Archive for the ‘PWD’ Category

Blind Travel Network – A Holman Prize Win for You Too

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Stacy Cervenka
In part 2 of the 2018 Holman Prize series, we meet Stacy Cervenka. Stacy’s creating the Blind Travel Network – a website specifically tailored to people who are blind or low vision. The BTN’s mission is to enable blind and low vision people to share accessibility information about all aspects of travel. From local venues to foreign destinations. This Holman Prize is the first that can benefit all blind people around the world – even you too! And since I mentioned you too, hear Stacy’s story about her encounter with U2’s Bono.

Don’t miss the rest of the 2018 Holman prize series or any other episode of the podcast…subscribe now!

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Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

I actually did get kissed by Bono. It’s really exciting. He was in our office to talk about Third World debt relief and Aids in Africa and he had just gotten out of a meeting with my boss and all the staff members came in to say hello

I reached out my hand to shake his hand and he just said “Ahhh, come here and give me a kiss” and gave me a giant smooch on my ear

Somebody thankfully caught it on camera so it’s a moment that I’ll be able to show my kids. (Laughs)

TR:

Greetings to you, the fabulous listener. Allow me to welcome you back.

Music continues…

That’s Stacey Cervenka, our latest Holman prize winner. In a few moments you’ll learn more about her and her ambition.
And yes, she was talking about that Bono, the activist rock star from the group U2.

If this is your first time here, welcome!

You joined us midway through this Reid My Mind Radio presentation of the 2018 Holman prize winners. I know we’re not supposed to make assumptions but I’m going on a limb. When you finish listening to this episode not only are you going to want to go back and hear the first in this 2018 series featuring the three Holman winners, but you’re also going to want to go back and listen to the 2017 prize winners.

Really, you should just stop right now and subscribe to the podcast. I’m pretty certain you’re going to like it.

I mean, you’ve been searching through the podcast directories looking for that podcast to fill a special void and you still haven’t found what you’ve been looking for!

Audio: “Still Haven’t FoundWhat I’ve Been Looking For”, U2

While I drop this intro music, you go and hit the subscribe button

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

Soon after he studied medicine and literature and then became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

In this second in a series of three 2018 Holman Prize winners, Stacy Cervenka has the ambition of creating the Blind Travel Network – hoping to make travel more accessible to blind people, by blind people.

SC:

What I would really like to develop is an online website similar to yelp or trip Advisor or Cruise Critic where people are blind or have low vision can go to post reviews of places they’ve been. Ask and answer questions of other blind people and then also have feature blogs and video blogs and advice columns from seasoned blind travels maybe blind travel agents some travel agents who have worked with many blind people. Blind cane travel instructors. So basically it could just be a website where people can learn about not only various places they can travel but also techniques they can use to navigate in airports or monitor their kids safely at a water park or navigate Disney World as a blind person.

TR:
There’s the comparison to other crowd source travel sites, but Stacy is in no way in competition with them.

SC:

I don’t want to take the place of any of those message boards and I certainly encourage people who are blind or have low vision to be active in the typical message boards because they offer so much great information.

In order to decide what cruise or what resort or what Disney hotel is right for you, you have to do a lot of research. this will only be one piece of that, that can give you information that some other places can’t about what places are most blind friendly sort of speak.

TR:
Stacy has a significant amount of travel experience, both personal and work related.

She became intrigued by politics during college after attending a NFB Seminar in Washington DC where she met with legislators to discuss blindness related issues. She went on to intern with Senator Brownback from Kansas.

SC:

When I graduated they had a job opening and I applied and ended up working there full time for 5 years.

The electricity and the atmosphere in DC is unlike any other place I lived and it’s full of people who come there to work for public officials or for the headquarters of national nonprofits or for think tanks or government agencies. So it’s filled with people who are passionate about what they do and almost everyone who comes to DC is really, you know there very knowledgeable about what they do. They’re very passionate about what they do. They really care about what they do. So it’s just a mix of people who are excited about making the world better, whatever that means to them. So it’s just a really fun place to be in your 20’s.

TR:

As part of her job with the Senator, Stacy traveled to some interesting destinations. Like North Korea.

SC:
When I was there for a Congressional staff delegation we went to the demilitarized zone which is the border of North and South Korea. Most of the border of North and South Korea is about 4 kilometers of land mines except for at the demilitarized zone where the South Korean and North Korean soldiers actually face staring at each other all day and it’s really just like a blue line on the concrete and that is the border.

There are blue UN security sheds that straddle the border. We went into the UN Security shed s so we’re technically in North Korea when we’re on that side of the building and the soldiers were right there. I actually had to give up my cane, they wouldn’t let me take my cane because the North Korean soldiers could have thought that it was a weapon and shot. They wouldn’t have asked me questions. they wouldn’t have been like excuse me Miss what is that? We weren’t allowed to point we weren’t allowed to laugh , we weren’t allowed to smile . We had all of these things because we had to make sure that the North Korean soldiers didn’t see us as any sort of threat.

It was probably the most intense experience I’d ever had. You were very aware. I mean they would tell you right there, you see that building, there’s a sniper , there’s a North Korean sniper right on it. We can’t see him but we know he’s got his gun focused on us.

TR:
See, we all just gained some insight into traveling to north Korea as a blind person.
I’m betting that the majority of her travel experience is more relatable.

After working in DC Stacy went on to become the Executive Officer of the California State Rehabilitation Council.

SC:

Currently I’m mostly staying home with my two kids, but I’m also working part time as the Grant Administrator for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. I also am the Chair of the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind parent Group

TR:

As a blind parent, Stacy’s accumulated lots of techniques that she wants to share with others.

SC:

Traveling can be something you do for a day with your kids in some ways. You go to a local amusement park or you go to a local hiking trail or a local state park. A lot of the techniques that you would use to monitor your kids at a park or at an amusement park in your home town are the same ones that you would use at Disney World.

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

SC:
If you were to say I like going to Broadway shows here is how I enjoy doing it as a blind person. In a way it doesn’t even matter if I’m going to a show in New York or Chicago or San Francisco or Denver or whatever. I can still probably use some of the techniques that you used or look at some of the resources that you looked at.

TR:

Stacy is planning to produce some of these techniques in the form of both written and video blogs. However, she’s looking for input from other sources as well.

SC:

Right now when people write a review it is kind of like writing a review for Yelp. You’re submitting it just as a user to the site.
I do plan on having featured bloggers, featured video bloggers. Probably going to choose about 5 or 6. Two or three blind people who travel a lot who have Different preferences, different ideas of what they like.

TR:

That’s a recognition of the diversity among blind people when it comes to preferred types of travel.

Traveling to an all-inclusive resort to lay on a beach where some prefer visiting amusement parks, camp grounds versus those who prefer actively participating in the culture of a city or foreign destination.

SC:

There might be another blind person who says you know my family is on a budget , we don’t have a lot of income, how can I arrange a vacation for my family that is as cost effective as possible and maybe that’s their number one concern

. I want to have several bloggers to have a variety of different perspectives . Maybe some people who travel with long white canes. Others who travel with guide dogs.

I would also like to have a blog from a blind orientation and mobility instructor who can feature not so much destinations they visit but techniques they use. Such as here’s some techniques for traveling through an airport. Here’s some techniques for monitoring your kid when you’re at an amusement park or when you’re at any park at all.

TR:

One stipulation that comes with the $25,000 Holman Prize is that winners cannot pay themselves. While she believes in paying for content, she’ll be seeking volunteer contributors in the early phases of the site until funds can be generated.

Here’s Stacy with more about her project plan and budget.

SC:

We get the funding in October and that’s when we’ll begin working with the website developer and business analyst to actually develop the site.

SC:

The actual development of a high quality website that you can find on Google and allows people to create user names and passwords and has many message boards and has a lot of functionality costs about $16,000 to create.

SC:

Right now we’re kind of doing some focus groups talking to different blindness organizations. Finding out what the blind community wants and needs out of the website. Functionality and features they want it to have.

We’re hoping to have the site completed by the end of December and then starting at the beginning of next year we’ll really be doing outreach and trying to get the blind public interested in using this site because if people don’t post on the website then it won’t be anything. Like I tell people Napster wasn’t one guy’s CD collection. Yelp isn’t one person’s blog. It’s only a good resource if a lot of people post on it.

TR:

It’s important to remember that local travel, such as visiting a restaurant, museum or venue in your home town is just as important to the site as visiting a resort in the Caribbean.

SC:

If you go somewhere in New York City a concert, a restaurant, see a show or skydiving bowling whatever and you write a review then hey when I go to New York City I can say ok let me log onto the New York City board and see what blind people have done in New York City.

What did they find accessible? What did they find welcoming? How can I go enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a blind person? How can I go enjoy a Broadway show best has a blind person?

I think it will only be a good resource if everyone contributes to it.

TR:

So much of the project’s sustainability and success is relying on community adoption. It’s therefore vital to assure the site’s user interface is easily accessible. Not only for accessing the information but for contributions from the community in the form of reviews and ratings.

SC:

That’s kind of the biggest challenge. We only have $25,000.

More people will find a website but people will use an app more often. I think an app is easier to use.

I went to eat at a restaurant now I’m in the cab or the Uber on the ride home let me quickly get out my phone and open the app and leave a quick review and just let people know. There’s Braille menus but they hassled me about my guide dog or whatever. I think it’s easier for people to do that on an app. The problem is if you have a smart phone you can still use a website on Safari or another browser, but if you only have a computer you can’t necessarily use an app. And so we want it to be accessible to the greatest number of people.

If I could have my way I would love to develop an app, but they are more expensive and I don’t know that we have the funds to do that, but that is something I’d love to look into for the future..)

[TR in conversation with SC]
Well that could be phase 2 but the first part is yes a website because they would need to talk to each other and that’s the basic infrastructure for that, but let’s put that out there because you know there’s no reason someone might want to fund your app.

SC:
Exactly, if anybody wants a great idea for an app or wants to help on some app development definitely contact me I would love that. But definitely want to make the website so that it works very well with Voice Over and Safari and Android so. We’ll make the website with the understanding that a lot of people will be accessing it on their phones.

TR:

Lots of blind or low vision people can appreciate the need for such an app. It comes out of shared experiences.

When living in DC, Greg, Stacy’s husband planned a date for them.

SC:

When we were dating, so this was about 10 years ago, my husband had setup a private horseback riding lesson for us at a stable in Washington DC. We were so excited. It was a surprise it was going to be a fun romantic date and it was like all lovey dovey. Then we got there and they weren’t going to let us ride because we were blind. They didn’t let us on the horses and then they told us to come back the next day and they led our horses around like we were in pre-school.

TR:
Greg grew up horseback riding. Stacy too was more than familiar with stables and horses. Not only taking a class in college she had other experiences.

SC:

While I was growing up I also attended a horsemanship camp that focused on sort of more technique and learning to actually ride and how to saddle and bride a horse, basic dress size. Saddling and bridling a horse is easy to do non visually probably as it is visually. It’s just like getting dressed or dressing someone else or simply putting on equipment on an animal. Blind guide dog users do it all the time with a harness. It’s a bigger animal and it’s different equipment but if you can put a harness on your guide dog you can put a saddle and bridal on a horse.

I grew up riding horses for fun with family on trips and stuff that were usually just trail rides where you sat on the horse and you hold on and the horse just instinctively follows the horse in front of it and the person on the horse in front of me would just call out if there’s a tree branch or there was a need to duck. So that’s not too challenging.

Actually riding in a ring often I would use environmental queues. Like if there was a radio playing somewhere to orient myself, if the instructor was standing in a part of the ring….using the sun as a queue in outdoor arenas – the sun is on my left side right now… so I can orient myself to the ring.
In college I did it similar .

I certainly never competed or did anything like that but I have probably more experience than your average sighted person.

TR:
Following a negative experience like Stacy’s, for a person with a disability turning to mainstream sites like Yelp risks bringing out ;
trolls or antagonizers,
defenders or explainers of the offenders actions.

SC:

I probably would have gotten a bunch of people saying “Aww well, you know they were just trying to be safe and they didn’t know better.” I’m not going to bother posting this just to get all of these invalidating responses.

we wish that we could have had a place that we could have looked in advance to find a stable that was welcoming that other blind people perhaps rode at or had experiences at.

I didn’t want to be afraid every time Greg and I decided to go somewhere.

TR:
mainstream sites with little to no experience with disability can leave you open to lots of generalizations and advice.

Like the time Stacy was searching for information about accessibility of ports of call on a planned cruise.

SC:

When I would ask questions about disability stuff I would get well we went on a cruise last year with my 92 year old mother and she uses a scooter and here’s what worked for her.

My needs are totally different. Our physical abilities and disabilities are one hundred percent different than an elderly person who uses a scooter.

They might really enjoy a bus tour. That might be a great shore excursion for them. They can take a bus tour, see a lot of sights in the city and not need to walk far. Where for a blind person unless you have additional disabilities walking isn’t a challenge, but you don’t want to sit on a bus and look at stuff out the window because you’re not interacting with it. You’re not experiencing it. You’re not hearing the sounds of the city. You’re not tasting street food. Our needs were just totally different.

I wanted to find a place where blind people could go and get advice from people who understood what our access needs were.

TR:

Whether it’s a guide dog handler getting turned away at a restaurant or taxi or a cane traveler being grabbed under the guise of assistance, negative experiences while traveling are bound to happen.

Maybe if something like the Blind Travel Network were available, Stacy and Greg’s experience at the horse stable would have been different.

Stacy brought in a local chapter of the NFB to work with the horse riding stable to help them improve their policy.

SC:

we didn’t come there to educate people. It was humiliating and frustrating and just awful. That wasn’t what we wanted.

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

[TR in conversation with SC]
I almost see your site as becoming a real vehicle for advocacy.

SC:
Absolutely. What I would hope is that resort companies and cruise lines and tour operators such as Disney will see that ok look there is this site with hundreds or perhaps thousands of blind people on it who want to travel. Who have the money and time to travel. Who have the interest to travel. We need to market to them. We need to be accessible to them. They are a target audience. It’s not charitable to be accessible, it’s just good business sense. Here are people who would like to go somewhere on vacation and we want their money so we need to be accessible and we need to be welcoming and we need to be nondiscriminatory. I think hopefully just by having all of us in one place will hopefully help the travel industry see that we are a market.

TR:

The Blind Travel Network is not only a means to improve access but it’s also a resource for training and a potential source of motivation or encouragement for those new to vision loss.

SC:

A lot of it is just getting rid of the idea that like you can never get lost. That everyone else knows exactly where they’re going. A lot of it is just comfort, travel in public too.

TR:

To find out more or stay in touch with Stacy’s progress

SC:

You can find me on Twitter @Stacy.Cervenka. You can email me at Stacy.Ceervenka@gmail.com…

TR:

For some, aspiring towards an ambition similar to those of the Holman Prize contest can be daunting. It’s an exclusive prize awarded to those who can first dream up an idea or concept that challenges their own personal boundaries. Which I believe is one of the goals of the contest.

The ambitions are the exclusive property of the entrants and winners. Everyone else is invited to observe from afar and be inspired to channel their own inner explorer.

Stacy’, through the Blind Travel Network, is offering blind and low vision people a chance to be a part of her ambition. A chance to create a global network that is for us and by us. In fact, it’s early success is dependent on that.

Congratulations to Stacy Cervenka for winning the Holman prize. I’d say an honorable mention goes to blind and low vision people around the world for the win as well.

Stacy is prepared to do her part in developing the site and creating the content. Hopefully many in the community are prepared to roll up their sleeves and participate in the form of reviews, ratings, the sharing of tips and techniques and of course the site itself within their own network of people who are blind or low vision. After all, the community reaps the benefits. The improved access to spaces like, athletic and performance venues, restaurants and museums increases the visibility of blind and low vision people in the public. These more frequent interactions with the general public can help to eliminate the odd reactions and discrimination like that which Stacy and Greg experienced at the horse riding stable.

So I guess the question I pose to you is will the success of the Blind Travel Network happen, with or without you?

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

We’re just about done meeting all of the 2018 Holman Prize winners. Only one more left to go. I’m sure you’re looking forward to the next one but that being the last, I know how that makes you feel.

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

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2018 Holman Prize : Blind Empowerment in Mexico

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

2018 Holman Prize winner Maria Conchita Hernandez smiling at the camera

Once again, I had the pleasure of speaking with all of the three 2018 Holman Prize winners.

Beginning today, I’ll introduce you to each of the winners. You’ll get to know a bit about them and their plans for the $25K Holman Prize.

We’re then going to go back and catch up with the 2017 winners and hear about their progress and more.

First up, Maria Conchita Hernandez. Having had access to opportunity and information that helped her form a positive view of blindness and disability, she wants to pay it forward.

Remember, links mentioned in this episode are below as well as a transcript.

If you like what you hear, please subscribe to the podcast using your choice of podcast ap including Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. Feel free to leave a review/rating if you’re an Apple Podcast listener.

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Transcript

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TR:

Audio: “More Peas”, The J.B’s

Greetings all and welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.

I’m your host, T.Reid

If you’re a regular listener, glad to have you back. You know where everything is so come on in and get comfortable. Allow me a moment to greet those who are here for the first time.

Ladies, Gentlemen.

Reid My Mind Radio is my space to bring you interviews with people with interesting stories to share more often about blindness or low vision. It’s also a place for me to share my own experiences with blindness as I move along this journey. As I continue to learn and grow I suspect you’ll see some of that reflected here both in the topics and in how they’re presented.

If you’ve been riding with me for at least the past year, you may recall that in 2017 I brought you interviews with the Holman Prize winners.

Not familiar with the Holman Prize? We’re about to get into that.
First, I encourage you to go back and listen to each of the 2017 episodes.

Today though, it’s all about the 2018 winners. I’ll bring you each of the three in a separate episode. So let’s get started with the first…right after my intro music.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Theme

TR:

The San Francisco Lighthouse for the second year in a row, awarded a $25,000 Holman Prize to each of three individuals who in their own way demonstrate the adventurous spirit of James Holman.

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and how they would use the money.
A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and eventually selected three winners.

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

After studying medicine and literature he became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe.

Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize recipient is Maria Conchita Hernandez.

Conchita:
When I was five years old my family decided to move to the United States. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing… go check it out.
I think my mom really saw the difference between kind of what we had available to us in terms of education but also medically wise. So we ended up staying and we became undocumented at that time when we decided to overstay our visa.

TR:
One of 5 children, both Conchita and her brother were eventually diagnosed with Optic Atrophy.

Conchita:
but I don’t think that’s actually what I have. I went to an Ophthalmologist like two years ago and he’s like yeh I don’t think that’s what you have.

I’m color blind, I do very bad with light, I don’t have depth perception so I definitely should have had a cane way before I did.

TR:

That awareness of her lack of blindness skills as a child Conchita would eventually come to understand. After not accepting large print, dealing with headaches resulting from reading standard print, she still graduated with a 3.4 GPA.

Conchita:
That’s why people were like you don’t need help You’re doing fine. The thing is I was struggling but because I was smart I could figure stuff out and I feel like that’s the same in college.

TR:

For many the time spent in college are considered formidable years shaping political views often for a lifetime.

Growing up in California, Conchita had an early start in activism.

Conchita:

So I went to public school. I grew up in California and I ended up graduating high school and going on to college.

I’ve always been into Civil Rights and advocacy. People are like oh what were you doing in high school I was organizing walk outs (laughs…) for immigration. That’s what I was doing, but I never really learned anything about disability or blindness or anything and I didn’t consider myself blind because there’s such a negative idea around it. My teachers never told me I was or anything, they were like oh you are visually impaired you can’t see very well. It was always like a focus on kind of seeing it as this deficit as opposed to something positive.

TR:
During her senior year at Saint Mary’s, a small liberal arts school in California, Conchita took a political science course.

Conchita:
My Professor was Blind. He was like oh ok so you are Blind and I was like no don’t confuse me with those people.

(Laughs along with TR)
He said you should really go to this conference and I was like no, I’m good. So one day he took me to his office and was like you’re going to go to this conference, I’m going to call them and they’re going to pay for you to go. And so he calls like the President of the NFB in California and was like there’s this young lady here and you’re going to pay for her to go. Get her everything and I was like alright I guess I have to go and I don’t even know who these people are. And so my first introduction to blindness in a positive light and to really the disability community was when in my senior year I went to a national NFB conference. And that is where I was just kind of blown away.

TR:

With such negative stereotypes around blindness, it’s common for those with residual sight to choose not to identify as blind. Often even encouraged.

Conchita:

My teachers always told me you know you’re so lucky cause at least you can see something. You know I had these very Ablest ideas what blindness was and disability and when I met all of these blind people I realized people that were totally blind were doing more stuff than what I was doing because I didn’t have the skills . I didn’t know how to travel independently. Up until that point I never went anywhere by myself. I traveled the world, I went abroad, but I was always with someone. I had this fear of going by myself because I wasn’t sure what I would do. In my mind what was wrong was that I couldn’t see not that I didn’t have the skills because I didn’t even know that was a thing.

TR:
That thing? A strong, positive view of what it means to be blind, to be disabled; not only would that become her thing, but it became the foundation for her Holman Ambition.

First, she enrolled in a blindness training program. She learned how to properly use the white cane, Braille, access technology

She knew then she wanted to give other blind children access to the information she didn’t receive.

Conchita:

I didn’t have good teachers of the blind who really should have showed me all of these things No one showed me Assistive Technology. Nobody showed me Braille because I saw too much, but yet I couldn’t function like everybody else.

I ended up going to this Master’s Program at Louisiana Tech and I got my Masters in teaching Blind students.

TR:

After working as a Rehab Counselor in Nebraska, Conchita moved to Washington DC where’s she’s been teaching blind students for over 6 years. She’s currently pursuing a doctorate in special education.

Conchita:

I also run a nonprofit on the side which is kind of where the Holman comes in. I started it three years ago with several friends who are also professionals in the blindness field.

TR:

That organization is called METAS. An acronym for Mentoring, Engaging and Teaching All Students.

The organization was formed after founding member Garrick Scott received an invitation to serve as a mentor at a school for blind children in Guadalajara. Not being a Spanish speaker, he invited his friend Conchita to join him.

Conchita:

I was like alright if we’re going we’re going to have a curriculum. We’re going to have workshops we’re going to set it up organized , we’re not just going to randomly go on a trip. So we ended up building a curriculum, building these classes.

TR:

Two other colleagues; Sachin Pavithran and Richie Flores joined Conchita and Garrick to form the organization.

Conchita:
We’re training the teachers on how to work with blind students because there is no certification for teachers. It’s mostly physical therapists, or occupational therapists or just people who were like I just wanted to help people. So they don’t really have a background in education of blind students.

Conchita:
after we went to Mexico we decided we need to be a nonprofit so that we can ask for money and we can make this something sustainable. So three years ago we did this and we’re all blind, we’re all professionals in the blindness field we’re all people of color and we’re all really passionate about what we do

Audio Conchita Holman Prize Submission

TR:

Continuing to build on that passion, Conchita submitted her proposal to create a conference in Mexico providing training and informational workshops for people impacted by blindness.

Conchita:

Anybody who is blind, parents of blind children and professionals in the field.

The goal is to bring people together and organize. . I believe organizing people together and having them advocate for their rights and advocating for what they want makes the world of difference. And that’s what changed in the United States. The reason we have the laws we have, we’re not special, we’re not more advanced than any other country even though people think we are. We’re not smarter. It just so happened that the right people were in the right places at the right time .

I think organizing the Blind in Mexico so that they can see this positive idea of blindness and having parents see this positive idea is going to really transform them being able to advocate for themselves

We’re going to be providing workshops from Orientation and Mobility, to Braille to Advocacy to parents of Blind children. Recognizing the situation is different in Mexico than it is in the United States, But power of people together in one place advocating for their rights can be a really powerful thing.

TR:
In Mexico, poverty and policy are some reasons that account for the differences in the lack of education among children who are blind. Conchita once described a blind child’s options as a choice between a beggar or living with their family for the duration of their lives.

Conchita:

60 percent of the kids who are blind or low vision have zero education. That’s not even to the 6th grade.

In the United States we have IDEA which says public school has to take you and has to provide accommodations . You have a right to a free and appropriate public education. That doesn’t exist in Mexico. A public school can tell you I’m sorry but we don’t know how to help you we don’t know how to educate you.

So you don’t have access to public education.

The only state run school for the blind is in Mexico City and the others are privately run which means they charge some type of tuition. The school we work at in Guadalajara, they go up to 6th grade. It’s kind of like a boarding school or kids can go there just for the day.

The thing is there’s nothing after 6th grade.

you can go up until free public education in 12th grade but you have to buy your books in all public schools even kindergarten, you have to buy your uniforms, you have to buy your lunch. So parents make the choice well do we have enough to pay for that or should you start working. So it ends up being are we going to pay for 6 more years of books uniforms or lunches really any school supply or are you going to go to work. Many times the kids decide on their own , I’m going to go to work because I’m going to support my family.

The good thing is there’s a lot of family support. But it ends up being the family taking care of them as opposed to them living independently. The people who live independently are few and far in between.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Wow!

I inherently believe that people should have access to information, access to resources no matter where they live.

TR:

Conchita and her METAS team have already seen examples of the success their curriculum can have.

Conchita:

We hosted this workshop in McAllen Texas which is in the Rio Grande Valley where we worked with 16 blind adults and their families who are Spanish speakers. And so they learned, many of them for the first time, how to use a cane, how to do Braille, technology and daily living skills. And then we had workshops for the families. We had an activity where we asked them what are your fears and expectations and dreams for your family member. And it was a lot of fears and kind of what are they going to do when we’re not here and how are they going to be able to do such and such. By the end of the workshop it was just amazing to see how excited they were. They were saying now we want to know how we can support them in being independent and how can we help them reach their goals. We know they’re going to be fine because we met these great blind people.

TR:
Some things to consider when planning this conference? Organizing from outside of the country’s borders is just one.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are there going to be some challenges to kind of get everyone in one room? Just financial challenges?

Conchita:

Yeh definitely. I think that’s going to be the biggest barrier.

So with Part of the money we’re offering scholarships to people so they can travel there.

We’re trying to make connections with organizations that can serve as sponsors that can also provide financing for people in their state. Different states have different policy. So for example The state is Jalisco and the city is Guadalajara, they have an Office of Disability that’s a state level position. So they have money and grants that we’re planning on applying to also help pay for this. But also having the blind people from the different places apply to those grants and in those entities and also try to get companies to sponsor in order to make that feasible. That is going to be the biggest challenge.

the goal is 200 people .

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are you familiar with the political structure there in Mexico?

Conchita:
There’s so many layers. Mexico just had a presidential election and the left wing government won. That can be a positive for disability. In Latin America historically the more left leaning countries have done disability laws.

TR:

While the Holman Prize is specifically to assist with bringing this project to fruition, the real goal with any sort of movement is sustainability.

Conchita:

So I see this as being the beginning of something annual and having it be whatever the people there want it to be. Having them have the buy in that they will be the ones to do most of the organizing for the next time and they will be the ones who are like this is what we need and this is how we want to do it. So definitely having it be an annual thing but being run more locally as opposed to me who is in a different country.

Even though I am Mexican, even though I understand the situation, that is not my reality and so being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do , I think that’s really important.

TR:

The conference will be held in Guadalajara Mexico tentatively scheduled for July 26 through the 29th 2019.

Conchita is also a founding member of the Coalition of Latinx’s with Disabilities. This advocacy organization consists of individuals with disabilities from throughout the Latino diaspora. They work on issues including immigration.

Conchita:

There was a guy who was Deaf who was in a detention center being held by ICE and so we did a lot of advocacy on his behalf. He didn’t have an interpreter. He knew home sign, that his family invented. He didn’t have formal sign language from the states or from the country he was coming from. So he had no way of communicating with anybody except his sister and that was denied to him while he was in detention. So we really advocated for his release and for him getting accommodations. So he was eventually released.

I think more than anything it’s just disability is a whole different world in the Latin X community. There’s a lot of stereotype and it’s just a different history. So just finding a group of individuals who kind of are proud of being disabled and who also have Latinx backgrounds who can share this and advocate for each other.

A lot of people ask me this. They say do you think Latinx’s have a more negative idea of disability? And what I say is we just don’t have access to information. So the fact that I had to go to college to find out about this is an injustice because the majority of people who are big disability rights advocates are white, wealthy, college educated.

and so there was a hash tag, I don’t know if that was a couple of years ago, that was disability too white.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
too white, yeh, yeh!
Conchita:
If you come from a working poor background you’re not going to go to college panels about disability.

When we talk about the history of the disability rights movement in the United States we leave out all of the people of color who were there and they never get highlighted

When the disability rights movement was happening in California and they were organizing and protesting at the capital, The Black panthers were the ones providing food and there were a lot of disability rights advocates who were teaching the Black panthers how to organize. There was just so much collaboration and that really gets left out of the conversation about the ADA and how it came about and you see a lot of white faces. I think a reason why the ADA was passed under the Republican leadership was because they painted it as a white issue . The people signing were white. I mean those people are also really amazing people and I’m friends with some of them. There really amazing but we always leave out the people of color that were just as much doing as much work as anybody else, but we don’t hear about them as much.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Why should disability be different from the rest of society, right? (Laughs…)

Conchita:
Yeh, exactly! (Laugh)

TR:

It’s pretty clear to see that Conchita is an educator at heart. Her own experiences are guiding her desire to share the knowledge about blindness and disability that she wishes she could have gained earlier in life.

She can’t change when she received the information, but she’s doing everything possible to pass along her message.

Conchita:

blindness doesn’t have to be as detrimental as we make it out to be. What tools can you use as a blind person to do x, y and z. As a parent of a blind child what kind of expectations should you be setting for your child and it’s something as easy as make your blind child do chores, don’t let them sit back while everybody else does. There’s ways to have them do it. Have them do the same things their siblings do. Something so simple can really make a huge difference.

TR:
Congratulations to Conchita and METAS. Looking forward to hearing good things about your efforts in Mexico and other projects in the future.

If you want to follow their progress or learn more you can visit www.MetasInternational.org. The site contains a link to their Facebook page which Conchita says is more frequently updated.

You can find the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities
www.latinxdisabilitycoalition.com/

Of course we’ll have links on Reid My Mind.com.

TR: Gatewave
This is Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio. Audio for independent living.

TR: Close

It’s probably no coincidence that James Holman’s adventures began after his education. That curiosity pushing him to seek out more real life experiences.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize winner featured today has a similar sequence. However, her mission is pretty specific. Empower other blind people who have little opportunities to improve their own lives by organizing with others who are blind.

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

Conchita:

Being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

No Half Stepping with Loud Steps Indoor Navigation

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Loud Steps Logo
If you ever made use of indoor navigation, then you probably are like me and want to see a wider adoption. Boni Loud Steps, an Indoor Navigation company based in Turkey has recently completed a permanent installation at a Chicago hotel.

Hopefully, this is just one step in the direction where we see many more permanent installations in all sorts of venues.

Listen to this conversation with Boni’s Director of Business Development, Paul Colgan. We talk about their approach to development, securing a permanent installation and other exciting pilot programs such as one currently underway in New York City.

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up everyone, I hope you’re doing well.
I thank you for being here. Salutes to you if you are a subscribing listener.

If you’re a first timer, welcome!
Maybe you could do me a quick favor?
How did you find your way here to the podcast?

Twitter? Facebook? Did someone send you the link or tell you about the show?

Let me know. Contact me via the social media platform where you learned about the podcast or email me at reidmy mindradio@gmail.com.

I think these stories deserve to be heard so I’m trying to figure what works to get the podcast in more ears.

I’d really love the feedback.

However you found your way here, I appreciate you and hope you stay.

Now let me guide you on over to today’s episode…
right after the theme music!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:
Indoor Navigation uses combinations of smart phones, floor plans , Wi-Fi and electronic beacons to help provide navigational information about a venue such as a mall, hotel, convention center and more.

Smart phones equipped with a screen reader such as voice over on the Apple iPhone, allows people who are blind or low vision to take advantage of this information and independently find their way from point a to b within a facility.

Ever since first experiencing indoor navigation I’ve been waiting for the chance to take advantage of this technology in the wild. By that I mean, make use of the system outside of a promoter blindness related event.

For the most part, applications have been installed at conventions of both ACB and NFB. While I heard there are installations in a few major airports I have not yet travelled through there in order to make use on my own.

Earlier this year I learned of a company named Boni. They’re the creators of the Loud Steps indoor navigation application permanently installed in the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel Chicago, North Shore Conference Center in Skokie, Ill..

Excited to learn more about the app and how this installation came to be I spoke with Paul Colgan.
PC:
I am the Director of Business Development and Corporate Strategy for Boni Loud Steps. We’re based here in Chicago, Illinois. We’re a Turkish-American company. There’s a development team in Turkey and then there’s myself and an engineer here in Chicago.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about Loud Steps.

PC:
Well Boni Loud Steps is an Indoor Navigation a;; for an iPhone with special features for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It also can assist Hearing Impaired people as well. It uses the sensors in the phone along with the Wi-Fi signals in a property to locate you in the property.

TR:

The app assures blind and low vision users can access the step by step on screen instructions navigating a person to their chosen destination.

PC:
The accuracy can be as good as a meter in a hotel where there’s a lot of Wi-Fi. It’s a little bit more than that in a mall or airport where the bigger spaces it’s harder to get the good accuracy.

TR:

Audio: Stepping Out, Joe Jackson

In order to explain how the application works, picture the following.
Let’s suppose I’ve been invited to speak at a conference in Chicago. It’s taking place at the Doubletree. Aware that the hotel is equipped with Loud Steps I download the app in advance. However, if I weren’t, when checking into the hotel, a receptionist would inform me of the app and even assist in downloading.

By using a QR code – which is sort of like the codes scanned in the supermarket – but when your smart phone recognizes this code it loads the address to download the application.

PC:
The app itself has a little tutorial in it for first time users. So that first time user gets a quick introduction to the app and then they can begin using it immediately.

TR:

Now that I’m checked in and have my room number, located on the third floor, I key that information into the app.

PC:

The app can then walk you to the elevator, the stairs, the escalator whatever it may be, and instruct you how to go that elevator. And then you can choose the third floor and when you get off the elevator it can tell you to turn right or left, down the hallway and direct you to your destination.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’m familiar with other Indoor Navigation applications, so does this work similar. So you guys have to install the beacons?

PC:
No, we do not use beacons.

TR:

Beacons are small electronic devices that send a signal using blue tooth. The transmitted signal contains information about the location which can be received by the smart phone in this case.

But beacons cost to install and maintain. While not as expensive, it also introduces a point of potential failure.

PC:
We’re using the radio signal from the Wi-Fi access points to act as our beacon.

When we go into a building we survey all those Wi-Fi signals and we overlay that information – we call it finger printing the Wi-Fi signals every meter.

We put the points of interest on the maps . We label the offices, the rest rooms, the ATM. Then that information we can utilize very quickly to move you around, locate you, draw you a route then to walk you through that route just by using Wi-Fi signals.

TR:

If you’ve never used such an app, you can imagine how
This could reduce or remove the stress involved in spontaneously finding a point of interest in a facility like a hotel.

The technology isn’t new, it just hasn’t been permanently available in many facilities. But Loud Steps, is permanently installed at the Doubletree…

PC:
We went through a world leading innovation hub in Chicago called Elm Spring. One of the investors in Elm Spring was a company that owns the Doubletree. They allowed us access to the Doubletree to test our app and then of course make a permanent installation there.

TR:
Working directly with consumer groups generated feedback to help improve the app.

Implementing Loud Steps at the Doubletree was more like a partnership than an average B to B transaction.

PC:
Their staff and their people have provided us with a lot of feedback in terms of what is necessary to achieve the best service level – quality we need to do because it’s very important to them as a brand to make sure that they had the best possible service.

So they actually pushed us to do a high level job. And it really improved the app overall.

[TR in conversation with PC]
TR:
So when can we get something, you know, in other places, I’m dying for this type of thing.

Let me tell you I experienced this in a couple of places, but the one last year was actually in Pittsburg and I believe that’s a Doubletree property. Just the experience of being able to navigate from one place just seamlessly, just really seamlessly. Once you experience it’s like huh!
(PC laughs!)

And I go to a new hotel and it’s like oh it’s not here I wish I had there here. I want it everywhere! (Laughs…)

PC:
Well, I need that message repeated over and over. So the more you can repeat that message the better because it is a challenge when you go into a facility and they say well why should we do this, shouldn’t we wait until it’s mandated? We try to make the case to them that this is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve. This is an opportunity to provide a benefit to their guests. If they know there are potential customers out there they may not otherwise have then we start to get their attention. And that’s very important

TR:
If we’re only looking at people who are blind or visually impaired, well we know in comparison to the overall population we’re talking about 3 percent.

However, that could be significant.

PC:
When you go to an airport and you say, you have a million passengers coming through. That means there’s 30,000 potential passengers that may or may not becoming through your airport because they don’t know how to discover it. Or, if they come in they request or need an escort. In many of our users don’t want that. They want to have the independence, they want to have the confidence to do it themselves independently.

[TR in conversation with PC]
Is the intent at some point to market this outside of the Blind and Visually Impaired community? I’m assuming there’s other benefits for the general population.

PC:
Oh, there is, exactly. You hit on a key point and this is something that’s been emphasized to us by Mike May who’s with Sendero. Mike makes a very strong point. He says, “I don’t want a single purpose app. Even though they’re beneficial, I want an app that’s available for everyone that has special features so I can use it.”

That’s the way our app is designed and frankly we designed it that way from the ground up. But it was only later that we got confirmation of that from people like Mike May that we were headed in the right direction.

TR:
People with disabilities aren’t the only group who need to find their way around in unfamiliar environments. In addition to navigation, Paul offers a few possibilities that go beyond serving those with disabilities.

PC:
We have the ability to direct you to where the nearest exit is. If there’s an emergency whether it be an incident or fire or you have to vacate the building, we can direct you to the nearest exit. Let’s say there’s a medical emergency. If you suffer a medical event and you need to have a first responder get to you quickly we can communicate it directly to the first responders exactly where you are located in the building so that they can go right to you. If we know that there’s a problem in the east wing we direct you out the west wing.

[TR in conversation with PC]
What about the business side? For example, in malls to be able to serve people ads like when they’re near a Starbuck’s and they’re going to offer you ten percent off a Latte or something like that. Is that part of the plan?

PC:

Yes, So we are doing that now in the malls in Turkey. So we have the capability of providing push notification that’s called. Where yeh, you come by the Starbucks, you come by Kohl’s or whatever the store is that’s in the mall and using your proximity it gets you some information. It could be a coupon it could be well if you come in for the next hour we’ll give you ten percent off. Something like that is really what the retailers want to offer. We now have some capability on our staff to do more precise mapping. What we’re experiencing in Turkey has found that the better maps, the more precise maps, the more up to date maps we have allow the mall operators and the stores in the mall to do a better job of marketing and therefore they get a better response from the users . And so it’s turned into a win-win situation.

[TR in conversation with PC]
I’ve been saying this for years…
if it’s all about marketing to the general public that’s great because that’s the way we’ll get a wider adoption. It’s a bigger audience, it makes sense.

PC:
People want to do the right thing, but they still have budgets to meet. If you can come back to them and say, here’s what I can do for you. Here’s how it can benefit your facility and it now gets their attention. They want the investment because they can see the benefit of it. So that’s part of our sales pitch. Sounds like I should be talking to you about what are you doing on the side business.

PC & TR Laugh…

You’re a good salesmen. You anticipate my needs and my questions already.

[TR in conversation with PC]

The applications for it, to me seem endless. You just have to really be creative with the way you use the system and as long as there’s functionality there. I’ll give you this one or maybe you have it already. There’s was the whole, what was the game?

PC:
Pokémon?

[TR in conversation with PC]
Pokémon, exactly!

A mall, for kids? Come on that’s a no brainer. Building these types of things in there. The kids can have fun using that type of thing.The adults, I mean you can gamify shopping and people will probably buy more, but then at the same time a person with a visual impairment can get to the mall and independently navigate, that’s, that’s huge.

PC:
Yes, That is the goal I mean you’ve outlined the goal very well. That is where we want to be. We want to be an app that can serve a very broad audience, but again have those special features for the visually impaired, the hearing impaired, other people who need a little bit of assistance and do it in such a way its mainstream.

TR:

Boni, based in Turkey, has multiple installations throughout that country.

PC:
There are several locations in Turkey where we have the application installed. Now understand, we used to be a beacon company as well so most of the installations in Turkey are beacon installations but here in the United States I’m trying to do the rollout with just Wi-Fi. In Turkey we do have an airport; Antalya Airport, that’s where we tested it for the airport users. There in conversations with other airports there in Turkey and Europe.

##TR:
In addition to securing other Doubletree locations, Loud Steps looks to go beyond just hotels.

PC:
We’re beginning a test out at O’Hare. We’re not yet at a public level yet but we’re doing some testing there. I’m also talking to some other hotels and other lighthouses around the country. And other facilities that serve the needs of the blind and low vision community about installing some applications at their facilities so they can become training grounds for people to learn how to use the app. And then of course we hope to get it into the community.

TR:
For those in the New York City area , Boni is currently working with the city’s transportation department on a pilot program that will expand the reach of Loud Steps.

PC:
An outdoors application that can inform users at a traffic intersection of when the lights change. It will tell you what direction the traffic is It can tell you where the bus stops are, subways from you location. But more importantly, there’s a bike path there. It’s a very busy intersection in New York City and although it has the APS, Audible Pedestrian Signals system there, they’re looking for a way we can use the app to communicate to the user this information. So again a blind or low vision person can get the kind of information they need when they come upon an intersection. So if they learn quickly what obstacles they’re going to have to deal with in order to cross the street.

TR:
So using this app, a blind or low vision pedestrian would gain real time information including, traffic flow, orientation and surrounding points of interest, traffic light changes, plus…

PC:
We can tell you when you’re deviating from the crosswalk. We may even put in a countdown in there to help you know how long you have to cross the street.

TR:
This attention to detail goes back to Boni’s approach to design.

PC:
We have a design philosophy of solve for accessibility first. Meaning that we have looked at solving the accessibility problems as our primary job and then we built the application from there. As a result we have a I think a better application, a simpler application call it more elegant. It works very well. Easy to learn. By solving for the accessibility issues first, not just an add on, we’ve done a much better job building a great app for people.

TR:
To contact Loud Steps…

PC:
www.loudsteps.com

If you want more information and want to suggest a facility. If you have a hotel, a mall an airport or anything near you you’d like us to talk to the owners, I’ll be happy to do it. My email is paul@boni.meI’ll follow up with you. I’ll send you information about the app and I’ll be happy to follow up with any facility you recommend that I need to talk to.

[TR in conversation with PC]
In terms of the community advocating for this type of installation, outside of contacting you and saying hey, you should put this in my mall (laughs) what else should folks be doing?

PC:
I think that whenever and wherever that they can support the idea of Indoor Navigation for the visually impaired, they should voice it.

Although we are in business to promote our app, but the reality is we work with a lot of other people. We are collaborating on many different levels to try and bring the whole concept of the industry to the wider audience out there and one of the things we’re doing through Sendero for example, is trying to build a database of facilities that have the indoor navigation applications available to them. And in most cases right now it’s beacon based.

So we’re building a database of all the beacons and where they’re located. So whether you’re using my app or somebody else’s app that you have the beacon information and you can go into that facility and use an app. So the idea here is that we want to make it easier for the blind community, the low vision community to find access to this. So anything the community can do to advocate and support the idea of indoor navigation. To tell they’re local government official, we’re talking to universities different places, airports wherever malls… this is a benefit and the number of people out there who may not be visiting your mall because they don’t know how to discover their way through your mall that mall owner is missing an opportunity for a sale. I think the more the community can articulate that, the better it is not only for us but other providers.

Audio: “Ain’t No Half Stepping'”, Big Daddy Kane

TR:

I was very glad to hear Paul say this. I think I told him during the conversation that I tried multiple applications and I am not tied to anyone. I’m a fan of the broad technology and what it provides.

My only issue really with multiple solutions is the extra responsibility to learn and become comfortable with each app.

Personally, I don’t really see this as too much of a problem. As long as the interface is accessible the main components are where am I right now, where do I want to go and how is this app going to help navigate me there.

But that’s me, I like and understand the technology. I would hope to see some standards built in to help those who may find it more challenging to learn the app.

On that same note, I know there are many people who might say, hey I have the skills to independently explore a new location. I go to a mall without the aid of an application and I do just fine. So can you.

Let me speak directly to you… come here, lean in nice and close.

Congratulations, that’s your business.

Lots of times I think people should be able to grasp something because, well I get it therefore I think anyone should.

But that’s really not how the world works.

We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What may be simple for me could really challenge another person.

Technology is about increasing options.

This technology isn’t replacing the need to learn real orientation and mobility skills. It’s just another option to gain access to information that is otherwise inaccessible.

Options are good!

Like you the listener has the option to subscribe to this podcast. You could choose to use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In or straight at Reid My Mind.com

Hopefully you make the right choice to subscribe! And either way, if you like the show maybe you would consider giving the podcast a 5 star rating.

I know what you’re thinking …

‘PC:
Why should we do this? Shouldn’t we wait until its mandated?

## TR
Well, first of all, while that would be really helpful I haven’t convinced any of my representatives to introduce this bill, just yet!

But really, all of this helps others discover the show.

And..

PC
This is an opportunity to get ahead of the curve.

TR:
He knows what he’s talking about!

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Tony the Traveller

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

Yes, I spelled travel with two l’s – he’s British.
Tony at the top of Marble Street, Ephasus, Turkey, September 2009

Salto Hacha waterfall, Canaima National Park, Venezuela, November 2012

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tony in a small local boat, floating market in Banjarmasin, capital of South Kalimantan, Indonesiam 2015
Tony Giles, the author of two books capturing his journeys, has visited 7 continents and continues to travel to cities and countries around the world – independently. As a person who is blind and has severe hearing loss, we learn how he began traveling alone, how his early education paved the way for his exploration along with several valuable take aways for anyone!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Whats good RMM Radio.
I know you all are busy and I appreciate you taking the time to listen.

Reid My Mind Radio is actually a good companion on any journey so just take us along with you wherever you go.

I know it helps me along my journey.

So as my little girl used to say in our early recording days…

[Audio of my little girl Raven at 3 years old:]
“Let’s start the show. 1, 2, 3 4”

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:

Tony Giles is the author of two books on traveling;
Seeing the World My Way…
and Seeing the America’s.

From South West England, Tony at 39 years old has visited all seven continents.

If your image of a travel writer consists of
fancy hotels, spas and restaurants, well allow me to present you with a new vision. Tony Giles travels with a back pack and sleeps in hostels But there’s more that sets him apart from the others.

TG:
I’m totally blind and severly deaf in both ears. I use a long cane and I wear digital hearing aids and I travel the world independently.

TR:

Tony was diagnosed with a rare eye condition at the age of 1. With extreme sensitivity to any light (in or out doors), it wasn’t until he was given dark glasses that he was able to play outside.

TG:

We lived in a coldesac so I always knew which way traffic was coming . I’d play with my friends, play football (soccer) run rode around on a big three wheeler bicycle and sort of crashed into walls and lamp posts.

TR:

At 5 years old, Tony began attending a school for children with disabilities located about 30 miles away from his home. In a way, you could say this was the precursor to his traveling life style.

TG:
I used to go there by taxi. I could read and write with very big black letters on white paper maybe 4 inches tall until about the age of 6 or 7. Then I began using something called a CC TV to try and make print bigger. Then it was realized that my sensitivity was lessening and I would stop looking for objects and wasn’t able to read and write.

TR:
By age 10 and a half Tony was enrolled in a specialized boarding school over 300 miles away from home.

TG:
And that’s sort of where my travels began. I wanted to see my family as much as possible. So beyond the age of 13 or 14 I was learning to catch buses, cross roads, catch trains (we tend to use the train to get everywhere in the UK).

[TR in conversation with TG]
Were your parents at all hesitant about you traveling?

TG:
I think they were but my Mom and my step Dad came up at parents evening so they knew what my mobility skills were like. I don’t think they were too worried.

How confident were you with your Orientation and Mobilityskills?

TG:
Supremely confident!

By the age of 16 or 17 I had fantastic mobility training. We start off with learning how to use a cane when I was 11 years old. I walked up and down this corridor for months with me teacher behind me yelling everytime I made a mistake.

TR:

Having the confidence to head out on his own, it was the opportunity to study in the United States that sparked Tony’s adventurous spirit.

TG:
I went to South Carolina, Myrtle Beach. In 2000. I said how are we going to study if you send us to a beach town. I spent 4 months there and spring break my friends decided they were going to Florida to see Mickey Mouse. They’re not going to let me drink or party and stuff so I go, I’ll go to New Orleans.

I got the teachers and staff to help me book a hostel and book a flight. I’ve been hosteling for about 5 or 6 years by then. I got to New Orleans and took a taxi to the hostel and then asked for directions and one of the staff in the hostel said you go down the steps turn left, walk two blocks and find the tram and go downtown. I walked down the steps and it was really hot and humid , about I don’t know 95 degrees and 98 percent humidity and I just froze. I’m in a foreign city in a foreign country by myself how am I going to find this tram. I don’t know what I’m doing.I took a few deep breaths and said well this is what you want Tony. If you don’t want it go back in the hostel and go home. So I turned left and walked down the street found the tram and I’ve been traveling for the last 20 years.
[TR in conversation with TG]
Do you recall what you considered to be the barrier there?

TG:
Just butterflies really.Insecurity in my own abilities really. Maybe just the culmination of the heat as well.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs! The heat will do it to you.

TR:
That successful solo trip to New Orleans set the course for becoming a true world traveler.
Tony captures his experiences in his two books. The first of which is titled Seeing the World My Way.

[TR in conversation with TG]
In chapter 12 you wrote: “Towards the end of that trip recognition and self awareness began to dawn on me. I was beginning to realize my blindness was not a burden which stop me from accomplishing things, but an attribute which opened even more doors thanit closed.”

Can you talk a little bit about how was this actually so and what doors are you really referring to?

TG:
I began to realize by the end of that chapter thhat people liked me because of who I was not because I was disabled. So it wasn’t like “Oh we want to be with you to help you because we feel sorry for you. I was more like we like you as you are Tony and I also began to realize my blindness rather than stopping me from going somehwere or doing something it was actually an advantage. It meant I could jump lines or queues at airports I could alot of the time not have to pay for some things or pay less for things. later I discovered or I could go into national parks for free. It made somethings easier. Particularly airports because I could tget assistances and jump all the queues. The same on buses.

[TR in conversation with TG]
How important do you think is the attitude?

TG:
Once you sort of come to terms with your disability or realize your disability is there to stay it’s part of you . You can’t really don’t anything about that. If you can sort of embrace it and look at it positively, that will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships. Then you can sort of put down that baggage and that apprehension or anger in my case and it makes things become a little less frustrating. Where its all about attitude and positive mindset.I meet so many sighted people and non disabled people on the street and their attitudes are negative or their lack of confidence is startling. For instance, when I was at University in the states, I think Imentioned this in me book, I was really surprised that my fellow students lacked confidence. The AAmericans I saw were all sort of noisey and confident and very brash, but the younger people my age, 19, 21, 22 they weren’t quite as confident. They were sort of afraid in class to ask questions and answer questions. Because I’ve been answering and asking questions ever since I was 10, 11 12 at school because obviously I couldn’t read the white board so that was my only option. But I think it’s an inner confidence that I have . I was given the mobility trainin. The teachers told me I would do things, I would go to these places, I would cross roads.

TR:

That confidence is a big part of Tony becoming known as the blind independent traveler.

TG:
Independence for me is being able to do things by oneself but it doesn’t mean doing it alone. Whether you’re blind or not, if you’re traveling you need help. Being independent means I’m in control of it I suppose.
TR:

Ocasionally circumstances that are out of his control may
require Tony to make adjustments, but he moves forward.

TG:
My hearing is more like someone losing their sight cause it can change all the time.If I get a cold or if it’s too windy that can affect my hearing. Too much traffic.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Does that impede your travel?

TG:
It can restrict it. Sometimes the hearing aids are dameged.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Out of all the places you visited, what’s the most inaccessible?

TG:
Georgia Armenia in terms of sort of language barrier, I don’t speak any Russian so places like that are difficult. In terms of infrastructure or lack of infrastructure parts of Africa, Burkina Faso, somewhere like that which is this third world country very ppor. Parts of Thailand, Bankok there’s open sewers and open drains so you could fall into a hole quite easily. Try and cross a road in Vietna. Five thousand bicycles all moving at once. Some times you get people that will try and stop you from doing things like I was in Barona with my girlfriend who is also blind. We wanted to visit this famous house, Romeo and Juliet house and one of the staff members wouldn’t let us go up the steps. They were worried about us going up steps, which is quite ridiculous. And in Sydney they wouldn’t let me climb the Sydney Bridge because they said well health and safety but really they thought I’d slow the other people down. But things like that… you get discriminated against.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, how do you deal with that?

TG:
Well you can try and state your case. Say I travel around the world, I’m completely independent I can do this this is not a problem, but some times if they’re really adament about sort of not letting you go like the Sydney Bridge I just well stop it. it’s their loss of money.

TR:
For some, the idea of a blind person traveling to different cities and countries doesn’t make sense.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What would you say to encourage those who feel that there’s no longer a benefit to traveling the world like you’ve you did. How can you convince them that traveling is more than “sight seeing” and I’m being literal with that word sight seeing.

TG:
Yeh! Well acountry is not just about seeing it with your eyes. It’s about experienceing with all your senses. You don’t go eat different foods with you eyes you go and taste it with you taste buds and smell it with your nose. When you’re walking down the steet or up a hill or walking through a forrest ok so you can be looking at that with your eyes … but really you should be taking it in with all your senses. The textyures under your feet, the changes in gradients when you’re walking up and down a hill. Gravel soil mud sand the texture of trees and plants. The space the change in atmosphere in a forrest or all these things sighted people probably only briefly notice and that gives us the blind person a more interesting picture I think.You’re not just going to a foreign country to look at the vistas really you’re going to meet the people. You don’t need to see to meet and talk to people. That’s what its really about. Without people there’s no traveling, there’s no point.

TR:

Reading his first book, Seeing the World My Way, it’s apparent Tony really is interested in getting to know the locals.
And the local bar was the perfect place to make friends.
Tony wasn’t shy about sharing his adventures.

[TR in conversation with TG]
The things that jumped out at me were you know, the brotherls. I was like woh!

TG:
Yeh, I was very frank. It was never my idea to write a book. I’ve been traveling 6 or 7 years by then. It was kind of like going to see a therapist but without paying. I’m able to sort of express myself on paper where I couldn’t express myself verbally to anyone. That’s just the way I’ve been brought up and stuff. I mean you should see the stuff that didn’t get put in the book. I felt at liberty to sort of be fairly open. And that’s the person I am, open and frank.

[TR in conversation with TG]
It goes hand in hand to me with your whole philosphy on travel… your freedom.

TG:
Yeh, and also it would help sell the book!

[TR in conversation with TG]
Laughs!

I want to talk about your choice in accomodations Tony. Reading your book I never really considered my self Bourgeois, (using slang version pronounced Boo- zhee) but I don’t know if I would stay at a hostel. {Laughs} The dormitory style. No, I would stay at the ones with the room. Ok, I would have a room but you stayed at some that are like dormitory style. Like you just grab a bunk? {Exhale as in huh!}

TG:
Just grab a bunk and even on one trip I was up in Minneapolis and I stayed with a friend and I had to catch a bus super early in the morning so I was thinking there’s no hostels near the bus station so someone said go over to this hostel across the street and it was literally just a matress on the floor.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Oh my gosh!

Are you sure that was a hostel or was that a homeless shelter.

TG:

{Laughs…}

Well, I don’t know what it’s like losing your sight as an older person. You might worry more about wwhat you can’t see but when you’re sort of young you don’t worry about it so much. You’re just meeting people. You talk to people that’s the key I think.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, Tony I’m not worried about that. If I had my sight I don’t think I would stay in the hostels, in the dormitory style… {Both TR and TG laugh…}]

TG:
Ah, then it’s just you then.

TR:
Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

TG:
Oh dear, you sound llike my girlfriend.

[TR in conversation with TG]

So how has that affected you in terms of traveling with your girlfriend? Are you still staying at the hostels?

TG:
We stay at hostels but we get a private room so we can be romantic and stuff. Yeh, she did have a couple of hostel experiences. We shared a dorm and luckily it was two other women so it wasn’t too bad.

TR:
Seeing the Americas, Tony’s second book is based on a trip he took in 2004.
He says it’s quite different from the first.

TG:
I started in Brazil and sort of wandered around South America for about three months and then worked my way across the middle of the states well down the east coast to start with and then crossed New Mexico and Texas and down into Mexico and Cuba and then back up through the states and eventually across Canada and Alaska. And that books a more sober reflection. I stopped drinking and I was dealing with sort of more emotional issues with relationships and stuff.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Outside of not sleeping in dormitory style hostels, how has traveling with your girlfriend changed or has it changed anything in terms of traveling?

TG:
We travel a little slower. We have to sort of plan things a bit more. Where as I can rush around and spend one night here and one night there my girlfriend doesn’t want to do that. She wants to spend 2 or 3 days in each place. I never unpack, she sort of moves in.
When I’m traveling with her I have responsibilities with someone else to worry about. When I’m by myself I don’t worry about anything at all. But it’s good though you have someone to share the experiences with and stuff. But the ultimate travel for me is when I’m by myself . You just meet more people when you’re by yourself. It’s good because there’s countries she doesn’t want to go to like Africa. She doesn’t like mosquitos and the heat and stuff so it works for the most part. I sort of have to promise I will Skype every day when I can let her know I’m safe. I get told if I haven’t emailed for three days. Where are you what are you doing who are you sleeping with…It was rough in the beginning because she didn’t sort of trust me. Relationships are about trust. Traveling is about trust. As a disabled person it’s about trust. You have to trust people to get money out of ATM machines when you’re traveling, trust that someones not going to get you run over when crossing the street and things like that. It’s easier for me because I learned to do that when i was young. That’s one of the hardest thigns for people losing their sight especially in older age is to trust people.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Yeh, expecially when you learned the opposite.

Let me ask you these final questions here and let you get on your way.

TG:
No worries, we can talk all night.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What have your travels taught you about humanity?

TG:

In general, most people are trying to survive, make ends meet, put a meal on the table for their family, roof over their head. Most people are kind and helpful if you take the time to interact with them. You’ll always get some people who are just out to gain something for nothing. The generosity and kindness that has been shown to me around the world is staggering. You couldn’t put a price on it. Sure I’ve been robbed had things stolen but that’s life it could happen anywhere. The positive outweigh the negatives ten to one. I’m totally blind I’m severly deaf and I should be vulnerable to every kind of negative thing that could happen to someone yet I never been shot or knifed or mugged. I met one guy who was shot. He was in a hotel in Mexico and just came down to reception to buy a drink or something and they were robbing the place and he got shot in the leg. I met one guy in Brazil, this was weird, they stole his back pack but left all the contents.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Must have had a lot of crap!

TG:
You go to Africa and you realize what life is really about. You think about something like water. We just turn the tap on and oh water, we don’t think about where it comes from. In villages in Africa, they walk 2 or 3 miles to collect water and bring it back and they can’t drop any. Things like that make you more humble and realize how lucky I am to live in a country with free health care etc.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Have you encountered other people with disabilities and what it’s like in various places.

TG:
Yeh a few. I met a young boy in Venezuela which is a very poor country.His parents had gotten him a little stick. He’s about 5 or 6 years old. They couldn’t believe it when they met me It just gives people hope. With a documentary which has been made by the BBC, more people say to me oh yeh my son’s got RP and reading your story and seeing you documentary makes me smileand they say yeh my kid can do whatever they want to. I met a lad in Kenya who 2 or 3 years old and his bones are deformed. And he met me, he doesn’t really like smiling at people. When he met me he just kept squeezingly me fondly and they said yeh, you’re making him smile.A guy in Brazil emailed me and asked me questions about traveling to Sweeden and italy… I said yeh come on you can do it. My aim is to inspire people to get off their bum and do what they want achieve their goal, lift their dreams. It can be done. It’s just fear that holds them back, lack of confidence. If you have the right planning, research and a little bit of help here and there then you can do anything you want. I’m not saying you have to travel around the world like I’ve done – that’s crazy. Maybe just walking down their own street or making a cup of tea. If you can achieve that by reading my book or listening that’s great. That’s my role in life done.

[TR in conversation with TG]
What has traveling taught you about yourself?
I’m a better person than I often think I am. Not so much now than I used to. I’m funny, I’m fairly kind for the most part. I’m inpatient… I’m still working on that.

[TR in conversation with TG]
Reallly? See I thought that goes hand in hand. Like patience, that’s one of the things that I think to be successful, you have to be patient. You obviously seem like you’ve been successful so… why do you say you’re impatient.

TG:
Well I think I’ve learned to be patient waiting for buses and planes, but I still find myself impatient with people some times. People let you down they don’t do things you think they’re going to do. I suppose I just want to do things and go places… I’m still in a rush. I have slowed down a lot an awful lot

TR:
Slow down? Maybe…

Tony’s working on securing the appropriate documentation for
a trip to Lebanon & Iraq.
In fact, while editing this story Tony and his girlfriend are
preparing for their trip to Russia.

TG:
European Russia so Saatchi (where they heldthe Winter Olympics)… eventually over to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
We’ll do that for a month and that will be fun that will be a challenge. No English, long train journeys cold weather . My theory is we just take bottles of Vodka and we’ll make friends easily.
TR:
Both of Tony’s books, Seeing the World My Way and
Seeing the Americas are available in EBook format from
various distributors and in Braille from the RNIB.

He’s interested in having the book recorded by the National Library for
the Blind here in the states.

For more on Tony Giles

TG:
My website blog is Tony the Traveller.com with two l’s in traveller.My Facebook page is Tony the Traveller and I have my own YouTube page. Or you can just search for my name, Tony Giles. And you can the BBC travel show.

TR:
If this topic of travel and exploration interests you as much as it does me,
let me suggest a couple of past episodes of Reid My Mind Radio.

The Blind Nomad – which profiles
Jim Paradiso and how he ended up living
in Ecuador after he lost his sight and almost his life.

Of course you have the Holman Prize winners series and specifically
my man Ahmet the Blind captain who is preparing to kayak
the Bosphorous Straits from Europe to Asia.

Like Tony mentioned, you don’t have to go to
extremes to find adventure.

may I selfishly recommend listening to this podcast?
Ok, that’s not a bad start but there’s probably other things we can do.

Notice I said we, I’m not being my most adventurous self.
I have a few ideas for some adventures but I’ll keep those close to me for now.

When I do move forward on any, you can be sure of a few things;
I’m taking my microphone and recorder and will bring you along for the trip.
and
[TR in conversation with TG]

Again, I would get a room, I would do a hostel with a room, a nice clean room with a bed not just a mattress. Some blankets, nice pillows – fluffy pillows. {laughs}

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast whether you use Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud Stitcher, Tune In… or of course you can come over to Reid My Mind.com to listen,
read the show notes and access any links mentioned in the show or even the transcript.

However you listen, make sure you stay subscribed and tell a friend.
There are so many benefits to doing so;

TG:
That will make life a lot easier both in terms of traveling, working or studying or whatever you want to do and also relationships.

[Reid My Mind Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

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

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

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

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

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

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

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

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

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

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

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

TR:
[City Sounds]

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

TR in conversation with CF:
Andrew Haskell? Heiskel?

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

TR in conversation with CF:
[Laughs…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CF:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

CF:

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

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

CF:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CF:

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

TR:

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

CF:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real world examples can prove helpful.

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

CF:

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

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

TR:

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

CF:

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

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

TR:

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

CF:

Origami is paper craft.

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CF:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That discovery Chancey says was just another benefit of volunteering.

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[RMMRadio Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

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