Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

They Call Me Marcy’s Son – A Eulogy

Wednesday, February 24th, 2021

Marcelina Reid, my mom, a tan skin woman with salt and pepper short hair standing in an off white and tan lace dress, poses in front of a stream with low green shrubs with a building reflected in the water.

My mother Marcelina passed away this month. I always wanted her to come on the podcast to have an open conversation around the topic of adult child/parent relationships after Vision Loss or disability. But Mom was from that generation that didn’t really get into those types of conversations, especially with their sons. I tried off microphone before and it wasn’t happening.

I felt the need to share some of these feelings and I know many of those adjusting to Vision Loss will see some of their own relationships in my experience with my mother.

My mother Marcy, the woman who raised me. My partner in silliness! probably my introduction to stories and the person who taught me how to find the good in bad situations. Yo soy El hijo de Marcy, Marcy’s son!

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Transcript

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— Soft ambient music begins

TR:

Hey there Reid My Mind Radio family! Much love to you all!

It’s your brother Thomas here on the check in…

If this is your first time joining the podcast, I’m the host and producer. Twice a month, we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness. Every now and then I bring you stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

Today’s episode sort of falls into that last category. But I’m considering this a special episode.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

In the intro, I said we bring you this podcast twice a month. Well, yes there are times when that’s not true, usually though, I let you know when a brother needs a bit of a break.

This month, I had to change it up a bit.

My mom passed away and I didn’t want to release an episode that was actually ready to go.

I usually include some social media promoting of the episodes after each release, I didn’t want my public voice talking about the podcast while my private voice was grieving the loss of my mother.

On multiple occasions during the life span of this podcast, I wanted to have my mother on as a guest. My mother was very charismatic and actually quite funny. I know she would have been really entertaining, however, my real goal was to get some insight into the relationships between children who become Blind as adults and their parent or parents.

Unfortunately, my mom was from that generation that didn’t talk much about that sort of thing.

My mom as far as I know continued to blame herself for my having Retinoblastoma as a child. Me losing my left eye as a baby I know had a tremendous impact on how she treated me in comparison to my older siblings.

So when I had to tell my mom about the tumor found behind my right eye as an adult, that wasn’t easy for me to do and I know not easy for her to hear.

— Soft melancholy piano music begins —

“Put it in God’s hands!”, was her response. Five words I’d come to hear throughout my life. As an over analyzing, action oriented young man this phrase never really sat well with me. My interpretation was that it didn’t mean much if we ignored the conversation about what we should do about the problem.

Mom didn’t say much in this situation with her words, but I realized her actions actually completed what I needed to hear. She was always ready to do whatever was required. You need a ride, she’d drive. You need someone to watch the girls, she was on her way to the house. Quiede comer? Do you want to eat? If yes and actually even if you didn’t answer, she’d cook up something just in case.

— Soft melancholy music fades to an end —

Being Blind around my mom was personally really difficult for me. As a man, I want to be seen as a protector of my family. My immediate family, my wife and girls see me that way. Whatever is necessary they know I’ll do.

We know for example, driving, for those who lose their sight as adults is one of the most difficult things to give up.

We hear about the loss of independence. I stopped driving immediately when I knew I could endanger my family and others.

As a little kid, I remember watching my Dad and the older men in my family pack up the car, discuss the best route to take and then pilot us safely to our destination. Honestly, it wasn’t just men, my Mom and aunts often did a lot of driving. It’s something as a young boy to watch other older men that makes me see myself in that role someday. One of the reasons I probably loved taking road trips with my family before my vision loss.

I remember watching my older cousins chauffeur their mother and think that was the coolest thing ever. I loved how they’d get out the car with their car keys in hand, appearing almost like a body guard for their mother.

Being a protector of my mother could also mean just being there for her and helping her get things done.

A few months before my second Cancer diagnosis, my brother passed away. I got the call while at work. I stopped everything and went to my mother. I always kept a copy of keys to her apartment with me in case of an emergency.

I opened the door. I can still see the image of her sitting on a chair in the foyer just a few feet from that door to the apartment. She just sat there alone crying, looking as though she was waiting for someone to come through the door.

I felt proud to be that person for her. Arriving in time to take care of everything that she needed. Making the arrangements, answering questions, taking the phone calls. She later told me how much she appreciated me being there. Of course, I didn’t want my brother to leave before my mom, she already lost my oldest sister 25 years earlier. I was however very thankful I could make it easier for her.

Then just a few months later, it seemed like I’d never really have that chance to be seen the same by my mother.

After becoming Blind, the way she responded to me felt like she could never see me as that strong adult able to take care of her. Rather, she wanted to be the
care giver. Even though it wasn’t necessary.

“Quidau!”, she’d say over and over. Be careful as I get up from my seat. I’m fine Ma! I’d say in frustration. “He’s fine Ma!” my wife, Marlett would offer knowing I was growing more irritable. “Abuela” Daddy’s fine!” my oldest daughter would offer in my support.

This scenario would repeat as often as we were together. It took place in my own home, in her apartment – where I grew up. It took place in public which was ten times worse for me. to handle. It was as though not only could she not see me in a strong male role, but it felt like she pointed that out to anyone inevitably watching.

She tried to get better about that. I know Marlett tried to explain how that made me feel, but it was just who my mother was. I would always be her baby! That I can understand now with babies of my own, but it never really made it easier for me. I never again felt as though she saw me as someone who would protect her as she did me when growing up.

My sister Camille had the chance to be there for Mommy in the end. My mother lived with my sister and her family in what became her final years. Cam and the rest of the family did great in keeping mommy safe and healthy as she could be. She remained by her side through her last breath.

— Calm music begins which opens to a steady rhythm —

If it wasn’t going to be me there with her then I’m so thankful it was my sister.

During the wake we set aside some time to celebrate my mom’s life. We invited family and friends to share any memories or stories of my mom.

During this celebration, I had an opportunity to Eulogize my mom. I didn’t get to actually do it the way I think it should have been done so I’d like to share it here as a way to hopefully share some of that incredible light my mom shined on all who met and knew her.

Eres el hijo de Marcy

When we were growing up, random people in a pizza shop, supermarket perhaps or in front of some building in Co-op City in the Bronx would confirm that fact.

You’re Marcy’s son?

At that time, it meant I had to be careful.
I had to be on my best behavior because if my mother found out I was doing something I shouldn’t have been doing,
that would be bad enough. But finding out from a friend, I think that would have been way worse.

But being Marcy’s son, daughter or anything for that matter, to me means you benefit in some way from some of what she had.

You have to begin with strength.

That’s strength and courage to experience adversity and remain faithful in what you believe.
That’s what she did after burying two children way before their time. Plus losing her husband of 31 years.

It means, being stubborn. Incredibly stubborn.
But that’s conviction. Because everything she did was done with passion.

it’s an incredible sense of humor,

Honestly, some of that can be a bit crude and
while I don’t think she’d mind, I won’t go into specifics.

Mommy, could laugh at her own ways and flaws.
Never taking herself too seriously.

Mommy, was just so silly!
As little kids, you never knew when
you might turn the corner in the apartment and
there she was. Waiting on you.
Sometimes she was in one of those facial mud masks.
Other times she’d put on this orange alien looking mask.
She’d raise her hands in that supposed to be scary monster attacking pose while growling.

Even in more recent times, I know if
I ever needed anyone to act silly with, Mommy would never disappoint.

My Mom was a natural storyteller.

Those who had the chance to experience it definitely remember, Story time with Marcy…

It could have started with something simple like, let me tell you what happened today…

But, if you’re lucky, it began with a meal in her kitchen. That in itself is a gift!

If she was in the mood to share a story, alright, who am I kidding? it didn’t take much…

Mommy, tell them about the time… that could be anything.

I’m talking about either her childhood stories from Puerto Rico or
some of the early adventures in 1950’s New York City.

Mommy told stories in 3D.
She didn’t just tell you a story,
she brought you into it with sound effects she made up on the spot.

Panga na could be a crash, a punch…

She make these big , over exaggerated movements to illustrate or re-enact.

Sometimes, you might even be used as a prop.

Veng aki, as she pulls you out of your seat.

Of course, she had an action packed and dramatic tale.

you might wonder if she was embellishing.

That is until you experience something with her in life and you realize, oh no, those stories are true.

Marlett, Riana & Raven and Mommy were all hanging out at the mall.
I’d say about 8 or 10 years ago. Mommy had to be 75 or 77.

When they got home, the girls came and told me;
Daddy, Abuela got into a fight with this lady at Arthur Treachers.

That’s not news to me!

It wasn’t really for them either because they heard the stories of her past.
But now, after seeing her in action, there would never be any doubt as to the validity of those stories.

They believed her stories about her athletic prowess because at around 75 years old
they watched as she outskated a much younger woman at the roller rink. Because my mother was incredibly competitive.

But her best stories come out of her just being herself.

— Music ends —

When my sister Camille and I were young kids, Mommy
would tell us something then say, like a friend says and proceed to elaborate on something or explain

It was a very frequent thing.

Cammy and I would sort of look at one another …

Privately we’d wonder,
how many friends does mommy have?
Are they the same people always telling her these things?
Just something we wondered about for years.
It wasn’t until we were much older when we came to realize,
Wait, say that again, mommy,

Like a friend says

One more time

(exaggerated)Likay For instants

Mommy was saying for instance. All these years, it was just her accent that made us think she was saying like a friend says

I got into lots of trouble because of that accent.
Like the time she sent me to the store for Epson Salt and I came home with Eggs and Salt!

Teasing my mom and imitating her accent was and will always be one of the things that bring me joy.

As a kid, it got lots of laughs from her and my father so of course I continued.

Now, don’t get it twisted, my mom was to be taken seriously. She just had a cool way of combining the serious and the sweet.

As a child growing up dealing with lots of invasive doctor visits and exams under anesthesia, Mommy made them special. But first, she had to teach.

At each appointment from the time I was very young, it was my responsibility to sign myself in at the doctor’s office,
make sure no one was being seen before me,
even ask them to put the next set of drops in to assure everything stayed on schedule
I hated it because I was the only child doing that.
Isn’t this your job, I thought!

I realized later what she did and why.

She was a natural fighter and wanted to make sure her children were capable of standing up for themselves.
Showing me, not telling me how to do it!

But every visit was followed by either two hot dogs, a soft pretzel and a bottle of my favorite drink, Yoo Hoo, at that time.
On more special occasions, she’d take me to a restaurant. We shared memories of those times together later in life.

I looked forward to these appointments and
later learned how different that was from how other kids experienced these things.

Mommy, was an optimist.
She saw good in people but at the same time
she’s not going to fall for your nonsense.

— DJ scratch launches into a smooth beat! —

“So where you from?”

TR:

She was small, yet strong.

Definitely a bit heavy handed sometimes, but yet she had a delicate touch.
As a child it made everything better.
So much so that as an adult you still sought that comfort she could provide.

— “Marcy Son! Just thought I’d remind y’all!” Jay-Z lyric pans from left to right —

TR:

She was Mommy to my sister and I , Abuela to her grandchildren, Chela to her siblings and those who knew her back in the day.

If you knew her, I’m certain Marcy was someone special to you.
chances are you were impacted by her in some way.
even if you were the woman in Arthur Treacherss.

No seriously, on multiple occasions after the argument almost turned brawl, they’d see each other in the mall. And my mom would stare her down.

Esa vieja or the old lady as my mother called her, meanwhile I’m pretty sure my mother was older than her.

Today, something is and will forever be missing
not only in our families hearts
but honestly, the world feels a little emptier without her here.

There’s just places she’s supposed to be…
A family gathering, a rosary in her apartment, planning something here at Saint Michael’s .
That makes me very sad

But I’m so proud and happy that I will always be
El Hijo de Marcy, Marcy’s son!

— DJ scratch leads into “Marcy Son! Just thought I’d remind y’all” panned left —-

— DJ scratch leads into “Marcy Son” panned right—-

TR:
R E I D!

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

TR:

We Love You Mommy!

— Reid My Mind Radio outro

TR:
May you rest in peace!

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Young Gifted Black & Disabled

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

A white background with black silhouettes.  The text: Young Gifted Black descends while the font is increasing in size. the words are colored Red Black &Green respectively.  Centered on the next line reads & On the left is a man in a wheelchair, next is a blind man holding a white cane, in the middle is a woman with two crutches, next is a woman in a wheelchair, and last is a woman missing a leg with crutches. Below are the shadows of the silhouettes with "disabled" in bright golden letters hovering over it.

People with disabilities make up 20 to 25 percent of the population. It’s considered the largest minority. No so called race, ethnic group or age is excluded. Even within the extremely low representation in the media, Black people with disabilities are seldom seen.

This episode, a co-production with Ajani AJ Murray is our attempt to open this conversation.

Earlier this summer, AJ and I invited Author, Blogger Rasheera Dopson and Doctoral Student D’Arcee Charington to join us on a Zoom call to discuss the Black Disabled experience from their individual perspectives. The result, a non-apologetic discussion about representation in the media, acceptance in the Black community and Black Disabled pride… – “Young Gifted Black & Disabled”

For me personally, 2 out of 4 ain’t bad!

Shout out to AJ who’s also co-hosting this episode – a first for this podcast.

Salutes Chadwick Bozeman!

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Transcript

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Audio: Scene from “Black Panther” “In Salute to Chadwick Bozeman

Black Panther:

I am not ready to be without you.

Black Panther’s Father:

A man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father. Have I ever failed you?

Black Panther:

Never.

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family. Greetings to anyone joining for the first time. My name is Thomas Reid your host & producer. Welcome to the podcast!

Well, when it comes to this particular episode, I’m only one half of the host and production team. You heard my co-host when he was here on the podcast earlier this year. In fact, I liked his opening so much, let’s run it back!

Audio: AJ Episode intro

Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you …

Music begins “Nautilus”

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:

But first, uh, hit me with the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

AJ, welcome back my brother!

AJ:

Thanks for inviting me to be on the other side of the mic.

Why don’t we get right to it and I’ll introduce our guests.

Ladies first of course!

Audio: Ladies First, Queen Latifah

AJ:

My friend also living here in Atlanta Rasheera Dopson.

Rasheera:

Hi everyone! I’m really excited to be on this podcast with you guys today.

AJ:

And then we have another friend of mine from Washington DC, his name is D’Arcee.

D’Arcee:

D’Arcee Charington Neal. I currently live in Columbus Ohio. I am a second year Doctoral Student at the Ohio State University.

Music begins… “Young Gifted & Black” Donny Hathaway

TR:

What exactly do our guests have in common?

AJ:

They’re all Young Gifted, Black and Disabled!

Music Stops

Music Begins… Hip Hop Beat

Rasheera:

I am an author, Blogger, Disability Advocate. Owner of a nonprofit organization, The Dopson Foundation and the Beauty with a Twist Brand. two organizations dedicated to creating spaces of inclusion for women with disabilities. Being the founder of those two organizations that gives me a lot of space to be able to reach other minority women with disabilities.

AJ:

And D’Arcee

D’Arcee:

I am a second year Doctoral student at the Ohio State University and I do a lot of work at the intersection of Black identity and Disability specifically focusing through the lens of popular culture. A lot of my work has taken me working with major corporations, a bunch of nonprofits, some government agencies. Now I’m doing it for academia.

Rasheera:

So I was born with two rare diseases called Goldenhar Syndrome and the other one is called VADER Syndrome. Both of my syndromes have similar types of birth defects. One is considered a facial difference so when most people see me you notice that my face is asymmetrical. I was born without a right ear or right jaw bone. So I kind of fall in between the rare disease chronic illness and a disability intersectionality. .

I’m always real specific when I say that because you have a lot of people who have rare diseases who may not have a disability or you may have people with disabilities who don’t have chronic illness. So to say the least my childhood experience with disability was very complicated

TR:

That really is a good point. SO many people think disability and therefore unhealthy, sick. The two don’t necessarily always go hand in hand.

Rasheera:

I’m very grateful. I grew up in a single parent household with my mom. She was my fighter and advocate. The reason that I’m able to speak, to walk, to is because I had a lot of work done.

One out of twenty five thousand people have my condition. So really I didn’t meet another individual like myself until I was 25 years old.

A lot of moments of isolation and just kind of living on survival mode.

D’Arcee:

I just wanted to add, so I mean I saw you on video before all of this and I just think you’re absolutely gorgeous and never would have even thought about any of that.

Rasheera:

Ah,thank you! (Giggles)

D’Arcee:

I was like wait? What? I didn’t see none of that on camera, wait, … huh?

TR:

AJ:

D’Arcee has CP or Cerebral Palsy.

D’Arcee:

My parents are together They’ve been married for 35 years this year. Neither one of them really knew anything about disability or the idea of what to do with a disabled child. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was 2 because at 18 months I hadn’t gotten up off the floor yet and they were really concerned about it. When they took me to the doctor he diagnosed me with CP. My mother said she left the doctor’s office went outside sat on the curb and cried.

She was upset because she thought all her hopes and dreams of a child doing stuff was gone. (pause) Clearly she was wrong!

Music Ends…

Audio: “Message” … From Don’t Be A Menace While Drinking Juice in Da Hood

AJ:

The message is about false expectations inaccurate beliefs or misperceptions.

TR:

Most parent’s do the best they can with what they have. Older now, D’Arcee has taken the time to have conversations with his parents.

D’Arcee

And one of the things we talked about was Ableism. My parents were not familiar with the terminology. They were doing things that were progressive that they didn’t even know. I cooked, I cleaned. It wasn’t a question of like if you cooked but it was a question of like when are you going to. My bedroom was always on the second floor and we always lived in a house with steps and I never had one of them little contraptions that people be putting on the banister where you just sit in and it takes you up the step. Look that was a genie wish machine that I saw in movies and TV because if I wanted to get to my bedroom I had to crawl up the steps.

TR:

I’m sure that can be an uncomfortable image for some. What we see is so highly based on what we believe to be true. It reminds me of when people see me or another Blind person walking with our cane. For the unaware, it appears that the cane and therefore the person is crashing into things. What they don’t realize is that we’re independently accessing information in a way that works for us.

AJ:
Disability is complex.
For example, I need help with just about everything except, using a remote control.
Some people have more mobility than others. And that’s ok.

D’Arcee:

Inside the house there was no expectation for me to have to be anything other than who I was. When you leave the door, the bar of expectation just goes so low.

My parents never talked about the difference. They didn’t prepare me for the Ableism that was going to come in middle school, in high school in college and looking for a job. I had to find all of that out by hand.

TR:

Rasheera also shared some reflections on how she too wasn’t prepared for what was to come in the real world.

Rasheera:

I felt like I wasn’t properly prepared to be a disabled woman. In my household I was just Sheera and we goin’ treat Sheera like everybody else. Then when I got to school I’m thinking I’m a Black woman and people are looking at me like, hmm you’re a Disabled Black woman and there’s a difference. I felt like I had to learn the hard way. I’m 29 and I’m finally starting to get this thing. And it has nothing to do with you it has really everything to do with the system that was created not for people like you.

D’Arcee:

People just assume that if you say the word disability it immediately translates to less than, without them knowing anything about symptoms or anything. People are just immediately like ok, well clearly you’re special needs, clearly you belong in the class with other people with intellectual disabilities. Not to say that’s any better or worse, but it’s a different type of class and it’s a complete segregation from regular education.

AJ:

Societies low expectations come in different forms.

D’Arcee:

I lived in an all-white neighborhood in North Carolina so people would just come up to you and be like “oh, oh my God, where were you shot?” … was the number one question I would get from like the age of 9 through like 17 because people just equate and this is a really specific experience for wheel chair users only because the narrative that people have of chair users and Black people is criminality.

TR:

D’Arcee went on to site shows like Oz & Cops which help spread that narrative.

AJ:

I feel like if we took a few more minutes we’d come up with some other examples from film and television.

TR:

We began the conversation by asking each of our guests to share the specific type of media they consumed growing up.

AJ:

First up, Rasheera.

Rasheera:

I’m a writer! So when I was in elementary school I thought I was going to be the next Toni Morrison. You could not tell me that…

The rest of the panel jumps in with positive encouragement. “You still can be” You’re still young” “Hold up”

AJ:

Black love is not just about romantic love, it’s also lifting one another in support.

TR:

Facts!

Rasheera:

She didn’t publish her first book until she was 40 and I’m 29 and I just published my first so it’s still Goal!

I grew up in a predominantly white school. My sister and I were really the only two Black kids in the entire school so it wasn’t until 11th grade in high school that I actually got exposed to African American literature. The Toni Morrison’s, Alice Walker’s , The Zora Neal Hurston. I’m just like oh, these people sound just like me!

TR:

That’s connecting with the voices of Black women authors.

AJ:

The full story of the black experience hasn’t been written yet.
There are plenty more chapters yet to be explored.

Rasheera:

As I’ve gotten older, even though I look to those mediums and those platforms such as the books and even Essence magazine being a girl and looking through all the pages and the different fashion things, I get a little sad. I never saw anyone like me. I never saw a girl with disabilities in Essence magazine. Struggling with low self-esteem growing up I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I was reading Essence magazine, Ebony magazine Jet magazine reading the stories of Toni Morrison and hearing the Black struggle but I never read about the disability struggle.

It Matters, it really does.

D’Arcee

My family is a movie family. We have been addicted to films. I can vividly recall as an 8, 9 year old spending many an hour re-alphabetizing my mom’s thousand VHS tape collection. No lie and each tape had like five movies on it. We loved movies growing up . My mom was really into horror films which is hilarious because she’s super religious. She’s an Evangelist now.

Music… church organ

D’Arcee:

It’s one thing to not see yourself. It’s another thing to not be thought of.

These days when I watch TV and Netflix and stuff I see disability. I see it quite a lot, but I feel like there are disabilities that are sexy. I don’t even mean attractive, I mean that there hot in the media because people find it to be easy to access and it works really good for a story plot. So if I had to pick one that would be Autism.

TR:

Let’s be very clear, because you know how things get misconstrued, in no way is D’Arcee or your hosts in support of pitting disabilities against one another. This isn’t about any sort of perceived hierarchy within the disability community.

AJ:
This is about disability representation in the media. And it really is true, representation matters!
Right now Autism has the spotlight in the media.

D’Arcee:

It’s super popular right now. You see white Autistics everywhere. When I was growing up we were watching movies it was so funny because anytime you would see a Black person like and I mean any time you would see Black people that were like off to the side or just like a spec person we would get so excited.

[
Blade, was my shit!

AJ:

Another question for the panel was to recall their first time seeing disability represented in the media.

TR:

Says below with live version…

TR in conversation with panelists:

And specifically Black disability.
,
Panelists: long pause… Delay… breaths…

Rasheera:

Man, … (laughs)

D’Arcee:

I gotta think about it! Um!

AJ:

Um!

Rasheera:

I think when I read about Haben Girma. The Deaf Blind lawyer.

D’Arcee:

Haben (correcting pronunciation), that’s my friend Haben. Haben Girma, yeh!

Rasheera:

That says a lot because it’s present day.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, right, that’s like last year.

Group: Wow… laughs

Rasheera:

Um, so no!

Rasheera:

I could count on my hand and I even use my whole hand for how many Black disable people I’ve met.

D’Arcee

I mean I know quite a few, like in real life.

[TR in conversation with D’Arcee:]

As a child did you know them?

D’Arcee:

As a … no, no!

My friend Angel was the first Black Disabled person, this is going to sound terrible but, the first Black Disabled person that was actually doing shit!

AJ:

Does that sound terrible to you?

TR:

I think it’s about people who have aspirations and goals. Many people I’ve spoken to for the podcast have said to me, I was looking for or I found, you know, the cool Blind people. I don’t think it’s specific to the goal or level of education, , but rather it’s about someone striving to accomplish something.

D’Arcee:

I had gotten an internship at NASA.

NASA forgot that they hired disabled folk, three of us. They forgot that we needed housing and they put everybody else in an apartment complex that was like 20 miles away and it didn’t have any accessible rooms so the University of Maryland had to come through at the last minute and give us some dorm rooms to live in and Angel just happened to be my next door neighbor. I saw her and I was like wait a minute, Black Disabled woman and then she was like yeh, I’m a Doctoral student and I’m finishing my PhD in Gender and Women Studies.
Wow! It was so beyond what I even thought was possible. And that sounds so terrible.

AJ:

What’s terrible is that even in 2020 we’re struggling to think of Black Disabled people in the media.

D’Arcee:

I know lots of Black folk but I can’t think of any with an actual disability that’s been … I’m sorry Denzel Washington, The Bone Collector. Which is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.

AJ in Conversation with Panel:

I don’t know if anyone would remember the show “Malcolm in the Middle”. He had a friend, I don’t remember what his disability was but he was in a chair and he was kind of an A-hole. That was the first person that I can remember that was Black and Disabled.

Rasheera:

You know, now that you mention that AJ, I thought about Jimmy from Degrassi. And I guess he didn’t really come to mind because the first two seasons Jimmy wasn’t in a wheelchair, but I guess the third season didn’t he get shot or something.

D’Arcee:

Yeh, he got shot!

AJ:

I knew someone would come up with an example of this trope.

TR:

And that’s a Canadian show isn’t it?
TR:

These tropes aren’t limited to the US.

AJ:
TR:

Also, I’m pretty certain in all of the examples mentioned, they weren’t played by a person with an actual disability.

AJ in conversation with panel:

It seems like we can’t get any real stories about real people with disabilities in movies, but if you’re an able body actor and you play somebody with a disability you may get an Oscar.

D’Arcee:

I would be remised if I didn’t at least bring up the fact that Netflix does seem to be trying to do it. I’m trying to be generous.
So I love the show Sex Education. I think it is one of the best shows to come out in a long time. It’s a comedy, a British comedy. In season two they introduce a character with a disability. So the actor himself is actually disabled which I thought was great.
TR :

But!

AJ

Wait for it!

D’Arcee:

Unfortunately he wasn’t Black so I can’t get everything that I want.

AJ:

D’Arcee mentioned Blade earlier. Not a movie that I think most people associate with disability.

TR:

I know I didn’t but, when he broke it down!

First, the ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.

D’Arcee:

He’s a half vampire half human being. He basically has some weird combination of Sickle Cell and an auto immune disorder. I see it as a rare disease. He was working with huh, wait for it, a Black woman who was also a Phlebotomist. She develops an immuno therapy that he inhales via an inhaler that allows him to function.

TR:

I told you, when he breaks it down for you!

D’Arcee:

It affected me so deeply. I saw that movie and I was just like this is a disabled Black dude who is a super hero who is saving people and he’s Black A F with his Barber who makes his weapons with his Camaro car with the high rims. It was a marriage of like blackness and disability unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Black Disabled people have already been there but they’re not being discussed that way. Storm is a Black Disabled woman. If she were a real person she has the same chromosomal disorder as a person with Down Syndrome. She just shoots lightning bolts out her eyes. She would be covered under the ADA. Technically.

AJ:

Do you think Wesley ever thought about the character in that way?

TR:

I doubt it, but I’m going to re-examine Nino Brown.
TR:

AJ:

Shout out New Jack City!

What up Pookie!

D’Arcee:

I thought it was brilliant but people don’t give Wesley Snipes props. People keep thinking that Dead Pool was the first rated R comic book movie, it’s not! That belongs to Blade.

Audio From Blade:
Blade: You people better wake up!

Rasheera:

Even the new Harriet Tubman movie, come on people didn’t give credence to the fact that she was a Disabled woman. Okay, she was spiritual and she had visions, but she had probably a form of Epilepsy…

D’Arcee:

She definitely did.

Rasheera:

that caused her to have seizures. That is a disability and the fact that she freed thousands of slaves, I was like give that woman her props as a Disabled Black woman.

Audio: Martin Lawrence in standup performance.

“Handicapped people have good parking spaces… (fades)

Rasheera:

It was some time last year , Martin Lawrence, he had put an old clip of him doing standup comedy. Of course he was playing somebody who had some developmental delays. He had the arm twisted and was doing the things like he was making fun of a person. He had thousands of comments on there. This is the issue I have with the Black community, we still endorse people who have created content that sheds a negative light on people with disabilities.

TR:

Rasheera gave an example of how there seems to be more push back from the white community towards those felt to be disrespectful…

AJ:

It’s one thing to have a comedian, for example, perform and perpetuate a negative image. It’s another level of pain or hurt that comes from the general public who argues for that sort of content.

Rasheera:

When I point it out… This lady she commented, she was like you guys are too sensitive. I was like you know, no we’re not too sensitive we understand that was like the early 90’s so you know people just didn’t know or did they care? We really have to go back and say you know that wasn’t okay that you made a whole stand up production making fun of a person with a developmental disability and we still laugh at that. It’s not cool!

AJ:

Too sensitive?

Not really when you consider history and experience.

Rasheera:

Whenever we have a person in our family who’s “Disabled” you know, we’ll call him slow or special. That’s Uncle Ray Ray we keep him in the back corner and we won’t tell the family that he exists.

Historically when we’re dealing with certain levels of pain and trauma we do use things such as comedy and music to provide relief to that. I don’t know if it’s justifiable but I do think it needs to be brought to the surface like okay maybe we do need to peel back why is it that we still think it’s okay to hide our relatives with disabilities. Why is it still like such a level of shame in our community when it comes to disability?

D’Arcee:

This is what my work centers on in academia – what I am trying to coin Afro Fantasm. This idea that Black Disabled people within the Black community exists as living ghosts. We exist and folks know we exist, they do not acknowledge the disabled part of the identity as opposed to the Black part. I had someone recently tell me, one of my friends recently tell me; well disability isn’t race. He said I just think you’re making something out of nothing and you’re creating something that does not exist. I said it most certainly is.

AJ:

How do you think that would make you feel?

TR:
If necessary, make the larger identity relevant to you.

D’Arcee:

Why do you seem to think that just because Black people are disabled we don’t need to do things culturally that still read as Black? All my disabled female friends they constantly complain about how nail salons are not accessible. As a wheelchair user I still need to go to the Locktician to do my Dred’s. Me being in a wheelchair does not stop me from having to do that because as a Black person I don’t want to look busted! Or ashy or like any ‘ol kind of way because that’s already assumed that’s how we’re going to look anyway when we come out of the house.

Music… Let the Church Say Amen

D’Arcee:

Church is the center piece of African American identity and yet I don’t know of most Black churches that will use interpreters. They don’t bring cart services, they don’t provide hymns in Braille. It is not a conception that even crosses into people’s minds and so therefore I call it Afro Fantasm. You exist but only in the barest spectral sense to other Black people

Audio: Scene from “Blackish”
Takes place in a Black Church. The pastor speaking from the pulpit.

We will now offer prayers for our community. Everybody knows somebody broke into Shante’s car and stole her last good hearing aid. Shante we’re all praying for you. Pause, Pause… Shante, (spoken slowly and deliberately) we are all praying for you. Ahuh, ahuh! Church agrees!

TR:

CART services is an acronym for Computer Assisted Real Time Translation.

AJ:

Real time captioning.

D’Arcee:

if we actually were to go beyond that and to start looking at the actual physical embodiment of disability, folks shut down.

Rasheera you were saying why does the Black community continue to laugh at Martin Lawrence’s jokes? So the answer as horrible as it is but it’s the truth, people can come on my Twitter and check me if they want to, you don’t see us as people. Bottom line point blank period with a t, we are not people in your minds. We are uh huh, interestingly enough, three fifths of a person.

Music Ends with a low base and then bass fades out

Rasheera:

When you call them on that point it’s just like oh well you’re taking away from the Black cause.

How am I taking away from the Black cause when really all I’m trying to show you is the full spectrum of the Black narrative.

AJ in conversation with panel:

This is a part of my Black experience. I wonder and I’m just putting this out there, I’m not saying this is concrete, but I wonder if it has a lot to do with the fact that disability is something that needs to be healed.

D’Arcee:

Absolutely. You don’t want to say its physical I will.
TR:

In case anyone is getting this twisted and thinks a pass is being given to others and saying Black people are more Ablest?

D’Arcee:

That is not what we’re doing.

What I need to specify is that while it is true that the Black community often does not do things to support people with disabilities. The flip side of that coin is that it’s because of systemic racism that we can’t. Most of the time. I will say yes it happens sometimes, yeh there are assholes everywhere, but the reality is I firmly believe that Black people are not out here (laughs) being villains to Disabled people on purpose.

TR:

Systemic racism in the form of redlining for example.

AJ:

Too often small business owners of color are unable to access capital to afford retrofitting existing buildings to make them accessible.

D’Arcee:

I will say that yes, while I go to Barber Shops and you see steps and I’ll be like Lord Jesus, the flip side of that is the people in there have always helped me. They will stop cutting hair to come outside to do what they have to do so I can get into the shop.

TR:

Black Love?

AJ:

Black Love!

But we definitely shouldn’t have to do all that!

Rasheera:

[
We just haven’t had the bandwidth within our community without the barriers of systemic oppression to allow us to have acceptance for everybody.
]
So if you guys make stuff more accessible, and wealth is equally distributed in our community, half these conversations we wouldn’t even be having.

AJ:

I had to ask our panelists how do they see Black Disability moving into the mainstream?

D’Arcee:

Somebody needs to sit Shonda Rhimes and Kenya Barris down and say you’ve done a lot for Black people but now you need to purposely put Disabled folks in big ways. And that’s only part of the issue because quite frankly the other part of the issue is that there aren’t enough actors. If Kenya Barris and Shonda Rhimes create a show and they want to put a Black Disabled person front and center, if they want them to be the next Olivia Pope they have to be ready to take it.

AJ:

Is the question about the number or the level of experience?

D’Arcee:

I love Peter Dinklage, oh my God he’s fabulous. But he is the only one. These acting studios need to stop trippin’ and they need to let people with disabilities straight up in because that’s the only way. I want a wheelchair using peter Dinklage. I want a person in a wheelchair who is respected.

Rasheera:

That’s one of the reasons why I decided I want to go into Public Health. At the end of the day we can talk about how the spaces are needed, but actually we need more people with disabilities to occupy those spaces.

Music begins, Young Gifted & Black, Donny Hathaway

When you get to the very core of it, we have to begin to empower the disability community. Letting them know, you can go to college. You can get a Master’s degree. You can go into any career field that you want and maybe we have to find ways to strategize so you can get the type of accommodation.

Music morphs into a Remix of Young Gifted & Black… Young Gifted Black & Disabled!

AJ:

We need more opportunities. The wealth of talent is there. You just have to want to see it.

Rasheera:

Empower disable people, especially disabled Black people.

Before I ever knew I was disabled I knew I was Black first. I was very fortunate that my family raised me to know everything about my people. We weren’t just descendants from slaves.

I identify as a Disabled person, a woman and a Black woman at that. I take a lot of pride in that. Even somedays when its hard and I’m just like man, I’m the only one in the room.

It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also a place of fulfillment and joy where you’re able to pull from those different life experiences.

D’Arcee:

I was just thinking of the Morpheus quote from The Matrix Reloaded, which I recently saw. When he was in Zion, when he was talking to everyone trying to calm them down and what he said is; what I remember most is after a century of struggle I remember that which matters most.

Audio from Matrix Reloaded: “We are still here!” Crowd roars in applause!

That resonates so deeply with who I am as a person.

The more I learn about Disabled History and the more I learn about Black history and how they intersect, it just makes me even prouder to be the type of person that I am and to be able to do what I do.

I am the only wheelchair user in the graduate department of several hundred students. I’m in the number one school for English in the United States. I have a complete full ride for this degree, they paid me to come there.

TR:

He’s not flexin’ on y’all!

D’Arcee:

It’s a question of knowing your worth. When it comes to Black Disabled people, we exist in this space that people think of as double deficit. You start off from a negative place. As a Black Disabled person you are the bottom of the bottom, if you believe that you are.

I think the only way that people don’t fall into the trap is by having a support system of people who are constantly telling you that this is not true.

AJ:

That support system can be your family, friends but I think what I heard here today is the overall community can step it up.

TR:

Shout out to Rasheera who you can find on …

Rasheera:

Insta Gram, Twitter, Facebook, Linked In – just type in Rasheera Dopson. R A S H E E R A Or Beauty with a twist.

TR:

And D’Arcee!

D’Arcee:

My Twitter handle is DRChairington. Charington but spelled like a chair, as I’m a wheelchair user. Oh, it’s Dr. Chairington, I’ll take that too!

TR:

It’s official, you both are part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Brother AJ, you already know, you ‘ve been down with the Rmm family for a minute.

Thanks for co-hosting & producing this episode with me.

AJ:

Thanks Tom, let’s do it again!

TR:

I’m not sure what I can let out but AJ’s always doing something, you know Acting up somewhere! He’s @GotNextAJ on Twitter and Ajani AJ Murray everywhere else.

What do you think about the format, the topic anything?
Let me know at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or on Twitter @tsreid.

When it comes to the Black Disability experience, there’s so much more to talk about. I think you can expect more right here on Reid My Mind Radio. Sounds like something you don’t want to miss out on?
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Remember transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

AJ: Laughs!

Hide the transcript

Let Me Hear You Say Black Lives Matter

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020

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

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

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

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript


Audio: Music… “Mission Start”

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

TR:
Let’s go!

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

17 Year Old Racist:

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

Audio: Ambient music

TR:

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

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

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

Audio: Two young children saying “Black Lives Matter”

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: A woman saying Black Lives Matter.

TR:

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

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

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

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

Audio: fire engine racing towards a burning building.

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

Audio: Young man says Black Lives Matter

TR:

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

Audio: Do Blind People See Race…

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

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

TR:

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

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

Audio: Music…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

Audio from “Traveling Zen”

Audio: Biggie Story to tell

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

In fact, let’s go revisit the day…

Audio: Car pulling to curb

TR:

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

Audio: SoundOfAirport – Check-in/Security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Victory music

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

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

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

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

Ok, that would have been the movie version celebration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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

Hide the transcript

A Peak at Finding A New Normal

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020

Today, everyone is talking about a new normal. Those adjusting to blindness or disability in general, have a lot of experience in this way of thinking.

Thomas & Marlett seated under a green tree with a blue sky and scattered white clouds hovering above.
As disability impacts the entire family unit or team, I invited my wife Marlett on the podcast to discuss the topic. The result? Advice on managing those inevitable uncomfortable public encounters, accepting change and even how Tick Tock can help during this pandemic. Well, sort of…

Our discussion is actually a sneak peak into an upcoming episode with Dr. Mona Minkara and her production team from Planes Trains & Canes.

Take a listen to this episode and then check out the documentary series before you meet them all here on the podcast.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Sounds of microphones being touched…

Marlett:

I am not touching the microphone or the stand.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Do you see me touching the microphone?

(Long Pause)

And I’m a professional! (Laughs…)

Marlett:

You heard my feet.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

What?

Marlett:

you heard my feet, I did this…

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Oh, don’t do that.

Marlett:

Ok!

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the producer and host of this podcast, bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

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

If you are newly impacted by blindness and you found the podcast, first of all welcome. Secondly, I think you’re going to like it here.

Today’s episode does include my wife Marlett. Ever since the last episode titled Celebrating 15 years of being Blind, I received some feedback from people who enjoyed hearing from her. I made the mistake of letting her know that. As you’ll see here today, it may have went to her head.
Despite that, I asked her on because, well, I’m a great husband.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

TR:

Let me start this off with a warm virtual hug for you all. It feels like every day the idea of normal is pushed further and further. What we would have expected and accepted seems to be a continuous slide in the wrong direction. Specifically,
putting kids in cages, the death of 80 thousand people in two months or racists shooting an innocent young Black man.

Our responsibility, is not to accept it. not to simply act like it is normal.

On this podcast, I don’t often go into politics or current affairs except when I feel it relates to the process of adjusting to blindness. These connections are from my perspective. It’s called Reid My Mind Radio after all.

So when is a good time to accept a new normal?

Right now, just about everyone on this planet is dealing with a new normal. Although we’re all experiencing this pandemic differently, we’re doing it together.

There’s a similar feeling around acquiring a Disability. Now, I’m referring to all of those impacted; parent, child or spouse for example.

Similar feelings but there are some real differences between what is being felt during the pandemic and the experience of disability. For one, the entire world isn’t analyzing it on every news channel. There aren’t easy ways to gain multiple perspectives. It’s more likely something the family goes through alone. Hopefully it’s a real opportunity for that family to become a unit a real team.

I’m on this journey with you so I get it. And so does my wife, Marlett. I invited her on the show to get that team perspective from someone impacted by blindness.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

What I noticed from the last time is that if I ask you to introduce yourself you have a big production necessary for the intro and I don’t think I’m going to do that this time. Laughing…

Marlett:

Ok!

Audio: Intro from Celebrating …

Audio: “The Baddest Chick”, Trina

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Can you please just state your name for the record?

Marlett:
Marlett Reid

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

And who are you?

Marlett:
I’m the baddest chick!

Audio: As the music gets louder …

Marlett:
I’m your wife!

The music continues.

Now back in the present.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing… You want to introduce yourself anyway?

Marlett:

My name is Marlett Reid, currently writing a book so it’s going to be M.E. Reid.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]
Laughing… you’re here to promote your book? Laughing…

Marlett:

Laughing…

TR:

Ok, when my wife does publish her book, I’m not only buying a bunch for the RMM Radio family, but she’s definitely coming on the podcast. And that I tell you right now, will be the best episode I ever produce!

It’s not always the case, but Marlett and I shared some perspective around this idea of finding the new normal.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

When your life is uprooted because that’s what everybody kind of is really saying…

Marlett:

Right, right.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

And then now you have to start to see what is going to be the new normal. And I’m saying that we’ve …

Marlett:

Yeh, we’ve been there.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

The difference to me is that while we were doing that everyone was still living their normal. It felt like we were the only ones doing that because it was just impacting us and our family. Do you see any parallels between what we’ve been through and what’s going on right now?

Marlett:

Nothing new to us. Trying to figure out what to do coming up with new ideas of entertaining the family. Picnics in the living room or family night movies.

Social distancing, that’s funny to me because no one really came around We understood about social distancing people were doing that to us for quite some time. Distancing themselves from us.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Damn!

Marlett:

Well it’s true.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Mm Hmm… (In agreement)

Marlett:

They were distancing themselves. If we went to a party they did social distancing there too.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughs…

Marlett:

We would be in a corner or we’d be in one side and they’d be on another side. They just didn’t have a mask.

TR:

At least not one that was visible.

Audio: Plane taking off…

At the time of this conversation, I was in the process of producing what will be the next episode of the podcast featuring Mona Minkara and her Planes Trains and Canes production team.

The documentary series which can be found on YouTube follows Mona who is Blind, on a journey to 5 different cities around the world where she travels alone using public transportation.

I’m encouraging you to check out the series which I’ll link to on ReidMyMind.com.

I was curious to see what if any parallels Marlett would draw after an explanation of the documentary’s concept.

That is the resulting encounters a Blind woman receives as she’s recorded on video while traveling through an airport or subway.

Marlett’s perspective wasn’t what I expected, but it’s definitely understandable how she got there.
Marlett:

It made me think of African Americans, really. When they try to navigate or go through life, how people treat them.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]
Them? Are you Black?

Marlett:

How people treat us!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughs…

Marlett:

Walking into a bank or walking into a store or walking in a neighborhood.

Audio: YouTube…

“No Justice No Peace!” (Repeats while clips from a news reporter plays…)

“Arrests in the shooting death of a jogger in a Brunswick neighborhood for killing Amaud Aubry. The charges; murder and aggravated assault”

TR:

Perspective matters!

This conversation was on the heels of this latest senseless racist murder of Amaud Aubrey.

(Pause)

When it comes to adjusting to blindness, Marlett and my family are O.G’s in this game!

Marlett:

We have our thing down. We already know what’s going on like I know people talk to me instead of you and I know how I handle that.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Alright so give me an example of that.

Marlett:

If we go, anywhere you have to do something, they’ll talk to me.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

If somebody asked you for an example of that, is there any specific one that you would give. I’m curious to see if it’s the same one.

Marlett:

We went to go vote.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Oh my gosh!

Marlett:

The woman said you can bring him over here or something, you can correct me if I’m wrong but something to that affect. You spoke up. You said whatever it is that you wanted to say.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I don’t know if I said something or whatever? I probably said something…

Like oh you could talk to me. That’s probably what I said. So it wasn’t until after I got out …

Marlett:

And she said, I shouldn’t have done that. I liked her apology and it was to you. I don’t think she ever did that again.
[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

You’re right so we’re good. Like we’re real good. Like I say hello she says hello and it’s cool. It’s all good. That was a nice interaction because it came out where she got it like immediately.
Do you remember the first time. You might have not noticed it even happened the first time.

Marlett:

Maybe like the first time it happened I didn’t really think about it. Maybe about the third or fourth time I probably thought about it more. I think you and I spoke about it. You knew it was taking place and so you would just speak up real quick but then I think after we talked about it and I was like well I’m not going to say anything , you can just take your time in answering not just jump in there.

TR:

Y’all hear my wife’s way of trying to tell me to chill. That’s cute right! I know it’s because she doesn’t want me to be upset, but ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

I know I shouldn’t take things personally, but having someone talk around me while I’m standing right there? Remember, I said there are things we should never accept as normal, this is one of them. My recommendation?

Marlett:

You would speak on it or be vocal about how it made you feel, but not like it caused tension between us.

I never answer for you. I won’t answer for you. I will walk away or I’ll turn and look at you for you to respond or I will look at my phone.

TR:

Marlett is so great with these situations now that Every time this happens , I almost feel sorry for the perpetrator. I can feel their confusion. If I am feeling let’s just say a bit feisty, I’ll let them hold onto their confusion and embarrassment for a little while. You brought it out, you hold it! It works, they get it.

It’s a cool play that Marlett and I execute well together.

Marlett:
We still have hiccups.

In the beginning it was a lot of hiccups there because you were used to taking the bags and just going. Boom!

What works best for us when we travel is if we discuss it beforehand. When we freestyle we generally tend to have some hiccups.

TR:

Now first of all did you notice how Marlett made it sound like I was the cause – as in, you were used to taking the bags and going.

Marlett:

Boom!

TR:

She’s right! But truthfully we were both used to that.

She’s also right in the need for us to all be on the same page. Communicate the plan before trying to execute.

On this team, we each have to play our role at any given time.

Our roster includes two more players – our girls.

Marlett:

When they were little that was a little harder. Usually they walked in front of us Riana would hold her sister’s hand and they would walk in front of us. Sometimes behind us and I would glance back occasionally just to make sure they were still with us.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I remember that was a thing because I would always ask you where the girls? (_Laughs…)

Marlett:

Yeh!

TR:

They’re 16 & 22 now. Amazingly, Marlett is still hovering around 32.

Traveling with them today?

Marlett:

The girls leave us!

They’ll make sure that we don’t have anything to hold us up. All we have to do is to get where we have to go. They’re more intoned to what works to get us to where we need to go. Like when we went on the cruise, they took the bags.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I had a bag.

Marlett:

You wouldn’t give up your bag.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I know, yeh, I’m not giving up my bag.

Marlett:

You’re not going to give up your bag that easily. You still got that machismo.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Oh, wait we’re gonna go there? You think that’s machismo? That’s alright, I don’t have to go into that because you’re wrong and I don’t want them to be all like oh my goodness Marlett we don’t like her anymore.

Marlett:

Some weird laugh that basically translates to whatever! Ok!

TR:

Ok, despite my lovely wife’s incorrect assessment that I have even an ounce of machismo, her lessons here can be helpful no matter who makes up your team.

For example, producing Planes Trains and Canes requires a real team effort. You can hear all about that in the next episode of this podcast.

Before that episode drops on June 2, go check out Planes Trains & Canes. It’s not necessarily a pre-requisite but we do dance around some specific scenes from the documentary series.

I’m also curious to see if we see similar parallels between the show and adjusting to blindness.

Marlett:

I feel like if you’re traveling with someone who is Blind , you two should have a conversation. What makes each one comfortable?

In the beginning when this all happened I was I think in my feelings. I don’t think I really thought about you or me but more so how everybody else was looking at us. Once I got over that part, which I’m not fully over it, but for the most part I am; we work better!

TR:

Adjusting to blindness is not really a place you arrive but rather an ongoing journey. You either decide to take it or find yourself well not really going anywhere.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

What would you say goes into being able to accept a new normal?

Marlett:

Understanding you can’t change anything so you got to make it work for you. You know the pandemic came around, there’s nothing we can do about it, there’s no cure. The only thing at this point is you got to stay away from people so that is going to be our new normal. Handle it! Things always change that’s life. Nothing ever stays the same, you got to change with the times.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

… That’s real talk!

It doesn’t sound like you’re very compassionate about it . Like I thought you might be a little more compassionate.

Marlett:

I am being compassionate. I’m telling you the truth. I’m trying to get you to get over it quickly. Pull off the Band-Aid. It is what it is. I could hold your hand and we can go through it but…

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

See I don’t understand why you can do that but when I do that you’re like (mockingly) Tommy! (Laughs) ]

I’m just going to put this out there because I try to tell everyone I’m the compassionate one in the family.

Marlett:

Exhales… Uh Lord!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

And I think I just got proof of that. It’s definitely evidence.

Marlett:

I realized one thing about this pandemic, this whole thing with the Tick Tock.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Oh God! Laughing…

Marlett:

But wait a minute. This whole thing with the Tick Tock!
[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Hold up, hold up, hold up! I don’t know if everybody knows Tick Tock.

Marlett:

Well Tick Tock is this app where the older generations are dominating this app. I think a lot of people know about Tick Tock. But the great thing about Tick Tock is that…

Audio: Marlett continues with volume lowered….

TR:

Reid My Mind Radio Family, I need your help. I think my wife has an addiction to Tick Tock. If you don’t know, it’s a pretty popular app now that was pre-pandemic considered for the kids. It enables quick short videos often consisting of lip singing or short dance routines.

I’m going to spare you as she tries to rationalize her obsession with claims of this app building bridges.

I’m not saying it’s not true, because honestly, I don’t really use the app. the majority of the content that I’ve come across is predominantly visual and audio description is not an option.

Even the killer content I made with my youngest Raven, a highly sophisticated and intricate dance routine, had no way of including description.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Yo whose the Tick Tock Killa?

Marlett:

That would be you Thomas. (Said very sarcastically!)

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

That’s me, the Tick Tock Killa!

I think you only like Tick Tock because you like to say Tick Tock. I think that’s why this app is actually doing so well because people like to say Tick Tock.

Marlett:

Tick, Tock!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I should have named my podcast Tick Tock and I probably have a whole lot more people listening and subscribing, you know what I’m saying?

Marlett:

I don’t know maybe you’re right. I do like Tick Tock. Yeah!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I ask people to subscribe…

Marlett:

It’s the way you ask people… (she fades her own voice out)

It’s the way you do it! You have to ask…

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Wait up, first of all how do I do it? That it’s the way I do it.

Marlett:

I don’t know how you do it, but it’s not the right way. I’m just saying it’s probably not the right way.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

How can you say it’s the wrong way. Oh my God! (Laughing hysterically)

Marlett:

So I’m going to ask everybody to subscribe. And leave me a little heart emoji or a smile or say hi Marlett. (Spelled out)

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Where are they going to do that?

Marlett:

At ReidMyMind.
my content

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Dot com you’re talking about? You want them to subscribe and leave a comment on the episode page?

Marlett:

Yeh!… Yeh!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Now I’m gonna tell you right now…

Marlett:

Yeh! I would like everybody to say hi. I would love it. I feel that energy it would just make me so happy. Just, just tell me hi!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Long pause…

Do you know how many times I ask people to subscribe, to reach out?

Marlett:

And Subscribe…

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I give the phone number. I get some people, but you think you’re going to get…. (Laughs…)

Marlett:

What’s so funny?

My energy and their energy. They’re feeling my energy and they’re going to go and subscribe and they’re going to say hi Marlett.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

So what’s the matter with my energy?

Marlett:

Hi Marlett. (Name spelled out)

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

What’s the matter with my energy?

Marlett:

And I’m going to say hi right back. And I’m going to send emoji’s and everything. Yeh!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Ok!

Marlett:

Cause I have an awesome energy.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Ok, I hope you’re right

Marlett:

I’m right!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Exhale….

Marlett:

I’m right!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

On the real, I’d be jealous. I’m not going to lie. I’d be a little jealous. I’m not going to hate though. I don’t think they’re going to do it anyway.

Marlett:

Laughing… Alright!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Cause I know you’re only doing this because you lost the Tick Tock battle, because you never did it because I won the Tick Tock battle.

Marlett:

Exhales….

I didn’t do the Tick Tock because I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

I killed that joint! If I have an audio described Tick Tock, Bee, I’m killing the game! Put some audio description on my Tick Tock, and then everybody be like Yo! Tick Tock Killa, T.Reid… Tick tock Killa!

Marlett:

You know, speaking of audio description…

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Alright, thank you babe!

you’re trying to take over the podcast now I can tell.

Marlett:

I’m not done.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Excuse me!

Marlett:

I’m not done.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing… what? Laughing…

Marlett:

Why are you trying to kick me off . You know what it is right?

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

What?

Marlett:

He’s jealous. (Long pause)

Because the shows I’m on do so well. Mm hmm. Because I’m on it.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughs…

Marlett:

It’s that energy.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing…
The energy that’s going to get people to do what?

Marlett:

They’re going to go and they’re going to subscribe

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Umm hmm And how are you going to know they did that?

Marlett:

Because they’re going to leave me a little note and it’s going to say Hi Marlett! (Named spelled out again)

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

You know you got that spelling thing from me right?

Marlett:

I think you got it from me. Yep!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing…

Marlett:

So make sure you go, Reid My Mind Radio!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Where can they go to subscribe?

Marlett:

Anywhere that has podcasts.

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

And then what’s the website?

Marlett:

ReidMyMind.com

R to the E I D

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

Marlett:

Like MY last name!

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing… That was good!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Marlett:

Peace

[TR in conversation with Marlett:]

Laughing… There it is. alright, Nice!

You’re trying to get your own podcast. Whatever Bee. I didn’t press record.

Marlett:

That’s not even funny!

Hide the transcript

Climbing Accessible Heights with Matthew Shifrin

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Greetings everyone, from at least 6 feet away!

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

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

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

Audio: Water flowing from sink…

TR sings…

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

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

TR:

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

TR:

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

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

That was the vocabulary Matthew longed for.

MS:

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

Once Matthew gained access.

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Would you consider yourself an advocate?

MS

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

And it did. Lego decided to produce the instructions.

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Are you still working with the company?

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]
Wow!

TR:

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

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

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

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

MS:

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

TR:
Like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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