t know anyone at all.

I literally make an effort to go out places and sometimes it’s tiring you know, you worked all day, but that’s how you meet people. That’s how you become part of the community. That Ramen shop I went to a lot, I love that Ramen shop. they know me by name there(laughing). I also stick out, I have long hair, a beard and white cane so…

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

JS:

But it has been important. I’m careful to ask people about what they do, their life, what they want to do. The same stuff we do in career counseling. That’s a great thing about blindness, I don’t judge a book by its cover. I just met someone and I talk to them . For the better or worse and typically for the better. Once in a while I get screamed at from some random person for no reason but you know everyone’s dealing with something.

TR:

Whether it’s moving to Florida for his Master’s degree or West Virginia where he ended up meeting his wife;

JS:

I meet people, I get to know them, maybe exchange information. If we click as friends or if I can help them I’m always willing to help people and connect people.

Yeh, I’m a relationship guy for sure!

TR:

Looking back, we can see signs of Joe’s interest and early preparation for a career in the entertainment industry.

JS:

I love television and movies. In high school I worked my four years at a video store, a VHS store.

TR:

For those too young to recall, A video store is like having a bunch of Netflix’s oh wait my bad, Apple TV Plus, in stores in every community. Rather than opening an app and making your selection, you’d have to leave your house and get to the store. You’d search the shelves for the movie that you wanted. If it’s there cool, take it to the front desk and pay to borrow that for a day. Now hurry home and watch it but don’t forget to bring it back the next day or you’ll have to pay additional fees.

Whew! Hooray for technology!

JS:

In college I never thought about working in film really, but I took a film and literature class. I enjoyed it.

TR:

His studies included the portrayal of minority characters as well as gender roles in film.

After receiving his Communications and Public Relations degree hhe went out into the world.
JS:

Worked in Public Relations right after school but I didn’t fall in love with the product side of it. I’m mission oriented I want to see things succeed.

TR:

Joe even came pretty close to landing the coveted job of a NBC Page.

JS:

I made it out of they said 10,000 or so. Six people on a panel interview with four people interviewing us. And it was like Valedictorian of Howard University, Valedictorian of another or a guy who worked on 20/20 already. Legally Blind since 19 and I had that opportunity to be part of that six.

I didn’t have all the skills I should have had to be successful at that point. I learned from it too.

TR:

Audio: I have a certain set of skills…Scene from “Taken”.

Joe’s particular set of skills include his Master’s degree in Orientation & Mobility.

But skills are only a part of what it takes.

JS:

When I had the opportunity to work with entertainment programs a little bit at American Foundation for the Blind and then more so with Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil which I did outside of my work at AFB. I had to complete all of my duties plus all my work so I was travelling all over the country, using New York City as my home base. There’s a lot of sacrifice.

TR:

Sacrifice is leaving a comfortable position and putting yourself out there for possible disappointment.

JS:

I’ve been offered other entertainment opportunities for movies. They want you to leave and be full time for like 2, 3 months at the most. To leave a full time position to go do that is a gamble. It was a big decision. My wife Jen and I discussed it and weighed the options. I sought advice from friends I worked with on other productions. When it came down to it, it just seemed like a unique opportunity. A game changer to impact the world but also they were committed to hiring actors that were Blind and Low Vision as well and wanted me to help with that. Making sure that there was accessibility and figuring out what that was. I never had that opportunity. I worked on other shows but it always just involved the portrayal of blindness, scripts some set advising and props s but this was a full time doing all that and so much more. We were figuring out what my role was as we went. It just kept expanding.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
How important was Apple? Was that a big factor in you making the decision to leave BBVS and go there?

JS:

It was a huge factor. When you throw the name Apple out in our community, the blindness community the disability community, it is like the gold standard.

Since 2009 and the third generation iPhone and even right before that with the Nano iPod where it had Voice Over embedded into it. It changed the game in accessibility. I have multiple Apple TV’s in my home, my Apple keyboard on the table here, Air Pods, iPhone 11 pro here and a iPod Touch over there so when Apple was connected to it I’m like this is going to be something!

TR:

When it comes to Joe’s real motivation, I think it’s pretty clear to see!

JS:

I’m very passionate about the portrayal of blindness in entertainment. I wrote an article about how disability is portrayed for AFB Access World years ago even before my time on Marvel’s Daredevil

Our show shows people as heroes, villains, good guys, bad guys, warriors, lovers. Things that you don’t typically see people who are Blind doing. Living their lives in a community cooking, building all kinds of things like that. That means something to me.

TR:

Did you catch that?

Audio: Rewinding Tape Deck

JS: “Things that you don’t see Blind people typically doing”

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now you’re on set, working side by side with the Director? That’s pretty cool man! Explain that.

JS:

We had been talking and meeting a little bit. I gave him some ideas and suggestions. He wanted to make sure the world brought some reality of blindness as well and there’s interesting ideas that most people wouldn’t notice. And he’s like I want you next to me at every shot! It was unreal. I learned so much from all the directors, Francis, Lucas and Steven and Fred and Sally and all these amazing directors. They’re all so different and preparing in different ways and how they manage the set and each shot is different. So I learned a lot about how they setup things and their process and how to give input.

As the season goes on there were scenes that have no individuals who are Blind in it that I have input on that made it into the show. It wasn’t just the blindness that I was helping with.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Are you interested in directing? (Laughs) You’re standing right next to the director man, like you’re already getting all this info.

JS:

You know I could see co-directing with someone.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now I know you have your YouTube channel so is this your preparation for being in front of the camera? (Laughs…)
Are we going to see you in See? (Laughs…)

JS:

I had a cameo or two . It hit the editing room floor – some of the scenes got cut. And it wasn’t because of my work. Who knows maybe in season 2.

TR:

Do you hear that optimism? That belief in anything is possible? Don’t get it twisted, that’s a process. Joe wasn’t always feeling that way. Like when he was 19 and diagnosed legally blind.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

If you could go back to some of that initial reaction. What would you tell yourself, your 19 year old self now?

JS:

When I first lost my vision I went through depression and I got counseling. They helped me guide through and understand that blindness and disability is not to end my life or anything. It changes and it changed how I viewed life. I would say embrace all of it.

It would be introducing myself to successful people who are Blind or Low Vision. Go someplace and learn how to use a white cane and learn the skills of independence as a person who is Blind.

People are always going to tell you what you can and can’t do as a person with a disability as a person who is Blind. They like to say no or you can’t do this. Don’t let them say no. During our show most of the things that you see people who are Blind do, I did as well. To figure out or feel. Climbing cliffs, hiking through different areas all kinds of different things that you see , I’ve done.

My buddy Dan Shotz, the show runner will tell you like early on people were like uh, I don’t think he should be doing that. I’m like, are the characters who are Blind doing this, then I’m going to do it. They embraced it. Dan pushed it and really allowed me to put myself out there and show them how we can do things. And if I didn’t have the expertise you know Erik Weihenmayer sent videos about climbing that I shared with Jason Momoa. I reached out to people such as T.Reid, Thomas Reid to share about their life and that was shared with all of our casts and production. Every couple of weeks I shared videos about people who were successful who were Blind or Low Vision from various types of work, backgrounds, life experiences.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Hold on you’re telling me that Alfre Woodard saw that video?

JS:

Oh yeh, Alfre Woodard saw your video.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Alfre Woodard saw me? Laughs…

JS:

It’s true, it’s true. Yup!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Ahh, that’s cool!

Joe Stretch! Dude I told you that I think your story in terms of your hustle and what you’re doing is just so cool and inspiring to folks and to me personally. I definitely salute you, what you’re doing and keep doing it Bro. You’re doing your thing! I’m happy for you.

JS:

Thank you brother. You know how I feel about you and your podcast.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Yes Sir… laughs…

JS:

Can I say it again?

[TR in conversation with JS:]
You can say it again!

JS:

My favorite podcast!

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Your what?

JS:

My favorite podcast around blindness is Reid My Mind… (Singing) Radio!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughs…Yeh, there it is!

JS:

Woo!

TR:

See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

was released with 3 episodes and subsequent episodes dropping weekly.

Creating See as a premier show for the launch of their network (Apple TV Plus) could be viewed as a risky move.

First, Apple has such a positive reputation with the Blind community. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to risk offending or having negative press like what we saw earlier this year when the CW launched “In the Dark” and the NFB responded with #LetUsPlayUs.

Yes, it’s Sci-Fi but blindness is real. Anyone who understands the power of media knows that it does impact how people view others.

but it appears they made every attempt to get it right.
Apple’s influence on accessibility goes beyond their own products.
When a clear leader of design and innovation makes such an open commitment to access, well it’s clear that others follow suit.

Leading off the launch of their streaming service, Apple TV Plus,
With a show built around a world where
blindness is the norm,
in an actual world where the thought of being blind is so feared.
I don’t know, that to me sounds like Apple once again being bold and let’s hope setting some trends.

This episode sort of made me want to look at whether I’m challenging my comfort level, putting myself out there enough, taking risks. As
people adjusting to blindness, disability I think we should be doing that.

It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains and what not. Those days are done for me. My back just hurts thinking about it. But there are definitely other ways. Who’s with me!

Joe’s experience is a great example of what’s possible.

I know there are some who hear Joe’s story and say he’s lucky. Well, I’ll agree with you. If you’re working with the same definition of luck. That’s when preparation meets opportunity. Because that’s when things happen.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
The coolest thing about watching the first episode was that right when it’s over and then ran the credits and I hear my man,
Audio: “Associate producer, Joe Strechay”, Audio Describer from See.

TR:
Dude I’m on the treadmill and I’m like yeh Joe, yeh! Laughs!

TR:

You can check out See (Available on Apple TV Plus) right now. Just open that TV app and you can get right on it. You can even get the first episode for free.

You can check out Joe on YouTube, his channel is called Joe Strechay. And he’s also on Twitter and Instagram under that same name.
That’s S T R E C H A Y!

TR:
I think this is a perfect way to officially close out the 2019 season.

I may drop an extra holiday episode, but you know there’s only one way to make sure you get that… Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or where ever you like to get yours.

The podcast will be back in 2020 in time to help make things clear for anyone adjusting to blindness.

In the meantime please help spread the word. I hate to think of another young 19 year old who doesn’t get that help and have the same opportunities to reach their potential

Feel free to reach out and say hello. I love hearing from listeners.

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Audimance: Transforming Dance and Movement into Sound

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

On the podcast today…

Audio: “Dance”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

My understanding is that you became a professor… Yes?

AS:

Yes!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Laughing…) AS:

Laughing…

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

AS:

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

TR:

A professor of Medieval Studies to be exact.

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

AAS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

The dare?

Take a dance class.

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:] Laughing…

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

Yeh, yeh! (Laughing)

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

AS:

Laughs…

TR:

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

AS:

I really felt like I had to honor that dare.

TR:

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

AS:

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

I never actually got to be in the dance class.

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

So tell me what does that look like?

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Wow!

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughs…

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

That structure is Kinetic Light.

LL:

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

First, Alice invited friends to attend a live performance.

AS:

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

TR:

The goal was specific.

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

Cool!

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

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

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

Audio: Horn!

then puts his left foot out.

Audio: Two horn hits!

he does the Hokey Pokey and turns himself around.

Audio: Hokey Pokey song

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

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

AAS:

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

AS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

Laurel tells us about other tracks and possibilities.

LL:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

LL: on centering blind

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

LL:

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

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

LL:

(Laughing)

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

TR:

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

LL:

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

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

TR:

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

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

AS:

There is a newsletter!

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

AS:

On your phone you can text 66866 to sign up.

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

AS:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with AS:]

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

AS:

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

[TR in conversation with AS:]

What website would that be?

AS:

(laughs…)
KineticLight.org

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

AS:

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

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

TR:

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

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

This particular film consists of audio description with two narrators.

Audio:

TR:

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

And the other describer…

Audio:

TR:

Yours truly!

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

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

For more on Inclinations checkout Alice Sheppard.com

Audio: “Check it out y’all!”

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

Salute to Alice Laurel and everyone involved with the project!

And if you like what you heard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AS:

And I was like wow!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

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Because We Are Captivating

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

A professional headshot of Stephanae's smashing asymmetrical hairstyle with burgundy highlights. The muted Coral Cutie lipstick topped with a peach colored gloss provides a nice contrast against the gray backdrop. She is wearing a black dress and black tuxedo jacket trimmed in faux leather, silver statement necklace, and silver drop earrings.
Third time on the podcast, Stephanae McCoy is the co-founder of Captivating, an online magazine. Hear her journey from once believeing there was no future to empowering women with vision loss to see their Bold, Blind Beauty Captivating selves!
How did she start the magazine? What helped her find her purpose? And what’s her advice for others adjusting to vision loss? Plus Steph is a part of SPARK Saturday. #SparkSaturdayPCB)

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Transcript

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TR:

Welcome back to Reid My Mind Radio!

With each episode, I’m hopeful that we’re reaching someone new to vision loss. I know they are out there and I have a pretty good idea of what they’re experieencing. Mainly because I myself became Blind as an adult.

My name is Thomas Reid and I am host and producer of this hear podcast – which is all about sharing the stories of compelling people who themselves have some degree of blindness. From low vision to totally blind, like me!

In sharing our stories we begin to shatter the false beliefs and information about what it means to live with low vision, blindness or disability. Beliefs we may have never even realized we held. Notice I said we? Meaning you and I both. No one is immune.

For those interested in a different way of thinking,let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

[TR in conversation with SM:]

Yeah so you know how this works, this is your third time! (Laughs) Trifecta!

SM:

Laughing

My name is Stephanae McCoy and I am the founder of Bold Blind Beauty and online community with the purpose of empowering Blind and Visually Impaired women while connecting sighted and non sighted people. And I’m also the Co-Founder of Captivating.

TR:

That’s right, Steph is back on the podcast. I encourage you to check out her first and second episodes which I’ll link to from this episodes blog post over at ReidMyMind.com.

Today, let’s start with her most recent venture.

SM:

Captivating!

TR:

An online digital lifestyle magazine gearred to people with disabilities.

After witnessing the results of a friend and fellow Blind blogger’s make over, Steph reached out to the image consultant who performed the transformation.

SM:

Her name is Chelsea Nguyen. our first telephone conversation actually lasted three hours, the first time I met her. And we were just going on and on about the things we had in common.

TR:

But there are also differences.

SM:

Chelsea is not Blind. Chelsea does not have a disability, but Chelsea has a heart for people who do. And she specifically has a heart for people who are Blind and Visually Impaired. Being that she has had that experience working with Blind people she developed strategies to help Blind and visually Impaired people use non-visual techniques for applying makeup, taking care of their appearance and everything. She developped these things. I’m like we really gotta do something together.

TR:

Eventually the ideas turned into Captivating.

SM:

We were thinking about how people with disabilities are viewed broadly, especially if you have a visible disability. People stare at us a lot when we’re out here living our lives when we have a white cane or wheelchair or whatever.

TR:

Maybe that’s the gaze of seeing something unfamiliar, possibly fear or even ableism.

Whatever it is, Steph’s flipping it!

SM:

We think that when people are looking at us when we’re out here with our devices, that they’re looking at us because we are captivating.

TR:

That’s not her initial reaction to her vision loss in 2005. This attitude has it’s beginnings in 2009.

SM:

That’s when I was diagnosed legally Blind and had to look at some adaptations for work and life.

[TR in conversation with SM:]

Let’s say we’re back in 2009. Ok, so I remember how I felt in terms of my career and my future. Do you remember that time for you?

SM:

Oh my God yeah!

I had these plans. I had just gotten married like a year or so before. We had bought a house. I had just gotten a promotion at work and I just had all of these grand plans and it’s like now I’m legally Blind and now what

[TR in conversation with SM:]

Hmm.

SM:

You know?

[TR in conversation with SM:]
Yeah!

SM:

Before I connected with other organizations and other Blind people I just sort of thought that I had no future. I thought it was over.

TR:

TR:

That’s despair. An unforgettable emotion. She didn’t know it at the time, but she did have a way to take her from no future to Bold Blind Beauty to straight up Captivating?

SM:

even in the worst set of circumstances I would always think, there is always a way.

I didn’t know what that was going to look like but I knew there was going to be away that I could progress through this and I could adapt to it and grow with it. I didn’t think so at the time.

TR:

In the midst of pain, its hard to see how it can provide opportunity.

SM:

It wasn’t until I think I lost my sight and had to advocate on behalf of myself that it became clear to me what my real purpose was.

TR:

Steph’s earliest advocacy was as a mom.

SM:

My middle son had ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. When he was going to school because his behavior was so over the top, it was just very, very challenging trying to manage him especially being a single parent with two other children. I had to become my sons advocate. I didn’t even consider myself an advocate before he got diagnosed.

TR:

All set to discuss her son’s Individual Education Planwith a teacher and principal, Steph quickly realized she was unprepared when the attendees included several faculty and specialists.

SM:

That never happened again because after that I educated myself and I found out everything I need to know to be able to help my son and to be his advocate. Every time they would try to do something that I felt wasn’t Kosher, we would have to sit down and have a conversation. It was almost like a full time job.

TR:

Then there was advocacy from her perspective as a daughter.

SM:

My mother developed a disability in her later years. Her entire body was pulled to the left side so her head was almost touching the floor because of her Dystonia. She had reached a point where she was denied Social Security Disability three times. When you’re applying for Disability it’s a difficult process, but its made even more difficult once you’re denied the third time.

TR:

First step!

SM:

I got really angry, but on my way home I thought about it, I gotta sit back, think this through, do some research and then I started writing.

TR:

Writing a letter detailing her mothers situation including pictures and an invitation to visit. Addressed to the Social Security Administration.

SM:

I CC’d all of my representatives, her doctor and her attorney. Arland Spector’s office got involved and within six weeks my mother was getting the benefits that she rightly deserved.

TR:

The strength to move through challenges can come from all of our individual experiences.

Sparking Success After Vision Loss

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Blindness, Low Vision any degree of significant vision loss occurs for different reasons. It impacts people from all walks of life at various ages.
My guest today, Susan Lichtenfels, President of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind (PCB) says; “None of our experiences are ever the same, but they’re similar.”

Looking at people adjusting to vision loss, it’s apparent there are also similarities in making that a success.

Hear all about SPARK Saturday, an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind to light the fire in anyone impacted by vision loss. Plus a look at how PCB can help you attend.

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Transcript

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TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio. My name is Thomas Reid. Not only am I producer & host of this podcast, but I’m the target audience, a person adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

While I’m no longer new to blindness, I do think I would have appreciated having a podcast like this one during those early years.

In some ways I did. I was fortunate to have other people with all degrees of vision loss in my life. People who are Blind, living productive lives on their terms.

We’re going to get into a bit of that and how it can be of help to you or someone you know right now adjusting to vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

First let me drop this on you like…

Audio from opening music (Wow!)

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR:

Early on in my adjustment I became involved in advocacy. It began locally and grew to state and national after helping to form a chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind or PCB in my county.

Attending my very first PCB state Conference & convention made a big impact on my life. It gave me the chance to meet people who both indirectly and directly taught me a lot about blindness. It was extremely important to my personal adjustment.

Today we’re going to take a look at some of what PCB has to offer those adjusting to, experiencing or impacted by blindness or vision loss; including an event that many of you may want to attend. Plus opportunities to help you do that.

Allow me to present a friend of mine to help guide you on this tour.

SL:

My name is Sue Lichtenfels and I am currently the President of PCB. But when I’m not wearing that hat I am a wife, I am an Advocate and I am a person with a disability, actually 2 disabilities. I am a mother of a soon to be 8 year old.

[TR in conversation with SL:]

8 years old already. Wow, I’ve known you for a while Sue.

Sl:

We started on the board at the same time. In 2007 we were elected and we started serving in 2008.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
And how long were you in PCB ?

Sl:

I only joined in 2005. We really are like right around the same… (laughs)

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Yeh! So was your first conference 2006 or 2005?

Sl:

My first conference as a member was 06.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Yen, same with me!

TR:

We’re going to start with advocacy, but let me first be an advocate for this podcast.

Sue has agreed to come back on the podcast to share more of her story.

SL:

We’ll sit down and do another interview.

TR:

I’m just saying! It’s on the record now!

Self-advocacy is often a gateway to becoming an advocate for other. For Sue, it started in college.

SL:

No one’s there anymore to kind of be a buffer between you and your professors or the learning center that’s helping to adapt your materials in the format you can use.

#Goal Ball

TR:

While at the University of Pittsburg, Sue was introduced to the sport of Goal Ball which truly made an impression on her.

SL:

It’s a sport with three players on each team played on an indoor court and you kind of roll a ball the size of a basketball. It’s got bells in it and you roll it in a bowling motion and then you slide and use your body to block the ball from going beyond your team into the goal.

TR:

It may sound like just a game, but Sue grew up loving sports and always wanting to play and compete.

SL:

I was never allowed to. So when I found this sport, Goal Ball, I really , really loved it.

TR:

Sue became really good at the game. In fact, she played for the USA team in the World Championship in Canada.

SL:

And then I was in this car accident and lost the use of my legs.

TR:

This appears to be what really activated that inner advocate.

SL:

I had this opportunity to finally find a sport, find something I could be athletic and involved in so I wanted to do work and do advocacy get other kids that are mainstreamed the opportunity to be more involved in physical education and recreation.

TR:

Sue applied for and received a fellowship which enabled her to start a nonprofit.

SL:

Called Sports Vision, to create opportunities for children. I went out and spoke to Physical Education Teachers, IU teachers to advocate on behalf of getting children more involved in physical education.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
When you said that you weren’t allowed to was that a parental thing or was that a school thing where you weren’t allowed to participate in sports?

Sl:

I wasn’t allowed to participate in sports for fear that I would get hurt.

TR:

Children attending schools for the Blind had adaptive sports and recreational activities. Unfortunately, fear often caused children like Sue who were mainstreamed to be kept on the sidelines and excused from physical education and sports.

SL:

Fear was on the side of the parent who was afraid that their child was going to get hurt. The fear is also on the side of the district that doesn’t want to take a chance in getting sued because a child did get hurt.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
I got you, so it’s not like you had an advocate at school or at home kind of saying hey she wants to play sports, let her do it. So then you became that advocate in Sports Vision.

Sl:

Correct.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Cool!

TR:

Also cool was when Sue brought her talent and persistence to the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind. Already familiar with running her own nonprofit and filling multiple roles, she took on many within the organization before her election to PCB President.

SL:

Fundraising, membership, awards, conference program and planning I’ve pretty much served on every committee or team within the organization.

Since 2010 I’ve been Editor of the PCB Advocate which is our quarterly newsletter. In 2007 I was elected to the board of PCB and been serving as a member of the board ever since.

# Challenges of Leading Membership Org.

Currently Sue is winding down the last months of her second and final term serving as PCB president.

Just the right time to ask her about the challenges of leading a member based advocacy organization.

First, challenges of the membership model itself.

SL:

Engagement.

When you’re a member based organization there is a micro way of thinking. You tend to gear your work towards the people that are in your organization. And we spend a lot of time offering ways to try and get our members more active when the reality of the situation is that our mission is to promote independence and opportunity for all who are Blind or visually impaired.

TR:

Second, advocacy

SL:

I think when many people hear the term advocacy they automatically associate it with legislative, policy those types of issues. They don’t recognize it for all the rest of the issues that need to be addressed that maybe aren’t necessarily achieved through writing a Legislator.

[TR in conversation with SL:]
Such as?

Sl:

Educating the public about the abilities of people that are Blind or visually impaired. The peer support that is necessary to take someone from not having any idea about what their own capabilities are and providing them with the ability to listen and offer them guidance.

That’s advocacy too.

TR:

So, how exactly does PCB offer support?

Here’s three ways.

Audio: One!

SL:

Peer discussion calls – these are organized usually around a specific topic. We have a conversation around issues such as travel when you’re Blind or visually impaired. We talk about our own experience , we share our stories and we provide a forum where we all learn from one another.

Audio: “Two!”

SL:

Peer Mentors – A lot of times the best way to cope with losing vision is to talk to someone who’s been there. None of our experiences are ever the same, but they’re similar.

TR:

Through their network which includes people who span all degrees of vision loss, from low vision to total blindness, PCB has something else to can offer…

SL:
Someone to talk to them on a one on one basis and provide them with guidance and advice and support.

Audio: “Three”

SL:
Local chapters – throughout the state we do have chapters who usually meet on a once a month basis and these are people who are blind or visually impaired who are more than willing and ready to welcome those who are new to vision loss and to really provide that connection and that one on one in person peer support.

TR:

While the local chapters are obviously specific to the state of Pennsylvania, “One and two” the discussion calls and peer mentors are all open to anyone experiencing vision loss.

SL:

Some of the specific advocacy discussions might be Pennsylvania specific but there’s a lot of information that we share that’s blindness and support related that isn’t geographically specific.

If you or someone you know is an individual who has vision loss and who’s vision loss has occurred within the last five years, I encourage you to apply for our Adjustment to Blindness First Timer Conference Scholarship.

TR:

This is a full scholarship! It covers your attendance for the weekend. That includes your registration, conference meals and activities, hotel…

SL:

And it will also cover ground transportation to and from the conference. To learn more about the scholarship, contact the PCB Office at 877617 – 7407 or send an email to Leadership@pcb1.org.

TR:

But that’s not it!

Maybe you’re thinking, Thomas, I’ve been Blind for more than 5 years and like you I believe the adjustment process is an ongoing thing and I really would love to attend. Are there any opportunities to help me get there!

Well, yes! PCB has some additional scholarships that you can check out on their web page at pcb1.org/conference

And then there’s also a $500 merit award available this year, specifically for those who are Blind or Visually Impaired and currently enrolled in a vocational or academic program.

SL:

Or some type of professional licensure.

We’re actually going to award three individuals stipends to attend the PCB Conference. So the top three finalists for the Merit Award will receive stipends to attend which will include the hotel, travel, conference registration and meals. Once folks get to the conference, those three individuals, we will announce who will win the grand prize of the $500 Merit Award.

TR:

That’s a great opportunity! I’d love to see it go to someone in the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Whether you, a family member or friend is adjusting to blindness or low vision; the PCB conference truly can be the experience that you need in your life right now.

SL:
But if you can’t make the entire weekend, and you can only pick one day to come and join us, I really encourage you not to miss our Saturday morning presentations. It’s going to be amazing!

TR:

It’s going to be hot!

It’s called SPARK Saturday because we’re bringing that heat!

[TR in conversation with SL:]

What about you? How has your involvement with PCB impacted you personally?

SL:

You know I’ve been involved at the leadership level and involved in the work of the organization for so long, I’ve gained so many skills. So I mean I’m a much more well-rounded person with regards to blindness skills but also skills that are work and project related.

TR:

The result of actually doing the work?

Sl:

I have a lot more confidence now in my abilities than I used to.

TR:

That confidence extends way pass the work.

Last year Sue decided to write and direct a play for PCB’s post banquet entertainment.

She cast it with her PCB peers.

SL:

It’s just such a fun time to rehearse with people. Really get to know people in that way where everyone is just kind of dropping their guard and letting you see the silliness, the fun. In the whole process of it such peer support we exchanged. I never would have had the confidence to do that. To write it and actually put it out there for people to kind of judge it. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that if I wasn’t a part of this organization.

TR:

Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to get a bit nostalgic!

Audio: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop PCB

You see, for several years, I served as PCB Conference Coordinator. I used to circulate conference information via audio. It was called “The Blast”. One of the things I did was conclude with the conference details… it went something like;

The 2019 PCB Conference will take place in Harrisburg, PA at the Crown Plaza located on South Second Street – just two blocks from the Amtrak and Greyhound station. (I told you it’s going to be accessible!)

The PCB room rate is;
94 dollars per night which is for a room with a king size bed.

(For the aristocrats among us!)

102 dollars for a room with two queen size beds.

(For the money savers or the very friendly!)

The festivities begin on October 17 and last through October 20, 2019.

For all the details visit pcb1.org/conference
Or you can pop over to this episode’s blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

If you want to reach out to Sue, well she’s not on Twitter, yet! She is however on Facebook if you can spell her name correctly, Susan Lichtenfels.

Every time I speak with Sue it leaves me with such a warm fuzzy feeling! She’s always so kind and patient especially with me as I often ask things at least twice.

TR:

What’s the qualifications for that again?

SL:

Oh my God, you’re gonna get kicked in the face, I swear to God!

TR:

Laughs… I want you to just say it!
SL:

My legs may not work but I might just give you a kick in the face!
(The two laugh together!)

Audio: Can’t stop, won’t stop PCB Conference!…

Audio: Explosion … Blast!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:
Peace!

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