Archive for the ‘PWD’ Category

Flipping the Script on Audio Description

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines? There’s so much more to AD than what we hear. So, today on the podcast, we’re going to expand who we actually hear from on the topic. There are the “experts” but there are plenty more with something really valuable to contribute. Like, Alejandra Ospina, Liz Thomson & Chanelle Carson who share their expertise on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to Flip the Script to hear what’s on the other side!

Plus I’ll introduce you to someone from the other side who I’ve been turning to when I need a bit of help! Or maybe I really do just need some help!

Listen

Resources

Alejandra Ospina
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

Geez, this idea of trying to open the podcast with something different or catchy is just starting to get to be too much.

If only I had help. If only I had help, If only I …

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

Yes, oh great Kazoo. Didn’t you hear me calling you?

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

Bruh! Isn’t that your job. To be there to look out for a brother.

The Great Kazoo:

My dear fellow, I’m not only undependable, but I’m a bit of a Kook… That’s why I’m hear remember I’m being punished.

TR:

Really, punished? You act like I call you that often. It’s been a minute since I actually needed your help Bruh. Plus I looked out for you that last time. I sent a very nice email to your supervisor.

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

Oh, it’s like that son? Aight, forget you. I’ll just do the regular intro myself with you, nahmean!

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. I should clarify that a bit because I think it may get lost. People impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability? This includes all those experiencing disability directly. A person new to blindness for example. But it also includes their family members and friends. The teachers of the visually impaired, O&M & Rehab instructors who teach the white cane for example or other daily living skills. There are also those in supporting industries from technology, accessibility & of course Audio Description. I consider all of this to be summarized by impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. For the record, I think our entire society is all impacted by disability, but we don’t all happen to realize that or even feel that way. But don’t worry y’all eventually they’ll catch up with us. That’s on them. So let us just keep doing our thing!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning) Oh look, I don’t wish to stay here forever. And since I am supposed to serve you I will try. But take heed, don’t ask for more than you can handle, you may get it.

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

Maybe I don’t need help. I think I have an idea after all.

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning…) Well, see you tomorrow. Maybe. Laughs. Sound effects signaling his disappearance.)

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Today I’m bringing you excerpts of some conversations I had over the past few months with multiple Audio Describers. Specifically writers and narrators, each bringing their own perspective and background.

AD is still new. There’s no one “right” way. With there being so much more to Audio Description than what we hear, it’s past time we hear from a more inclusive set of people involved in the process.

So, this is the first in a series I’m calling Flipping the Script on Audio Description. You know, sometimes you just need to hear from another side.

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

Alejandra:
My name is Alejandra (American English accented) or Alejandra Ospina depending on your audience.

TR:

That’s what I’m saying! The Reid My Mind Radio Family like our world is diverse. And that’s how we roll!

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

My business cards have a long list of things, but I like to consolidate it into what I’m calling a Media Accessibility Provider. I do Close Captioning and I do transcription and I do translation and Audio Description and so I like to imagine the things I’m doing all sort of promote access to content. I don’t consider myself as often a content creator but I like to facilitate people getting to see or hear or know what they’re watching.

TR:

That makes me think Alejandra’s introduction to media access is personal.

Alejandra:

Having close friends and chosen family members that are visually impaired and I’ve spent a lot of time describing things for them so it sort of was a natural progression.

Related sort of anecdotally growing up as the primary English speaker in a Spanish speaking family I spent a lot of time explaining things to so the concept of explaining comes naturally to me.

TR:

That sort of hits home for me. My mom played that role for much of her family. One thing I know is that can be a great way to develop an advocate’s spirit.

Alejandra:

I was one of those folks that got on my high horse which isn’t very high, about having people on social media describe images and photos that they post. So I spent a lot of time in the last five years gently shaming or encouraging people to describe the things they post on social media and over time that has caught the attention of folks in disability community and communities of people that are doing this kind of work. And it was sort of a natural progression.

TR:

Next, one of the first Describers to provide a visual description of themselves. This prompted me to not only begin asking other describers to do the same but really to think about incorporating that going forward with all interviews.

Here’s Liz Thomson, who is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Disability Studies.

Liz:

(Spelling her name)
Liz Thomson. I would visually describe myself as a dark skin 5 foot 2 person with black eyes and black rimmed glasses. Currently I have a mostly shaved head with a band of 2 inch short black hair. I identify as someone who is disabled, also bisexual and queer. A Vietnamese adoptee. Mostly grown up and worked in the mid-west. I use they, them they’re pronouns.

TR:

you can say Liz had a fast tracked introduction to AD. Learning of it and experience it all in the same evening.

Liz:

One of my good friends who is Low Vision, he invited me to go to a Disability Cultural Program. At the very beginning of the program they ask if anyone needed headsets for Audio Description. He’s used to that and I think he typically takes advantage of that accommodation, but I had never heard of that. And so I was like hey you know I’ll try it out. So I got my headset. I believe this was kind of like an open mic performance.

TR:

It included things like poetry, dance or movement and other artistic expression. probably not the most traditional first experience with Audio Description.

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

My name is Chanelle Carson. I am a Freelance Audio Describer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m also the Senior Audio Describer at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas.

I’ve been working with the Smith Center for actually 8 years now. About 4, 5 years ago actually, during one of our pre shifts they just asked if anyone was interested in learning how to do Audio Description.

At the time I was 22 just out of college. I had been studying film with a focus on screen writing, I was thinking oh, this sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m a writer and at the time I was very interested in learning how to do voice acting.

Didn’t hear anything for a few months then they sent me and another woman off to get trained at Joel Snyder’s Audio Description seminar.

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

Was it kind of hard to take what you learned and go right into the live stuff?

Chanelle:

Oh yeh! It was extremely difficult going from the training to doing live theater because the training was so heavily focused on TV and film that sure the basic stuff like;
Don’t talk over the dialog, Blind people aren’t idiots – don’t worry about being too tender or politically correct with your description. What you see you describe.

Of course with TV and film when you’re doing description for that you have the lovely pause button. You don’t necessarily have that for live theater.

(Music ends!)

You can’t go hey guys I screwed up can we go back. (Laughs along with TR) So it’s very much having to learn how to do things on the fly.

TR:

Like Chanelle, Liz too completed the ACB AD Training. Similarly, the application was less about TV and film.

Liz:

I’ve done photography ever since I was in middle school. I did photo journalism at my high school newspaper, in college. As a photo journalist I was realizing I wasn’t adding Alt Text. I wasn’t adding description in my captions to make it kind of more integrated. I would add a caption but I wouldn’t add that photo description.

TR:
Today, Liz can take up to 25 minutes crafting an image description when preparing to upload.

Liz:

Sometimes people are like how can you do that? Do the in their eyes the extra time and labor to do the Audio Description. My response now is how can you afford to not.

TR:

Even if you put aside making the world a more accessible place for all (boring!) there are some real benefits:

Liz:

It makes me look at my images more closely. It makes me reflect a lot more on images that I shot.

TR:

That reflection could lead to a better understanding beyond the pixels. Photography biases for example.
Liz:

Not taking images of people with disabilities. Taking more images of cisgender men.

TR:

It’s not just about description – Liz is thoughtful about phrasing.

Liz:

Language is also fluid and socially constructed and also has different meanings over generations and time. Like modern and traditional. Well that means something very different now than it did in 1940.

My first draft will be one way and then I’ll look at it later on in the day and then I’ll change it. If I say something like traditional, then I have to ask myself well what do I mean and also what did I really see.

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

In addition to learning the sort of standard ways that one is meant to do Audio Description for video for things like Netflix and Amazon, I’ve also been thrown into the world of how do you break that open and describe differently in ways that are actually respecting the culture, respecting the art. becoming part of the art and not just being tacked on after the fact because somebody does not want to get in trouble for not providing access.

TR:

I find it very empowering to see a lot of that pushing of the boundaries around Audio Description coming from the disability community.

It’s no surprise that Alejandra has worked with Alice Sheppard and laurel Lawson who we featured here on the podcast. All sharing this way of looking at Audio Description as more than an access accommodation.

Alejandra:

I don’t have a specific background in writing, but I have a specific background in wanting to be right!
[TR in conversation with Alejandra:]

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

Given that I have a personal investment with my community and the people that I care about

TR:

That’s the Disability community. When you’re connected like that it’s more than a job.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being a job that you perform professionally.

Alejandra:

I have AD on for almost everything that I watch as well as captions. And there have been so many times where I’m like you know that’s not right, I don’t like that.

TR:

Word selection, maybe failure to fully describe what was on screen…

Alejandra:

We both know that a lot of it is in the timing. And again it’s because AD is added on after the fact. There’s some really interesting things that I’ve been able to consult with

I did a live Audio Description for a panel sponsored by the New York University Center for Disability Studies. it featured the short films of a film maker named Jordan Lord. They create autobiographical films but the AD is baked into the narration. It’s written in sort of a prose style and the shots sort of follow as it’s written. So it’s not something that you have to add on after the fact. The filming is informed by what the film maker has written. And it’s very interesting. I think more films should be made that way.

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

No, I haven’t. Four or five years ago I was in the Disability Studies program, another student was talking about her letter of accommodation and her relationship to disability and her own disability identity. She also had mental health issues and mental health things and I was like oh my God like I’m also part of this community and I didn’t even know.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

I don’t think people are talking about this, the identity of the describer or the person who does the voice, who writes it. They’ve made a huge impact on how I think about Audio Description and describe.

TR:

While working on an art gallery project, Liz and a colleague each drafted what they refer to as positionality statements. This included their bio’s and a statement about how they became involved in description.

Liz:

If you’re going to read a book, you might want to know a little bit about the author. You don’t have to.

We are not in a post racial world. I think it’s very important and necessary to know if you’re in an art gallery or theater you definitely need to know who’s writing that book or that script or who’s doing the painting, where they’re coming from.

TR:

Liz who completed the ACB Audio Description project training, refers to one of the lessons taught.

Liz:

In Snyder’s training even in his book, I don’t know about other people’s training and workshops but there’s about two sentences about race and that’s about it.

Basically, just to kind of paraphrase it says to describe race if it’s important.

TR:

The guideline refers to importance in regards to the movie’s plot. But like Liz says:
Liz:

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

It’s especially important to those who are marginalized . those who have been under or misrepresented on and behind the camera. Important to those who care about equity & justice. Important to those who want to see the real world which includes so much more than just white men. (My words, not Liz)

Important is subjective. So who should make the determination when it comes to consuming content?

I propose the consumer. In order to do that, Blind consumers need that information.

Liz:

If you are describing race you need to do it for all the people or all the characters not just the people of color because otherwise it centers whiteness. So I agree with that. What I’ve experienced though, race is not described. Even in for example, Black Panther or in some movies or TV shows that is predominantly people of color.

Chanelle:

Traveling Broadway shows, they are so white. (Laughs) I’ll be the first to admit and I am about as white as you can get. Thank God more recently we have had a lot more diversity in shows.

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

Hamilton is like the perfect example of this. Also Hades Town more recently.

I will absolutely go out of my way to make sure to point out that there are Black actors, Hispanic actors, Asian actors in a show just because I really want to celebrate the diversity of these shows going forward. I’ll do the same thing when I’m doing Circe Sol as well. The audience will always be very diverse as well so it’s great for someone who may not be sighted or may be Low Vision to be able to imagine themselves within that person in the show.

TR:

And if we’re going to change the way we think about race & privilege it’s just as important that non people of color also see and acknowledge & respect this diversity.

Like the saying goes, things are rarely black and white. There’s lots of shade in between. Those shades are important and often reveal other stories.

Liz:

If I do distinguish between someone who might be light or medium or dark skin, is that perpetuating colorism? I don’t want to perpetuate colorism. On the other side, probably when people in TV or film make casting decisions they are making decisions like that. Unfortunately!

TR:

Colorism or the practice of favoritism towards those with lighter skin has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. It’s not exclusive to the US or to African Americans but rather throughout communities of color.

Acknowledging a person’s color as description does not perpetuate colorism. A Blind viewer Wanting descriptive information about a person doesn’t make them a racist. Including editorial such as the prettier or menacing followed by color or racial identification, well that’s another story. It’s going beyond what’s required for Audio Description and providing opinion or analysis – which is the responsibility of the consumer alone.

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

I’m Hispanic, but I have a lot of experience code switching and ultimately being very white passing, both in my physical appearance and in my voice. And whether or not I realize it or admit it in different situations that’s opened different doors for me.

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

The two things are very separate, AD script writing and AD Voicing, but I’ve done some AD script writing for some Netflix shows as a contractor. Not particularly things that I found super exciting but they needed somebody to write a script and then I didn’t get to voice those things because AD Voice work is like any kind of performance and acting work, they sort of have to want you for the part.

I think it’s important for the voicing of Audio Description to match the tone and the content and the intention of the work. And I don’t see that happening. Not very often anyway.

TR:

And then, there’s physical access for the creation of accessible digital content

(Music ends)

Alejandra:
At a practical level, places that are doing audio production, voice recording and audio books, even our local library that handles recording for the NLS, booths are tight. Wheel chairs are not. This is not an experience that these places generally have. They’re not generally expecting a wheelchair user to come in to record and it’s unfortunately like everywhere else I’ve had to have this discussion. Yes, I use a wheelchair, yes we’re going to have to make adjustments to booths so I can get inside, you can just barely squeeze into the booth and you need space to do these things.

And I’m also very interested in Spanish language content AD as well because there’s not as much of it.

TR:

This raises the question of non-English access in general. Something I fail to personally remember on my own when thinking about access.

Chanelle:
Each studio sometimes has their own rules of stuff that you can or cannot say. You can’t say that they point a weapon at someone. You can’t refer to anatomy in certain cases like you can’t say chest you can’t say butt!

TR:

I’ve heard this about Disney. At first, you may think well, Disney produces a lot of content for children. So they’re being sensitive to the viewer. But remember, it’s on screen. And it’s not just Disney.

It’s not just the censorship that annoys me, but even in terms of researching this, we’d need sighted help.

Liz:

If we as describers similar to people who do interpretation with like ASL, if someone swears, the interpreter should interpret that. I think the captioner should caption that. Because that’s what the person said. So similar to Audio Description, I think we also have that obligation.

TR:

Whatever the medium, television & film, live theater, video games, museums, art galleries and yes, you too right now uploading your images and videos to social media – getting all of these content creators to know and think about Audio Description needs to be a goal.

The benefits of AD extend further than the consumer. We all win!

Chanelle:

Regardless of what I’m watching now if it’s a TV show if it’s a movie if it’s another stage show, I find myself kind of mentally describing it like I would do it for an actual performance. So it’s very much changed my view point of media in general.

TR:

I know I’ve heard some conversation around what qualifies someone as an AD professional. A specific number of training hours? Certification perhaps?

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

There are many folks who do this work because they have particular kinds of voices. Because they can crank it out because they’re smooth and more power to them.

I just am not that kind of describer because I have a very particular investment in my community and in the work that I am producing and that doesn’t mean that other folks aren’t doing high quality work. It’s just that what is informing their work is very different.

TR:

For an example of what’s informing her work, you can hear Alejandra narrating Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century right now on Audible. The book is available on Amazon and other outlets and it’s Alice y’all so it’s in a variety of formats because Access is love!

Alejandra does a great job narrating and I highly recommend the audio book.

Shout out to all of my guests for taking the time to speak with me;
Alejandra Ospina (Spanish accented pronunciation)
Available at SuperAleja.org that’s S U P E R A L E J A. O R G
The site Includes links to all social media.

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

You can find both on Facebook especially in the Audio description discussion group

Sound of News Breaking Segment…

This just in, it’s official! You are all a part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

I have a couple more episodes that I’m including in this Flipping the Script on Audio Description series. I’m not publishing them back to back so if you’re interested in the subject and want to make sure you don’t miss the next installment, please allow me to make a suggestion.

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio from The Flintstones:

Barney Rubble:

Do you think he’ll be back?

Fred Flintstone:

I don’t know Barn. Might be better if he wasn’t. Look at all the trouble he caused us.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

He caused us or we’ve caused us? I wonder which it really is. Augh, I think he’ll be back.

Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

Hide the transcript

Superfest Disability Film festival: Going Above & Beyond

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2020

Superfest Disability Film Festival Logo

When the Covid 19 Pandemic forced a shutdown, some people and organizations were in the position to really step up in different ways. Cathy Kudlick & Emily Beitiks from the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability home to The Superfest Film Festival are among this group.

In this episode we’re discussing the history of Superfest and more including:
* Providing online content for an underserved community during the Pandemic
* Defining 101 vs. 201 Disability Films
* Creating a template for Accessible Film Festivals
And of course More on what you can expect from Superfest 2020 on October 17 & 18, 2020. Plus, join me on a quick journey “Back in the Day “through my own movie experience over the years.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Record player static… “Back in the Day” Instrumental, Ahmad

TR:

Every now and then I like to tell my kids about my experience growing up. It puts things into a perspective. At least that’s my intent. They usually just make fun of me.

I tell them how as a young child growing up in the 70’s we used to get dressed up to go to the movies. I mean actually put on our good clothes. For me that meant dress pants which more than likely was polyester. Hard bottom shoes and dress shirts or sweaters.

(“Yuk”)

Movies were an experience.

Over the years that experience changed. By the early 80’s, I didn’t get dressed up and go downtown with my family, we now had a local theater. I could go with my friends, choose my own clothes. At first that was during the day time, but then as I got a bit older and a new multiplex theater was built in the borough, we all traveled there on Friday and Saturday nights.

Audio: Krush Groove Movie Trailer…

RIP, to the Whitestone Theater in the Bronx!

The experience continued to change. I changed as well. I began to prefer going to the movies during the day again. Eventually with my own family.

For a few years, I stopped going to the movies altogether. That was when I could no longer see the screen. I didn’t return until a theater about 30 minutes away from my home began offering Audio Description. That process wasn’t very smooth at first, but it did get better.

Now I’m back to my family trying to tell me what to wear.

Today, Covid 19 has obviously made adaptation a requirement for just about everything in our society. As we’ve seen, these adaptations paired with accessibility can equal opportunity. It’s not permanent, we know experiences evolve. When it’s inclusive, well I think that’s a good thing!

By the way, there’s nothing wrong with my sweat-shirts!

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer!
You’re rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Cathy:

My name is Cathy kudlick and I’m Director of the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University. I should spell out Longmore because so many people here it as lawn mower, but it’s Longmore. It’s a disability cultural center. We try to kind of get people to think about disability in new and creative and innovative ways.

I’m a History professor in addition to my role as Director at the Longmore Institute and I teach Disability History among other things and I come at this largely as somebody who grew up with a serious vision impairment and was in complete denial through much of my life trying to pass and pretend and all of those things and then a random encounter with somebody and then started to read more about blindness tuff and disability stuff and all of that led to kind of start to say hey there’s nothing to be ashamed of here so why not embrace what’s really cool about this and think about it in new ways.

TR:

Thinking about disability in new ways. We’re going to come back to that.

If you’ve been riding with Reid My Mind Radio, you’re probably thinking we’re about to dive into Cathy’s journey. It’s obvious, Cathy’s story falls in line with this podcast’s mission. Well, for now that’s not the case. She has however, agreed to come back to share her story on a future episode.

Today’s episode is all about the…

(Audio: “Super, Super Super, from Super Rhymes by Jimmy Spicer)

Superfest Disability Film Festival.

Also here to take us through the festival is Emily Beitiks the Associate Director at the Longmore Institute on Disability.

Emily:

I’m the Coordinator of Superfest. I work with the film makers each year to help them audio describe their films and work with the audience each year as we kind of learn from them what works what doesn’t work and bring Superfest into other arenas to kind of broaden the reach of where our films are seen and introducing people to audio description for the first time when I do school assemblies or go to libraries or not your traditional Superfest audience. I’m a non-Disabled accomplice in this world. My mom had a disability since before I was born so I’ve been really passionate about bringing my own experiences kind of straddling both worlds experiencing disability discrimination and also participating in it as being a non-disabled person.

TR:

Let’s start with a bit of history.

Emily:

Superfest was started in Southern California in Los Angeles in 1970. It switched hands to various organizations over the years and migrated up to the Bay area where it was run for many years by Culture Disability Talent. It was a really well loved grass roots effort volunteer lead.

TR:
Running an event like this solely with volunteers can be a challenge. In 2012, Superfest found a new home with The Paul K Longmore Institute on Disabilities and The San Francisco Lighthouse.

Emily:

It was just kind of a very exciting match because the Longmore Institute was just getting started in a new sort of way as our founder Paul Longmore had passed away and Cathy had come on as Director and Lighthouse was a really established organization but focusing more on direct services and was interested to kind of push their boundaries by doing some more cultural programming.

We partnered up and ran Superfest for the past seven years.

TR:

The festival, which originally was not an annual event, is now headed into its 34th year. This will be the first time it’s solely run by the Longmore Institute, as the Lighthouse leadership decided to focus on other programming.

Emily:

We were really lucky to have that partnership with Lighthouse for many years because they just had a sort of organizational structure for like getting the bills paid and the reservations booked that moved a lot faster than we were capable of when we were just getting started. We’re really lucky that they waited and gave us a lot of warning because now we’ve been up and running for some time and we’re ready to run the ship by ourselves.

Cathy:

The other thing that kind of got thrown into this that makes it less hard to measure what the big change is you know with Covid how much of this is ultimately going to be online anyway. We’re still trying to decide. We don’t quite know if the venues we want to have it at in mid-October are going to be open and ready and all that. So it’s hard to measure exactly what a new Superfest without Lighthouse is going to be like.

TR:

Fortunately, Superfest in October won’t be their first go at managing events online.

Emily:

For the last few years, we do an annual event called the Longmore Lecture in Disability Studies and we had started to experiment with using Zoom to live stream that event to be able to bring it to people that by nature of their disabilities they couldn’t come or geographically they couldn’t come in person. When shelter in place hit and we’re here in San Francisco which is one of the first places in the country that got the official lockdown, we kind of saw it as a real opportunity, we’re like oh, we can do online programming. We’ve had experience with this and we could figure out how to bring it to a festival environment.

TR:
The challenge in presenting films online is the threat of pirating.

Audio: Scene from Pirates of the Caribbean”

“You are without doubt, the worse Pirate I’ve ever heard of.”

Jack Sparrow: “But you have heard of me”

Emily:

But I knew I’d worked with enough film makers over the years who I could reach out to that their primary mission was just for people to see their films. So the risk of possibly somebody making an illegal recording was just not as big of a concern. The more people that see this film the better.

TR:

Some of the films included work from Reid My Mind Radio family members Cheryl Green & Day Al-Mohammed.

Emily:

People really need this right now. People are cut off from their community and at the same moment that there’s so much hurtful and ablest rhetoric circulating around disability. And so to be able to spend an evening or an afternoon watching some disability films it also really brings people together and celebrate disability and get at the nuances of life with a disability that certainly the mainstream media doesn’t always get, just felt like a really important possibility.

TR:

My initial interest in featuring Superfest here on the podcast began with access. I was really impressed with the way they just for me at least, appeared to come out of nowhere and start providing content for the disability community. The way they do access; not only did I feel included, but knowing others were also able to participate just felt like something I should share with the Reid My Mind Radio family.

I wasn’t the only one reacting.

Emily:

One person was like I’ve never been able to participate in any sort of film festival in my life because I spend most of my time in the bed. They said this was just incredible to get to be part of this. Another one that stood out was a guy who stayed up super late to watch in Kenya with a group of friends and was like that was absolutely worth staying up for. Now I have a group of friends and we’re going to watch all your programs. And he certainly has.

So just being able to bring this program to people that don’t have what we have in the Bay area has been really exciting.

Cathy:

Emily thought to do another really cool one which was Superfest Kids which was kind of a nice home schooling moment I guess, with disability awareness and it was all geared towards kids. How many people did we have on that one? Do you remember?

Emily:

We had about 150. A number of people were like my kids are supposed to be on a Zoom call with their class right now but this is a more important lesson.

TR:

A lesson that more of us need no matter our age.

For the unfamiliar, the idea of a disability film is something like;

Cathy:

Oh Disabled people are people too and isn’t it great that they’re there and this is a positive happy uplifting story. It’s not a depressing one whatever. Those are fine, but we highlight what we think is disability 201 – films that share the creativity and the ingenuity or the unexpectedness or the intersections of disability with other kinds of identities.

TR:

Identities like race, gender, sexuality

Considering the idea of Disability 101 versus 201, you may think those new to disability should begin sequentially. Cathy however doesn’t see it that way.

Cathy:

I would say go to Superfest right away because if you’ve even thought about disability for five seconds or anybody around you has thought about it, chances are they’ve seen some version. It’s usually some films by a family member or friend that just thinks wow you know it’s really great that so and so with fill in the disability and then fill in what they did. They either traveled somewhere or they climbed a mountain or they went to school.

TR:

The 101 or 201 classification isn’t about good or bad. The distinguishing factor between the two is 101 films aren’t often made with disabled people in mind.

Cathy:

We want people to sort of think about disability as experimental and as interesting and as passionate and not just as yet another feel good story about somebody climbing a mountain because they started to be more comfortable with their disability or they needed to prove themselves. We want to ask them to think about well what happens when that person comes down from the mountain. What’s their life like after that?

TR:

That’s another difference. The 101 films feature a single disability experience.

Cathy:
But the 201 version would have them speaking to other disabled people and kind of bonding. There would be some sort of connection and some sort of excitement and engagement. It’s not just like one person being show cased all by themselves.

It might be that they have a quirky view on things and they change the thinking of other disabled people or they changed the thinking of people around them to give an unexpected perspective on the world around them.

TR:

The 201 films like Superfest, really center disabled people. And at the end of the day, as Emily explains, the goal is pretty simple.

Emily:

We’re just trying to not have them be bored. Even if you are new to finding your disability identity, typically a 201 film can just go a lot farther with pushing people’s buttons and thinking like wow, there’s this whole world of thinking about disability that I haven’t seen before.

A few years back we came up with a list that we kind of think of 10 things that define disability 201 and what Superfest is all about. Things you’re going to find at Superfest that you’re not going to find anywhere else.

TR:

These are things like;
People with disabilities as the main characters
Intersectionality – people with disabilities aren’t just white men as often portrayed in movies. So at Superfest, you’ll see representation from Black, Latinex, and LGBT people with disabilities.

I’ll include a link to these ten categories on this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com.

At Superfest, all screenings include open Audio Description. So unlike when you attend a film at your local theater and you request the headset and receiver to privately stream the audio description, these films have the description streaming with the main audio. As Cathy notes, this does require some introduction for an audience unfamiliar with AD.

Cathy:

You’re going to hear this and you’re not used to it. Think about it as a new way of watching films. I’ve often thought of it as in that context of when they introduced talking to silent films. It’s another layer that people weren’t ready for and then suddenly like woh this is very new. The problem with that though is it can be sensory overload for people that have processing or cognitive stuff going on

TR:

A challenge of producing a film festival like Superfest is the idea that creating access for one group of people may unintentionally exclude another group.

For example, Emily talked about a film called To Be or not To Be. It featured a young man with Cerebral Palsy in Kazakhstan. The film which was in Russian, required translation. For sighted users, printed sub titles along the bottom portion of the screen will do the trick. Blind viewers require over dubbing.

Emily:

The focus of the film is really his incredible acting abilities. In making it accessible to the Blind we were then losing hearing this actor with CP and his own voice telling his own life story. So it was a really tough example of like a competing accommodation of wanting to bring access to the Blind but not wanting to lose this man’s voice.

TR:

This particular film worked out because it had enough quiet space that the description and dubbing was staggered to allow the actors voice to be heard. For this very reason, Superfest now determines which films are better suited for open description but offers closed description for others.

Emily:

So much of our work is working with these film makers to teach them, think about the problem and have tough conversations as we do it so that hopefully people are thinking about it in advance of making their films.
[TR in conversation with Emily:]

So what is that process like, of teaching the film makers?

Emily:

Well, when they apply to participate in Superfest, there’s a requirement box that they have to check that says that they’ll get their films captioned and audio described.

TR:

Most of those who apply are in agreement with this philosophy. In some cases especially for independent film makers, the cost of captioning and describing, while small in comparison to other production costs, can present a challenge.

Emily:

A lot of our film makers are able to get it done. Other times we have to work and get creative about finding funds ourselves to be able to cover those expenses or find funders that are willing to do it for them. With each film kind of think it through with the film makers and sort of talk through the strategies.

TR:

Funding is just one of the challenges. Some films may just be packed with dialog and visuals leaving little space or no space for description. Emily and Cathy explain how one such instance was managed and how the result can be a win for all involved.

Emily:

And so we were like we’re going to just have to add pauses to the film to do this right and get some of that Audio Description in. There were going to be visuals that like everyone in the crowd who was sighted was going to laugh at that and we didn’t want to risk that people would not get to experience those jokes. And so we built in those pauses and I think this film maker was super up for it.

Cathy:

You know when audio description’s done badly it’s horrible, it’s like suffocating on something that’s beautiful and something that’s not. But when it’s done well it kind of coaxes out some great stuff that’s already in there and enhances it. So she got somebody to audio describe the film that had the same snarky tone that the images did. So it totally enhanced the images for everybody.

Emily:

We’re introducing it to them for the first time but we’re also really trying to empower them to be advocates for what the final product is and be like you know your film best. You know if that visual right there matters or if that was just some B roll you needed to fill the shot. The more active that they can be in the audio description process if they do outsource, the better the results have been.

Cathy:

To me that’s the dream of a Superfest audio description experience where the film maker says woh this made my film better!

TR:

Currently, English and American Sign Language (ASL) are the only supported languages. However, an online festival offering multiple links for various languages would simplify the process in comparison to a live physical audience.

Getting that audience whether in person or not takes work.

Emily:

Shout out to our wonderful student assistants. Every time we have an event they get an email from me like okay, here’s the audience for this one, think of everybody you can and send them this email. We have like a big list of disability organizations all across the country, but then with each one we’re like who can we reach that would not have any interest in attending a disability film festival but because of this new sort of twist on it right, might be interested.

TR:

Selecting the students, or Longmore fellows, as Cathy refers to them is not about finding interns to get the job done.

Cathy:

We try to hire as many students with disabilities and put them in the majority as our kind of student workers but also we’re educating them and bringing them into community with each other about new ideas around disability.

TR:

The students are experiencing the mission of Superfest, advocacy, education and community building. All done through the phase one judging of the films.

Cathy:

It’s almost like a class but we get paid internships for students with disabilities to come and basically watch like 190 – 200 films and have to Weddle it down to like 10 or 15. And we teach them and they teach each other and they become advocates and learn about representation of disability and all these things by working together.

TR:

Both Cathy and Emily lead the interns in discussions about the films. With each of the students coming to disability from different angles as you can imagine, the conversations are rich and engaging.

For more on Superfest jurors, check out episode 76 of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility Podcast. I’ll hook you up with that link on ReidMyMind.com.

While much of the world got caught flat footed during the pandemic, we see how the team at Superfest was in a position to quickly respond.

Emily:

We have always evolved with new twists and turns each year.

Emily & Cathy:
There’s always something!

Cathy:

The BART Station right by the venue was down. We created a bus bridge to another BART station. We found out like that morning at the festival.

Emily:

One year we arrived at one of our venues and the night before they had painted a wall like right outside the entrance to our auditorium. So the fumes were going to be a serious problem for anyone with chemical sensitivity. We’re like, alright great let’s figure it out. We’re going to get some fans in here. We’re going to reroute and everyone’s going to enter through the back.

We’ve been giving advice to some of the other film festivals not just disability film festivals but film festivals period with how to do online programming. I think that’s a great example of like when you’re in the disability community you’re used to things not being made for you because of ableism. That gives you this adaptability and flexibility and like our festival has that spirit.

TR:

The Superfest Film Festival will take place on October 17 & 18, 2020.

With 15 films all falling within the range that Superfest aims to include.

Emily:

Different disabilities featured, a mixture of documentaries that look at some of the honest hardships of life with a disability and others that are light and hilarious and really get at some of the funniest moments insider humor inside the disability community. A lot of really incredible artistic films that explore the beauty that comes with disabled bodies and disabled dance movement.

TR:

This year’s set of films consist of 14 short and 1 feature film.

Emily:

Called God Given Talent that explores a local Oakland based artist who’s Black and Blind. Really looking forward to sharing that more local story.

TR:

And yes, you are going to hear more about that particular artist in an upcoming episode right here on the podcast.
*

For more on the films included in this year’s Superfest lineup visit SuperfestFilm.com.
You can learn more about the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at LongmoreInstitute.sfsu.edu
They’re on Twitter @LongmoreInst and Facebook Facebook.com/SFSUDisability.
Or, just check out this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com for all the links.

Superfest sounds like much more than a film festival. In fact, I see it as a resource for those adjusting to blindness.

Chances are those new to blindness or disability in general haven’t spent much time critically thinking about disability. Being new to the experience is an opportunity to examine all that’s been accumulating in the sub conscious over the years. The films featured in Superfest encourage us to move our thinking about disability to a conscious level.

Take a look at the list of 10 things defining the 201 films and Superfest. They resemble some of what I’ve been learning along this journey of adjusting to blindness. Like;
* Recognizing the various ways disability intersects with other identities
* Exploring disability as a political and social issue, not just medical
* Seeing ourselves throughout all aspects of society and finding friendships within the community.

In fact, now that I think about it, Superfest sort of reminds me of how I feel about this podcast.

Cathy:

People need to know about this. it’s just such a great opportunity and it’s kind of great that it’s gone under the radar for so many people for so many years but on the other hand it just would be so great to have it be really, really well known. It’s so beloved and people are so excited about it and every year people come and they’re just like woh, we never thought of this. This is so amazing.

TR:

I’m just sayin’!

While I’m looking forward to Superfest being online this year because I personally get to attend, I know there’s no replacement for that in person experience. I look forward to one day being able to participate in person. I get the sense that it could be a similar experience to my first blindness conference. That sense of belonging or community.

Audio: It’s Official…

Cathy Kudlick…
Emily Beitiks…
And Superfest…

Its official! You know you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Come hang out with yours truly and the rest of the cool kids watching some fun, interesting and thought provoking films. Head over to SuperfestFilm.com to check out the lineup and grab your ticket. Don’t forget the snacks and drinks. (You gotta have the snacks and drinks.)

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Taking A Ride with Planes Trains and Canes

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

A logo features a square with  a black plane flying over it and a black train coming out of the globe. In white lettering at the top reads Planes Trains and Canes.

2019 Holman Prize winner, Dr. Mona Minkara along with her production team from Planes Trains & Canes. join me to talk about the documentary series. The show which is available on YouTube follows Mona as she travels alone to five different cities around the world using only public transportation.

The series highlights many of the challenges those with vision loss experience on a daily basis. If you pay close attention you even learn some useful skills for managing these experiences. For Mona the trip was about independence, freedom and more.

The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelts sign so hit play and get ready for take off!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:
Hey Y’all.

I try to produce this podcast several weeks in advance of the release. I don’t always have as much lead time as I’d like.
In this particular case, I did.

With the latest police murder of George Floyd and the world wide protest that followed, I don’t feel comfortable releasing an episode without acknowledging this senseless and shameful killing.

I love producing this podcast and I truly think what you’re about to hear is a great episode,
but as a Black man I can’t help but feel like my focus should be on fighting for change. Truth is though, it’s not just Black people who should be fighting.
It’s all of our responsibility and if I’m being honest, I think the burden should be less on the Black community.
If you have the urge to inform me that there are white people fighting, please don’t. I know that. I’d ask you to consider your own role as I’m trying to figure out mine.

Not acknowledging the pain just felt like it would add even more.

Rest in Peace & Power to Mr. George Floyd and the rest of those murdered by the Police.

Thank you Reid My Mind Radio Family and I hope you understand why that was necessary.

Now, let’s shift gears and get into what I think is a goodie!

Audio: Sounds of airport fades into the inside of a plane.

From the planes PA System…
Flight Attendant:

Good day passengers.
Welcome aboard flight 99 to a better place!

Inflight service will be coming around soon with snacks!
In the meantime, please sit back, relax and enjoy your trip.
We now have a message from the captain.

From the planes PA System:

Music begins…

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome aboard the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

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

My name is Thomas Reid and I’m not only your pilot, but I’m traveling on this journey with you.

Now if you are new to blindness and have some reservations about this flight I can tell you the ground control has approved us for takeoff. the forecasts a mix of clear skies with some possible thunderstorms. We are expected to hit a bit of turbulence along the way, but don’t worry, I got you!

Wheels up baby, let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

TR:

In 2017 & 18 , this podcast featured profiles of each of the Holman Prize winners. If you haven’t checked out those episodes I definitely want to encourage you to go back and give them a listen.

While I decided not to produce Holman prize episodes in 2019, early this year, I came across one of the 2019 winners, Dr. Mona Minkara. She’s a Bio Engineering professor at North Eastern University and the host and producer of Planes, Trains and Canes.

MM:

Which is a documentary series on YouTube showing me traveling to five different cities around the world and using only public transportation on my own.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So the first show that I started to watch, that was your first one when you were headed out of Boston to and going to South Africa. I’m trying to figure out, what is this feeling that I have. I said wow, I think this is a little anxiety. I’m like wow, this is good though, this is really good.

My podcast, I really like to reach out to those who are adjusting to being Blind. That’s my target audience. And so I’m thinking they’re going to feel what I feel but for different reasons. I travel independently, not necessarily like you’re doing. I’m watching because I thought about doing some of the things you’re doing where you’re walking through an airport and not getting the guide and I’m like wow this is exactly how I thought I would do it but I wasn’t sure if there was a different way. People who are new to blindness need to see it because I think some of the stuff like the constant questioning that you’re doing, the constant asking and figuring it out, people need to know that that is ok. And I love that!
So that’s why I contacted you.

MM:

That so awesome to hear you say that, so awesome because I’m going to be honest with you, I feel like this project actually even pushed me even more than I normally push myself. I would have never risked on my own a two hour layover in Atlanta going by myself to the gate. I would have never risked that on my own. But I did for the sake of this project. Like uh, we’ll see what happens.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Oh my god, I’m so glad you said that because people need to know that. people definitely need to know that

MM:

I completely agree. And then what’s the worst thing that could happen. I think what’s really important to discuss with something like this is being flexible. I was willing and ok and at peace with getting lost. I told myself Mona it’s ok if I get lost, it’s ok if it takes me like three hours … it’s ok!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

The other thing that I like about what you’re doing and we’re going to get in to the questions in just a second but…

TR:

Ok, fine, I was excited! I don’t usually include me geeking out over my guests but it definitely happens.
I knew this would be a comfortable conversation from the start.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

How are you doing Mona?

MM:

Good, how are you Thomas?

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Good, I’m good. Do you prefer Dr. Minkara? My bad.

MM:

No, no not at all. I’ve been told I probably should but no!

TR:

I’m not really into formalities, but I realize she earned that PHD and. When she’s on that campus, at those conferences put some respect on her name! Especially considering the early advice given to her mother when learning Mona would be Blind.

MM:

I had a doctor tell my mom that it wasn’t going to be worth spending a penny on my education. The bright future that I had was over with that sentence. But it wasn’t. (laughs) My life is great! (Laughs)

TR:

From an early age, Mona was interested in pursuing science and knew she wanted to be a professor.

Audio: Magic School Bus/Bill Nye

MM:

even though a lot of times I got people discouraging me because it wasn’t very practical for a Blind person to be a scientist.
I’m probably a scientist because of Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Shout out to Bill Nye!

MM:

Yes! I am a PBS Kid!

Audio: PBS Kid

I think a part of who I am is I truly just follow my passion and I really value freedom and independence. That kind of carried over to Planes Trains & Canes because it was the ultimate test of my independence to allow me to have my freedom.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What came first, was it the Holman prize or was this a dream to kind of do this?

MM:

That’s as good question a very good question. I was a judge for the first year of Holman Prize. I remember going out there and helping to judge the applicant pool and being taken by this concept. Even the story of James Holman and why these people were applying.

TR:

James Holman AKA, the Blind traveler, completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.
The competition is sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse. $25,000
is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

Following that first year, Mona had a thought.

MM:

I’d like to apply one day. What is it that I like to do? I realized, I really love public transportation.

Public transportation is a tool that is under appreciated by a lot of people but it’s a tool for me that really gives me freedom.

TR:

Currently living in Boston, the third city where she’s lived on her own as an adult. Each of these cities having a completely different public transportation system.

MM:

And then it just clicked, the concept for Planes Trains and Canes. Traveling on my own using public transportation.

TR:

In addition, she sought out cities on different continents which meant diverse cultures.

MM:

I didn’t have a deeply scientific method other than I also wanted to go to cities that I didn’t speak the language. It’s another barrier right. You feel like you might be more lost in an non English speaking place.
It was fascinating, you can see in my upcoming episode for Istanbul, you don’t really need the language. It was mind blowing for me to realize how easy it was to still navigate in a city like Istanbul or Tokyo.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Laughs… It’s funny to hear the Scientist say that there was no scientific method about… (Laughing)

MM:

Laughs… I mean I knew London
[TR in conversation with MM:]

From the videos, it doesn’t seem like you spend that much time there. How much time do you spend in each place?

MM:

It was like four days.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

To go all the way to South Africa for 4 days is like damn!

MM:

I know, I had to squeeze them with my new job it was insane. I just started being a professor.

TR:

In addition to Istanbul & Tokyo that’s four days in Johannesburg, South Africa, London and Singapore.
While Planes Trains & Canes is all about independent travel, making the videos requires a team.

MM:

I remember thinking like 3 years ago that whoever I did this with I have to have a Videographer that was somebody I could easily travel with , a solid person. And somebody who’s really not going to break character.

NG:
Hello

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Hello Natalie?

NG:

Hi, Thomas, how are you?

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Good, how are you doing?

NG:

Good!

TR:

During my initial conversation with Mona, she suggested I speak to her entire team. And I did. First up Natalie Guzi.

NG:

I’m a Camera Woman for Planes Trains & Canes. I’m 23 and this was my first time doing anything camera work related.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That was one of my first questions. (Laughs)

NG:

(Laughs)
Cool, ok!

[TR in conversation with NG:]

From my understanding you were a friend or a co-worker of Mona’s?

NG:

Co-worker turned really good friend

So, I went to school to be a technical writing major and I saw an open position. One of those pull tabs job posts with a number and email. Mona had put up signs for that. the interview went well I guess. Laughs…

TR:
In a way, working as an Access Assistant for Mona, helped Natalie develop one of the most important skills for the videographer role in Planes Trains & Canes.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

You ask any Blind person and they’re pretty much going to have a similar experience about being with someone who is sighted going somewhere and then having the person who is sighted being talked to as if the Blind person wasn’t there. When did you first experience that ?

NG:

The first time I experienced that was at a Chemistry conference, like an international conference where I was Mona’s access assistant. it must have been like just checking into a hotel. it’s under Mona’s name, Mona’s the PhD Scientist, I’m the 23 year old, but the person checking her in was looking at me.

TR:
This experience isn’t exclusive to those who are Blind. I hear the same from others with different disabilities too. There’s two components; first, directing the conversation away from the person with a disability and then there’s the gaze. Focusing the eye contact towards the non-disabled person.
Now, check the technique!

Audio: Musical intro…

NG:

How we work together with that kind of an issue is that I would just make eye contact with Mona so if you’re trying to look at me my gaze, then that’s going to get redirected to her. So they know where I’m looking and they should be looking. Sometimes people would pick up that and make that adjustment. Sometimes not. Or if we were talking and there was no counter between us then I would almost step over to their side so I was also facing Mona.

TR:

As the videographer, Natalie has to make sure it remains about Mona.

NG:

I tried to be as fly on the wall as possible. (Laughs) Which is a little bit hard. It wasn’t like an undercover operation. (Laughs) It was like someone following a blind woman with a camera. There were a lot of like stares and or questions about why the camera. people addressing me that I shouldn’t film even though Mona was the subject.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

They didn’t know that she was a part of it they thought you were just following her or something?

NG:

Yeh. They would like wave their hand in front of the camera.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And then you would have to explain things?

NG:

It depended on the situation. That’s a great question too. I’m remembering a time when at a train station in Johannesburg. I was trying to capture footage of Mona buying her train ticket. One of the staff there came up and told me I couldn’t be filming although all I really wanted to do was film the interaction of Mona buying a ticket. No, no, like here’s the business card we’re filming a documentary. We’re not mapping out your train system for any weird purpose.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That seems stressful to me. Can you talk about that.

NG:

Sure. By nature I lean towards wanting to make people happy and feel comfortable and welcomed. And when you’re walking around with a camera and people don’t know why that’s not really a possibility.
It’s difficult having those eyes and feeling those emotions from other people coming your way and having to remind yourself of the situation and the mission in that moment.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Did that get easier?

NG:

We had the opportunity to go to lots of different countries and experience different cultures so it shifted every place that we went. Like people would in Istanbul, being like welcome and we love it and come to our store as we were walking by trying to get video.
In comparison, the experience in the London tube wasn’t as welcoming.

TR:

These are the things making Natalie the right person for the job.

NG:

A thick skin. You got to have that self-confidence and confidence in the mission and in the team too.
I think Mona and I’s relationship we just always have each other’s back. So I think that trust and that collaboration really was like the heart of the whole project that kept us going.

TR:

That trust could even mean stepping in and putting yourself at risk.

NG:

In Johannesburg, Mona was crossing the street and this car was taking a corner really fast. I had to jump into the street and like put my arms out. I just thought that car was going way too fast. I wanted them to see two people in the street at least like saying stop.

TR:

Mona and Natalie have the foundation making up a real team.

NG:

We kind of work together. She gave me the feedback on what worked in different situations. It was nice to have a collaborator with that too and just follow Mona’s lead.

TR:

After watching Planes Trains & Canes and then having the chance to speak with Mona, it’s apparent, what you see is what you get.

MM:

I’m pretty assertive I would say as a person, but I understand not everybody has that personality. When I’m tired and exhausted and getting off a 16 hour flight I’m not the sharpest. I’m just like excuse me (said lethargically) my energy’s low. I could be ignored more easily in that situation verses when I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed , I’m like hello!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

You’re quick not to give off any pity vibe or anything like that.

MM:

Yeh, cause I don’t want your pity. I want you to treat me like any other human being. I just happened to be Blind. Sighted people ask for directions all the time. All the time! Just adjust yourself , just a little bit by verbalizing your directions. I appreciate it, thank you!

Audio Bumper for editors

TR:

In order to win the prize enabling Mona to start her adventure she would have to first accumulate enough likes on her Holman prize entry video.

Contestant’s seeking the 25 G’s must first posts their videos to YouTube. The videos need to explain their ambition and cannot exceed 90 seconds. Mona and Natalie paired up to shoot the video with Natalie taking her first shot at editing. The video foreshadowed some of the reactions they’d eventually receive while traveling.
Audio: Clip Planes Trains & Canes Ambition Video

TR:

Winning the prize enabled them to purchase a camera and wireless
microphone.

Natalie and Mona learned more than expected from editing that first 90 second ambition video;

MM:

How much work editing would be.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Chuckles…

TR:

Mona recruited Anxhela (Angela) Becolli
, her current Access Assistant at Northeastern.

MM:

She actually was the one who edited Johannesburg. She’s actually with me right now and…. Ok, I’m bringing her in…

AB:

I wasn’t expecting to be on the call…

[TR in conversation with AB:]

So that was your first shot at editing?

AB:

I had done editing a little bit before. In college I studied Photography in China and there I had done a few projects in videography but mainly photography. This was my first full paid project.

TR:

The thing about creating a documentary series such as Planes Trains & Canes is that you don’t know what your story is until it happens.

MM:

We recorded with no story line in mind. Recording as life unfolds in front of you and then extracting the story. So there’s an element of being able to story tell what you lived as opposed to the other way around – you are building the story and then you record the story.

You don’t know what life is going to give you.

As I was living it I remember taking mental notes like oh my God this would be really interesting to share with the audience.

TR:

Construction takes place in the editing room.

AB:

The main part is the story part. When Mona and Natalie give me the videos they also gave me this list of what they wanted the story to look like. What there idea was and what they wanted to portray to the viewers. What the most important parts were. What parts were light hearted. What parts were very specific to being Blind, to traveling and what needed to be kept in no matter what quality the video or audio was.

TR:

Mona is clearly directing all aspects of this project.

MM:

This part needs to be sped up and it’s kind of boring. I think we should add more of this part. I would say ok, let’s find music that represents the fact that I was feeling fearful or excited. I only used music connected to whatever city I was in. So all the music in the Johannesburg episode in part two, is from musicians from Johannesburg.

I personally have a certain vision for the vive and what was happening and Angela would work with me and hear what I have to say and implement it.

TR:

Creating content like this means investing real time.

AB:

If you have 40 hours of video you’re taking about 60 hours to watch the videos because you’re going to make notes, you’re going to cut things and you’ll re-watch those.

TR:

Angela was already committed to other projects so Mona had to find another editor.

Ted:

I’m Ted Jimenez, I’m the second editor put on the team to work on the new episodes; London, Istanbul, Singapore and Tokyo.

I am a self-taught editor. I worked with small independent studios before back in my home the Philippines I worked for States Sessions. It was a company that put on productions for Indy musicians in the Philippines. I did music videos for them. Promotional videos for them. Now I’m in Boston.

TR:

Where he too works at Northeastern making psychological self-help videos.

Mona decided early on that Planes Trains & Canes would not be a narrated style documentary.

Ted:

This is where Mona and I have conflicting views. I was going in with like my script saying oh Mona could you narrate this portion for us. And she is more of a fan of in the moment. I’m not going to pre-record a script that tells a story I’d rather the audience live through the story because it tells the Blind experience more naturally than if it was just said by her.

TR:

Show, not tell!

Mona’s voice over narrations that you hear in the series are sort of a means of accentuating specific moments.

Ted:

And it’s also to make it lighthearted.

MM:

I wanted comedy to be a main element. I want people to laugh while watching this because I want my message to really be heard and it’s going to be heard more through a comedic tone than through a lecturing serious tone.

TR:

Lighthearted may be the goal, but come on traveling Blind just like living Blind, you will have some encounters.

Audio: London…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So you know where I’m going now. We’re going to London! You know the episode. (Laugh fades out) you were told that you had to register.

MM:

Yeh, yeh, yeh! I had no choice.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So my anxiety woo, went through the roof! Mona, I’m going to tell you, I’m not that good at that situation. I’m from the Bronx Mona, I get a little aggressive. Ok! (Laugh fades out)

MM:

Laughing…

Dude, I’m going to tell you honestly, I held myself together because I didn’t even know if Natalie was videotaping me or not. But just in case she was I was like I need to make this point clear.

TR:

That point is at the core of this project; independence and freedom.

Ted:

I really like London as an example about how we kind of tell that story.

First, Mona getting off the plane into the subway. We foreshadow that Mona likes the choice of being able to ask for assistance or not ask for assistance.

In the second section of London where she’s coming from the airport to the Metro, that’s when we see that whole belief that she has of accepting or not accepting assistance.

TR:

You’re going to have to head on over to YouTube and check out the series to find out more.

Audio: Next time on Planes Trains & Canes…

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes is all about perspective.

It’s filmed from the perspective of a woman who is Blind and enjoys traveling independently and values her choice.

Along the way she interacts with people who may view the world differently.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Wait up. You said he was nice?

MM:

I’m saying he was nice yes. (Laughing)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Did you feel that way in the beginning? From the video, I took this guy like he was being condescending.

MM:

Oh, he was totally being condescending. I think it’s just the norm there to kind of treat people with disabilities like we are a bunch of 5 year olds. An underlying patronizing vibe!

TR:

As we each bring our individual perspective to the series, chances are there will be opposing points of view.

MM:

Did you see some of the comments that were on YouTube. Let me tell you. There was this one person who goes by SocietySister she wrote that I was selfish for not accepting help.

TR:

probably the same type of person to find the inclusion of Audio Description as a default in the series videos to be selfish.

MM:

I really wanted to make every video we create accessible to both Blind and Deaf individuals.

TR:

That’s a pretty inclusive approach giving a variety of viewers a chance to benefit from Mona’s experiences.

What did the production team take away from this experience? First, Natalie.

NG:

People are people wherever you go. They’re curious, they’ll probably want to know what’s going on if you walk into a new situation. maybe concerned if they see something new if they see something different. No matter where you go people do want to understand and to and connect. Also, trust and partnership with Mona . Just a profound sense of gratitude for working together for collaborating for trusting me to capture her experience and to be an observer.

TR:

Angela, who edited the first two episodes from Johannesburg, had hours of video to review. This gave her the chance to really see what Mona experiences.

AB:

I had a lot of moments where I went what I can’t, what why I can’t believe someone would do that. I can’t believe someone would say that. Why would someone treat you like that. Mona mentioned that Natalie was able to keep her calm, I’m the kind of person that would be like no what are you doing, you can’t do that. You can’t treat someone like that. Yeh, I’m not someone that would be able to keep her cool. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with AB:]

Laughs.

TR:

I could see Angela and I teaming up in some bar fights together.

Ted, the editor of the remaining episodes, it should be noted is not only editing, but he’s doing all the Audio description and captioning. As someone making a career as an editor I had to ask him if he’d become a proponent for Audio Description.

[TR in conversation with Ted:]

You’re working with, I don’t know Steven Spielberg. You’re like Steven we got to put some Audio Description on this man… (Laughs)

Ted:

Laughing… Hey Steven! (Said in a serious tone)

Oh yes of course. Right now it’s normalized for me to kind of like say well what are the options for everybody if I’m viewing piece of media. Mona has made it specifically clear that the deadlines are the deadlines for everything. The captioning, the Audio Description. The video, It needs to be accessible to everyone.

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes was Mona’s way to not only highlight the benefits that public transportation affords her, but also show the ingenuity and abilities of those who are Blind.

Mona’s travels reveal lots of valuable lessons for those adjusting to blindness.

MM:

Even though I am 32 years old, I feel like I am more at peace with it then I have ever been. I don’t know if I want to share this with the world but yeh (laughing…)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Well, let me just say something to you right now Again, it’s totally, totally fine if you don’t want to share.

MM:

Yeh!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

But that right there, again, think about it from the person who’s adjusting.

MM:

Yeh! No, I think it’s good I’ll explain why I say this.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

yeh!

MM:

I thought I was at peace. I used to take comments of you look sighted as compliments. I realize the detriment of that, only until like last year. Why should that be a compliment, you know? And I realized that I had built up all these techniques to almost compensate for blindness as opposed to work with it.

I had internalized this concept of blindness as weakness. I think it’s really important for Blind people to realize, we are inherently better problem solvers because we have to work around a lot of things. Blindness is not weakness. And to truly believe that I don’t know if I’m a hundred percent there.

TR:

I so respect and appreciate that honesty. It’s what I personally believe, adjusting to blindness is a continuous process. And if that’s ok for this Bio Engineer professor, well, I’m just saying, she’s doing something right.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What have you taken away from this whole experience?

MM:

I think I pushed myself more than I would have for the sake of the videos. I learned that there’s a lot of good out there and there’s a lot of like negatives that we need to fix and that’s ok.

I don’t know how to explain this feeling. it’s almost an internal shift where I want to go to Mongolia, I can go to Mongolia. Where maybe before I’d be like well I really don’t know how I would go to Mongolia. I need to find somebody to go with me or whatever. And now it’s like this state of mind. If I want to go I can go!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

It sounds like, like you’re free.

MM:

Exactly! Exactly I obtained more freedom than I ever thought I could. And I think I have more freedom than the average person gets to mentally experience and what a privilege.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And it’s attainable. You did it one specific way but that’s not the only way to attain that level of freedom and access.

MM:

Yeh. It’s like I learned it from my travels but I feel like it’s not about the travels, right. You can learn it in your own backyard. it’s about the mindset… you want it, go for it!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Mona, this was better than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be great, but this was even better. (Laughs…)

MM:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

One hundred percent!

Congratulations! I’m going to keep watching. I want to make sure other people watch. So you got a fan over here ok, I just want you to know that.
MM:

Thank you very much, I’m a fan of yours too!

TR:

Please welcome the latest members of the Reid My Mind Radio Family. Planes Trains & Canes, that’s Natalie Guzi, Angela Becolli , Benjamin Ted Jimenez and leading the way with her white cane in hand;

Audio: Put some respect on my name!

Dr. Mona Minkara!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

where can people check out Planes Trains & Canes and also where can they learn more about you Mona?

MM:

They can go to PlanesTrainsAndCanes.com or go to YouTube and type Planes Trains & Canes or you can go to MonaMinkara.com to learn more about me. If you want to learn about my research check out MinkaraCombineLab.com.

If you’re on Twitter follow @PlaneTrainCane (singular) and @Mona_Minkara

You can subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.
Transcripts, resources and more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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CoronaVirus – So Many Parts

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Corona – So Many Parts

Covid 19 and CoronaVirus is the most immediate & serious thing we as a human race have dealt with at the same time. Simultaneously, we’re all a part – as in a community. Yet, we see so many all over the world trying to tear apart any form of cooperation between nations and people – apart as in separate.

It’s been hard to focus on something other than this pandemic, but there is a connection to blindness, to disability… take a listen, I got something to say!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Sir Joe Quarterman- (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind

Women yelling…
“I got something to say” (Fades out )
“I got something to say” (Fades out)
“I got something to say” (Prolonged yell fades out)

Ice Cube, NWA: “Yo Dre!”
Dr. Dre, NWA: “What up”
Ice Cube, NWA: “I got something to say”
Dr. Dre, NWA: Scratches on turntable

Lyric from instrumental mixes in… “I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind”

Audio Sample: “You have got what appears to be a dynamite sound”

Instrumental music…

TR:

Greetings Family!

I’m hoping everyone is healthy, safe, comfortable and optimistic

I’m just trying to find the right words now. Well the right words for the opening I know are …

I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer. of this here podcast known as Reid My Mind Radio.
Bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss and disability.

Every now and then I share my own thoughts and experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

Finding the right words to express how I feel about all that is going on today isn’t so easy. The introspection though, can be helpful. It forces me to step back and get perspective. That search for the right words can even inspire a bit of creativity.

Audio sample: “Don’t toot your own horn honey, you’re not that good!”

TR:
I guess you can be the judge of that!

Audio sample: Woman yelling, “I got something to say” (Fades out )

Audio: reid My Mind Radio intro

Audio: Sir Joe Quarterman- (I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind(continues from intro)
– Musical loop

Audio: Covid19 related News montage

– “It’s been another painful weekend in the CoronaVirus pandemic. The death toll is now more than…” (Fades out …)
– “More than 20,000 people have died from Covid and more than… ” (fading out …)”
– ” “More than 100,000 Covid cases in New York City. There’s also a serious shortage of swabs used to test for the CoronaVirus. That’s according to the city’s health department, which is now telling medical providers only test hospitalized patients.” (fading out…)
– “Perhaps because of The New York Times story, last night saying Republicans were trying to get the President to talk less every day, today’s White House briefing went on for over two hours. The president said some of the coverage is fake news. He said today flatly, everyone has the ventilators they need. He said we’re in great shape in every way.” (Fading out…)
– “Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of push back about shutting things down” – Dr. Fauci

TR:

During my intro to the last episode, I purposely kept my thoughts about Covid19 and the CoronaVirus to a minimum.

It’s not as though I didn’t have anything to say, but I like to let my thoughts form fully before getting into a rant or ramble that I may end up regretting.

Today, I hope it’s okay that I share some of these feelings and thoughts I’ve been having, all triggered by Corona!
(stutter effect on corona_

Yeh, that’s right, this Corona has me stuttering. I’m shook!
I’m in no way making light of the situation. There’s just so much about what’s happening that is so ironic.

it’s the most immediate & serious thing we as a human race have dealt with at the same time. We are all a part – as in a community.

Meanwhile, so many all over the world trying to tear apart any form of cooperation between nations and people – apart as in separate.

That got me thinking…
Audio: Music stops… echo…
If this isn’t your first time listening to this podcast, you know that I tend to think about and focus on the process of adjusting to blindness.

Part of that adjustment includes things like employment, technology, orientation and mobility and just learning how to do the practical things.

From my own experience and conversations I’ve had with others, I know a very challenging aspect of adjusting is how we view ourselves after Blindness. Our self-image. It’s why many of those newly blind don’t’ want to refer to themselves that way. blind.

When your only substantive exposure to Blind people isn’t positive, well, why would you want to be a part of that group.

So chances are you wouldn’t see yourself as part of the disabled community either. I get it, I was there too.

There’s the titles we assign to ourselves and then there’s how we’re identified by others.

Growing up, I’d often be asked, what are you Black or Puerto Rican? My self-identification doesn’t separate the two. Those with an understanding of the history feel me right here… Look up Arthur Schaumburg and you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Society has assigned me a label that often dictates how many choose to interact with me.

When I was stopped by the police, .
Ran out of neighborhoods while being called names,
Followed in stores…

I was never asked, what are you Black or Puerto Rican?

However you decide to self-identify, if your vision loss or disability is visible or recognized , society sees you as Blind. Society sees you as disabled.

I’m not here to tell you how to self-identify .

I want this podcast, at the very least to stimulate some thought around adjusting and all that comes with it.

Personally, my belief is that when you get a better understanding of the people the history, expand your understanding of what disability is and isn’t, defining yourself may be an easier process.

With all of that said, there’s a connection between blindness, disability and this pandemic. Even if you don’t see yourself as disabled, it’s worth knowing how this pandemic is impacting the community.

I’d encourage you to go check out RMMRadio alumni Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility project podcast and website for more perspective.

The pandemic’s impact on us all is different. Disability, economics, location, housing… so many factors that play into how this pandemic impacts us.

Audio: Instrumental “Quiet Storm” Mobb Deep

Audio: Covid19 related News montage

– “The Pandemic seems to be disproportionally affecting people of color”
– “African Americans have been hardest hit by the virus. Despite accounting for 14 percent of Michigan’s population they represent 41 percent of it’s Covid victims. And in Detroit where the majority Black population, more than a third of them poor it’s even more stark.”
– “There are many reasons why Black communities are disproportionately being impacted by CoronaVirus according to a range of experts I spoke to. Historic disparities between access to healthcare, education, information and government resources in Black communities compared to predominantly white communities. throughout American history there’s been great tension between Black communities and the healthcare industry. Tuskegee Syphilis experiment. Ongoing studies that show that black women particularly those who are pregnant, are less likely to be listened to by their doctors and healthcare providers.”
– “African Americans are being hit disproportionately hard. We broke down some of the reasons. Medically why do you think that is. (Second speaker-Doctor) People of color are generally more susceptible to diseases and we know that they have those pre-existing conditions; the Diabetes, the heart disease, the asthma that makes them more likely to suffer consequences because of the CoronaVirus.”
– “Can you describe the make-up of the people in your waiting room right now. (Second speaker- Doctor) We’re noticing more Black and brown and immigrant patients that are seeking care. A lot of these patients are essential workers. A lot of them are service workers.”

“The Real” Mobb Deep

TR:

Salutes to all of those men and women right now doing the work that will get us through this awful situation. I’m talking about the medical professionals, staff including technicians, receptionists, janitors, food workers and others. So many of these people have been doing this work for years and have been unseen even looked down upon. Now in the midst of a pandemic, it helps us see the value in their work.

Corona has revealed some truths about society that people have been trying to either hide or not think about.

We need each other!

We all have something to contribute.

Can I share a story?
(Well, I’m going to anyway, because it’s my podcast!)

My wife and I went to this party. this was post blindness. It wasn’t my first time attending a party Blind so I was familiar with the challenges:
Some are physical;
learning new spaces
dealing with the crowds in those space

Others are more emotional, philosophical;
Should I use my cane?
How can I meet or start and interaction with new people
Where’s the bar? (It’s a party, right!)

Although I knew the challenges, I had not yet figured out my method of dealing with them. By this time, I think I was intent on not letting avoidance be my answer.

There was nothing about the party that was overly memorable except how it felt like we were shown to a section of the space and sort of left there. We only knew a few people outside of the person who invited us. My wife and I both felt the tension.

I remember thinking about how the experience would have been so different before vision loss. Those who did know me would have called my name when we walked in, maybe we would have made eye contact during the evening, we would have been introduced to others. Instead, we didn’t feel welcomed. We were there, but not a part of that party.

Ultimately we came to the decision it was in our best interest to leave that physical space as it was crowding our emotional space.

Sitting there at the edge of this party, feeling as though we were on display, I wanted to be included. I wanted a role and not that of a bystander.

This pandemic triggered those same feelings. Chances are, it’s not just me.

Doing anything right now that doesn’t relate to Corona, just doesn’t feel right. I like other people want to be helpful. In some way.

Despite what seems like the world coming to a halt because of the virus, life is still happening. With or without this pandemic there are lots of people new to vision loss. Some of them are former nurses, doctors, EMS workers. Similar to how I felt at that party, these men and women I can imagine aren’t satisfied with being bystanders. Are there opportunities for these men and women to contribute if they so desire? Are there people with disabilities on the frontline.

This reminds me of the documentary produced by RMM Radio alumni Day Al-Mohamed, called Invalid Corps. It features the story of a virtually unrecognized troop of soldiers who served in the civil war. All were soldiers with disabilities.

Shout out to Day and let me encourage you to check out that episode.

Do I actually believe a Blind nurse or doctor can somehow be effective?

If you’re asking that question this must be your first time here! Welcome!

Am I proposing these newly Blind men and women are sent to the ER?

I’m not a doctor and I haven’t played one on TV. Even though I do have lots of experience watching medical dramas on television I don’t think I can make that determination. However, I don’t think the answer is a quick no like so many people would assume.

As people with disabilities We’re so used to being dismissed and hearing things like;
Well, it’s just not accessible…
It has to be done a certain way, we can’t just change how we do things.
Change can’t take place overnight.

Inaccessibility is somehow treated as if it’s natural.
The majority of inaccessibility is manmade. Physical access like getting into a building. Software constraints that keep many of us from either participating on the web or employment and then process restrictions that mandate how a job is performed.

And then, all of a sudden!

Audio: Gazoo (from The Flintstones)

Have you noticed all of the corporations now accommodating their employees with work from home access?
The online conferences and entertainment now available.
Everything getting done online.

If inaccessibility is manmade then maybe man can fix it,
Audio: “That’s right!” from Harry Belafonte’s “Man is Smart Woman is Smarter”

TR:

Huh!

Audio: “That’s right!” from Harry Belafonte’s “Man is Smart Woman is Smarter”

Audio: Bill Withers Lean on Me Instrumental

TR:

Right now, I guess my role in this pandemic is staying home. It’s continuing to do this podcast. In thinking about how I can do more, I sure don’t want to do less so I’ll try to do what I can. I’m going to remain optimistic and not get caught up in conspiracies, although they can be very entertaining.

Eventually, this too shall pass. I just hope we will move forward and be honest about how we got here. I’m talking about the impact of years of all the isms, racism, sexism, ableism…
the neglect, , the poverty, the gaps between the have and have nots.

None of these things are new. They’ve been here way before any of us were here. Corona just highlighted those on the margins, the party goers who have always been apart, never actually partying.

I know many people are calling for a return to normal, but that doesn’t seem like what we should be striving for.

I hope you don’t mind that I shared this with you. I just needed to put my two cents out in the world in my own way.

I have some non-Corona episodes in the lineup. I can’t promise I’ll be silent on this topic, but at least I’ll try to make it sound cool and make you smile along the way.

I hope when you listen to this podcast you feel a part of this community, my Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Last month’s episode titled Live Inspiration Porn – I Got Duped, attracted some new potential listeners to the web page over at ReidMyMind.com.

According to Google, a bunch of people in search of the term porn, were served the episode’s web page. I can only imagine the disappointment they had for google when they saw this particular episode in their results.

But wait, according to Google, several actually clicked on the page.

I don’t necessarily consider myself a good writer but I’m sort of proud of this one! I mean wow, shout out to me for what must have been a fantastically written blog post to redirect that person away from they’re original search.

I’d love to know if someone actually ended up listening to the episode based on that discovery term. And man if you actually came back… email me at ReidMyMindRadio at Gmail.com because that would be the best testimonial ever!

Don’t worry, no judgement here! Get your freak on!

If you like what you heard here today, tell a friend to check it out…

Let them know it’s available wherever they get their podcasts. Of course you can take a ride on the information super highway and get off on the ReidMyMind.com exit. That’s R to the E I D. (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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Climbing Accessible Heights with Matthew Shifrin

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Greetings everyone, from at least 6 feet away!

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

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

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

Audio: Water flowing from sink…

TR sings…

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

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

TR:

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

TR:

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

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

That was the vocabulary Matthew longed for.

MS:

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

Once Matthew gained access.

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Would you consider yourself an advocate?

MS

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

And it did. Lego decided to produce the instructions.

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

Are you still working with the company?

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]
Wow!

TR:

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

MS:

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

[TR in conversation with MS:]

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

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

MS

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

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

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

TR:

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

MS:

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

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

MS:

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

TR:

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

TR:
Like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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