Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Young Gifted Black & Disabled: Haben Girma Guides Us Through Self Description

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

A portrait of Haben Girma, a smiling, 30ish Black woman with long dark hair wearing a red dress. Behind her is a blue background

Haben Girma Portrait by Darius Bashar


The practice of providing self-description was becoming “controversial” even before the alt right types went ballistic on Vice President Harris this summer.
During a meeting with leaders in the disability community, the VP practiced a form of access that includes making everyone aware of the visual information that those who are Blind or have low vision miss.

Many have been using and advocating for this practice for years. One such person, my guest today on the podcast; a Disability Rights Lawyer and advocate for Accessible technology and more, Haben Girma.

Haben and I share an interest in seeing this practice improved and continued. We discuss its importance and the complaints some have against the practice. Like most things, self-description goes deeper than you may realize.

Whether you find yourself in support of this practice or not, you should give this episode a listen.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Haben: 00:00
Hello, good afternoon.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:03
Good afternoon. How are you?

— Music begins: A celebratory synth opens a cool energetic Hip Hop beat.

Haben: 00:07
I’m doing well. I wanted to pause and explain communication. I am not hearing you. So I have a typist typing what you’re saying. I’m reading it in Braille and then responding by voice. So if you notice a delay between when you say something, and when I respond, that’s because the typing is coming through.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:32
Okay, I wasn’t sure if you made use of the captions if they come through a Braille display. That’s good to know.

Haben: 00:46
So some podcasters, edit out the delays. Some keep them in to make it part of the experience. You can choose what works best for you.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:58
Excellent. I do a significant amount of editing anyway, just to make it an easy. Listen for folks. I can always include this as part of how we communicate it. I think that’s interesting.

Haben: 01:10
So are you recording right now?

TR in Conversation with Haben:
I am.

Haben:
Is it okay, if I ask you questions?

TR in Conversation with Haben:
Absolutely.

Haben:
Excellent. And then one last thing regarding accessibility. It does help if you slow down.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 01:26
Okay, very good. That would be great, because I should slow down anyway. It’s that New York thing. So let me know if you’re ready to start. We can go from there.

Haben: 01:42
Go for it!

— Repeats with a echo effect.

— Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR: 01:58
Joining me today on the podcast. Well, President Obama named her the White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 List and time 100 talks. She’s a disability rights lawyer, speaker and author honored by heads of state all around the world. Now she’s with us. Family. Haben Girma.

Haben: 02:22
I’m in my 30s. I’m a black woman of Eritrean and Ethiopian heritage, long dark hair, hazel eyes. I am deaf blind, and I’m using a Braille computer and keyboard for communication. So what you’re saying is coming up on my Braille computer, I’m reading it, and responding by voice.

TR: 02:45
If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m pretty sure you heard of Haben. Perhaps you read her memoir? If not, I highly suggest it. The book is titled Haben: The Deaf Blind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law. It was featured in The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, the today’s show,

Haben: 03:02
I read my book out loud, using braille to create the audio recording. So I narrated my own book. And I’ve heard that it can be tricky for a lot of blind people to do that, because Braille literacy is still growing. And there’s still so many struggles to gain access to Braille. That was a fun and really moving experience to be able to read my own book, and have that recorded.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 03:35
I read your book last year. I’m not a proficient Braille reader. I became blind about 19 years ago, I do audio description narration and so I use my screen reader as sort of a audio teleprompter to do narration, but know of some blind narrators who use their braille display to do narration.

Haben: 03:54
I’ve also heard of blind authors using their screen readers as prompts, so listening to their screen reader and then voicing in their own voice, when doing an audio recording of their own book. Did you listen to the audiobook or another format?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 04:14
Yeah, the audio book from Audible.

TR:
It’s also available via the National Library for the Blind

— Music Begins; a hard kick drum and piano chord drop together, leading into a driving Hip Hop beat that hints to West Coast Dr. Dre style production.

Various anonymous people on stage04:25
Clips of varying people providing self-description play over the beat.

– “:And I have wavy dreadlocks”
– “I am a Latino woman.”
– “My pronouns are she/her, I’m a White Jew”
– “Half Croatian and a half Moong”
– “. I’m Black with a capital B”
– “Hi top Vans like the pop punk princess I am.”
– “kind of Kurt Cobain meets David Byrne vibes.”
– “I am wearing a white corsets that my mom handed down to me.”
– “My name is Goldilocks. I defy gender.”
– “I am wearing a look of like fear as well.”
– “My name is Sophia Chang, as you heard, I’m the baddest bitch in the room.”

TR: 05:04
This is the topic of my conversation with Haben. Self description.

Haben: 05:09
said, Thomas, my very first question is, what’s the reasoning behind asking me to do a visual description on a podcast?

TR: 05:20
I thought I was the host of this podcast, it’s my job to ask the questions. Haben came prepared? And honestly, I’m not mad at all.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 05:26
Very good question. So as part of a podcast, we have to make podcast artwork available. That’s a part of the requirement for putting a podcast on Apple, iTunes, and whatever they call it now. So when folks do receive the podcast in the digital format, there’s artwork that accompanies that. I’m not doing anything significant about the artwork. But that is part of it. I will ask you to provide at some point, before I publish this episode, an image file. And usually that’s a headshot. That’s part of introducing folks to the self description, because sighted folks do actually get that from a podcast. The other reason is, because it’s something that I feel is relevant to a conversation is the identity of a person. Rather than me kind of noting someone’s identity, I like to ask people to share whatever identities they want to share about themselves. And that’s part of the self description.

Haben: 06:34
So there have been so many conversations about this, particularly in the last few months. And some of the questions are about which identities do we amplify? And which do we choose not to share? Because all of us are multitudes? We have so many identities? Do I share that I’m a dancer? Or do my share other characteristics? Do you give any guidance on which identity is people should be sharing?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 07:08
No, I don’t. That’s interesting that an identity for you is possibly a dancer, I’ve never heard anyone say that being a dancer is a part of their identity. I leave it up to the guests to share whatever it is that they like to share about themselves.

Haben: 07:24
All right, and because you have done so much work around audio descriptions, I want to lean into that. And I know a lot of sighted and blind people struggle to answer this question. Because there are so many judgments made in a sighted world in a visual world. And when you self describe yourself, if you are feeling uncomfortable, or awkward about some of your identities and traits, do you take the easy route and just not share it? Or should we offer people guidance and urge them to share some of those identities, even if they feel awkward and uncomfortable about it? Because it’s part of access. So like you said, there’s a difference between describing one of your identities as a dancer, versus your eye color or hair color. So I feel like as a community, it would be super helpful if we provided more guidance on how people should approach identification. So we have lots of different identities. But when it comes to visual descriptions, there’s certain visual traits that are visually accessible to sighted people. And if we’re sharing artwork that shows those traits. We should have a structure for our visual descriptions that will ensure accessibility, access to information while also preserving freedom of expression, creativity, and giving people the choice to share which identities to highlight

TR: 09:24
specifically on the podcast. I don’t usually give much guidance. I think that’s probably because most of my guests are familiar and comfortable with the process. However, I do want my guests to share their color ethnicity, along with a bit more about their visual presence. While I do believe that we should try to get people to share as much as they want with the guidance for access issues. I’ve also been in a situation where describing themselves was a trigger. I was in a meeting of about Eight people and one person was trans. They said that it was a very triggering thing for them to describe themselves. And I was the only blind person there. I immediately said, I did not want them to feel uncomfortable. So was that an access issue for me? No, there’s no way I could be comfortable with accessing that information, knowing that it made that person uncomfortable.

— Music ends: A slow reversal of the beat as if leading into the following statement.

Haben: 10:28
Safety is a huge piece of this conversation. So we need to try to create safe spaces where people feel comfortable sharing this information. And if they don’t, even a space that has been attempted to be safe. Sometimes we just need to say, okay, you don’t need to share.

TR: 10:51
Another piece of this self description conversation that also comes with a bit of controversy is pronouns. Now I get it when people have difficulty remembering which pronoun to use. I’m in my 50s. I grew up with he and she, but I also grew up getting chased out of neighborhoods, because I’m black. You get what I’m saying? There’s all sorts of discrimination.

Haben: 11:11
I feel like we should also have conversations regarding should age be part of the description. A lot of sighted people who look at a picture kind of subconsciously assume the age of the person. And a lot of our visual descriptions that are happening right now, often don’t include age. How do you feel about that one?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 11:36
That’s an interesting one. A few years ago, before my beard, became more salt and pepper, it was Microsoft seeing AI, I took a picture of myself. And it described me as a 32 year old and at the time, I think I was 49. When I took that picture.

Haben: 11:56
Were you pleased?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 11:58
I was very pleased. And I tell this story a lot.

TR:
Ain’t no shame in my game. I will eventually tell this story again. In fact, let’s see what the awesome seeing AI app says today. Open Microsoft seeing AI app.

— Sound processing along with Apple Voice Over going through the process…
Menu, quick help button recognizing English channel, adjustable…

“one face near center take 34 year old man wearing a hat and glasses looking happy”

34… laughs…

TR in Conversation with Haben: 12:27
So now, I forget the salt and pepper beard. I might say I have a beard, but to describe it as salt and pepper is not something that I’m used to because I’ve never seen myself with a salt and pepper beard. So I often end up leaving that out.

Haben: 12:46
Right? Right. So you can always make assumptions about someone’s age, based on the color of their hair. So one could go all the way and just say I Yeah, insert number years old. And then there’s the question. Is that too much information? Should you just share what is visually accessible? And someone could be older, but actually look younger? Or they might be younger, but actually look older? So do we provide facts or just visual access? And if we want to try to remove harmful assumptions, maybe providing facts and stating the exact age? How you identify would be more helpful, rather than leaving room for assumptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 13:49
Yeah, but then there are so many other things right? So especially if we think about the corporate world, revealing your age, could really impact your position,

Haben: 13:59
right! Because there’s lots of age discrimination. We could also go back to all the other crates and say, you know, there is sexism, there is racism and ableism.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 14:11
I think it should be left up to the individual to share the things that are visible, that they feel comfortable revealing. I think that’s a start to a guideline for me.

Haben: 14:25
I agree. That’s a great starting point. Over the last year or so there have been lots of discussions about visual descriptions. And one of the biggest complaints is that a lot of them are poor quality. Because people are struggling to figure out, what do they describe, and they’re feeling anxiety and stress over what do I describe? How much to describe? So telling people share what you’re comfortable with it As a starting point, but at this point, a year in, many years for others, who’ve been in this conversation for much longer, I think it’s time to have a more detailed guidance.

— Music begins, a dramatic repeating piano loop, followed by a hi hat lead into a mid temp Hip Hop groove. that

Haben continues:
How much to share what to share, how do we best model visual accessibility, while being aware of racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and the other forms of oppression?

TR: 15:31
No one is saying this has to be a mandatory function at every gathering. Guidelines, quite honestly just helped make it a smoother process,

Haben: 15:39
so that people who are new get a sense of what to do. And people who have been in this a while can fine tune and improve their image descriptions. And guidelines would help people be more succinct in their descriptions. If we could give guidelines to limit it to one or two sentences, for example, that would help people keep it short. So many of the complaints about self descriptions are due to the fact that a lot of people are struggling and don’t know what to share and what not to share guidelines would help with that,

TR: 16:16
in my opinion, those are all constructive complaints. When I hear someone say, well, it takes too long. I infer that means it would be cool if it was quicker. But not everyone is constructive.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:23
What about the idea that, what someone looks like or what someone is wearing, has no importance? How would you respond to that?

Haben: 16:37
Then turn off the video, turn the lights off, if it really doesn’t matter.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:44
(Thomas chuckles!) I like that very succinct.

Haben: 16:47
You’re welcome. (A big smile in her voice!)

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:49
I’ve heard folks say that it’s a performative act, it does nothing to enhance the access for blind people,

Haben: 16:56
there are different degrees of performance, if you are going on stage to do a presentation you are performing. So to an extent we have to accept that self description is a performance.
If you turn on your camera you are performing. So we need to accept that part.

— Music ends: The beat comes to an end with a DJ scratch to emphasize the next statement.

Haben:
The response as in an earlier response, give guidelines so people can do better. There are already so many blind people who have said they appreciate visual descriptions. There are people with other disabilities who are sighted and also appreciate visual descriptions. And there are people who identify as non disabled, who also appreciate self descriptions, because it helps with so many unconscious biases when people are open about self describing.

TR: 17:51
I wrote an article for the Disability Visibility Project on this subject earlier this year titled, “Making the case for Self Description: It’s Not About Eye Candy.” I’ll link to the article on this episode’s blog post.
And shout out to Alice Wong.
By the way, if you haven’t read her latest book, “Year of the Tiger”, what’s wrong with your life?

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe find a gentler way of saying that!”

TR: 18:18
Did y’all hear that? That’s my wife’s voice I hear in my head every now and then when I want to make a point. Okay, maybe that was too rough. I just want us to support her work, it’s a really good book. And the audiobook narrator is on point…

The article is framed as a response to a piece written in the NFB Braille monitor. I counted the so called argument made by the author, honestly, most of it gave me the impression that he was trying to do a bit of crude stand up. But the main point I think I always come back to on this subject…

TR in Conversation with Haben: 18:43

My problem with the folks who are calling to abandon this process is sort of tied to what you just said.
That there are a lot of people who already recognize it as access. And if it’s access for one group, why should any part of the group try to take that away? Why isn’t the conversation around improving it? And so in addition to the guidelines, how can we go about improving this process?

Haben: 19:25
We can improve it by tapping into voices, listening to voices of people from underrepresented communities, because I’m worried about people of privilege, deciding that there’s no value in self descriptions, and deciding to take it away.

TR: 19:48
At the time of my conversation with Haben. I was unaware that some members of the NFB were proposing a resolution to discourage the practice of self description.

Haben: 19:57
But thankfully, members of the NFB many members of color, I believe, advocated to remove that resolution that would have discouraged it. So I’m deeply fascinated with guidelines for visual descriptions. I haven’t found a good one online yet. And I’m hopeful that this will be led by blind individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, religion, disability, as in blind people who have other disabilities like deaf blindness, blind people of color, trans LGBTQ, blind people from underrepresented backgrounds should be leading the creation of guidelines for self descriptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 20:45
Well, that’s a fantastic point. It feels as though the negative response, the call to abandon self descriptions, that comes mainly from folks who are not of color.

Haben: 21:05
(Begins with a laugh)
I have had similar thoughts. And I feel like it’s people who have a lot of privilege and are concerned they may lose their privilege, lose keys to the normal, cool club, if they speak up about issues that certain communities find controversial, like race and other things that should not be controversial.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 21:37
Losing the keys, what does that look like in the real world? What does someone actually put at risk by having these conversations?

Haben: 21:47
So vice president Harris said…

— Audio from the now infamous meeting:

I’m Kamala Harris, my pronouns are she and her, I’m a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit.

Haben: 21:53
And a lot of people had so many ridiculous responses to that, because it felt like, it’s so obvious, don’t talk about it. But they weren’t thinking about an accessibility perspective. It was sighted people with a lot of privilege, and blind people with a lot of privilege, trying to brush that off, then we get to a situation where, let’s say, a white person says that they’re white. A lot of people who carry privilege will feel uncomfortable with that. And a blind person who is white, and at a conference, does an image description and says they’re white, they might feel like they’re putting themselves at risk of being ridiculed, and no longer being cool, or risk of losing respect. If they say something that a lot of people carrying privilege feel like, it’s so obvious, it should not be discussed, it’s not relevant.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 23:11
Okay, I get that. It’s hard for me to grasp it from the perspective of that individual who feels that way. Because all of these things are visual, right?

Haben: 23:23
They’re visual. But when you voice them, you call attention to them. So when you voice, that you’re white, you’re calling attention to whiteness, which also calls attention to white privilege. And there are still so many people who do not like talking about white privilege, or feel like it doesn’t exist, it’s not a thing. So when you bring up concepts that are adjacent to white privilege, like describing that someone is white, that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 24:03
Okay, that makes sense. We’re making people uncomfortable. And the people with the privilege are those who are uncomfortable.
TR: 24:06
Go ahead and add that to the list of Why I think self description is a good thing. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone who was white and blind doesn’t have access to that privilege, and therefore may even be in fear of losing that access, or more.

Haben: 24:24
And there are blind people who are concerned that if you ask for one more accessibility feature, you’re going to lose all of the other accessibility features as if there’s a limit to how much accessibility can be called for. But I feel like we should approach it from a place of abundance and assume and desire that everything be accessible.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 24:49
Yes. I don’t understand why folks would think that you have to give up one to get the other.

Haben: 24:56
I think it’s from years and years of being excluded. It is frustrating to be excluded from so much information.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 25:05
This reminds me of some of those in the community who are so eager to accept poor quality audio description, such as that which uses synthesized speech instead of human narration. For example, I’ve read things online like…

(Thomas mimicking a very nerdy voice, says):
“These companies have bent over backwards for us, if we aren’t grateful, they’ll stop describing altogether.”

Well, that’s what they sound like in my head, when I read these types of things.

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe find a gentler way of saying that!”

TR:
You know, I should be more compassionate. It’s not really their fault. However, I would encourage these folks to just look at history. It’s not until the disenfranchised raise their collective voice and take a stand. At some point, you have to just realize, what are we really at risk of losing? Maybe that’s just bad audio description? Personally, I’m good with that.

Now, back to the guidelines.

Haben: 25:59
I don’t know of any guidelines right now for self descriptions. And I’m hopeful that you will be part of the process of creating these guidelines, and that there will be conversations with blind people from underrepresented communities to create these guidelines.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 26:21
Yeah. So how can we do that? (A knowing giggle.)

Haben: 26:24
Giggles!

Conversation. Plans.

In this podcast, we’ve been talking about what should be in those guidelines.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 26:35
Yeah, I guess I’m thinking, if it’s not one of the two large consumer organizations who get behind it. And we want it to be led by marginalized groups of blind people and others, who’s the organizing body,

Haben: 26:55
we can change the structure, we don’t necessarily need an organizing body to lead the way.
We can have individuals leading the way.

Music begins.
A bouncy bass drum drops into a driving rhythm that hints at an Afro beat style.

TR: 27:06
You know I’m in there.
But if I weren’t, she would have had me at, we can change the structure.
I believe both consumer organizations are extremely useful and important to the community. They serve a variety of purposes. However, I’m not a member of either right now.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:14

I’m a row cowboy. Lol.

Haben: 27:25
It’s not something a rogue cowboy can do on its own. But then a cowboy can collaborate with other cowboys and cowgirls.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:36
(Laughing )Let’s change it because I don’t even like the cowboy reference anymore.

Haben: 27:42
(Laughing )
Let’s try it again. What reference would you prefer?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:46
Yeah, just people. I like the fact that you’re saying that it should be done within community. And I guess I want to find more people who are like minded, such as yourself and others, to form that community to really feel like there are a lot of other people who are speaking about it. And I think what happens in social media, sometimes it feels like, yeah, people are “liking”, therefore trying to amplify the conversation. But those who are actually in conversation seems to be far and few. And I just want to find more.

Haben: 28:19
Perfect. So let’s build up a coalition of people who believe in self descriptions value. And then once we have that collective, we can start brainstorming what should be in the guidelines.

TR: 28:35
So we started with some of the possible guidelines we identified here today.

The act of self describing should be quick, about a minute at most. This means folks unfamiliar should be given some advance notice that they’ll be asked to provide this access.
Including the notice and guidelines along with the meeting agenda, for example.
Consider what’s visible to those in attendance. Are we talking about a Zoom meeting?
Keep it to your waist up and start from the head down.
Skin Tone eye color, if that’s something you’d like to highlight, hair color, facial hair, glasses, a brief description of your shirt or blouse, you get it? What’s your background? If you’re seated by a window overlooking the city skyline, that may be a nice touch.
Plain white wall? Meh!
But remember, it’s zoom, there’s probably no need to describe those things off screen.

— Music ends: The bouncy bass drop that opened the track echoes and fades out… emphasizing the statement that follows.

Haben: 29:24
And then there’s an asterisk, however, share and describe those things that are not visible on camera, if they are highly relevant to the things that are visible on camera. Sometimes people might appear a certain way, like someone might look white, but identifies with other racial and ethnic identities, and they want to share that even if it might not be visibly obvious.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 29:57
Yes, good example.

TR: 29:50
It’s okay to be creative. Put some of your personality into the description. I mean, let the words the tone, also speak to who you are as an individual. And as we mentioned earlier, for some identity can be triggering. So safety first. It’s always optional. Although I read some posts where some opt out of the practice of self describing or providing their pronouns just to be provocative. Allow me to suggest an appropriate self description for such an individual…

Eminem Sample: 30:28
“May I have your attention please!”
“My name is…”

TR: 30:31
Asshole!

Concise, right?

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe…

TR:
(Interrupting) No!

this is a good time to remind us all that while we’re talking about access, we’re not necessarily including everyone.
There’s a difference between purposefully excluding people and unknowingly doing so. The difference is awareness. As with audio description, for example,

Haben: 30:52
I can’t access audio descriptions, because I’m deaf. I don’t hear them. So to access films, I need a descriptive transcript. And that would have the audio descriptions. And they would also have the dialogue. And because there isn’t a time constraint, that descriptions can be much longer and more detailed compared to audio descriptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 31:20
And I know those are far and few.

Haben: 31:23
Yes, yes, they’re still quite rare. It

TR in Conversation with Haben: 31:26
feels as though it shouldn’t be that hard, because what you need exists is just not together.

Most films that come out have captions, and those that are coming out now with audio description, that text is alive somewhere. So it’s just the combining of the two, what kind of conversations are being had now to make that available?

Haben: 31:50
Not many conversations, I reached out to Netflix asking for descriptive transcripts. And they created what the first one from Netflix that I remember, is crip camp.
That came with an amazing descriptive transcript. And I read through it, it was almost like a novel so many descriptions, and all the conversations. And since then there have been more descriptive transcripts from Netflix.
TR in Conversation with Haben: 32:14
where do you get them?

Haben: 32:15
On the page for the show or film? I believe there is a more or notes section on that webpage? Under that would be a link to the transcript.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 32:37
So does one need to subscribe to Netflix in order to gain access to that?

Haben:
Yes.

TR in Conversation with Haben:
So it’s not a lot of content. So you’re paying the same price, but have access to way less content.

Haben: 32:50
That is the frustration of not having enough descriptive transcripts. And I’m hopeful there’ll be more than that other media companies will also create more.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:02
Wow. So right now it’s only Netflix who gives you access to that.

Haben: 33:06
I think Netflix is the only one out that I can think of that does it formally. There are other descriptive transcripts for other films out there. But it’s not a consistent thing.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:21
How can this podcast help to promote more access for folks who are deaf blind?

Haben: 33:29
When you talk to people who are working in media, encourage them to include descriptive transcripts.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:36
And a sample from crip camp would be a great place to point them in order for them to kind of take a look and see what that looks like? Correct?

Haben: 33:44
crip camp is great. And if they don’t have a Netflix subscription, they can look at some of my videos. I include descriptive transcripts in my videos, that’s

TR: 33:55
via her YouTube channel, Haben Girma on YouTube,

Haben: 33:59
Instagram, and to some extent on Facebook and Twitter as well. And my videos tend to be about deaf blindness, accessibility, human rights…
A sample from Haben’s YouTube channel:
Haben speaking. Hello. I need to tell you about CRM alee, an American child was forcibly disappeared by the Eritrean government. We are calling on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to help her…

Haben:
and the last video was about chocolate.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 34:33
What kind of chocolate do you like?

— Sound of Haben opening a package of chocolate on her YouTube video…

Haben: 34:36
I love experiencing new flavors and trying new combinations of chocolate.

— From the video, Haben announces after trying a new chocolate:
“Thumbs up.”

Haben: 34:35

I’m deeply curious and love culinary adventures.
So something will be my favorite temporarily. And then I continue exploring and trying new things and then I discover a new favorite.
My favorite thing is adventure!
TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:02
I like that!

What else do you like to do when you’re not working in writing your books? You’re not talking to people about self description. What does Haben Girma like to do?

Haben: 35:13
I am a dancer and I love dancing.

Swing, Salsa, Merengue, I feel like it’s a beautiful way to create community, meet new people and get exercise.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:27
Do you dance competitively?

Haben: 35:28
I did briefly when I was in school. And I realized competitions kind of take the fun out of it. I don’t want to be in a zone where I’m judging people, or I feel like people are judging me. I’d rather be in an environment where people are expressing Joy building community. So I’ve long since moved away from dance competitions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:55
You know what you want! Excellent.

— Music begins: A quick snare drum as if confirming what was said along with a voice that says, “Yeah”. This opens a smooth joyful but funky bass line over a melodic groove.

TR:
Well Haben, I truly appreciate you taking some time. I want to let you know that when folks come on the podcast and speak to me and share some of their story or share some information. I like to make sure that you all know that you are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!
I hope this is just a first conversation of many more to come, especially around this topic of self description. I hope we can work together. So thank you.

Haben: 36:27
You’re welcome. And thank you for having me on the podcast.

TR: 36:31
If you want to contribute some thoughts to this effort of creating self description guidelines, hit me up at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.
Specifically, we’re seeking input from people of color who are blind or have low vision and from other marginalized communities.

If you want to share any opinion on this topic whatsoever, you can feel free to send me an email as well. If you send nonsense, well…, I’ll say less.

Big shout out to Haben Girma.

Over the years, many of y’all reached out and suggested that I get Haben on the podcast, I wasn’t at all against it. I just really like to make sure that the content coming out of this podcast is different from others. Reid My Mind Radio isn’t really about telling you all about the newest gadget book or whatever. There’s plenty of podcasts that do that and do it well. I want this podcast to add value to whatever conversation we’re in. So if we’re discussing anything description related, anything about representation, technology, or whatever, I hope we can bring a valuable voice to the discussion. And of course, make it funky!

Haben brought that. And this was the right place and time for that conversation.

On that note, let me tell you it’s always the right time for Reid My Mind Radio!

The majority of our episodes are “evergreen.” So if you know someone who hasn’t given this podcast and listen or read of the transcript, let them know they’re missing something in their life. They can easily find Reid My Mind Radio wherever they get podcast.

We have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com.

Now come on fam, say it with me…

That’s R to the E, I … D!
— Sample: (“D! And that’s me in the place to be.” Slick Rick)
Like my last name!
— Reid My Mind Radio outro
Peace!

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Flipping the Script on Audio Description: La Professora

Wednesday, July 27th, 2022

Headshot of Professor Maria Jose Garcia Vizcaino
We’re wrapping up the 2022 FTS season with a bright red bow! Professor Maria Jose Garcia Vizcaino of Montclair State University joins us to discuss her 400 level class on Audio Description in both English and Spanish.

A fully immersive course where students;
* choose a concentration – theater, museum or film
* work on real world projects in the community
* earn and practice both creative and compliance approach

Take the AD Pledge

If you believe Audio Description should be culturally appropriate, include Blind people in the production process and in general support quality access to visual content for all those who are Blind or have Low Vision;
Sign the Pledge

Listen

Resources

Montclair State

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR: 00:00
I had an art teacher when I was in elementary school who made such an impression on me that I’ll never forget her. I decided I’ll always mention her whenever I can. She seemed to take many opportunities to point out that I was not very good at art. Insisting that my cutouts were sloppy, my glue game was awful. And let’s not talk about coloring or painting. She never once asked or considered why. She never made an attempt to help me improve. I wasn’t blind at the time. But I did have real trouble seeing the lines. I literally couldn’t color within them.

It wasn’t until late college that I realized I not only couldn’t see myself as a creative, artful person, but I couldn’t believe anyone who said otherwise. Then I met Professor Wilson who also singled me out in class. This time using my essays as an example of thoughtful, creative writing. I remember thinking he must be confusing the papers. He said my name, but he’s probably referring to somebody else.

Teachers make a big difference.

That elementary teacher, she didn’t care about me. She just cared about staying within the lines. Professor Wilson recognized something in me that unfortunately took a long time for me to see and believe in myself. Did I mentioned teachers make a difference y’all.

My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this here Podcast. I’m bringing you a bit of a PSA. Be mindful of who you choose as your teacher. They may not be worthy of you.

Let’s go.

Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Maria Jose 02:07
I’m very excited to be here. My name is Maria Jose Garcia Vizcaino. I’m from Spain. I am professor at Montclair State University in the Department of the Spanish and Latino Studies. I teach audio visual translation and audio description in Spanish and in English. I am a middle aged woman brown curly hair with glasses.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 02:30
How did you get into audio description.

Maria Jose 02:32
My three siblings in Spain in Madrid, they work for the O.N.C.E which is the National blind organization. One of my siblings is legally blind. So I have many friends and acquaintances who are visually impaired. And I wasn’t aware of audio description but not so much until let’s say 10 years ago. And I became really interested in the field and how to incorporate that to my teaching, because I teach a language and that’s a perfect linguistic application right there, among other things, so I decided to get more information and more training on audio description.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 03:10
that began with the ACB audio description project training class. Then she started consuming her content with description when available, and even found ways of incorporating the practice. And of course, she taught on audio video Translation and Subtitling. All of this led to her first class dedicated to audio description in both Spanish and English held this spring semester 2022

Maria Jose 03:32
We are using the Visual Made Verbal by Joel Snyder and more than meets the eye what Linus can bring to art by Georgina Kleege . We want to have a combination of the more standard rules of restriction, and also the more creative subjective way. The class is divided in three groups of students who are working in three different fields. I have students who are working in audio description for the theater for live performances. I have another group of students who are working in art museums. And I have another group of students who are doing short films.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 04:07
Already this class distinguishes itself from other an AD trainings, which are often very specialized. teaching the course in a university setting over several months really allows for an immersive experience. Students choose their focus from the areas of concentration, theater, music, and film. They’re then grouped into teams and work on real world projects. Plus, Maria Jose is combining the creative with the compliance. So you know, she has my attention. For more on what those differences mean. Make sure you check out the episode earlier in the season titled Audio Description in the Making.

Maria Jose 04:43
The group that is working with the audio description in the theater, we just had our play in the repertory Espanol, which is an off Broadway theater in New York City. They show plays all in Spanish. And this is a partnership that we started In 2019, this is our third play with audio description in Spanish for them. It was on Saturday, April, that period, it was a group of eight students, they did everything. They prepare pre show tactile experience, which was wonderful. One of the students reach Maralis, he made a replica of the stage with all the furniture stick to the floor so that the blind people could touch them without moving them. So he replicated everything.

TR: 05:30
We’re talking about the full set design down to the roses in a vase which play a symbolic role in the play. Notice this tactile pre show component is considered part of the full audio description experience.

Maria Jose 05:41
The students also of course, prepare the script. And I supervise them they have multiple meetings, many hours of rehearsal with this great because of course, it’s like performance, we needed to prepare in advance. So we had a video of the play that could give us an idea of the spaces that we have in between dialogues to describe one of the students or the guy you’ll find, yeah, she was the voice over talent. And she was in the booth with another students Gabriela vinco, who helped her they did a fantastic job. This is a live performance. So they had to improvise some things and omit others and add some information that they didn’t prepare in advance because they didn’t know that from the video.

Sample AD in Spanish06:31

TR: 06:45
Following the performance, there was a Q & A which included the theaters Executive Director Raphael Sanchez, the plays director Lemma Lopez and the entire cast.

Maria Jose 07:00
So he’s saying that this is something that should happen in all the theaters doesn’t matter off Broadway on Broadway in New York in Spanish planning.

TR: 07:08
While the Q&A is important to gain real feedback in order to continuously improve. It can prove to do even more for relationship building,

Maria Jose 07:16
for example, people from the cast after the Q & A, they were interacting with us with the students asking questions. Then we went for drinks with them. Right next to the theater, there is a bar. So we come with a conversation there. And it was fantastic. The vibration, the energy, the energy that was between the students, sighted people, non-sighted people, the cast, the director, it was amazing. And one of the actresses was so impressed that she came to campus yesterday.

TR: 07:48
It’s worth noting that the full class is about 20 people. Again, they’re not all working on the same projects. Therefore, each group is responsible for presenting their projects to the full class.

Maria Jose 07:59
The challenges, the difficulties of the project and how they solve it. So this actress Sandra will meet you. She came to campus, she was one of the actresses in the play her feedback, her comments and her presence there yesterday was amazing. It was very nice to have her because it’s like the two ends of the process. The creative people doing the play, and then the creative people doing the audio description together.

TR: 08:23
The students working on describing the play dedicate a significant amount of time to the project. Travel to NYC alone can be an undertaking. Maria, Jose has options for those who perhaps have tighter schedules.

Maria Jose 08:35
It’s up to the students. So people who didn’t want to go to New York wanted to work at home. It’s very easy to work with short films. So I propose a collection of short films in Spanish and English and they can choose sacrifice fluency working one for children in Spanish. Another one is working with Banco Santander, one of the short films that they have done to promote a banking campaign, which is a science fiction film, actually. Another is doing a short film, which is a brand film for our brands Larios, which is a gene like a drink so it’s more like advertising. So there are different types of short films, all of them from 10 to 15 minutes.

TR: 09:16
The second area of focus students can choose is museums.

Maria Jose 09:20
It’s a recent partnership that we have done with the Montclair art museum. So we have three students working with the art gallery in the university. And we have two students working with the Montclair Museum in two different projects. The two students who are in the moped Art Museum are doing something that is pretty cool. Very, very, very difficult. It’s a 30 minute video only visuals.

TR: 09:45
The video consists of abstract images, family photos, sound design, and music, but absolutely no dialogue.

Maria Jose 09:52
So the audio description has to be made in a very particular way. Because you don’t want to interfere with the sound too much. This is not at all like The other group of people are doing Museum in the art gallery. They are describing representational paintings of people and landscapes. I encouraged the two students who are doing this. Michelle Robledo Moreno and so it Omitsu to be creative, to be led and be guided by the emotions they experience when they are watching and listening to the video. There are parts of the video which are very scary, and there is tension. And there are parts that are playful and whimsical and joyful. But some parts are like Hominem and it scares you sometimes to hear those sounds. So I encourage them to create and to mimic those visual effects with their voices.

Sample of student project 10:52

TR: 11:11
Another group of students worked with the university’s George Segal gallery to provide description for a series of paintings by artists Jamal coho, titled Black Wall Street, a Case for Reparations, the paintings out of the memory of the black men, women and children from the thriving Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, murdered in 1921 by white terrorists during what’s considered one of this country’s largest racially motivated massacres.

TR in a filtered voice:
I mean, if you’re not including slavery, the Middle Passage, the genocide of Native Americans You get the picture, right?

TR:
The paintings were inspired by Olivia hooker a Greenwood survivor coho was able to interview before she died in 2018 and 103 years old. For the series of paintings, coho called on black professionals from his Brooklyn neighborhood to represent the people of Tulsa. He designed the sets and wardrobe paying homage to a reimagined pass where this Black independent community thrived.

Maria Jose 12:06
Three of my class students are doing nine paintings. And other paintings are going to be done by students in the Disability Studies program in the Department of Anthropology, under the supervision of Dr. Elaine Gerber, who is also a colleague of mine, and very involved in the audio description movements, and practice and of course, their historical context, which is the main objective of the exhibition to raise awareness and to let people know what happens. The title of the exhibition is Black Wall Street A Case for Reparations

TR: 12:41
students even had the opportunity to hear directly from the artist. e

Maria Jose 12:45
We met him two weeks ago in the closing ceremony, introduce him to my students. And he was so thrilled, and we were asking him questions about what would you prefer to say, because we are gonna be providing two or three minutes only. So you have to be very selective. There is so much that you can say about this painting. He said, You have to mention the historical context. And you have to mention what happened. And I remember some of the paintings have like a smoke underneath. And you have to mention the smoke because it makes an allusion to the bombs and the massacre. He introduced us to the models, who were there in the closing ceremony, the models of the paintings was amazing.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 13:27
This is all within a semester.

Maria Jose 13:29
Totally. I mean, I am so overwhelmed. And because of that, like so many things going on so many connections for the students is like mind blowing experience, because they are meeting so many people from different fields, music, arts, theater, and then it’s an opportunity for them for future career paths, and future job opportunities at the same time.

TR: 13:53
This is not the type of class that an instructor can just show up and repeat the same lecture year after year. A big part of the class not only encourages, but originates with relationships.

Maria Jose 14:06
Why the short films are not my connection. The short films are short films that I found interesting. Visual and liquid people probably ascription for example, the theater Yes, the theater was a partnership that we created in 2019, with a repertory Espanol and I sent an email to the director. He was the artistic director, profile sunset, and now he’s the executive director. You have all your plays in Spanish with no description, we want to make these closer to the Spanish speaking blind community in New York. We can collaborate.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 14:39
The opportunities for collaborating are often within reach, starting with the areas that are of interest to you. For Maria Jose, that’s her love of art.

Maria Jose 14:48
I started my training as a docent five, six months ago, from the very beginning, I said that my interest was to train other docents in audience picture for the museum. They weren’t totally on From the very beginning, they didn’t have any experience at all with audio description. In March, I had my first two as a docent with a group of blind people from the vision loss Alliance in New Jersey, they are very active with cultural events. So a group of 1215 Visually Impaired visitors came to the museum. And we had an exhibition with an explanation of this picture. More like in Georgina Kleege’s approach of interactive audio description, participatory audio description. not the typical like the Dawson’s gives the speech and all the visually impaired people are listening in silence. No, this was a conversation.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 15:41
Is that something that you plan to do periodically?

Maria Jose 15:44
I would love to. Maybe it’s not something that I can do, like every month or something like that. But at least once or twice per semester?

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 15:52
I need to know about this. You’re not that far from me. Read my mind radio, road trip. What do you think family? That could be an amazing episode. I mean, sharing is caring. Right?

Maria Jose 16:05
I try always to involve my students. For example, when the vision loss Alliance, they came for the tour, every single time I’m doing all these little things, I always share them with my class. Sometimes nobody can sometimes two, three people, I always invite them,

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 16:21
La Professora also sees the value in road trips.

Maria Jose 16:25
There is a movie theater in Montclair, that I am part of the disability committee. They have everything with a description. And they’re very good with the equipment we review a couple of times this semester after the class, we have gone to the movies as a group and I say to the manager, listen, Mark, we’re going to be tonight or we gonna next week. Do you have 20 equipment’s? Sometimes they don’t have 20. So he said, Yes, Maria Jose. So give me a couple of days, I can bring them from another movie theater or whatever. So they have the equipment’s prepared so that they know that we are coming, and we’ll listen to the movie with the audio description. And then we had dinner after the movie theater and we comment from the quality control point of view. Do you think this option was right was wrong? Why? So this course is very applied. We have fun.

TR: 17:18
In addition to the road trips, Maria Jose invites guest lecturers with real and diverse practical experience, adding even more value

Maria Jose 17:26
Nefertiti Matos Oliveras, you know her she came to the University gave a wonderful lecture followed by a workshop. I met her from the first place that we did, we did a Victoria spaniel in 2019. I met her when she was working for the New York Public Library. Thanks to Nefertiti we could have all the programs in Braille for the play. And she also made that possible in this one last Saturday,

TR: 17:53
not surprising when you know of Nefertiti’s commitment to access to the arts and Braille literacy in general. If you haven’t yet checked out her episode, earlier this season. Let me tell you right now, I highly recommend it.

Maria Jose 18:08
She talked about the process of writing a script and doing the voice over doing that by blind people. That is something that Dr. Romero fresco from University of Vigo in Spain, he advocates for people with disabilities, it doesn’t matter close captioning or audio description , they should be involved in the process, creating the audio description creating the captions Nefertiti talks about that.

TR: 18:30
And it just so happens that Maria Jose has a blind student in her class.

Maria Jose 18:34
And what a coincidence. Her last name is Matos. She’s from Dominican Republic as well, but they are not related. My students who relate to what Nefertiti’s talking about being blind, being immersed in the process from the very beginning, creating the accessibility. And she was talking about the challenges of doing this and how she solved them.

Then this lecture was followed by our workshop, where students in groups of four or five people Nefertiti suggested to have four people doing the four roles of audio description; the writing of the script, the voice over the quality control, and the editing and sound engineering.

So we group four people, and they have to do the first 30 seconds of trailer of the last movie of Star Wars. Some of them did in Spanish. Some of them did it in English, after half an hour Nefertiti was going around, giving feedback. And after that, we compare the versions and you have the Spanish from Spain, Spanish from Mexico, Spanish from Argentina, (laughs) to compare. In my class, I have students from all different Spanish speaking countries. That was very interesting. We had a great time with Nefertiti. We learned so much.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 19:50
This is a 400 level course available to junior seniors and graduate students in Montclair University in New Jersey. So far, we see several benefits of learning AD in this environment, not only can it be fun with the right Profesora, but there’s attention paid to all of the skills involved in assuring quality audio description,

Maria Jose 20:09
The set of skills are diverse. So you know that they are part of the writing the script, editing, quality control voice over in the case of the theater, tactile experience, reaching out to the community, publicizing the events, interacting with people in the theater explaining to them how the equipment works. Some of the students in the group, they are very good with people, they are good at greeting people when they come to the theater explaining to them the audio description equipment, some of them are very shy and don’t want to be involved. They’re very good at writing, quality control, I can place them in roles that they feel comfortable, and that they are going to excel in those roles. But not everybody can do the same thing.

TR: 20:52
What if everyone not only brought their own set of skills to the table, but they also brought that love?

Maria Jose 20:58
Someone says once that if you really love what you do, you will not work one single day of your life and I totally agree with that.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 21:06
What is it about audio description that you love?

Maria Jose 21:09
I think there’s many things, the observational skills part, It makes or forces me to pay attention to details, or be more observant. The second thing that I love is the selective thinking in lexical choices. What verb are you going to use what adjective or what adverb is going to give you in a very short time? That image that you exactly want to convey? Linguistic aspect it’s like crafting the language.

TR: 21:39
Maria Jose uses AED as a learning tool in her early level Spanish classes as well.

Maria Jose 21:45
I play movies in Spanish with a description in Spanish. And I pass surveys to them. And I asked them if they understood the movie better with audio description , and why and what aspects? And most of the answer are yes, I didn’t know that this verb could be used for this action. Or I understand it better because it made me aware of parts that would go unnoticed. So, a Spanish language is improved through the restriction. That’s a pedagogical application of audio description to improve a second language.

TR: 22:20
Recognizing the opportunities that real world interactions present, Maria Jose makes certain to survey audience members. Feedback received during the live theatre performance at the Theatre Company in NYC as to what many of us already know, AD has benefits that go beyond informing those who are blind or have low vision from enabling multitasking to helping some recognize the significance of gestures or facial expressions. Some of Maria Jose’s research is examining what we can learn about cultural differences.

Maria Jose 22:52
Why you see a character in the movie, smoking a cigarette in the Spanish description. They don’t say anything in English or your kitchen. They say he’s smoking a cigarette. So different characterizations, depending on different cultures, because maybe in Spain everybody smokes. So it’s not such a relevant trait in the moment.

TR: 23:09
This research for an article she wrote titled Getting the Full Picture in English and Spanish where she examined the audio described characters in Netflix’s elite.

Maria Jose 23:19
I was doing that comparison between the English and Spanish description. If different cultures are gonna emphasize or highlight aspects of a character certain physical traits that in another language they wouldn’t emphasize. it interested me for someone who is always paying attention to Spanish and English nuances of the language.

TR: 23:39
This made me curious about the differences in Spanish dialects spoken throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and Spain.

Maria Jose 23:45
For example, in the play, one of the main characters he’s wearing a jacket for this play is placed in the Caribbean, they will say Sacco and to Spanish people from Spain circle is another thing, but we want it to be in accordance with the character. So if the character says Sacco, we’re gonna say sacco. But of course, there is someone in the audience from Spain out of the context, you’re gonna infer that that’s a Jacquetta. That’s a jacket.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 24:10
It’s another example of cultural competence at that point.

Maria Jose:
Exactly.

TR:
Wow. Look where we ended up. I didn’t even plan that. It just proves what I will continue to shout.
TR filtered sounds as in stadium making an announcement to crowd:
“Audio Description is about much more than entertainment.”

TR:
When La profesora is not teaching the art of audio description, or any of her other classes for that matter. She’s making her own art.

Maria Jose 24:33
I discovered plain air painting five, six years ago. Wow, rich painting retreats, but outdoors, what they call Plein Air, which is what the Impressionist painters they painted outside to be able to capture the light in a fast way. So you have to pace very fast because the light that you have now you’re not going to happen in 15 minutes. I completely fell in love with the technique. You have to pay really fast to capture A moment you paint a landscape, you paint what you see. So, it has to do with description as well.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 25:05
Now, after you’re done painting, do you provide an image description for your painting?

Maria Jose 25:09
Maybe when I have my first exhibition, I will have everything with audio description in English and Spanish. Of course,

TR: 25:16
that’s right audio description on everything in every language, because blind people are everywhere. And we deserve access. If you want to learn more about this immersive and applied course, in audio description in Spanish and English, or maybe get in touch with Maria Jose, start with the Montclair State University website@montclair.edu.

Maria Jose 25:43
And within that, you can go to the Department of Spanish, Spanish and Latino studies have their own YouTube channel, YouTube and Spanish and Latino Studies,

TR: 25:52
I’ll have links on this episode’s blog post. Plus if you’re on Instagram,

Maria Jose 25:55
my name is GarciaVizCam. Garcia is GARCIA V as in Victor I Z as in Zebra. C as in Charlie, a. m like Maria.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 26:08
Well, let me tell you something professora. Oh, want to let you know that you are an official member of the Reid my Mind Radio family because you were so kind enough to come over here and talk about your amazing class. Personally, I think you should be teaching audio description to everybody.

TR:
On the day of our interview Maria Jose was feeling a bit under the weather. She was worried about coughing on the microphone. By the time we were done. I noticed she never once coughed.

Maria Jose 26:38
I was thinking about that. My cold literally disappears.

TR in Conversation with Maria Jose: 26:42
Reid My Mind Radio we take care of calls to okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far. Read my mind radio cannot heal people in any way. But let’s take a look at what we did cover this season. And flipping the script on audio description. We went into the lab specifically, the access in the making lab where we examine this idea of creative audio description versus compliance. Spoiler alert. It doesn’t have to be any sort of competition. They really can work together.

If there’s one thing you can count on from flipping the script, and quite honestly, Reid My Mind Radio in general we want 100% without no doubt, support and encourage the participation of blind people in all aspects of audio description. That’s why I knew I had to get our sister Nefertiti Matos Olivaras on the podcast. A must listen for any blind person truly interested in getting into AD in any capacity. She’s dropping game if you’re listening.

Always interested in expanding the AD conversation. We reached out to actor writer designer podcast Natalie Trevonne to discuss access to fashion via audio description and more.

And wrapping it up with a bright red bow. Now Professor Maria Jose Garcia Vizcaino, actually combining the creative and compliance approach plus making sure it’s done with love.

The season actually kicked off with an editorial from yours truly, once again sparked by the lack of culturally appropriate casting of AD narrate is still taking place in audio description. I mentioned I was drafting a pledge for all of those who see audio description as a microcosm of the world. We profess to have won a world that recognizes all of our beauty and strength without putting one group over the other. Perhaps this is the right time to take the pledge. I’m asking you listener, transcript reader, audio description consumer, professional, benefactor, all of us who really want to flip the script on audio description, head on over to https://bit.Ly/ADPledge where the ADP are capitalized, no spaces or drop in and ReidMyMind.com and I’ll link you to the pledge. add your name to the list and make sure you confirm your name being added by clicking on the link in the resulting email. If you don’t see the email, check your spam folder.

As I used to tell my daughter as I tried cooking something for the first time, baby girl. I don’t know how this is gonna turn out but we’re gonna try it anyway…

I want to send a special shout out to my man Tony Swartz for his help with editing this episode once again. I appreciate you sir, salutes!

This is the last episode of the season and I hope to be back in September but man a brother starting to feel like he needs a break. Maybe I’ll head out to a beach somewhere and sip a Mai Tai, but I lounge and my shorts and chancletas.

In the meantime, if you haven’t yet, subscribe to the podcast. I’d appreciate you going over to wherever you get your podcasts, including YouTube and subscribe or follow us you can get transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com. To get there, it’s mandatory that you spell it right. That’s R to the E I D!

Sample:
“D, and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick

Like my last name.

Music fades out…
Cell phone buzzing and ringing.

iPhone Voice Over:
“Ann Cerfonne”…

TR in conversation…
“What…”
“Hello?”

TR:
I guess I’ll have to tell you about that one, next time”

Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace.

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Doing Your Thing With Disability: We Play Too

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

An old fashion television in black and white with an antenna that has purple tips.  The outline of the Television is in the color teal and the knobs of the TV are purple.  On the screen is the game, Pong. The puck is in the middle and on the right is a chalk figure of a blind person with a white cane playing against a chalk figure of a person in a wheelchair on the left.  Above the figures is the score of 8 to 1 and on top of the score is the word pong in between white thick lines.  Above the TV is the Reid MY MIND Logo and next to the logo the wording says “Doing your thing with Disability. Under the TV says We play too!
From all sorts of sports and activities to video games; people with disabilities find ways to not only play, but excel. In this latest episode [Accessibility Consultant Brandon Cole](http://BrandonCole dotnet/) joins me to talk about the various barriers, adaptations and finally, accessibility, being built into video games.

We’ll hear from players like Orlando Johnson. Once an avid sighted gamer who even owned his own arcade version of Mortal Kombat and now benefits from adaptations and access. Eron Zeno talks to us about his experience as a gamer with mobility disabilities. In each case, all of my guests continue to do their thing, specifically, video games, with their disability.

Listen

Resources

Jerry Lawson – Father of the video game cartridge

Transcript

Transcript

Show the transcript


– Sound of Pong

TR:
No! There’s nothing wrong with the audio.
You’re listening to the OG of video games, Pong *Pong noise* from Atari.

Growing up, whenever my mom would announce that she had to go to Sears or another department store with an electronics section, I’d get excited and ask to go with her.

When we’d get there, I’d make a B-line right to the electronics department and hope no one else was already planted in front of the television playing Pong.

— Space Invaders sounds

That later turned into going to a local Five & Dime store called “Lamstons,” which had two or three arcade games in the corner of the store. Space Invaders… that was my ish!

I thought nothing could ever beat getting Space Invaders at home when we finally got our Atari system.

-introduction from Duke Nukem

Years later as an adult, I played games on my computer, Duke Nukem. At least, until that awful day.

Following one of my marathon sessions, I stood up after playing for maybe about two hours and nearly collapsed. The room was spinning and I was nauseous.

I figured I overdid it. I stopped playing for a few days and the same thing happened the next time, only sooner. I tried changing the perspective from a first person view to something else. It just wasn’t fun!

A few years later, I thought I’d try again, this time with a Playstation. Grand Theft Auto, Madden. It was good for a while, but ultimately, I didn’t have a choice, I just wasn’t able to play. Gaming was literally making me sick.

I believe the reason was monocular vision and the lack of depth perception.

Ironically, today, after becoming Blind, I have more opportunity to actually play video games.

— “Let them play!” (The phrase continues as more join in) Sample from The Bad News Bears

For years now, the call for developers to make their games accessible to disabled gamers has grown louder.

There’s been lots of things happening!

Welcome to Reid My Mind Radio y’all! I’m Thomas Reid. As we continue with our theme, Doing Your Thing With Disability, we’re talking about gaming, because we play too!

–“Time to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I’m all out of gum!” Duke Nukem

— Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Brandon:
Video games are life! I’m a pretty hardcore gamer these days.

The idea to me, that my past self had was, “how can you play video games, you’re blind?” is really kind of based on the same philosophy that some sighted people who don’t understand blind gamers have.

“How can blind people play games?” I didn’t understand it. Because I didn’t realize that audio was such a big part of games, such an important part of games that you could use that, to learn patterns and to learn what things meant and to figure out how to play a game.

TR:

This is Brandon Cole, an award winning Accessibility Consultant

Brandon:

He/him. I have black hair. I am six feet tall, exactly. Just an awesome looking dude.

TR:

Well, we have something in common.

Brandon:
I was born with a type of cancer called Retinoblastoma. Totally blind. From the age of two months.

TR:

His introduction to video games began with his older brother.

Brandon:

He was like, hey, Brandon.

–Mario Bros coin collecting and upgrading sounds

You want to go play some Mario Brothers on our Super Nintendo. And at the time, little six year old me was like, what, how? That’s a video game, which means I can’t play it because I can’t see the video.

That was past me. I used to not think the way I do now.

We begin to play and before you know it, I’m breaking bricks, and collecting coins and extra lives and saving princesses and defeating bosses. And it’s amazing and I’m feeling this great sense of accomplishment!

And the game ends. Yes. Somehow I beat the entire game in one shot!

TR:

Then?

Brandon:

My loving brother handed me the unplugged second player controller while he played the entire game, the entire game.

I mean, what do you even say to that?

TR in Conversation with Brandon:
That’s an older brother.

TR:

Of course, he felt crushed. He thought he was somehow in the gameplay, just like his older brother.

But all wasn’t lost. The experience made him realize something.

Brandon:

I did learn that I could follow sound effect patterns.

I decided that I would one day, beat a game without his help.

From then on, I just started trying games and seeing what I could learn about games and seeing what I could do. Eventually I did it! And the first game I beat without my brother’s help, was the original Killer Instinct for the Super Nintendo.

And I never looked back since.

TR in conversation with Brandon:

There you go. Older siblings.

Brandon:

Take that!

Brandon:

Once I started gaming, I never stopped, I just kept trying different games.

I tried a lot of games that I couldn’t play. Sometimes I just flopped completely, depending on how complex the game was. But like, there were plenty of games where I would start to play the game and I would start to figure out some of the things that might help me get through some part of the game.

TR:

Take the game Metal Gear Solid for the PlayStation One as an example.

-– Metal Gear Solid music plays

Brandon:

That game is a stealth game, where you’re not supposed to be seen, you’re supposed to hide all the time. So it’s not easy if you’re blind, because you can’t see the guards , but you can hear them and they have very audible footsteps. You can hide from the guards based on where your location is versus where their location is.

TR:

Brandon’s step Dad couldn’t get past a certain level during the game.

Brandon:

It’s a room that is filled with infrared lasers. And if you break any of these laser beams that are going all across the room, up and down, at different intervals, the doors slam shut. The room is flooded with gas and you die and there’s nothing you can do about it.

TR:

So step Dad let Brandon figure it out.

Brandon:

I spent maybe two hours working that room, failing over and over and over again. But little by little, figuring out the amount of steps to take before I had to stop to wait for the beam to move again. Then when I had to crawl when I had to walk to get past the lower beams or higher beams. I trialed and errored my way through that entire room and made it to the other side eventually without breaking any of the laser beams.

Technically, it wasn’t an accessible game. It’s just that I managed to figure out a way through that part.

TR:

Failing over and over again, but continuing to work at it. Crawling, walking to get past laser beams. Trial and error to make it to the other side?

Qualities many disabled people seem to have in abundance.

This isn’t just about gaming, we’re talking about the real skills behind leveling up in life.

But honestly, we shouldn’t have to do all that. We just want to play too, right?

Let’s take a look at the inaccessibility faced by disabled gamers and some of the creative adaptations they find in order to be in the game. Let’s start with blind and low vision gamers.

Orlando:

My name is Orlando Johnson, I am an African American male approximately 46 years of age, bald, I have a beard.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

Shout out to the black bald beard gang. Let’s go.

Orlando:

Let’s get it!

TR:

Again, I have something in common with my guest.

Orlando:

And also love spending time with my family and my grandchildren. Every time I get to spend time with them is a joyous moment for me.

TR:

Ok, for the record, having something in common with the host isn’t part of the criteria I employ when selecting guests.

In this case, I was really just looking for the perspective of someone who once enjoyed the games visually.

–Music Begins, an 8 bit game melody that morphs into a Hip Hop beat.

Orlando:

Let me take you back to Christmas back in the 80s. I got my first Atari 800 video game console.
That first year my brother and I that Christmas morning, we played Donkey Kong all morning. Space Invaders. That started the love of the games right there.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:
In terms of the Atari, let me just test your knowledge for a second, brother. How do you repair a cartridge? How do you fix a cartridge?

Orlando:

First thing you do is take it out and blow on it.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

There you go! He knows what he’s talking about!

Orlando:

A matter of fact, I have an interesting little anecdote about cartridges. And it’s about a gentleman named Jerry Lawson – an African American engineer who helped design and engineer those video game cartridges.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

Talk about it!

Orlando:

I would like to expose more people to that knowledge of this gentleman. I’ll send the link to who this gentleman was and what he accomplished in the video game industry.

TR:

Check out this episode’s blog post for that link over on ReidMyMind.com.

Orlando:

I’ve just continued to evolve with the gaming industry. Back in 2001, I purchased a full size Mortal Kombat 2 arcade machine and I kept that thing for over 10 years. And played it all the time. I loved it.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

That is so cool!

TR:

I think it’s fair to say he really enjoyed and invested in his gaming.

Orlando:

April of 2015, I experienced a lot of migraines and didn’t know what was causing them. After my wife and I got back from our honeymoon, we just got married the year before. I wound up going to the hospital two weeks after the honeymoon. My brain swelled up and it crushed my optic nerves. And that was it for me for sight.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

What did that mean to you, when you could no longer play that Mortal Kombat?

Orlando:
You want to be a part of the community of your friends, everybody else is doing things. And when you’re not a part of that community, you feel isolated. And that isolation can drive you crazy. That’s one of the things that I needed to change. I’m like, I got to explore different ways for me to play games. It’s not just that I can’t play games, I have to find a way that I can get back into playing games.

TR:

And that’s exactly what this former Las Vegas bouncer has been doing.

Orlando:

Technology was always my jam.

After I was done with bouncing, I went over and started working in the telecommunications industry, and I worked for Sprint for about eight years.

Then the smartphones took over. I went to work for Apple for a little bit. Six months into the job at Apple, I went blind.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

Did you know about voiceover at the time?

Orlando:
No, I didn’t. Not when I lost my sight. A week or two in the hospital, I had a second generation iPad. My wife, she did a little research and said “hey, you should check out this thing called VoiceOver.

And that was the first time I heard of it or heard anything about it. And I figured since I knew how to use an iPad as a sighted person, Voiceover thing shouldn’t be that difficult. Well, when you’re first starting out, it is difficult.

TR:

Orlando not only learned the technology, but later shared that knowledge as an Access Technology instructor. His advice for anyone getting back into gaming after any degree of blindness? Learn your technology!

Orlando:

I had to master that first before I can start playing a video game. On a computer, if you don’t know how to insert a drive and copy a file from somewhere or unzip something, you’re not going to play the game that you want to play.

TR:

No matter the platform you choose to play on, computer, console like an XBox or PlayStation, smart phone, inaccessibility is there.

Brandon:

There’s things like navigating the games menus. And it’s a challenge we overcame in the past by just memorizing the menus.

TR:

But even first reading the menu requires some work.

Orlando:

In my journey in playing games, one of the workarounds I found is, anybody thats aware of, apps that help blind people see things like Seeing AI or Super Sense.

One of the things that I used to do was load up that app on my tablet. And I would stand my tablet in front of the monitor. And I would listen to the OCR coming out of the app, so I can make the choices on the screen for the game that I’m trying to play.

Brandon:

I use NVDA. Since I stream games, I have a capture card. Even if the game was a console game, I can still send the game’s video feed to my PC, because I have a capture card anyway.
I will then scan that image with NVDA as OCR and read the text from there.

I even play entire games that way, there’s a visual novel called The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. It has a little bit of voice acting, but not much voice acting. It’s almost all text. But it’s literally OCR that allows us to play it, because we can read the text with it, and it reads out pretty well.

TR:

Gamers with low vision used magnifiers to enlarge on screen text. Today there are more games including zoom mode, text enlargement, contrast modes and multiple color blind modes tested by people with varying color blindness. More games are being shipped with menu narration making that process accessible to those who are Blind or have low vision.

Brandon:

The biggest challenge I’d say these days, though, is navigation of the game itself. The game world itself.

The thing about video games is they’ve been a growing industry for years and years and years. When I say growing, I mean, everything about games has grown, the production value has grown, and the size of the game worlds have grown significantly.

Games these days have huge open worlds filled with buildings and giant areas you can explore and find new quests and new things. Thats a big challenge these days.

Games aren’t simple anymore. Games used to be easy to work around in a lot of cases back in the day, because there wasn’t much to them. Nowadays, it’s a much bigger task to try to find workarounds like that.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

What about folks who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Brandon:

The actual spoken dialogue is a huge part of games these days. Because story and narrative have become so much more important these days than they used to be in video games. Games are telling very, very deep stories now.

TR:

Complex narratives and the sound design that is useful to Blind players, can help Deaf and Hard of Hearing players by incorporating both subtitles and captions.

Brandon:

Subtitles would be like, character dialogue, speaker names followed by what they said. Whereas captions would be everything else.

More and more games are starting to support this nowadays. You will have a caption that appears. Like, “wooden floorboard creeks.” And it will have an arrow that points to the location of that sound. Where that sound took place in relation to you, the character.

That arrow pointing down? You’re like, oh, god, there’s something behind me.

You have to do it right. You have to fill the appropriate screen space with it, because you don’t want to block anything else on screen while you’re captioning things.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

What about language? I’m assuming most of these games are in English,?

Brandon:

Sure, a lot of these games are in English, but many of them have alternate language choices as well.

A little bit of a shout out.

So the Last of Us Two, and you’ll hear me do this a lot because I really loved the work that we did on that game. The Last of Us Two is available in 14 different languages.

So when we worked on that game, we decided that any language the game was available in for people to play in general, then the text to speech narration that the game has should also be available in that language. So I’m happy to announce Last of Us Two is available for the Blind in 14 different languages, because narration is supported on every language that the game is supported on.

Boom!

–Jazzy hip hop music begins to play

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

What about mobility? What about folks with mobility related disabilities?

Brandon:
As games have become more complex, so have their controls.

You have controllers these days that have 12, 13 buttons on them. Those who have mobility issues can’t always press every single one of those buttons when there’s something they need to do with those buttons.

Eron:
My name is Eron Zeno. He/him. I’m a light skinned black man. A bit on the larger side, a bit hefty.

–laughs

I rock a Mohawk 24/7.

I am missing my right arm completely. And the left is more of a nub. I have the upper part of my left arm, I’m missing my forearm, and my wrist and elbow are connected. I only have one finger. A fun fact, through X rays and examinations, it has been deemed by my physicians my middle finger actually.

TR in conversation with Eron:

–Laughing

Nice!

TR:

Eron is also a wheelchair user.

TR in Conversation with Eron:

Why don’t you tell me a little bit about when you first sort of got into gaming?

Eron:
I was born in August. When I was brought home, it was very close to Christmas. We were all sitting around and opening presents and everything. And one of my brothers got a Super Nintendo. And I was actually in his lap and he was trying to put the controller under my feet to get me to play. I was too young to realize what was going on. But that was my first introduction. Through some happenstance, I actually wound up inheriting that Super Nintendo and that was my first console.

TR:

Coincidence? Or is there something to be said about gaming and the opportunities it presents to bond with family?

I’m sure there are other benefits.

For Eron, as a child doctors suggested removing the nub on his left side in order to fit him with a prosthetic arm. Yet one doctor specifically had alternative views.

Eron:

He suggested a lot of children actually grow up using both the nub and their feet to a better availability than having no arms at all. So he suggested instead of trying to coax a surgery around that, it would be better to one, get me used to my finger, and then also promote the usage of my feet. And I mean really promote.

So anything you would give your child normally like a rattle or toy or anything like that. He said, give it to his feet. Make his feet known as his compatibility to the world.

One of the things that was suggested by the doctor was video games, they built hand eye coordination very quickly.

TR:

If game controllers were made specifically for hands, there has to be lots of challenges adapting them for use with feet.

Eron:
When I first started with the SNEZ controller, there’s a D pad and two buttons, that’s easy. It’s straightforward.

My second console was another hand me down, I had an N64 drom my uncle.

Now, that controller has the worst background.

–Laughs

Just the convoluted layout that makes no sense. And for a person with hands complaining, giving it to a person with no hands, only maybe 30% of the controller was usable for me.

I made my way around that. And years went by, I got into the GameCube, and the PlayStation 2. And I actually stopped using consoles around the Xbox.

TR:

Eron realized there were lots of games he just couldn’t play. Some involved using a controller with a trigger.

Eron:

I managed. I liked video games, but I was just kind of disappointed at how far it was moving from my capabilities.

That’s actually when I started getting into PC gaming.

TR:

At first, he found games that didn’t require complicated controllers.

Eron:

My first introduction to PC gaming was actually RuneScape. There’s not a lot of controllers required. It’s right click and left click. That’s it.

Years later, I actually found out that you could download programs to your computer that allow you to rebind keyboard controllers, mice even.

My first introduction to that was actually a program called X pattern. I actually found that at the end of its life cycle. And that allows you to implement key bindings on a controller. And most people they’re like, “Well, why aren’t you just using the controller on a computer?”

Well, most developers don’t allow for rebinding the controls. And the controller is actually really easy interface for me to use on my feet. The keyboard you can imagine, a little painful.

TR in Conversation with Eron:

So what is your setup?

Eron:

I change out a lot due to certain games or setups or things I need, but by default, I have a controller front and center on the floor right in front my office chair. I do sit at a desk.

My keyboard is plugged into my computer but led down below the desk on the floor, next to the controller. I use my right foot to type and only my right foot. It’s a pain to use both feet.
You gotta balance on your butt and hover.

I use both feet for my controller, but what if I need to type.

On my desk, I do have a mouse that I use with my aforementioned nub. I can’t use the mouse buttons, but what I do is I have a setup where it’s a bunch of zip ties and cat collars essentially. And I MacGyvered a harness that I can attach to my hand and move the mouse around.

My mouse actually failed on me a few days ago. There’s something with these new braided cable wires and they give out way too easily. But I’m using an art tablet right now as a mouse. Same setup, a bunch of cat collars and zip ties.

–Both Thomas and Eron laugh

I make it work, though.

TR:

Like MacGyver, finding off the shelf supplies and just rigging things together. It just works for him.

Eron:

You’ve seen tablet holders? It’s like an arm you can adjust in your car or on your bed rest or whatever. You can have it hold your tablet up to your chest. I have one of those kind of coiled up into a stand that I hold a cutting board on. And it’s at an angle just so I can reach it.

Because I don’t have full arm length. I can’t even reach my desk from sitting up straight. So I have this like brought right up to my chest. I have that for mouse movement and stuff.

TR:

Although Eron moved away from consoles when it seemed it surpassed his capabilities. today he finds himself playing again.

Eron:

One thing I found out is that you can buy adapters that can enable you to use other controllers on the console, as well as mice and keyboards.

I bought a switch a while back. I love the thing.

I’ve been using an adapter to play shooters and Legend of Zelda and all that stuff. And it’s really nice to be able to use a mouse to aim instead of fiddling with the joysticks.

There’s still no controller bindings. I’m talking about third party controllers. If you buy a pro controller meant for the Switch, you can actually rebind the bindings on a Nintendo Switch controller.

I have one. But for sizing reasons, I can’t use the whole thing with my feet.

Brandon:

The accessibility conversation has been happening, and things like button remapping now exist.
Some games even go so far as to have a one touch option. It’s more difficult than you might think. But it is fantastic when it happens.

We have accessories now like the Xbox adaptive controller, which allows mobility, disabled folks to basically attach whatever switches they want to use, or their controller, they can attach it to that controller, and configure buttons however they like, based on whatever switches they have.

Eron:

It’s this giant disc jockey looking table. It’s got like two giant soft pads on it that look like records.
But they’re actually just giant buttons. They figured you have a large surface to hit, you don’t have to be necessarily that accurate with your buttons.

If you plug in a controller, it actually only lets you use half the controller. They expect you to be so disabled, you cant use a full controller. Which made no sense, it’s like if this is for adaptability, everybody’s got a different thing they can do. Why not enable it so that you can split up something or you can use the whole something? Instead of assuming everybody is bound to “oh, I can only use this specific apparatus.”

TR in Conversation with Eron:

Are you in touch with any other gaming companies? Do you ever reach out?

Eron:

The few times that I have, I’ve gotten kind of copy pasted responses. So I don’t really bother. I find my own solutions at this point.

TR:

Some other challenges include what’s known as quick time events. These require holding down or rapid tapping of buttons.

Game developers are slowly becoming more inclusive when thinking about game play.

Implementing skip puzzle options, for example, in order to help those with cognitive disabilities who may need a bit of assistance advancing to the next level of game play. Time pressure for some can be really difficult as well.

Brandon:

They’ll be in a situation where they have three seconds to make an important game decision that will affect the game story.

When you’re in the middle of a game story, and you become attached to the characters and you really care about what happens to them and then you have to make this life or death decision. “Okay, this person lives and this person dies.”

If you’ve grown to care about them, that’s intense pressure to put on someone.

Some games these days have the ability to either extend timers like that or remove them entirely. That’s great. That’s a really, really good move.

TR:

Okay, Not a gamer? Perhaps you felt the pressure when using an automated phone system and trying to quickly enter your date of birth before the time expires. How many times have you just wanted to throw your phone? Come on, I know it’s not just me.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

Are there any considerations for folks with monocular vision today?

Brandon:

I don’t know anything specifically for monocular vision.

There is the ability these days to remove screen shake from games, so a lot of games have special effects. You do this really big hit and the screen shakes to make you feel like it was a big hit. You can turn that off nowadays.

Games use an effect called motion blur. So if things are moving very quickly, they will kind of blur as if they’re moving fast to kind of give you that illusion of speed. Some people can’t handle the motion blur either. And so these days, you can either dull that or turn it off.

Some people get headaches afterwhile if they see those effects or some people get sick to their stomach, or they see too much screen shake.

TR:

Headaches, nausea, not the result you want when trying to relieve a bit of stress or having a good time while playing video games. But that’s not life threatening.

Brandon:
These days, there is actually a required warning in video games when something in a game could spark a seizure.

This recently came into controversy because of a game called Cyberpunk 2077, which didn’t very clearly outline this, and did have a sequence that actually did cause people to have seizures. Their outline was buried in their license agreement, you know, the thing that no one ever reads?

That’s where they put their warning, instead of putting it in the front and center of the game when you first load it up which is usually what is required.

When you load up a game, if there is something that could cause a seizure, there should be a warning right away. And most games that have these things will do that.

Although I will say in the case of cyberpunk, because of all the backlash, they actually patched the sequence itself. The video in question where that lighting sequence was shown that caused those seizures actually changed it to be a different pattern of light that didn’t cause seizures.

TR:

Would you be surprised if I told you there’s a segment of the population that is just straight hatin’ on adaptations.

Brandon:

Some people complain about accessibility features, saying that they make games too easy and blah, blah, blah, blah, and they’re cheating and whatever.

It’s not that people like to use them as cheat codes, although some do that too, I’m sure. But people tend to complain about them, because they feel that it’s dulling the game itself.
My response to that is, it’s better to allow people to actually play the game and experience it than to worry so much about how hard the game is.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

It’s not really impacting them, though, right? They don’t have to use it.

Brandon:

Right, right. That’s what I don’t understand.

Especially with single player games. If a game isn’t multiplayer, then what does it matter to you what other people do to complete the game? It doesn’t matter.

TR:

That goes beyond gaming, doesn’t it? Some people don’t want to consider that they themselves may have an advantage or a privilege. Working senses, dexterity, financial means to afford the equipment, games, time to play. These overly competitive types of dudes have no desire to be in the same class as a disabled player.

But who has time for them?

Fortunately, companies like Microsoft recognize that we game too! They’re making sure that we’re included from the start or out the box.

Orlando:

With the XBox Series S it’s one of the newer generation consoles that were hard to find for a while, but I managed to get myself one. The setup of that, I watched videos of Brandon Cole and other people on YouTube, they were discussing, the unboxing experience. When they said it has Braille on the thing, so you know where to plug things in at. I was impressed just with that level of accessibility.

I set it up all by myself. And it was so easy to set up because everything talked to me. There’s a QR code on the screen and you just aim your phone at the QR code to set up your account login. And it was just super simple.

TR:

And he tried a lot of platforms.

Orlando:

I’ve done everything from retro gaming on a Raspberry Pi. Gaming on my MacBook, gaming on a PlayStation four, Xbox console, Apple TV, I’ve tried to do all of it.

I’ve got it set up to the point right now where I don’t have it hooked up to a computer or a monitor. I played my Xbox console through the Xbox app. I’ve paired a controller to my phone or tablet. And then I log into the app and I remotely access my console through the app.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

Why?

Orlando:

Well one, I can go anywhere around the house. I can go to the backyard and play videogames if I wanted to.

It opens up that freedom of just movement. I don’t need to be bound to a television now. I’ve learned to embrace the audio side of things where you can just go sit down at dinner and you have your controller and some headphones, you’re still playing your game and everybody else is doing their thing.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

Now that’s not appropriate during family time. Come on!

TR:

It is cool though!

Notice what actually is happening here. He not only accepted the tools he has to game with, but he continues to seek out ways to really make it work for him.

It sounds like maybe a metaphor about adjusting to disability?

Hmm? I mean, we’re talking about more than fun and games here!

As if video games could provide some other benefits.

Brandon:

There’s an app, called Microsoft landscape. It actually takes your Google Maps idea and projects that in 3D audio around you. You can have a real life beacon that you set that plays in 3D audio, while you wear headphones. And you literally follow that beacon, like the same way you would in a video game that will take you to your actual destination.

TR:

There’s games to help make exercise fun.

Rather than forcing yourself to get on your treadmill, why not gamify that experience by playing a game that transports you to the Zombie Apocalypse.

–Sounds of shooting and dialouge from Zombies Run plays in the background.

Brandon:
There’s a game called Zombies Run. Its a game that has a story.

It’s literally a game about you running. Your character is called a runner. And runners are the ones that are dispatched out to get supplies for the base.

You’re running. The better you do at the running. You won’t get eaten by zombies for one thing, but the other thing is…

TR:

You’re working out. Getting that heart pumping for real and increasing those endorphins!

Brandon:

The same effect getting an achievement on Xbox or a trophy on Playstation has on people just getting a little reward spike.

TR:

The gaming industry has changed a lot since Pong, huh!

As accessibility continues to become part of the game, it’s important to recognize future technologies. Virtual Reality for example.

Eron:

It’s not really off the ground yet. There’s some things that are cool, some things that are like, eh that’s not really working right now.

If anybody’s familiar with the Half Life series. We got the first one, the second one was great. And then the third one comes out. And it’s a VR game.

What’s the problem with that? Well, the first and second ones were first person shooters, you got a mouse, you got a keyboard, or you’re on a controller, you can manage that. You can rebind controls to make it suit your needs.

A VR setup, besides the headset in the immersion and all that. You have two controllers.
There’s no way to interface the controllers. You have to use the two motion controls. And those are purely for hands. There is no foot or nub or stumped interface. It’s just you got hands or you don’t.

TR:

That all too familiar feeling that accompanies any sort of technology. Access gained rarely feels permanent.

Eron:

A lot of my friends actually jumped into VR, and they’re like, “oh, man, you gotta check out like, VR chat, new half life, this MMO or that?” And I’m like, how?

“Bro you could put the headset on and let your wife play?”

wha… What?!

TR in converswation with Brandon:

Why do they always go there?

TR:

Newsflash y’all, family members are not personal assistants.

As if they’re just sitting around waiting to play a game for you, describe the latest picture that the sender could have easily described.

Eron raised some other good points about the financial cost to access for those with mobility disabilities. Adapters have a real cost to them that not everyone can afford. Would you want to pay more for an accessible game?

But there are other reasons to be excited.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

What about the process of creating? Do you know about the accessibility of that? Do we have some blind folks who are actually developing games?

Brandon:

We do have blind game developers out there. Primarily those developers are working on audio games.

I will say that there are some advances coming to blind game development in the form of at least one engine that is made for the blind to develop games, although this engine is geared towards role playing games specifically. But there is an engine called Sable that’s coming out. Hopefully, in the next couple of years.

And that engine is literally designed so that blind people can create their own custom made RPGs, role playing games.

TR:

That’s what I’m talking about! Not only do we game too, but we make as well.

Ok, Reid My Mind Radio family, I know some of y’all are TVI’s or teachers of the visually impaired. Please, make sure you put this information into the brains of your students. I want to play a game in the not so distant future, that is truly FUBU – for us by us!

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

What about, in-game audio description? Is that something we can look forward to?

Brandon:

I think it’s fair to say that the future is bright for video games and audio description. I think people will be surprised at the level of quality you’re going to get when that happens.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

The developer has to be involved in that.

Brandon:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah heavily.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

The audio quality right there has just been raised, you know, exponentially because they’re gonna care.

Brandon:

Oh yeah, they are, for sure are.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

Yeah, so that’s fantastic.

Brandon:

The future is very bright. I cant say much more, I wish I could. But oh man, are things coming up that are going to blow peoples’ minds.

TR:

In the meantime, you can check out Brandon doing the narration for several video game trailers.

Brandon:

For a game called Rainbow Six extraction, I did the Audio Description narration for most of those.

TR:

I’m really thinking about getting back into gaming. I’ve played some audio games on my IPhone. I’m wondering if it’s time to try some titles on the PC or maybe even get an XBox.

I guess I’m just trying to figure out if it’s really going to feel as entertaining as it once was?

Orlando:

I would say that it depends on the person and the level of enjoyment that they’re looking for. Yes, there will be those frustrations.

If somebody’s brand new to something, they don’t know, there’s always a learning curve. If you’re somebody that likes to learn new things, accept the challenge of trying to play a video game, because that’s going to be the ultimate learning curve right there.

You have to learn, where does the character need to go, because if I think I’m moving forward, it might be going on a spiral staircase, or something like that. Whereas I’m thinking north, south, east, west, on my controller, I can get around, but visually, the interpretation may be something different.

The frustration part is part of the learning, I feel.

You got to learn where to balance those things out to balance out the frustration levels, where it’s not as frustrating for you.

TR in Conversation with Orlando:

It doesn’t sound like we’re just talking about gaming any more, man.

Orlando:

I don’t want to be left out of things, I want to be involved. For me, the way I apply it is, if I want to eat something, and I know what I want to eat, and I’ve got the ingredients, I can put it together.

But do I need to get other assistants to put it together? No.

Or do I need to deal with the frustration of maybe burning myself or hurting myself while I’m trying to do it?

In the end, the result should be better than the experience. You got to go through it to get to it.

It’s something I applied to everything that I do in my life.

TR:

Being included means welcoming people with disabilities into all aspects of the industry. From development, gameplay, marketing and more. And being recognized for our contributions.

Brandon:

The Last of Us Two is officially the world record holding, most awarded video game of all time, in terms of general awards. Some of the awards that it won are accessibility related which I, happen to be, a ginormous part of.

When the PlayStation five came out. In 2020. I was given, by Sony, a special award PlayStation five, with an inscription on a perspex case that they have sent.

Perspex, it’s kind of like a combination of like plastic and glass.

The inscription was essentially thanking me for teaching PlayStation that play is not just about what we see, it’s more about what we hear, about what we feel.

I consider that one of my greatest accomplishments. And I consider that of an award of its own from PlayStation itself to make something that’s just for me.

And by the way that message was in Braille on the perspex case.

TR:

That’s, Brandon Cole AKA

Brandon:

SuperBlindMan on Twitch , YouTube and Twitter and even PlayStation Network.

If you want to add me as a Hearthstone friend, you can do that too. When I was making that account, I didn’t realize there was a character limit.

So on Battlenet I’m SuperBlindMa.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

SuperBlindMa?! M A?

–Laughs….

Brandon:

Yes, yes. M A.

Brandon:

SuperBlindMa#1859 is my Battlenet tech tag.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

And they could battle you to a game or something. Right?

Brandon:

They sure can.

TR in Conversation with Brandon:

If they want to lose!

Brandon:
You can find the blog at Brandon Cole.net. If you want the blind perspective on accessible gaming, that’s where you find it.

The podcast is at breakdownwalls.net/podcast If you want an easly link to that.

Break Down Walls is a movement that I started with my fiance. The idea is to break down the barriers between sighted and non sighted and disabled and non disabled gamers and human beings. Basically just make us all one.

TR:

Orlando!

Orlando:

Peachy Zatoichi on Twitter, my email address is PeachyZatoichi@gmail.com.
That is spelled; P E A C H Y Z, as in zebra, A T, as in Tom, O I C H I @gmail.com

Tr in conversation with Orlando:

And that was a Japanese Blind swordsman, right?

Orlando:

That’s exactly right!

TR:

And of course Eron.

Eron:

My twitch is X A N O D I A @ twitch.tv

It’s mostly just me gaming, talking to people. That’s about it. But yeah, it does turn into a rant occasionally.

–Laughs

TR:

Now, in order to be a player, you have to be in the game. These gentlemen are true players and they’re all official…

-Airhorn

…members of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Eron:

Dude I’ve got to say, I checked out an episode the other day, loving it.

TR:

It’s not just about the opportunity to play that I’m happy to see. It’s about the change in mindset that’s taking place.

Game developers are slowly creating inclusive spaces where everyone is welcomed. The truly successful ones are seeking input from the community to figure how we can play with our disability.

Accepting people where they are, allowing them to work with what they have and enabling anyone to be in the game. Because yeah,We Play Too!

If you want to be sure you can play all new episodes of Reid My Mind Radio, all you have to do is subscribe wherever you get podcasts.

We have transcripts and more over on ReidMyMind.com

You don’t need a cheat code to level up, just remember, it’s R to the E I D
— (“D! And that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name!
Audio: Reid My Mind Outro
Peace!

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Doing Your Thing With Disability: Marguerite Woods – Here I Am

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

A full body shot of marguerite Woods smiling brightly while waiting for a fresh protein drink order.  She is seated sideways on a black & Silver upholstered chaise lounge with her right elbow slightly leaning towards the rolled back of the lounge. Marguerite is dressed in white slacks and a black blouse with white panels along the yolk and sleeves, black sunshades, beaded mecklace, large  silver hoop earrings & bangle accessorizing her outfit and bald head.  Behind & off to her right side is, a small blonde wood bookcase with a painting of Bob Marley on the wall above.
Can I kick it? (Yes you can!)

Welcome to the kick off episode for the first season of 2022; Doing Your Thing with Disability!

In this series, we’re not talking about overcoming blindness, getting passed our disability, no, we’re going to hear from some awesome people who do the things they love to do and they’re doing it with their disability. That’s a whole different energy.

We begin with a Reid My Mind Radio alumni, Marguerite Woods, who’s all about energy. She was last on the podcast during the 2021 Flipping the Script on Audio Description season.

I just knew during that first conversation, I had to have her back on to discuss more of her experiences as an advocate, philosophy as it pertains to blindness and disability. Plus I wanted to hear more about her trip to India and all that meant to her.

In this episode we get into self-reflection, a kinder gentler advocacy, love of self and skin bleaching? You’re going to have to listen in…

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

— Theme from Welcome back Kotter
— A hip hop drum loop…

Greetings, Reid My Mind Radio Family.

— from song, “Welcome Back!”

I feel like I’m home. Well, I am.

You know what I mean right?

That familiar place where you’re comfortable, your needs are being met and you feel loved and appreciated. That’s what I want you to feel when you rock with Reid My Mind Radio!

Let’s start this off right!
Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

I’m excited to kick off this first season. If you caught the Black History Month bonus episode, you already know, this season is called Doing Your Thing with Disability. Now I know some of y’all may say that a bit differently as in Doing’ Your Thang with Disability! You should know, that indeed is the feeling behind the season. I chose not to formally name it that way because not everyone gets that energy right when saying it. If you do appreciate and respect that vibe, by all means feel free. If you do not or if you question whether you’re qualified to do so, well, don’t it’s cool, say it phonetically. Doing your thing with disability.

What I hope to deliver during this season are 4 episodes with varying examples of people pursuing different goals in their lives for a variety of reasons. We’re touching on Accessibility, entrepreneurship, music expression, self-discovery and more.

I encourage you to listen between the words.
(Filtered Voice:) Is that a thing?
Sort of like reading between the lines?

Throughout each episode, the energy is not about getting passed or overcoming, nah, that’s what they talk about over there…

The way we get down, right here, we’re doing it with disability – and to me that’s something to celebrate.

— Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This first season of Reid My Mind Radio in 2022 is all about doing your thing with disability. And I want to know, what does that mean to you?

Marguerite:
Wow. It to me, it means being my authentic self. And disability is just a part of my shell. And it’s a part of the filter that I’m experiencing this physical life through. And so I can’t escape that. So it’s a part of who I am. It’s just not all of who I am.

— Music begins, a mid tempo smooth jazzy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

Who she is? Well, this is Marguerite Woods.

Marguerite:

I am a woman, a black woman with many interests, and mainly, I am having an experience as a spiritual being in my humanity, and so the roles that come up for me are absolutely a mom, family member friend, a community person.

She, her are my pronouns. And I have on a suit jacket, I think it’s black and white, I have one little flower under it with little fringe around the top yoke.

I normally wear earrings, because I like them, I’m a little artsy, and they usually feel really creative to me. And I have on, dark shades.

I am black. I am bald. I am beautiful. And I am bold.

TR:

It’s been a while now that I’ve been incorporating image descriptions as part of the podcast.
I know there are some who may wonder why, it is a podcast after all.
A big part of that is identity for me. I want you to know as much about the people I’m presenting here on the podcast.
Truth is, sighted folks still get the opportunity to access this information via a nonvisual medium, because podcasts require an image to accompany the audio file.

But there’s more than identity in what we hear in an image description.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Your outfit today, is there any particular reason that you wore what you wore?

Marguerite:
I decided deliberately to wear what I’m wearing. It feels comfortable. I think it looks good. And we talked about possibly video at the end. I wanted to project a certain image. I wanted to feel a certain way while doing the video. I feel very feminine. My outfit helps me to feel like that.

And the earrings are just an added touch that I really like, because I’m bald, I think that it highlights my frame.

TR:

Being intentional, goes beyond her wardrobe choices. Marguerite is thoughtful with her words. It’s one of the things that really stands out when first meeting her. It’s evident in the way she approaches each of the questions posed to her. Like…

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

How do you identify with disability?

Marguerite 04:

Wow Thomas, that’s a loaded question, how do I identify with disabilities?
It’s been a progression of things and when where I am today is because of that progression.

So I don’t want this to sound flat or linear. I arrived here.
I’ve been toying with how do I talk about what we’ve been calling disabilities. And as I think about them my blindness and and others with a variety of different things. What I keep coming up with is this whole idea of diversity. We have diverse abilities.

my relationship is that whatever I’m dealing with, and in my case, it’s blindness, it’s given me an opportunity to explore the life that I’m living from a very different perspective, than I started out exploring life. living life, because I think of each of us as an explorer, or pioneer in our particular part of life.

TR:

That exploration can take her to foreign places, but much of it is within herself. In fact, she sees it as selfish.

Marguerite:

Everything that I experience, think about relate to is totally through my filters. And that in itself is selfish. But not in the way that I grew up thinking about the word selfish.

There’s no way to relate to life and be neutral, because I’m relating to it through my filters. And every other person is as well. And the best I can do with that is expand my filters, and expand the understanding, from having experiences with other folks.
TR:

If you prefer your ideas presented in a more concrete form, Marguerite offers a bit of a disability toolkit.

Marguerite:

in a practical way, the way I relate to disabilities is understanding that each one of us has to have an ideal of what we’d like to be able to do, where we find ourselves how we’d like to be able to manage whatever it is we’re trying to move through. And so, philosophy, some skills, some technology and some techniques, and absolutely some guidance in any way that you can find it to help you better do what it is you’re trying to do.

TR:

One of those skills that Marguerite has built over the years is advocacy. It goes back to her childhood growing up in Baltimore City, the area Marguerite describes as being designated for African Americans.

Marguerite:
There was a lot of feelings of just being done wrong, not being treated well. There was an energy of distrust, anger. But in the middle of all of that, I enjoyed the connection with family members and community members. And this sense of looking out for each other, a desire to move forward in a positive way, enjoying whatever life had to offer. And I felt that the elders in my community, were very interested in assuring that their children, and the younger people in the community were able to enjoy the things they felt they had not been able to.

— Music ends

And so the whole advocacy around that felt noble and it felt right to me.

TR:

That relationship with the community equipped Marguerite with a strong solid foundation.

Marguerite:

I grew up through the elementary and high school years, with all black teachers in the black community. And I could feel the desire for them to give us their best. And they wanted us to be sent into a world with our best doing our best.

I ended up in senior high school going to a predominantly white school on the other side of town. I deliberately chose that because I wanted to know what it felt like to have that experience. I was curious and interested,

When I did get to that senior high school, I felt like I was very well equipped, even though I began to hear stories that said we were marginalized, and that we were lacking.

TR:

Stories meant to weaken that foundation or penetrate her spirit.

Advocacy became more than a way to impact her community, it helped her realize things about herself.

Marguerite:

For me advocacy was about fighting for the underdog. And so it felt aggressive. And I thought it was very necessary and that there was a certain way that you had to go about it in order to gain the results that you were asking for.

It didn’t feel good in my spirit.

That anger and their venom and using it to ask for what you wanted. While it seemed to be effective, it was not a good space for me.

TR:

Over time, Marguerite came to realize that in the way she and
so many of us view advocacy, trained her to only consider what
was not working.

Marguerite:

it started to make sense to me that if that’s what you’re pointing out all the time, that’s all you’re setting yourself up to see. And so when things are coming, that are, what you do want, how will you recognize if all you’re focused on are the things that don’t work?

Sometimes the things that I’m wanting to experience, they reveal themselves in small ways.

The more that I’m open to understanding and realizing those smaller things, the momentum can pick up, but if I don’t recognize it, then how will I be able to enjoy it becoming larger in my space, in my experience for myself and for my community.

TR:

Yet only focusing on the things you want or those things that feel good can prove to be quite unfulfilling.

Marguerite:

I’ve got to own how I feel, and accept that as where I am. And recognize that I want to be in a space, that feels a lot better. But that causes me to have to identify, what is it that I’m asking for? And I’m telling you that that’s not been the easiest thing to do. Because even when I’m talking to people that I asked, What do you want, we even talk about what we want in the negative. I know most people can easily tell you what we don’t want, but ask them what they do want. It’s a very different conversation. And so that was not just a conversation for others. That was a conversation for myself, as well.

— Music begins, piano keys leading into a mid tempo smooth bouncy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

This really seems about knowing yourself. And there’s some real value in that.

Marguerite:

I’m getting to the space in the place where I have an opinion, I have a thought and it’s authentic.

You have a thought and an opinion and it is yours, no matter what I think about it, it is yours.

I do have the right to my opinions and my thoughts. And I want to be respected. So if I’m going to respect myself, I’ve got to respect you. Even if I don’t agree with you. I’ve got to respect that you have it. But that does not stop me from asking for what I want. That’s how you see it. And you can be very right. And I’m not telling you that you’re wrong. But I’m asking for what I want and what I need, which is a very different space.

I need to articulate and be really clear about what I’m asking for. So I have to keep asking, and keep defining and keep gaining the clarity.

I’m not recommending this as a way for anybody to go, I’m just merely trying to tell you what’s happening with me.

TR:

She really is on an exploration.

Her advocacy continues to have practical applications.
As the president of the At Large Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Maryland, she’s ready when necessary to respond to issues of particular concern to her community.

Marguerite:
We discovered that the state of Maryland was planning to discontinue bus transportation from Baltimore City. To the surrounding counties, for the most part, and they quietly were holding community meetings.

I was thinking about my community that I actually live in not just the blind community, but the community of Baltimore City, which is being affected. And I knew about a group that I been in connection with for many years, I would go there and talk to them.

TR:

The organization is called BDS healthy aging networks. Marguerite built a relationship with them over the years where she along with a group of members from her chapter would speak to the organization as a way to allow people to see into the community.

Marguerite:

I knew that they had gone virtual, I got in touch with the woman who runs it, Betsy Simon, and told her what I’d like to do. So she invited me to the call to share with the partners that met with her and the partners were different community agencies, city and state agencies, as well as community organizations and community leaders. And ask them to participate in the testimonies as well.

Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But that idea of dropping the bus service was discontinued.

TR:

There’s real power in organizing with those who share a mutual interest.

Marguerite continued attending the meetings of the network – which extends out to many different agencies and organizations. Their main mandate is advocating for older adults in the city.
They recently showed their ability to organize and get things done after the city made a failed attempt to help vaccinate older adults for Covid 19.

Marguerite:

One of the ladies in our group had been writing directly to the CVS is in the Walgreens saying, Look, we in Baltimore City want vaccinations and our officials are not helping us. Can you help us get vaccinated? So they were ignoring her letters and Walgreens somehow had these extra vaccinations, like 850 of them. They went to the Baltimore City Health Department and said, Listen, we’ve got these vaccinations. We can show up on Saturday with the pharmacists. You get the people.

This was on a Tuesday, the Health Department told them no, there’s no way we can do that. It’s not enough time.

They remembered the woman in our group who had been writing to them. They did shout it out to her. And she got in touch with Betsy Simon. And she sent a call out to everybody on her list. Can we do this? And so we said, yes.

TR:

With Some quick planning and putting people into action, they got it done.

Marguerite:

Advocacy, asking for what you want. And that’s what that woman did. She kept asking for what she wanted, in the midst of them saying, No, we can’t. And the health department did not help us, they said that they couldn’t do it. And after we did it, it showed that we could.

TR:

She continues showing up to Zoom calls. Reminding organizations to make sure their materials and information is getting to the low vision and blind community. She’s actually seeing progress in this area.

Again, the advocacy work teaches her things about herself and how that can benefit others.

Marguerite:

I think that the key for me is to take what I’ve been able to get in terms of training, philosophy and skills and so forth. And just come right back into my community and be a person in the community teaching from my example.

— Music Ends

If it helps the blind community, it’s helping the rest of the community as well. Those things are created and envisioned by the blind. And so we are contributors to what the society is and what it can become.

Music begins, a bouncy upbeat Hip Hop track.

TR:

Are you socially Reidsponsible?

— Sample from Blades of Glory:
“I don’t even know what that means.
No one knows what it means. But it’s provocative.”

TR:

It’s true, no one knows what it means, not even me, I just think it sounds cool!

Cool, like the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway happening right now on Twitter.

We started in January on Facebook. Then moved to Instagram and during the month of March we’re focusing on the final platform, Twitter.
All you have to do to be entered into the drawing is like and retweet any of the posts I tweet out related to the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway during the month of March.
So go on over and follow @tsreid and again, like and retweet any of the posts related to the giveaway.

Our social media manager, Annie, will gather all the names at the end of the month and we will draw a winner, which we’ll announce in April.

During the next episode in March, we’ll announce the winner of the Instagram contest.

Make sure you follow ReidMyMindRadio on Facebook and Instagram

Oh, wait, that’s being socially Reidsponsible!

Now, let’s get back to the episode!

— Music ends with a bouncing base drum echoing into silence.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
So during your first time on the podcast, you suddenly and quite nonchalantly dropped this thing about spending some time in India?

Can you share the story of how that came about? And what you actually did in India?

Marguerite:
I went to something in Baltimore called Blind industries and services in Maryland, which is a training facility for adults and older adults who want to gain skills and be able to manage blindness.

When I finished there, the director at the time sent me an email and in the subject, it said, only two days left.

TR:
She actually discovered and read the email the next day.

That’s when she found out she had one day left to apply to the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs. It’s in Trivandrum, which is in the southernmost part of India.

Marguerite:

I got these thrill bumps all over me when I was reading it. It just filled me up.

You had to have it in, I think that day. I’m amazed at myself that I was able to do all that and I was able to submit it. And you know, they sent back and asked for some more information, I sent it to them.

And later on, they sent me a letter and told me that I was accepted and I was going to get a full scholarship to come there.

— Music begins, a dramatic introduction that feels like an eastern vibe that opens to a rhythmic electronic dance track.

TR:

Marguerite didn’t tell anyone about applying to the program.
That is until she received her acceptance letter.
p
Coincidentally, that good news arrived near her birthday. So when her family asked what she wanted to do, she was prepared.

Marguerite:

I want to go to an Indian restaurant.

When we sat down, we were talking and eating. And When they got to wishing me a happy birthday, I told them that I wanted to share something with them and told them that I would be going to India, and they were all shocked. They were like, Who are you going with? Who are these people? Bla bla bla.

Mind you, I’m totally blind at that point. I’m going alone , I don’t know the people, whether they met them online. And so they were like, oh, no, this, this, you’re not doing that. And they had all these what ifs, and no, they were really afraid for me. But something that I learned a while back and was able to practice is when you get an idea about something that you want to do, and, and you’re trusting that it feels good inside of you. That is not the time to share it. Because you’ve heard of dream killers. And they don’t even mean to be they were very good intentioned, but they will kill your dream before it gets off the ground.

TR:

Many of us have fallen victim to or have been a Dream Killer.

Perhaps one or two bodies.

Maybe you know some real serial killers. You know, those who just throw daggers at anyone with an idea or a plan to step out and try something new.

Chances are, they don’t mean to discourage. It’s more about a fear or lack of information on they’re part.

The point is, we need to protect our dreams, like they’re our babies.

Marguerite:

You can’t share it when it’s in it’s infancy, you got to let it mature. And so that’s what I did. And when it felt solid in me, and I’d worked out my own kinks about it and realize I had no fear and no reservations. So when they came with all that they had, it didn’t sway me because I had already worked it through, and I was solid and how I felt and so I let them go through what they needed to, as I continue to get myself prepared to go.

TR:

She received the news in July and left for India in January.

Marguerite:

I stayed there for a year came back in December. It was quite an experience.

I got to work with NGO’s, Non-Government Organizations. They’re sort of like our charitable organizations.

We worked with gay and lesbian organization.

In India, as you might imagine being a, quote unquote, third world country.
homosexuality is not something that is readily accepted.

With all of the challenges that we have here in the United States, the magnitude of it there is beyond the scope of what we can expect. It’s so dangerous. But these people are so adamant about being able to live their lives out loud, that they’re risking their lives for even just saying that they belong to an organization like that.

TR:

Wherever you go in the world, marginalized groups exist. The language and faces may appear to be different but underneath it all things look familiar.

Marguerite:
In India, lots of people wanted to bleach their skin.
— Music ends with a crescendo cymbal crash

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
For the folks who haven’t seen, they may not necessarily know that the complexion of Indians are black.
I mean, some of them might not. Right?

Marguerite:
Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. And some of them are very dark in their complexion, and they want to be they want to be white. They want to be fair skin, it’s important to them, and so they do bleaching creams. I’ve heard of people who families would make these potions, so when the woman was pregnant, she would drink these potions that would help to ensure that her child would be fair when it was born.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Oh, my goodness. Drinking it? Man, woof!

TR:

To get a sense of how much of an issue this is, Marguerite shares some description of a commercial on Indian television.

Marguerite:

It was a woman in a park, she’s walking with her boyfriend. She was darker complexion. And he was fair. And he sees a, another girl in the park. And she’s fair skinned. And so he drops the arm of his darker skin girlfriend. And he dances off with this fair skinned girlfriend. The darker girl is hurt and upset.
So she gets this cream, and she uses it for a prescribed period of time. And he sees her again, and she’s fair skinned now.
So he drops the other person, and now they’re happily ever after.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This was a commercial?

Marguerite:
Yeah.
TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

On regular TV?

Marguerite 46:21

Yeah, yeah.

The idea was to go and fight against the companies that were making creams. And my thing was, well, before you can fight against the company that’s making the creams. I think we need to educate the people, let’s start with the children, because they were doing it with kids as well. And they were doing it with the boys as well as the girls. And so we went into the schools, and we were talking to them about melanin and for the schools that we went to none of them knew about melanin.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Do you want to break that down a little bit? It’s well, just power of melanin.

Marguerite 47:21
Melanin is such a protective coating and that a lot of things can’t even happen without a melanin protection.

I remember, way back when I was much younger, hearing and reading about first the spaceships using the idea of melanin as a protective coating on some of their vessels.

Even here in this United States, even though we have it, there’s not a whole lot of talk about melanin and how powerful it is, and how wonderful it is.

TR:

You can tell people about Melanin, about a rich history where people who look like them weren’t colonized, robbed of their resources, but ultimately, it’s about self-love.

Marguerite:

My idea. And the group that I worked with, we felt like, it was just as important for individuals to decide that they wanted to embrace who they are, right where they are, and fall in love with that before, you can start telling a company not to sell bleaching creams.
Until people are educated and can find a way to feel good about themselves. It to me is a moot point. I don’t think you can do one without the other.

TR:

This problem isn’t at all unique to India. It was a bigger thing here in the states, several islands in the Caribbean including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

( FILTERED VOICE:) White supremacy is a hell of a drug!

— Music begins, an inspiring ambient track that grows as it progresses.

Marguerite:
We’re not supposed to be the same. And because one group is one way and another group is a different way, does not at all indicate that you are better than or less than the next group, although we use that as our vehicle to control and manipulate and because it has worked so well. It continues to happen that way. But we can’t just throw our hands up, we have to I think, continue to help people understand that it’s okay to embrace yourself where you are.

TR:

Embracing yourself as in the color of your skin whether you’re in India, Africa, the Caribbean or here in the states. The texture of your hair, your sexuality and yes your disability.

It’s what makes adjusting to disability so challenging for many. You may not even realize how you felt about disability and that can then impact how you feel about yourself.

Marguerite:

When I became blind, I realized that I had some very negative thoughts and feelings about blind individuals that I did not realize I had. I realized that when I saw a blind person, I felt something that I didn’t bother to identify. But what I did recognize was that I was glad it was not me. And that was with any disability, or anything that wasn’t held up as a beautiful thing, by the society norms, and that even meant, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, all of that was a part of it. And those were feelings that were held inside in secret, depending on what company I was in. And so blindness exposed me not just to the blindness, but to the other beliefs that I was holding. And what I also discovered was that I could not really know what I was holding on to, unless I had an experience that brought it out. Because I tended to think that I was who I wanted to be not able to see who I actually was being.

As an adult, I had to find my way to that. I remember having to make a decision, a literal decision, that I wanted to live as a person with blindness. It was very different from living as a person with low vision. Total blindness was a totally different experience for me! And so I had to make a decision for me!

TR:

You know this isn’t about which level of visual acuity is more challenging, right?
it’s not a competition between disabilities, in fact, it has less to do with any external factor at all.

Not confronting the question was the source of anxiety.

Marguerite:

I just remember saying to myself, I have got to make a decision about how I want to be because
the anxiety was because I did not want to be blind. But I’m blind.

I really did know that the question for me to answer was, do you want to live as a blind person, and I realized I had not made up my mind, which also contributed to the panic attacks that I was having. I was scared to know what I really thought.

that was a very traumatic time for me. And I went through that solo, because I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. And I had tried to find a counselor at one point, but I couldn’t find counselors that knew blindness from the experience. And so I didn’t trust them enough to share that.

I had done enough spiritual practices during my life, that I use the tools that I gained. And I made a decision that I did want to live. So here I am.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

Here you are! (Chuckles)

Marguerite:

Here I am… Yes…. (chuckles)

— Music ends into momentary silence

— Music begins, a lively up beat R & B drum opening to a happy groove.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

That’s right, that’s right!

Marguerite:

Yeh! (Reflectively says) Here I am!

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite, because of all the things you do, to advocate, coming on a podcast to share and help others, doing your thing with disability. You Ms. Marguerite are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

You was already official but I don’t know, should I make more levels of officiality?
The two share in a silly laugh.

TR:

I truly respect and appreciate Marguerite for her honesty and sharing her wisdom and insight that I just know, will be of real value to many.

In fact, check out how generous she wanted to be when I asked her to share contact information.

Marguerite:

So you can call me you can call my mobile number which is 443-271-1668

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite! This is on the internet. Are you sure you want to put your number out there? Laughing…

Marguerite:
Oh no, no, I guess I don’t, I guess I don’t…

They can go to the NFB page NFBMD.org.

TR:
Orr go ahead and email her and tell her how much you appreciate her valuable perspective!
Marguerite:

MWoods719 at Gmail.

TR:

I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather have kicked off this season with more than Ms. Marguerite Woods.

Did you listen between the words?

(Filtered Voice:) Dude, I really don’t think that’s a term.

She shared valuable ideas. Some were very practical like;
suggesting we create our toolkit to manage aspects of our lives.

And others were more philosophical like;
– exploring life through blindness and other identities…
– Choosing to think about and speak in terms of what we want.

That to me is so Powerful and honestly feels important for me where I am in my life right now.
You know, let me put that into practice right now.
I want you to share this episode with at least one other person. And let them know they can follow or subscribe to the podcast, just as you did, to make sure they don’t miss any episodes.
I want you to tell them, they can do that wherever they get podcasts.
Let them know they can find transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com.
And of course, make sure they know , that’s R to the E I D…
— (D! And that’s me in the place to be!, Slick Rick)

Marguerite:

Like his last name!

TR in conversation with Marguerite:
Ouu! I like that!
(The two laugh)

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Young Gifted Black & Disabled – Right On Time with Toni Hickman

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

Toni Hickman is standing with an Emmy in her hand. She is a tall, slim black woman with a peach dress on and long black locs

I first learned of Artist, Rapper, EMMY Award Winning Toni Hickman a few years ago when I did an episode on Krip Hop. I wanted to reach out and invite her onto the podcast back then, but things sometimes slip off my radar. When I learned she was a part of the song Rising Phoenix for the documentary of the same name I knew I wanted to speak with her. While in conversation with Reid My Mind Radio Alumni & Family member Cheryl Green, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the two of them were connected. Cheryl put us in touch and then, well, a lot of stuff in between, but we finally ended up in conversation

In this episode we talk about;
Toni’s history in the rap game. from her days at Suave House as Slim Goodie, her encounter with Suge Knight to her current collaboration with longtime friend Big Yo in their new group Thakur (pronounced The Cure).

We discuss her experience with disability as a Black woman, the impact on her career, winning an EMMY and so much more. Of course, we pay special attention to the valuable lessons that are applicable to anyone adjusting to disability.

This conversation took a while to actually make happen, but it’s right on time!

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Transcript

Show the transcript

— Music begins, a piano chord with a vibes roll leads into a upbeat groove.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Hey, Toni, can you hear me?

Toni:

Yes!

TR in Conversation with Toni:

How you doing?

Toni:

I’m good how are you?

TR in Conversation with Toni:

I’m good

Toni:

we finally got to do the interview.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

yeah yeah I’m scared to say that, I’m gonna wait till it’s done (Laughs)

Toni:

I was just I had something else that came…

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Uh oh!I’m losing your connection I don’t know if you can hear me but I can’t hear you Can hear me but I can’t hear you.
Okay it says you’re unmuted, it says your video is on, try turning off your video and let’s see if that saves some bandwidth

Toni:
Thomas

TR in Conversation with Toni:

There you go.

TR:

Things happen when there supposed to

For example, maybe this is your first time listening to the podcast.
I don’t know what brought you here, but I’m glad you made it.

My name is Thomas Reid and I’m the host and producer of this podcast.

We’re in the midst of the Young Gifted Black & Disabled series.
This was inspired by an episode of the same name I produced last year with my brother AJ Murray.
I really encourage y’all to check that out.

While that episode along with close to 150 others are in the past, they’re not old or stale.
We add a bit of seasoning for flavor, but there’s no preservatives.
The dishes we serve up here are always fresh and good for your mind and body.

So you see, you’re right on time!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Let’s get it!

Toni:

My name is Tony Hickman. I am a tall slim, melanin dominant black girl with long dreadlocks and yeah I am excited about this interview.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

So now I usually don’t start with this question, but where were you born Tony?

Toni:

I was born in New York City.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Can you be specific?

Toni:

I was born in the Bronx,

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Yeh! say that one more time for me…

Toni:

I was born in the Boogie Down Bronx. Morisanna Hospital. I was raised in New Orleans Louisiana.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

No doubt you can’t hide that.

TR:

Over the year’s, Toni’s been known under some other names.

Toni:

when I was on Suave House, which is a record label where I have done gold and platinum musical performances, my rap name used to be Slim Goodie.

Everybody in the industry that knows me they still call me Slim like everybody call me Slim so it’s crazy if I would have got fat right they’ll still call me Slim.

TR:

That really does sort of make you think about the importance of a name. It can be really about who you are at one particular moment in time.
Yet, it can also be about who you are meant to be.

Toni:

A lot of people like in the conscious community call me Alika. Some people in the conscious community come up with other names for themselves and I think that’s okay too because sometimes we have to define who we want to be in this world and When we’re given our government names it’s not always where we are you know, so I get it but yeah, Alika is actually my real middle name.

My dad gave me Tony and my mom gave me Alika.

Alika means beautiful warrior.

TR:

On social she’s known as the Real Ms. Toni Hickman. Perhaps there is an impostor out there, but I’m thinking it’s more like representing her ability to share her truth. Keeping it real! Namean!

An early sign of that is in her poetry which she began at 9 years old.

Toni:

I had went through a lot of things with my mom and my father’s splitting up and so I would write this poetry to help me. It was philosophy, even at a young age.

It was like, I wish I was a bird so that I could fly away, but I am just a child, so therefore, I have to stay.

TR:

When her school put on a talent show, Toni teamed up with some friends and started rapping.

Toni:

We was the Bally Trooper Adidas group, and we had a beatboxer and my home girl and me. And we won the talent show. And from there, I was just like, Oh, yeah, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right here.

TR:

That first performance was not really indicative of how Toni wanted to rap.

Her partner wrote the rhyme. Which was about Now & Laters.

Toni:

I was just like, Okay, I need to be doing this all the time. But I can write my own raps. And from there, I always wrote my own lyrics.

MC Lyte, Salt N Peppa. That was like my big influences at that time as far as female hip hop. But honestly, my reality was a little bit different.

I grew up kind of, like, always looking out for myself. I’ve been on my own since I was 15. I’ve been doing music professionally since 16.

TR:

Writers of any sort are encouraged to write about what they know. Toni wrote about her environment.

Toni:
My environment was watching people die, like right in front of my face, people getting shot and killed.

And so I started rapping on the negative side of that, like, I was T Capone, I was Al Capone’s daughter.
I was the gangsta hip hop. And I gradually started going into stories of like, why this wasn’t a good choice, or why even being in that environment can get you stuck.

TR:

With a rap name like T Capone, well you’d assume not all of the stories were positive.

Toni:

It wasn’t just about killing. I can only remember one song I did that and they went platinum, but it was about killing. And that didn’t sit well with me. Like, during the process, it was dope, the song was called armed robbery. But then afterwards, when I listened to it, like my soul was just like, no, Toni , this is not your path, you have to correct and that’s something that happens in life, like, you know, we don’t come in this world knowing exactly what we need to do or what direction we need to go. And it’s only from these harsh lessons, that we get to learn our true purpose.

TR:

Telling stories with messages, was her thing.

Toni:

Like Scarface or Tupac. They used to actually call me a female Tupac because that’s really kind of how I related to the world.

And then even after that, I started going into Slim Goody.

Slim Goodie had messages in her music and that was very important for me Even then, even though I didn’t even know my whole way. I just knew that it had to have something that somebody could learn from.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Being compared to like a Tupac and Scarface, where do you think you got that? Were you reading as well as writing at a young age?

Toni:

My mother raised me as a reader. She was putting books in my face, like, As a Man Thinketh”, “Back to Eden”.

My mother was like this person who everybody would come to if they were sick or had an issue, and my mother would be the one to give them a solution. Like, she was known as the medicine woman in the church.

Now I do that as well.

TR:

During the time she was rapping under the name Slim Goodie,
Suave House moved Toni from New Orleans to Atlanta.
The record label however was experiencing their own change as their premiere artists 8 Ball and MJG were leaving the label.

Toni:

When you put your project in somebody else’s hands, and it’s no fault of anyone, but if you put your project in somebody else’s hands, you have to wait on their hand and move right. So if something happens with their hand, their hand get cut off or something like that thing, you’re stuck because you’ve put your dreams in somebody else’s hands. That situation happened to me. And so I eventually got out of the label legally, and started doing my own thing and started working with big artists like Jagged Edge, Petey Pablo

TR:

That got the attention of the infamous Suge Knight.

— Audio from the 1995 Source Awards…
“Any artist out there want to be an artist, want to stay a star, don’t want to have to worry about the Executive Producer trying to be all in the videos, all on a record, dancing, come to Death Row.” Suge Knight

TR:

Yes, that Suge Knight, from Death Row Records.
He liked what he heard and reached out to Toni.
Of course she was aware of his reputation which includes
allegedly hanging rapper Vanilla Ice off a balcony during let’s say contract negotiations.

Toni:

He called my phone personally right That was still huge for me that I was on the phone with him.
He was like yeah, I want to fly you out to Cali and you know we’re gonna do this because I love this song. This is a dope song.

Then three days later, I had my first brain aneurysm.

When I look back at it now its like, you definitely was not supposed to go out there.

TR:

Toni recovered from that aneurysm and moved on with her career.
About a year later, while celebrating the release of a new project back home in New Orleans, she felt ill.
It was another aneurysm.

Toni:

But this one actually burst in my head. Most people die when that happens. But they rushed me to the hospital. I had to wait for my mother to come from Atlanta and give them permission to operate on me. They told her I had a 5050 chance of living or dying.

When she gave them permission, they went in my head and started operating. But while they were in my head, I had a stroke on the table because my body went into shock, and it pushed my pressure up.

When I came to, which was a minute, I think I was out for a couple of days. But when I came to I couldn’t speak. And I couldn’t spell water. I couldn’t say water. But I noticed what I wanted.

TR:

She wanted to live! Even if she didn’t realize it at that time.

Eventually she was moved to a rehab facility in Louisiana.

Toni:

I had this song playing in my head, (Toni sings …)feels like I’m hopeless.

And every time I was thinking in my head, I just burst out crying because that’s what I felt. I just felt hopeless. Like, I had no hope. And I have been doing music all my life. And so I was like, What am I doing now?
Okay, now, the industry definitely is not focused on people with disabilities. And so, like, What am I supposed to do?

— Music begins, an eerie menacing slow Hip Hopbeat

One of my nurses came in and she said, Well, what you need to ask is, how did you have two brain aneurysms and a stroke and you’re still alive?
So that’s the real question you need to ask yourself. That stuck with me for the rest of my life.

TR:

Toni describes herself as very stubborn during this period.

Toni:

I had this energy on me that was like, I’ll be damned, that’s the only way I can describe it.
I just never gave up on myself. I had to either be hopeless, or I’ll be damned. And I chose the I’ll be damned.

I just had this energy where I was like, this cannot be my reality, I have so much more in me, this can’t be it.

I have so much more in me, like, just can’t be it.

TR:

She made her own rules.
Like refusing to remain in bed even when she couldn’t walk.
Eventually she began walking with a cane and was transferred to the Shepperd Center in Atlanta.
A rehabilitation facility that helps young people with brain injury.

Toni:

There were people in there and they were just like giver uppers, and I hate that that can happen. But some people when they fall or something has happened seemed to defeat them, they travel in that energy, they choose to stay in that energy of just being defeated, instead of fighting. And for me, I just didn’t see the being defeated, being my option, I wanted to fight for my life.

TR:

The physical, that was just part of her fight.

Toni:

I had to deal with the outside world and walking differently and not being able to wear heels or being self conscious about what I look like, and being judged by what I look like.

Before I was this six foot model type looking girl.

— Music Begins, a bouncy up-tempo, high energy Hip Hop beat!

“I got a little a, a little something I want to lay on y’all.” !”

TR:

Hey did you know; Reid My Mind Radio, is on Facebook and Insta Gram. We’re going to do some things on these platforms so stay tuned. You can find us on both FB and IG @ReidMyMindRadio.

On Twitter I’m at tsreid

Don’t forget you can also ask your smart device to play Reid My MindRadio by T.Reid on your preferred podcast provider.

Make sure you say that full statement including, T.Reid.

— A hint of “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway

The holidays are among us. If you’re looking for a way to give yourself a present while supporting what I’m hoping is your favorite podcast… one of your favorites? A podcast you’re kinda diggin’?

Anyway, go on over to ReidMyMind.com and hit that link that says Shop.

Purchase a shirt, hoodie or any item to show your rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio! Or maybe you want to show your support for Flipping the Script on Audio Description. or of course, Young Gifted Black & Disabled.

All support is truly appreciated.

You can find Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get your podcasts. That’s the perfect place to follow or subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

Tell a friend to do the same. Let them also know that we have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com. Just make sure you tell them; That’s R to the E I D

“D” and that’s me in the place to be. Slick Rick) Like my last name.

Now back to the episode. ———-

— DJ Scratch leads into
— Crippled Pretty, by Toni Hickman

Lyrics:

I was kind of wishing I was dead
They shaved off all my hair to do surgery on my head
And then my eyes turned dark and my world got black
I never thought my life would take a turn like that

My world is Cripple Pretty

I’ve seen the sun and…
I’ve seen the rain and…
Life is beautiful
I can’t complain, man
… song continues under the conversation.

TR:

Toni didn’t want to be seen in public

Toni:

A friend of mine, he was just like you done lost your confidence What happened? And then I was like, I didn’t lose anything. I’m telling him that but he was right. I hated that he was able to identify that with me that pissed me off. I’m supposed to hide it.

— Music begins, a melancholy ambient piano melody

I had to get all my hair shaved off during this process.

I went and got braids in my hair so I can just feel beautiful.

One day I was in the mirror and I was taking the braids out. And I had this energy that came over me, and it was just like, I love you. And so I’m looking in the mirror, and I’m crying to myself. And I’m just I love you, I love you just how you are like, I love you. And even to think about it. Now it’s bringing tears to my eyes, because that was the moment when I decided that I had to love myself internally. Before I can really reflect that in the world. You know?

TR:

Yeh, I do.

In fact, I think a lot of us do.
What I think could be helpful is figuring out how to access that energy.

Toni:

I think it’s in all of us, but we have to tap into it.

When I was in the mirror, and I was crying to myself, and I had to tell myself, I love myself. That was definitely God energy. And that was definitely learning what self love really means. Because everybody talks about you got to do the self care and the self love, but self love really comes in when you are down at your bottom. And you can’t even figure your way out and you have to find your way of understanding what self love means. That was my turning point.

TR:

She took the braids out.

Toni:

I put my two palm palms in my head naturally. And I was like, Look, this is me, you gonna have to accept me as is. I started going to the gym, the local YMCA in Atlanta. And I was working on myself so hard that they put me on the wall is like just being so determined to grow and succeed.

I don’t care what your issue is. You feeling like you need to go Get your nails and your toes done, whatever makes you feel beautiful. It’s okay to, to go in that energy because that inspires the same energy that makes you feel that self care and this self love.

I do it because it makes me feel better not for anybody else. I do it for me.

TR:

While she says her gate is off, Toni became strong enough where she no longer needed a cane and was able to return to the studio.

Unrelated to disability, today she chooses to record from home.

Yet we know, disability can introduce some change into our lives.

Toni:

Oh everything changes. As a melanin dominant person, or black person in our world, there have been so many ways to see how, as black people, we have been discriminated against, but disability takes it to a whole other level.

I’m not saying that it takes away from discrimination as black because if you’re black and disabled, like that’s a double whammy.

What I realized is this community of people with disabilities First off, is so strong, like there’s so many strong spirits , disabled activists.

I was kind of just trying to figure out my way, and Krip Hop came to me.

TR:

The Krip Hop Nation was started by Leroy Moore and Keith Jones in 2007.
It’s a worldwide association of artists with disabilities campaigning for equality through concerts, tours, workshops and much more.
Leroy reached out to Toni on the early social media app, My Space.

Toni:

When Leroy came to me, I was just like, yes. I have spoken at different events with Leroy. We’ve just done a lot of great things.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

There are many people within the world of hip hop who have a disability, but they don’t all identify it as such. So I’m sure Leroy has approached some people. And their reaction was probably not like yours, right? Like, no, I’m not disabled, you know what I’m saying? So what is it? How did you come to identify as disabled?

Toni:

I’m not gonna hide it. That was one of the things of like, self love. I can’t hide what has happened. I didn’t feel like I needed to, like, I felt like I needed to speak for this community versus hide.

I know rappers in the industry right now. They’ve never shine light on it, because they know how the industry looks at that. And it’s unfortunate, because this is something that needs the light. The disability community needs inclusion.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Do you think that can change within hip hop, specifically?

Toni:’

I’m not sure.

At first, my goal was to be a part of the industry without being like, an activist.

I just wanted to be that slim girl that was rapping. But now my goal is not to be a part of them, my goal is to be a part of change. And even if my voice can redirect, to change them in some kind of way, then I’ve still fulfilled my purpose. Because at the end of the day, all Hip Hop artists have some form of duty.

I told you, I started with the poetry. And it’s always been philosophical. So we’re channeled,

Nipsey Hussle talks about this too. We get this energy that comes through us, we don’t know where these lyrics come from. They come through us and that is how we express. Those that channeling for negative, that is not helping our environment, but if we choose to channel and help our environment, then we are really being what we’re supposed to be on this earth.

TR:

There’s real purpose in sharing stories about disability and our experiences through
lyrics, musicianship, dance, art!
So it’s really great to se Toni and fellow Krip Hop artists
George Tragic and co-founder Keith Jones, receive recognition for their work
in the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix.

Toni:

The documentary is about the Paralympics, and all of these amazing people who have stories.

it is a story of just pure, I’ll be damned. I’m gonna do this.
TR:

Daniel Pemberton, the music director for the film wanted to make sure the project included disabled musicians.
That first just meant hiring disabled orchestral instrumentalist.

Toni:

Then he decided that he wants to have like, a hip hop song attached. And so they got in touch with Leroy, who is the founder of crip, hop, and Leroy got in touch with us. And they kind of wanted me to add the energy of the singing into it, because they had listened to our projects.

I speak from the heart always, and I work on people always being able to feel that emotion that I have and so they wanted me to add the energy of the song.

I had more than what was there. And then the director came back, he’s like, Well, you know, maybe we take this off and just use this. And that’s how we ended up with the hook.

I’m a Rising Phoenix, I’ll rise above you.

— Song mixes in with the lyrics…

Toni:

And that is pretty much the story of what you have to do when you have a disability, you have to gain this, I’ll be damned attitude, and fight for your equality.

TR:

Not only is Toni singing the hook, but she drops a verse as well.

Toni:

I was just happy to be a part of the movie because just that alone was so powerful.

We had no idea that it was gonna win an EMMY.

I was just floored.

— News footage…
“A lot of people online are criticizing the award show with the hash tag #EMMYsSoWhite, trending on Twitter. No Black actors won big awards despite a record number being nominated. 49 by the way.”

Toni:

This goes back to that inclusion thing. This song was so amazing that it won an EMMY.
That’s the statement that I want to make because, I’m Black.

TR in conversation with Toni:

Mm! Yeh!

Toni:

We won because of this song so don’t say that we were not include it you need to think about us you need to understand that we are included

TR in conversation with Toni:

Yeh, that’s that “well they’re not Black they’re disabled.”

Toni:

That’s what i’m talking about!

TR:

Sometimes y’all, when you’re Black and disabled, It feels like well, am I not Black enough for ya!

— Sample from Billy Paul “Am I Black Enough”

TR:

Despite all that, Toni has an EMMY. And naturally, it’s in her studio.

Toni:

it’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.

TR:

Toni’s working on a new project right now!

Thakur>

Toni:
Thakur is definitely a project that I must confess is confrontational. But it is focused on I guess, bringing in the deep thinkers and, and also helping people understand that, like, in the process of us looking outside of ourselves, for someone to save us, we also have to look internally and tap into our God’s self and work on saving ourselves.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

What’s the controversy though?

Toni:

Well, the controversy, I mean, even in Christianity, we’ve been taught to pray to a white God, and look for white gods to save us.

And so in that process, we have given away all of our power. For us to access who we truly need to be, we have to redirect how we look at God.
God is everywhere. God is in the trees, the grass. God is energy. But we also manifest that energy. And so we have to also just see how looking at a white God, who has also been the same image as our slave master has damaged our psyche.

TR:

The Cure , spelled T H A K U R is Toni’s new group.

Toni:

It’s just me and my homeboy.

I was doing a lot of big things before I went in the hospital. And he was one of the people that just kind of came in and was there before and after. He’s a really dope artist, he’s a dope producer. But also a person that has just been influencing me to just keep going regardless of the standards that the music industry tries to put on artists, like age, disability or whatever. He was one of those people that just was always in my corner and encouraging me to you know, live my greatest life.

He’s Big Yo!

TR in Conversation with Toni:

When we’re talking about disability. I love to hear about the friends in the family who really were holding people down, before and after. I always feel like they deserve a real special shout out. So shout out Big Yo, for real!

Toni:

Yes, shout out to Big Yo!

TR:

You can check out Thakur’s first release titled Telepathy right now on YouTube.
By the time this episode is released, their second single Daylight should be available and an album soon to follow.

Toni:

it’s just really to enlighten and that’s what my whole journey has been about. Understanding my own truth while I can relay My message to others.

TR:

Krip Hop and rap in general is just one vehicle Toni uses to improve her environment through positive change.

Toni:

I started speaking for the American Heart Association, and this other organization called young stroke. And young stroke focuses on people with brain injury, aneurisms, that happen at a young age.

TR:

She writes books.

Toni:

The doctors told me to keep chemicals out of my hair for at least two years. And so when I researched why I found that you know, a lot of these chemicals can lead to cancer, aneurysms, all kinds of things and we don’t even think about it because as melanin dominant people, for so long we have just tried to fit into the status quo of what America or the world in society portrays as beauty and so we’ve been putting these perms and stuff on our hair and that understanding that our roots are definitely supposed to be out and that’s what we’re supposed to wear. I wrote a book called Chemical Suicide.

TR:

She has another titled ” A Man’s Cry for Health”.
It’s a response to a lack of information and attention placed on men’s health.

Toni:

It’s hard for them to focus or even bring attention to their health issues because society makes it look like they are less than a man if you have issues or you’re weaker or something and that shouldn’t be the case we need to pay attention to our men as well.

It doesn’t just help men because it talks about all ailments that us humans have but we’ve even raised our boys to think like you never cry you’re never supposed to cry you’re never supposed to shed tears and the reality is yeah you know one of my spiritual teachers he’s like you know if we weren’t supposed to cry we wouldn’t have tear ducts.

You don’t dwell in that energy but it’s okay for men to cry. It’s okay for you to let out that emotion.

TR:

She’s even working on the story of her journey. Toni:

I started on it. And then I stopped and I started again.
It’s my book. Just everything that I have been through and going through the changes of loving myself

My goal is to eventually get it turned into a movie or a series.

TR:

I’ll spare you all my audio description lecture and my selfless pitch to narrate.

Music, poetry, writing, Toni’s about creating.

Toni:

I paint, I’m constantly working on stuff just trying to see where I’m supposed to be. You know my purpose.

TR:

It’s why she shares the lessons she continues to learn throughout her journey. What she calls Alika Lessons.

Toni:

The Alika lessons can vary.

I don’t really think about direction. I just get on there with lessons that I constantly learn to help me grow. And I understand that whatever can help me grow is probably going to help somebody else.

TR:

The content she shares on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube isn’t tailored to any specific identity.
However, I think it does center the experiences of women.
And fellas, you may want to listen to learn a thing or two.

Toni:

The importance of loving yourself, but also the importance of understanding that it is okay for you to be properly pleasured.

This is not a disabled thing. Women have a tendency to kind of Like fake an orgasm because they are not truly being pleased because their spiritual connection is not there with their partner.

They’ve just bypassed that to please their partner instead of focusing on pleasing themselves.

TR:

Pleas ing oneself begins with seeing that inner beauty.
Being comfortable and loving that person in the mirror.

That first poem she wrote as a child;
choosing to be true to herself and write meaningful honest lyrics;
healing on her terms;
embracing her disability;

All of these things, on her time.

You should take some of your time to check out Toni’s music, purchase her books and art; Visit
ToniHickman.com

Toni:

that’s T O N I H I C K M A N.com

My social media is the real Tony Hickman except for Twitter on Twitter, I’m just Tony Hickman

TR:

Oh, no, she’s never [emphasis on just ]just Toni Hickman!

She is the real Toni Hickman, which happens to be the name of her YouTube channel.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

So since I got the real Tony Hickman online not that fake imposter running around out there you know say we got no time for that fake one so since I got the real one on that I just want to let you know that because you were so open and you shared everything and when folks do that right here with the family, with the Reid My Mind Radio family we let you know that you miss real Tony Hickman are now an official member of the Reid My MindRadio family

— Airhorn!

Toni:

Happy to be a member

TR in Conversation with Toni:

I really do appreciate you and you know I’ve been looking forward to this for a while and I’m glad we finally did it Tony we got this done Congratulations, to us!

TR:

Yes, congratulations to us as we celebrate… Young Gifted Black & Disabled

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

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