Archive for the ‘Advocacy’ Category

Reid My Mind Radio: Chancey Fleet Assisting with More than Technology

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Returning from a medical leave (see the last episode and post for an update) we resume where we last left off…

We were looking at employment of people with disabilities. Continuing with the theme, today’s episode explores one person’s experience with lessons that are applicable to everyone not only people with disabilities.

Chancey Fleet is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Andrew Heiskel Talking Book Library in New York City. We hear all about how she landed that position and how she continues to expand her role while aiding the community.

When you’re done listening make sure you subscribe to the podcast and tell a friend to do the same!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Today, I’m further exploring the topic of employment of people with disabilities through the experience of one young ladies career. We find out how she made her way into her current position and how she continues to expand it and grow benefiting not only herself and her employer, but the community which she serves.

As usual, I believe there are lessons that go beyond disability, but that’s really up to you the listener to decide.

Before we get into it, you know what I need to do…

[Scratch]
Drop it!
[Reid My mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:
[City Sounds]

If you walk across 20th street In New York City, between 5th and 6th Ave tucked in among the various commercial buildings is a library

TR in conversation with CF:
Andrew Haskell? Heiskel?

CF:
Andrew Haskell.
So here’s the thing . The technically correct pronunciation is Andrew Heiskel, but when you say it correctly you suddenly have a ton of people looking for the high school.

TR in conversation with CF:
[Laughs…]

CF:
So there’s just this wave of convenient wrongness where we all kind of say Andrew Haskell now, but you can avoid all of that by just remembering our web address which is talkingbooks.nypl.org, nice and easy.

We’re kind of two libraries in one. We are a full brand of the NYPL which means this is a place where all types of members of the community come to pick up their holds pick up their books and DVD’s. Use the Wi-Fi get some studying done take advantage of our computer labs and gather together.

We got story time for kids, we got programs for teens and adults. Opera concerts creative writing you name it.

The one things that you won’t find in this building that you find in most public libraries is a whole lot of print because as well as being part of the NYPL, we are a sub-regional location for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And what that means is that we’re also an operations that sends out tons of Braille and audio books by mail and folks could come in and pick those up as well.

TR:
Meet Chancey Fleet. She’s the Assistive Technology Coordinator at that library.

Chancey says to her knowledge she is the first Assistive Technology Coordinator for the library.

While working as an Assistive Technology Trainer in a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency she became frustrated when she was unable to assist those who weren’t eligible for services.
CF:
sometimes the consumer would have a question about Twitter or Facebook or taking pictures outside and I would be dying to answer it but I would know that that was just outside of my scope of work. and it would need to just stay that way. And at the same time folks would come up to me knowing me from activism from outside of the place where I worked and they’d need help with computers and technology and if they were undocumented or they were homemakers or retired or happily employed or had vision issues or print issues that didn’t add up to legal blindness they wouldn’t be eligible to come see me. And all of that started to feel a little limiting and a little frustrating and I guess I started to think about why we have the structures that we have. And I think the structures that we have are great a lot of the time and I would never want to see them replaced but sometimes we need more than one way to do things.

TR:
In 2010 Chancey found that other way at the library. She approached the leadership at the Andrew Heiskel library and asked if she and some friends could offer a free computer clinic on Saturdays. And by free she meant F R E E, free…

CF:
Free one on one instruction. Free of eligibility, requirements, free of paperwork and free of charge at the library.

And we started out with just three or four volunteers. I was one of them,
my friend Nihal my friend Walei and lots of other folks joined us over the years.

we got the information into the library newsletter and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

What we do is totally peer supported, informal learning. So we’ll never replace comprehensive training right. Just like you wouldn’t go to the library to take a Chemistry class, but you might come to the library to get help on some specific Chemistry problem or finding a study group or finding the right resources. We do kind of the same thing.

TR:
The assistance includes some real world challenges related to vision loss.

CF:

I think one of the scariest or daunting things about losing your vision or about being blind without access to information is people are telling you things that might be good for you or not all the time and if you have a way to write things down and if you don’t have a way to refer back to things and decide on your schedule when you can sit down and figure out what’s important for you, it can be really overwhelming.

We’re here at the library so we have the digital talking book machines that are totally free of charge and we have flash drives and if nothing else,

if someone is super new to technology and they don’t have a way to write in Braille or write in print we can just record what we do here on a flash drive and they can play it back on the free players at any time. And that’s how we can scaffold them until they can get to that point where they can use their personal technology to take notes.

TR:
What started out in 2010 as a volunteer position offering 3 hours a week grew to the library providing about 150 hours of training a month in 2014.

That volunteer position, became a full time paid position that Chancey was perfectly suited to fill.

CF:
A job posting showed up at the end of 2013 and I was happy to see it. My Saturday’s at the library had become the highlight of my week and I saw an increasing number of volunteers and patrons coming to learn gathering at the library and really getting important work done in kind of a low key informal setting.

And sometimes the conversation would stray outside the boundaries of technology. and I’d walk in and somebody would be talking about how it is they sort their mail or sort their laundry or what it was like to take the subway for the first time instead of taking Access-A-Ride. And that peer to peer informal learning that might be about technology but touches all sorts of threads of importance in our lives. I thought that was really special and I wanted to see that continue to grow

TR:

It grew into more programming for the city’s blind and visually impaired community. In addition to providing individual help with Braille the, library offers some cool progressive programming. Like a class in photography and videography.
taught by Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer of the NLS.

CF:

So folks learn about composing photos and videos . We learned about perspective and glare and how lighting conditions and distance affects things. And Judy shared with us a bunch of her favorite apps and strategies. We’ve done all sorts of social networking workshops. We’ve done an introduction to coding and electronics with Arduino.

TR:
We covered the Blind Arduino Project and its founder Josh Miele on a past episode which you should really check out.

CF:

So Arduinos are really small portable affordable computers that run essentially one program at a time and you can design your own super accessible tool.

because the components are so affordable and portable and because it’s so widely popular in kind of the mainstream community of makers and enthusiasts there’s a lot of great advice and code samples , kind of like recipes if you will that are out there so that even if you’re a total novice you can find all kinds of online instructions and code to work from and you can find components to do whatever you
may need.

TR:
Chancey and the library teamed up with DIY Ability a midtown Manhattan company offering workshops geared to serving people with disabilities, like
toy hacking workshops that help families retrofit or hack toys to become more accessible for people that have fine motor impairments
workshops teaching people with all different types of disabilities how to code and use electronics.

CF:
So our introductory Arduino workshops we call them “eyes free” or non visual Arduino workshops are a place to learn about the very basics of working with Arduino and working with code in a place where non visual techniques are well respected and well understood.

So it’s a safe space for starting out. It’s a community space for gathering and exchanging ideas and we hope it gives folks a foundation they can build on.

We’ve done that with both youth and adults. And we’re launching now into a program that teaches folks how to come in and use the tactile graphics embosser and tactile graphics design software as well as a 3D printer to create non visual spatial representations of the graphics and objects they need to understand. Things in their work school and leisure lives.

TR:
Chancey’s interest in the accessibility of graphical or visual information began with a request from a library patron.

CF:
Somebody called me and asked me where they could possibly get a map
that related the 5 boroughs of New York City to one another and their water ways. He just moved to New York City and he wanted to get the lay of the land sort of speak.

TR:
For a sighted person, this is an easy task, just launch Google maps or find an old fashioned printed map.
It’s much more challenging to access this information non visually.

Receiving grant funds, the library was able to purchase the necessary equipment. With this the Dimensions Project was off and running.

CF:

our premise is that we will teach community members sighted and Blind alike about some of the fundamental best practices around creating tactile images that are meaningful useful and legible. And then we’ll provide the equipment the space and mentorship that people need to create the images and the 3D objects that they’d like to experience.

TR:

The Dimension Project includes three workshops. Two specifically focusing on working with the equipment and the other on best practices for effective tactile graphics.

CF:

Tactile Tactics, taught by Annie Lease from the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Annie is an artist with low vision who also has a ton of museum education experience and she is no stranger to crafting meaningful and well-rounded tactile experiences for people.

she goes over the basics. For one thing if you’re creating a tactile graphic the first thing that you think about is purpose. Why does the person want it? What information are they hoping to have? So what needs to be on that map?

Annie also talks about scale. She talks about using labeling effectively and kind of introducing people to the graphic once it’s been created – creating the context for it.

It’s been exciting . I kind of designed and got funding for this project and started rolling out the workshops wondering if the community would really respond because at first I would tell library patrons coming in for computer instruction about it and I’d ask them if they would like to be able to make their own images and pictures and maps and they would throw it back at me and say for what? I would throw it back at them and say well what do sighted people use images for? What do sighted people care about? And they would kind of wrap their brains and come up with things.

TR:
One of the most challenging parts of this project is convincing people who didn’t grow up in image rich environments that tactile graphics have something to offer.

Real world examples can prove helpful.

CF:
One of our volunteers has a small business and he had to design a logo for his business. He had certain kind of Values or parameters that he gave to a sighted designer to have his logo designed. And first thing that he wanted to do when he came in and used the tactile graphic software was to find out what his logo actually looked like.

He had hoped that the letters would relate to each other in a certain way and it would kind of imply motion. So that was something that he was already really ready to connect to. I think part of what made that successful is that it was a tactile graphic that was expected.

I think street maps and floor maps are another place where we can start with something that’s familiar. So I think using something that someone already knows both for context and motivation is a powerful thing.

TR:

Available maps include;
* Tactile street maps
* Floor maps of the Heiskel branch – enabling customers to locate computer labs, training and community rooms and more.

* a prototype map of the five boroughs as requested so many years ago.

CF:
I was so happy that we got our first real live request in the fall to reproduce a floor map for the NFB of New York state convention.

We enlisted a sighted volunteer who has graphic design but next to no tactile graphic experience. And we paired her up with a few blind volunteers who don’t have graphic design experience but who have lots of experience with Braille and tactile graphics.

TR:

The collaboration worked well. Chancey and the other volunteers provided valuable input and feedback making the end result a usable map that was distributed to about 30 people.

CF:

I think we are on the edge of a new golden age in tactile literacy. In the same way that two hundred years ago we were on the edge of something spectacular in terms of textual literacy.

Now although we still have trouble convincing folks that Braille’s important and sometimes affording the Brail technology that we need broadly we have better access to texts than ever before thanks to electronic conversion into Braille and even text to speech and we are in a better place with regard to textual literacy than we’ve ever been.

TR:

Chancey speaks of a benefit she has seen in her own life after beginning to think more spatially.

CF:

I’m a person that never took chemistry or physics or calculus and a person that never really engaged to actively with the arts or coding.

And it’s only now that I’m working in the community of support such awesome collaborators across the city and across the country that I feel free to explore

TR:

Creative exploration like origami. And Chancey is now bringing this paper art form to the Talking Book library patrons.

CF:

Origami is paper craft.

origami is using a single sheet of paper or maybe even building lots of different
modules together and using different folds and most to create.

Most of the Origami instructions say hey check out figure E or it’s a totally silent You Tube video that just shows somebody’s hands. And so our Origami club that we’re launching in collaboration with the Origami Therapy Association here in New York here is a chance for Blind folks and say to folks to get together and use really clear descriptive language to explain step by step what you need to do to get to a certain origami model. If you check out YouDescribe.org and search for origami you actually
see some students from San Francisco State Universities TVI Preparation program have put up quite a few Origami instructional videos that are accessible, they all have a descriptive track. So we’re lucky to have them as collaborators as well as a few blind folks around the country help us learn new models and get them into clear descriptive language.

TR:

In a sense, Chancey began preparing for her role at the library at an early age back in Mechanicsville Virginia.

CF:
I went to a mainstream school in the 80’s and my folks always made sure that I had basically equal access to information and one of the most important ways they did that is by pushing for the school system to incorporate technology into my life from an early age. I remember having a Toshiba laptop in the first grade.

I could play text adventure games and I could get my word processing done. And one of the most powerful things that I still remember is that people could write notes to me and I could read over them and I could write out my assignments and send them to a printer which meant that I could get feedback from my teacher without having to wait for the vision teacher to come around and transcribe things.

So I learned really early on that having technology at my fingertips, mainstream technology that everybody could use together was going to be a key that would let me interact directly and not wait on a third party to grant me the access that I need.

TR:
While attending William and Mary College Chancey had the opportunity to work as a peer Access Technology Trainer. Providing one on one training to other Blind and visually impaired individuals.

After graduating with degrees in Sociology and Psychology she felt more connected to Access Technology. A member of the National Federation of the Blind ever since receiving a student scholarship, Chancey began beta testing the first KNFB Reader – an early device to portably scan text to speech.

CF:
Little did I know that one of the times I was at a conference demonstrating , there was a recruiter in the audience from a place called Integration Technologies and the next thing I knew I was flying around the country training Federal employees with disabilities on how to use their tech and that’s kind of how I got my start.

It was fun to fly from office to office and see how lots of different types of people worked. I got to work with transcriptionists, IRS agents, judges, veterans and all kinds of people and it was a great first post college job.

TR:
technology isn’t just a 9 to 5 thing with Chancey.
She says it permeates her life.
Using apps to help her improve her ability to understand and speak Spanish, accessible ways of finding and cooking new recipes,
using GPS apps for travel
these are just examples of technology in her daily life.

She also thinks about the social implications of technology. Like Aira, the glasses and app that are connected to a live attendant who can serve as a blind users virtual eyes. Describing and assisting in navigation at any time. The service begins at about 90 dollars per month.

CF:

Aira is a premium product and it lets us get around a lot of accessibility problems and perhaps giving an accessibility workaround to the folks that are privileged enough to be able to pay for Aira, might not always be a good thing because if I have had my accessibility problem solved by Aira will I take the time to do the boring paper work and the advocacy follow up that’s required to make the bigger accessibility problem that I encounter go away or will I just hitch a ride with Aira and forget about it? I hope I won’t. I hope we can all have a conversation about how we can incorporate these tools into our
lives in a way that doesn’t keep us from being a good community advocates for accessibility that is for everyone.

##
Clearly, Chancey sees the bigger picture when it comes to the purpose of technology. It’s not what the tech does that makes it cool, it’s about how it can impact a person’s life.

CF:
One of my favorite stories is about a young lady that came from Syria and
when she first came to us she came because she wanted to learn to type. She didn’t really have much of a Goal beyond that. In addition to being blind and being newly new to technology she also has a speech impairment. She has a lot of trouble communicating especially with people with people that she doesn’t know or who don’t really slow down to listen to her.
So first she came in very quietly barely said anything and booked lots of time with talking typing teacher. When she finished with that she started to learn to use the Internet. She got a computer from Computers for the Blind, the refurbished computers out of Texas, and slowly she started to talk to us more because she had more specific questions about how to do different things on the internet and her personality started to emerge.

one of the first things that she wanted to do online was go on You Tube and look for makeup tutorials and we did.

Then she got an I Phone And with that I Phone we recommended that she get a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately she was able to afford to do that.

I’ll always remember the first big milestone with her. She. Typed out to me in one day hey could I take this keyboard in and type out what I want my doctor to know before I meet with my doctor? And I just like wanted
to do a fist bump like yes that’s exactly what this technology is for. She figured out for herself how it was going to help her. How it was going to empower her.

## That young lady not only continued learning Braille, but she began providing support for others new to technology and is now continuing her education in preparation for entering the workforce.

Looking back on Chancey’s career path a few notable milestones stand out.
There’s the technology experience and that early opportunity to travel and meet a wide array of people with vision loss that seemed to prepare her for her later work. Including serving as one of the first Holman Prize judges.

Chancey says her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind was also instrumental.

I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in two thousand and one and I came in the way that a lot of people do which is that they got me with
a scholarship.

So I came to a convention for a scholarship and I stayed for the philosophy.

it was Carla McCuillan that gave the first banquet speech. She is a pretty distinguished educator – I think she runs a
Montessori school. I remember the energy and I remember her addressing
the low expectations that the public often has for us and you know immediately I connected with that message that that that’s not a normal thing that we can do better for ourselves.

I think the National Federation of the blind is. Pretty unique in the amount of investment and trust that it puts in its ordinary members who become volunteers.

It is one of the greatest ways that I have
found to get work experience while I was waiting for actual work to come along beginning when I was in college.

TR:
It was an earlier volunteer experience working the phones at a women’s crisis shelter that helped Chancey realize a career in Psychology wasn’t for her.

That discovery Chancey says was just another benefit of volunteering.

CF:
It’s a way to develop skills and self-confidence meet people in the community give back but it’s also frankly
sometimes a way to find a job.

TR:

Like I said, lessons in Chancey’s experience once again go beyond disability

If you live in New York City or find yourself visiting head on down to the library and check out all they have to offer.

For more information on services and upcoming workshops visit Talking Books.NYPL.ORG

To reach out to Chancey directly you can find her at @ChanceyFleet on Twitter.

Remember to subscribe to the podcast; Apple Podcast, Google Play Stitcher, Tune In Radio and Sound Cloud.
Tell a friend!

CF:
… and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

[RMMRadio Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Getting Back

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

I didn’t plan to take a break from the podcast, but life happens. I’ll tell you more about that in this episode plus, an update on a RMM Radio Alumni. Finally, a taste of my new podcast with my co host Doctor Dre from MTV, Hot 97 & more.

Resources:

Transcript:

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up RMMRadio?

This is a different sort of episode.

I wanted to take a little time to give an update on a few things podcast related – which includes some personal updates.

But this is an episode so let’s get it started properly.

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]

Audio from RMMR Episode featuring Penny Melville – brown
If you’ve been listening to RMM Radio for a little while you hopefully remember, Penny Melville Brown one of the three Holman Prize winners featured here on the podcast in 2017.

She’s the host of Baking Blind. As the winner, she was in the midst of her world tour where she’s cooking with different people in various countries.

Right now I want to ask you all to join me in sending support and get well wishes to Penny who was in a car accident in France. The injuries were pretty severe – enough where she was put into an induced coma for 5 weeks.

[Audio from Penny’s YouTube Channel]

The link to her YouTube video explaining the accident and her latest challenge is on Reid My Mind.com or go on over to Baking Blind in YouTube.

Please give it a watch and send her a tweet or email wishing her well.

Penny, you go ahead do what you do and get better soon! For those who heard your story here on the podcast, they know a bit about your determination and there’s no doubt in my mind at least, you have what it takes to recover from this accident.

In fact I can hear you now…
[Audio from episode – Penny saying “I can do that!”]

Take your time and get well. We need you out there doing your work… Baking Blind!

And you know what I want to hear from you right?

[Audio from episode, Penny laughing]

It’s good to be back recording this podcast.

In fact, that’s the reason I was away… my back!

For the past couple of years I’ve been dealing with a herniated disk. It was becoming more and more debilitating. I found myself spending way too much time in bed because it was too painful to sit and stand. The bed was a very limited source of relief.

I tried, but it’s really challenging to be productive in bed.

You know what I mean! I’m talking about producing audio, writing …

I was nervous yawl! I didn’t want to get surgery but I didn’t want to spend more time in pain not getting anything done.

Well, I bit the bullet and had laser surgery…

[James Brown, “I Feel Good”]]

I have some more recuperating to do but so far I think I’ll be putting on my dancing shoes sooner than even I thought.

I have more Reid My Mind Radio coming up soon.

[Audio from 2BlindMic … Intro]

In addition, I have a new weekly podcast. This time I have a partner. Doctor Dre. Dre. Dre and I met when I interviewed him last year about his experience with vision loss following complications of Diabetes.

Our podcast is called 2BlindMics.

that’s the number 2BlindMics

Check out what we call a 2Byte – a little taste of an episode…

This one is featuring Rodney Carter former NFL running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
we call the full episode first and 10.

[2BlindMIcs…]

Go ahead and subscribe to the podcast.
It’s now available on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and Tune In.

Remember that’s the number 2 BlindMics

Now, I’ve been sitting too long and need to walk around and stretch this back and these legs… I have some dancing to do!

[RMMRadio Outro]
Peace

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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!

Hide the transcript

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.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: For the Love of Honey

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Picture of Ojok Simon in front of a blue covered background.

This third segment features Ojok Simon. Attacked as a boy in Uganda by the infamous army of Joseph Kony, hear his journey to becoming one of the first three Holman Prize winners as an Entrepreneur who is about more than just bizzzzness!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up RMM Radio Family…I’m excited for another Holman Prize winner story, but I’m also a little down. It’s the third in the series of 3!
Well when I get down, I sing the blues.

[Audio: Muddy Waters, Honey Bee]

TR:
Nah, I’m not blue! Let’s Go!

[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Today we conclude our three part series featuring
all of the Holman Prize recipients.

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

In order to meet our third winner, I had to travel to Uganda in East Africa. Well, via Skype!

Ojok:

I am Ojok Simon from Uganda. I am from the northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot friends. many people would come and play around with me . they would come to listen to my stories . I liked creating jokes . I liked giving tough predictions in the future. So I’m that kind of crazy person.

My ambition was to be a military doctor.

TR:
Sounds like what we would think about as life for a young boy.

However, during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention. After five years I had to go and join the blind school. Even when I was trying to seek the medical attention through the blind school there was no equipment so that they could help me so I had to remain with the condition like that.

TR:
That condition Ojok described is low vision. It’s important to note that the School for the Blind in Uganda doesn’t take acuity into consideration when creating the curriculum. Everyone is taught Braille for example, large print is not an option.

Another part of his studies included what Ojok refers to as psycho social support or therapy, which is what helped him eventually come to terms with the
permanence of his condition.

Yet, at 9 years old with lots of friends looking up to Ojok that adjustment had to be difficult.

Ojok:
When I was growing up as a boy among my friends I used to like Football. I used to play like a goal keeper so when my vision started losing I started losing friends because I could not handle the ball the way they feel like their leader should be. They said you are blind so cannot associate yourself with us. Life became horrible. To make the matters worse we used to love hunting for wild honey.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]
I don’t know anything about hunting for honey, like what is that process like?

Ojok:
Hunting for wild honey, it’s wild honey ok… of course we live in a community where a lot of bees swarm ok. They keep moving around looking for their house so that they could get accommodated like the hive, but people doesn’t take care of providing a house for the. Now the bees will end up handing on the big thick trees .

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

When they find that honey, there’s no bees there? The bees are somewhere else?

Ojok:
No the bees will also be there because they live together and protect the honey because you know honey is a food for bees as well.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

… right, but how do you deal with the bees when you’re trying to take the honey?

Ojok:
They do it in a local way. They will get fire and they will burn the bees. Now when the bees run away, that’s when they will harvest the honey. They will not take care of the bees. Now for me it became a challenge because imagine with your poor vision climbing up the trees and trying to move and walk on the branches, balancing so that you can go and remove the honey. So since for me I like also moving in the bush during the daytime because I have some little sight I would get where the honey nests are but at night I could not locate the situation so my peers use that opportunity so that they can get the wild honey . They would take it to their grandparents, they will receive a lot of praises, they would sing them that they are great men and served them with the good food. So now I’m missing those love from my grandparents.

TR:
Chances are, you’re like me. You probably don’t know much about wild honey and didn’t realize it had such value. As we will see, this is just the bee ginning of all this sweet nectar has to offer.

Ojok:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do. Then I went back home and I came back now because this is on the ground and is in the area where I know , then I harvested the honey. I took it to my mother. She became happy eating the honey.

TR:

Realizing he could easily harvest the honey from this more accessible method, Ojok devised a plan. While his mother was out of the house, Ojok
helped himself to one of her clay pots.

Ojok:

Who has taken this pot of mine… who has taken this pot of mine?

I don’t know… I even denied so, I got the pot and took it next to the one I found in the abandoned home and left those there. Now two pots. I went back to school. Now during another holiday I came back and found both pots are colonized with the honey. And that became the turning point for me.

TR:

Harvesting the honey, Ojok was once again able to surprise his mother.

Ojok:

I took it to my mother and she said hey where are you always getting this honey. I said yes, I have my techniques.

TR:
Ojok admitted to his mother that part of his technique included taking her pot…
His make shift hives produced more honey than his family could consume.

Ojok:

Some of my friends, they started being friendly to me because they want to eat the honey. If you want to eat the honey be my friend so that I can sell you.

TR:

Hiving Bees and harvesting the honey using
clay pots isn’t very sustainable. Drawing the bees away with fire in order to gather the honey, kills some of the bees. Reading more about the process of Bee Keeping in Africa Ojok invested in a new type of hive, while still pursuing his Bachelor’s degree.

Ojok:

I found now they were selling a hollow tree. They would cut the log of a tree then they would produce a hole inside. There are doors so that the bees would stay inside. Bee keeping was not for commercial or social change but just because I love eating honey I want to get praises. So I just continue with the bee keeping. After my formal studies I returned back to my village. I started doing human rights activism for people with disability through the convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

TR:
As an advocate, Ojok was informing others with disabilities about their human rights and how they could live independently.

Remember, Bee keeping to Ojok was a hobby, but his advocacy work led to his discovery of more possibilities.

Ojok:

Then I started meeting some of my fellow blind people that we used to live with them during the school time, but they did not finish their studies. And now they were saying their poor. they don’t have any source of income. I would spend all of my salary on them. When they asked me for soap, I’d give them. When they asked me for something little I’d give them. Then I asked myself self, how long would I keep on helping people like this? Is this really sustainable?

TR:

Ojok’s two original clay pots turned into 12 income producing hives. He wondered why such an idea couldn’t do the same for others.

Ojok:

They don’t have any source of income but for me I’m getting my normal salary. But on another side, my hives are also there. After 7 years I resigned. I decided to go for Entrepreneurship training in India with the organization called Kanthari, which is Braille without Borders.

[Audio: Oprah Winfrey Show featuring sabriye tenberken]

TR
sabriye tenberken started the first school for the blind in Tibet – where blindness is viewed as a curse for something done in a prior life. This school formed the foundation of Braille Without Borders, an organization empowering blind people to take their lives in their own hands.

In 2005 she co-founded kanthari in Kerala, South India. Kanthari fosters participants from all over the world, who, like Sabriye, have a passion to make the world a better place and the strength to be forces of good rather than victims of circumstance.

A kanthari is a plant that grows wild in every backyard of Kerala, a small but very spicy chili with a number of medicinal values. It’s also a symbol for those who have the guts to challenge harmful traditions and the status quo, who have fire in their belly and
a lot of innovative ideas to make a positive difference.

Ojok:
Then I came back. I started now launching my idea venture of providing employment to blind people. Then I started training 22 blind and low vision both men and females from the age of 20 and above. My target is to target those who are already out of school so that they can get employment.

I give them start up kits, like the bee hive. I give them 5 of them each. Then later I started giving them an improved type of bee hive which I too have it’s called Top Bar.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Top Bar!

Ojok:
Then I follow them up and I build their capacity and I add them two top bar each.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

So what’s the difference between that and the other one, the traditional one?

Ojok:
The top bar will produce more honey and then would last longer than the traditional hive.

TR:

The initial 22 students, turned into 38. The lessons, go beyond harvesting honey and
include orientation and mobility, leadership skills

Ojok:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

They started realizing that yes they are human beings. For instance, among the 38 people that I already trained which are practicing bee keeping, three of them actually they have grown more than my capacity. They became recognized in the society even they are now elected leaders to go and defend people who are visually impaired with the local government in the community – which is above me. Even I call them my boss… (laughs)

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Laughs… How does that feel?

Ojok:
Actually, I feel relief. Inside me I said yes, this is what I want to do. Like a bearing in a bicycle, the bearing is very tiny but it play an important role of making the bicycle to go faster. So I just said yes I’m not being seen but I can see the impact. This has given me the answer I have been looking for.

TR:

Ojok was already seeing some success with his venture. Learning of the Holman Prize competition through his kanthari mentor he submitted his video.

[Audio from Ojok Holman Prize Ambition Video

Ojok:
I would use the prize to empower blind and partially sighted person to be bee keepers in their home. Beneficiaries will be trained in different types of bee hives, introduction to be keeping, honey harvesting, mobility and orientation and they will be sent back to their home to work in their own bee farm. And five years from now I can see blind and partially sighted person being great entrepreneurs…]

Ojok:
When I found out I was a winner I said I can’t believe it…

I think my answer is being well known globally. It’s not only in Uganda because my biggest dream is to create an incubation center that will provide more employment for people with visually impairment through bee keeping by creating a honey factory where they would also now process their honey and they would market and they would do all those things. Those who might not practice bee keeping those who are skillful in other demonstration work and they would also be brought in the system. So after saying that hey I’m I winner I said yes my answer is coming slowly by slowly and I think one day the whole world will know that there are a certain group of visually impaired persons in east Africa in Uganda who are providing the world with tropical honey that is very healthy.

TR:

Creating big goals and achieving them isn’t new to this Holman Prize winner.

Ojok:

I’m the first visually impaired person in my district to go up to the university so I had to show that I can bear fruits. If everything dwells on me then I would carry a lot of burdens. I need them to start carrying their own burdens, but at the moment they’re still dealing with low self-esteem a lot of stigmatization, negative attitude… they still believe in the status quo that if you are disabled or you are visually impaired you cannot do any developmental thing which makes them not so productive.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Yeh, and so they start to feed into that mind set and start to believe it and then that’s it, once they believe it they stay there.

Ojok:
Exactly!

TR:

Like James Holman, Ojok Simon has ventured out beyond his immediate surroundings. Forming the right relationships with others who
can support his journey like;
His instructors at Kanthari in India providing Entrepreneurship training.
Working with mentors like Italian Bee Keepers to learn state of the art methods in bee keeping.
Capturing the attention of the San Francisco Lighthouse to
help expand not only his financing but
chances are increasing his exposure and helping him make more relationships to help reach that goal

In the book A Sense of the World, Howa Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler; author Jason Roberts writes about Holman’s encounter’s with François Huber – who Robert’s writes was the most famous blind man in the world at that time.

Losing his sight at 15, Huber’s research is said to have laid the foundations of the scientific knowledge of the life history of the
honey bee.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

What have you learned from your experience. I mean from that moment where you were 9 and you were getting brutality attacked. It sounds like you had several years of therapy. The dealing with the loss and all of that it sounds like that probably helped you a great deal but in general how do you look back on your life?

Ojok:
When I look back, look back on myself right now I would just say good enough it happened when I was still a child and I managed to cope with the situation, that’s one.

And then two, the best important thing is to have accept yourself the way you are and then learn how to live with it. I’ve learned my weakness and how I can turn my weaknesses into opportunities.
And also I say yes, having the heart of forgiveness. you need to forgive one another. If these people who had beaten me I could get them you’ll just derail yourself from mercy. You just waste a lot of your energy for nothing. You need to forgive them because maybe they did it not knowing . Maybe also they were under certain influences. If they were to come across me I think they would also realize that I’m not saying I’m in a better situation but I might have the material to also help them. If you have the heart of forgiveness even to those of my friends who used to insult me … I’ve forgiven them and now we are still good friends.

[TR in conversation with Ojok]

Wow, how long did that take you to get to that point because, that’s not just about blindness that’s life. And just about everybody can use that. What got you there?

Ojok:
When I look back…

It was a gradual process. One the formal education that I went through. I was feeding my brain with knowledge and though I not yet done it that much, I need to go for my Master’s in the future. It makes me to start analyzing each and every persons act and I say yes maybe they are doing that out of ignorance. Maybe they are doing that because they have not reached the level I have reached. So it took me more than 10 to 15 years when I started learning yes, I need to do this, I need to forgive, I need to accept my situation. I need to learn and do things.

slowly by slowly I was meeting different
characters.

I remember one of my good mentors from Uganda. Sorry she lost her life. She was my good teacher, I think she was also in the World Blind Union that is the late Sandira Frances. She was a totally blind person and she managed to struggle with her life and I was able to learn (from her).

Wherever she is she also feels happy that yes I’ve left somebody who is helping to carry on the work that I’ve been doing.

TR:

Carrying on the work, that sounds like what the Holman Prize is all about.

This brings to mind the African American proverb that dates back to a time it was illegal for enslaved Africans in America to know how to read.

Understanding the power of knowledge those who did learn would teach another. Encouraging them to do the same with the phrase; Each one teach one.!

Blinded as a young boy, Ojok Simon’s life could have easily went down a different path. His ability to find the sweet honey among the destruction left behind in a torn community, wasn’t a onetime thing.

That’s how he appears to live his life.

Ojok is currently engaged and has four children. That includes two young girls who were orphaned and he decided to adopt in order to help spare them what in those circumstances is often a dark future.

If you want to learn more about Ojok’s plans or maybe even see how you can support his goal , you can reach him through his organization’s website. HiveUganda.org.

The official place to learn more about the Holman Prize and even follow the progress of the winners is HolmanPrize.org.

I’m hoping each of these winners will be interested in speaking with me in the future about their progress experiences and of course lessons learned.

I’m Thomas Reid, for Gatewave Radio,

[Ojok from interview: “I love eating honey, I want to get praises!”]

audio for independent living!

[Barbara Streisand’s “Queen Bee” from A Star is Born
The beat loops with background singing what sounds like a bee buzzing….
acapella we hear her sing… “The Queen Bee’s never gonna be alone”
]

## TR:

How freaking cool was that!

I didn’t think this interview was going to happen. I mean connecting via Skype and speaking with someone in my own state can be a challenge. Here’s how it went down.

[Audio collage of TR attempting to get in touch with Ojok via Skype… includes sounds of me drumming on my desk to the Skype music… After multiple attempts which included failure due to storms in Uganda we connected.]

TR:
But Ojok was able to increase his bandwidth on the fly.

I heard about the sophistication of the cell phone market in Africa. So much of the continent’s commerce is done via telephone transactions. The wireless market made that possible without the infrastructure required for wired services.

The cool thing about technology, remember is not the technology but rather what we do with it.

Sort of like the honey… Ojok is harnessing that natural resource to empower others.

This in itself is a powerful statement. If you know anything about how Africa has been repeatedly been robbed of its natural resources, maybe this story takes on another meaning for you.

Big shout out to Ojok Simon, Ahmet Ustunel and Penny Melville-Brown, the first class of Holman Prize Winners.

Join me in wishing them the most success… do what winners do yawl… keep winning!

You too can keep winning… you know what you have to do right?

Subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or Sound Cloud. Then tell 3 friends…. why three… I told you when we started this series…
[Audio. De La Soul… 3 is the Magic Number!]

[RMMOutro]
Peace

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