Archive for the ‘Visually Impaired’ Category

Flipping the Script on Audio Description Part Three – Moving Beyond Just US

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral.
– >Elaine Lillian Joseph

Today we’re going beyond the US border to hear from two international describers. Rebecca Singh of Superior Description Services in Canada. A square yellow logo reads Superior Description Services in black capitals under a black dot containing a sequence of vertical yellow lines.
And if that’s not international enough for you here in the states we have Elaine Lillian Joseph from the United Kingdom.

We hear a bit about their AD origin story or how they came to description, the importance of centering Blind people in the process and more on guidelines for describing race, color or ethnicity.

And by the way, who in the world is neutral? Just US? Hmm!

Maybe not the final episode in the Flipping the Script series, but it is the last of 2020!

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Transcript

Show the transcript

Music Begins – A smooth, funky mid tempo Hip Hop beat

TR:

What’s good Reid My Mind Radio Family!

It’s me, your brother Thomas Reid. I hope you’re doing well.

Me? Why thank you for asking. I am doing well.

Today, we’re bringing you part three of the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series.

You know, this was never actually supposed to be a series. I originally planned for one episode but it was quickly evident that several people had something to share on the subject.

It got me thinking about Audio Description in two categories.
First, mainstream.

These are the writers and narrators creating AD for major television and film projects.

Then you have the independents – these consist of a varying degree of theater, live performance, museum and other sorts of description work.

Flipping the Script is all about promoting different voices, alternative views and Audio Description topics that are often overlooked.

As we’ve seen, this applies to both mainstream and independent.

I can’t say for sure this is the end of the Flipping the Script series but I can say it’s the last for 2020.

You know, just when I think I’m done with the topic…

Audio: “… they keep pulling me back in” Al Pacino in Godfather Part 3

Audio: “And here we go!” Slick Rick, A Children’s Story

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro
Rebecca:

My name is Rebecca Singh I am an Audio Describer also a performer. I’m the owner of Superior Description Services which is an Audio Description service which consults with the Blind and partially sighted community one hundred percent of the time. I am a cisgender woman of color and I live in Toronto Canada with my young family.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

How’d you get involved with Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I got involved with Audio Description through the theater actually. I have been a performer for a very long time and just over ten years ago I saw an audition posting for this thing I’d never really heard about, Audio Description and it was a class that I had to audition to get into. I got the part. Started training, that led to something of a building up of the industry here in Toronto.

— Music Begins – A dance track with a driving beat!

TR:

That’s right Y’all, in this third part of Flipping the Script on Audio Description we’re going international!

What’s that? Canada’s right there to the north? Ok, let’s cross the Atlantic.

Audio: Airplane in flight.

Elaine:

My name is Elaine Lillian Joseph. I’m from a city called Birmingham which is the second biggest city in the U.K. I’m a proud Birmie! I’m a Black woman. I’ve just got my hair done. I’ve got long light brown extensions with cane row on top. I’m wearing a floral long just below the knee length dress. I’m sitting in my friend’s bedroom because I’m currently quarantining with my friend’s family. I’ve been doing AD for just under two years. I work for ITV which is our second biggest channel after the BBC. I’m also a freelance Subtitler so I do subtitles for Hard of Hearing as well. A lot of accessibility going on.

TR:

Subtitling or what we know here in the states as Captioning was Elaine’s gateway to Audio Description.

A fan of film and television, she studied English and German in college — oh my bad, University

Elaine:

It always seemed like a natural thing to want to go into media. Finding out that there was this whole kind of world of accessibility and it’s not just, it’s not just transcription I guess. Not that there’s anything wrong with transcription but that you can be a bit creative with it. Doing subtitles for Hard of Hearing for example, doing a Horror film and working out how to describe the sound of of an alien creature and what words am I going to use to do that. It seemed like a natural transition from that to also thinking about how to describe things in general.

TR:

Prior to working at ITV, Elaine was Subtitling at another firm, BTI. it just so happened to be the employer of an influential colleague.,

Elaine:

Veronica Hicks, who kind of really kick started AD in the U.K., certainly. She used to sit directly behind me and she has this velvety plummy (chuckles) voice. I was sitting subtitling and thinking what is it that she does because it sounds fascinating.

TR:

Elaine asked around and learned more about Audio Description. Eventually she left BTI.

Elaine:

Everybody at my company knew that I really really wanted to do it. A position came up; they kind of said go for it! I tested and I got the job and I’ve been very very happy ever since.

TR:

Such an important thing to keep in mind — let people know you’re interested.

Today, Elaine has written AD for projects including a remake of Roswell. She’s been trained on narration so we can expect to hear her post pandemic. She also narrates live performances.

Elaine:

I usually do kind of Queer Cabaret events. There’s like dance, spoken word, lip syncing and things like that.

— Music ends with a drum solo

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

I’m wondering what was the experience from your other work that you brought to Audio Description?

Rebecca:

I liked my drama class in junior high and I decided this is the best thing ever. I made my way to a performing arts high school and got bitten by the performing bug and was doing at first some film and television. As it goes as a performer, the work opportunities change.

Instead of just sitting by the phone as they say, I shifted over to doing more theater work, clowning.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

The whole get up, the makeup and everything? Or is that something different? (Chuckles)
Rebecca:

I think that’s a certain kind of clown. I was living in Montreal, like the city of Circ De’ Sole. It was a little bit more movement, physical theater based kind of stuff. The acrobatic storytelling with the body. I went to dance school for a while. So it was really more about expressing myself through the body.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Okay, so you’re not jumping out of cars with like fifty other clowns. (Laughs)

Rebecca:

No!

TR:

She’s a creative person who found herself doing more arts administration. After moving to Toronto she moved back into the performance space gaining even more of the experience she needed for Audio Description. That physical performance for example prepared her for her first AD assignment describing physical comedy. And the administration work was quite valuable as it gave her a community of people to talk to or a network.

Rebecca:

There were people that had already worked with me in a different context and so I understood their concerns, what their fears were as producers. Everything from being afraid of touch tours because you’re potentially bringing a service animal onto a stage before the show. Rehearsal schedules, the time and space actors need. The types of conversations that are appropriate to have with directors if you’re having discussions. When is a good time to approach a designer if you have some questions? All of those things really help to mitigate any hesitancy that producers had in terms of adding something new to their palette.

TR:

Elaine’s love of reading & creative writing adds value to her description. But that merging of creativity with Audio Description has it’s challenges.

Elaine:

It’s a service and I think it’s important to remember it’s a service. There can be ego (Chuckles) in any industry and sometimes I think people forget the user and what’s most important to the user.

TR:

Rebecca has her own way of assuring Blind consumers are always centered throughout her process.

Rebecca:

Paid Blind and partially sighted consultants. I get two different kinds of feedback. I learned a long time ago it’s definitely not a one size fits all in terms of description. I have a roster of consultants with different interests as well. I also try to match the interests of the consultant. Some people like Opera, some people like dance. All of their different expertise filters into my descriptions. And they ask those really deep and probing questions that I have to find answers to.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

What kind of differences do you find between the Blind and partially sighted feedback that you get?

Rebecca:

One of the most striking differences is things like when I’m describing a set. With people who are partially sighted some people need to sit really really far up close and they want a different type of perspective in terms of what the set looks like. they may not be sitting in the same place. If they have a service animal they may be sitting further back in the theater. Maybe they’re closer to a speaker where that might cause some sound level things that need to be worked out. Sometimes light matters in a production, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I’ll get feedback from Blind consultants saying things like I really appreciated the fact that you called this thing almond shape because I know what an almond feels like. I really developed a sense of what words work better and what words are more inclusive over time working with both Blind and partially sighted consultants especially if they’re working together with me on the same show.

That’s the other benefit of having multiple consultants is that they can learn from one another and I always have a chance to bring in somebody new and widen my pool.

TR:

Inclusive language reflects all sorts of identities.

Elaine:

I’ve had conversations with people before about things like race. It’s wonderful that we’re kind of having a moment where we’re really grappling with that. And I’ve had conversations where people have said, Blind users don’t want to know about race, they want it to be completely neutral. I find that a really interesting argument because I’m like what does neutral actually mean and who are we assuming is neutral?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

How do those conversations come up when writing description?

Elaine:

When I first started I remember asking questions like should I describe color? Should I describe that this rose is red or that this car is blue or whatever? And then moving from that I guess to should I describe race and the color of somebody’s skin?

So I’ll talk specifically about race rather than diversity I guess because there are other things that we can describe.

The industry standard was to not describe race unless it’s important to the plot.

TR:

By now, if you’ve been following this ongoing conversation on the podcast, you should be pretty familiar with this AD guideline.

As an example of the guideline, Elaine refers to a production of Hamlet

Elaine:

And Hamlet is Black. Then I should mention it. But that doesn’t mean I should mention the race of anybody else. We can assume that everybody else is white. I took that on board and then I kind of ignored it a little bit. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughs…)

Elaine:

Because I just found it really difficult. I was like, but why? (Laughs)

I found that I was working on shows where I just wanted to describe like the color of somebody’s skin.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Why?

Elaine:

Why!

Because I thought, what’s it mean for it to be relevant to the plot. If there’s a conversation happening between sighted users and they’re saying oh did you notice how the policeman in whatever show it is is Black? I just kind of feel that means that as a Blind user you can’t be part of that conversation because someone’s decided that that Black policeman isn’t relevant to the plot so we’re not going to mention them. Also personally I know Blind users who I’m friend’s with who definitely wanted that information to be included because they’ve definitely felt like there are conversations that they can’t be part of because people are making these decisions.

TR:

Decisions being made on behalf of Blind people without our input. How does that make you feel?

Elaine:

Initially I wasn’t bold enough to say the Black man. I would describe the texture of his hair. So I would say the man with black afro textured hair. (Laughs) I think it should be fairly clear, but I still felt like I was kind of skirting around it.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Would you get any pushback?

Elaine:

We definitely didn’t receive any pushback. When my manager kind of reached out to a community of Blind users then it was an overwhelming yes! (Chuckles) Please do include that.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Okay. So you never got pushback from management.

Elaine:

No. My immediate manager was like a resounding yes! When I went into the kind of wider Audio Describer community that’s where I definitely felt pushback.

TR:

Like the time Elaine attended a conference where for the first time she heard a discussion of race and Audio Description included in the conversation.

Elaine:

There was a lot of why do we need to do this? What terms do we use? People not feeling comfortable saying the Black man – will the terms change. We might offend somebody, so it’s better if we don’t use any terms at all and just kind of ignore race. It felt uncomfortable for me being the only Black person in the room.

TR:

That’s uncomfort when people are either looking to you for the answer. Or one that I know I’ve experienced, giving the impression that you’re doing something wrong by raising the issue. (Oh well!)

Elaine:

Maybe it’s my British politeness kicking in but I found it very difficult to sit and listen to kind of put in my two pence. Imagine if a user is Black, maybe they do want to know about race (laughs… You never know!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh, absolutely

It’s just as important for a Blind consumer who is not Black to know that there are Black people on the screen y’all, like this is real.

Elaine:

Definitely.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I’m wondering if there’s an age gap here too. Is this the old guard that we’re talking about here?

Elaine:

I guess so, yes.

I have much respect for them. I feel like I need to put that disclaimer out . (Chuckling)

I really do and I felt like almost a young usurper at that conference and in some of these conversations I’ve had. I get that they’ve been trained in a specific way. If we look at the breakdown of describers in the U.K. it’s white middle age women.

Audio: “To be or not to be. That is the question” From Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Company

Music ends with beat in reverse!

Rebecca:

I feel like I owe it to the listener and the listener is not necessarily a middle class cisgender white female or a male and sometimes I feel like from some of the teaching and reading and some of the history from what I’ve seen of Audio Description and words, it’s really taking one particular perspective. That is exclusionary and also not fair to people who are Black and Indigenous or people of color.

TR:

In general, no matter what country, fairness, access, equity that should be the goal.

Rebecca, who thinks quite critically on this subject of inclusion presented at a conference in Europe.

Rebecca:

The Advanced Research Seminar on Audio Description.

I, over the last, I would say five years or so, have been really been honing in on the idea of creating the Canadian accent for Audio Description. We here have had a lot of influences from England and also from the states. We haven’t had our own Audio Description culture in Canada. So I went and was the first person to present from Canada and I talked about creating the Canadian accent and describing race gender, class and recognizing our bias.

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

And how was that received?

Rebecca:

people were very interested. I think that there’s not a practice of using consultants quite as much as we do here in North America and specifically what I do. The other thing that was really well received was the fact that I presented it in a way that did not require any description. I described all of the images. I tried to make the entire experience inclusive to a point where the person who was operating the CART, the real time captioning, didn’t have anything to write. That was all just part of the example of how we can be more inclusive.

TR:

The responsibility of making media inclusive and accessible includes the role of Audio Description.

Rebecca:

Everybody deserves the opportunity to see themselves in a story. We as people who are helping to tell a story have a responsibility to do everything that we can to not exclude people from seeing themselves.

TR:

So what exactly does that responsibility include?

Rebecca:

even as Describers we need to understand what our own bias is. I live in a very progressive city. And I live in a arts bubble inside that city. I try and check myself against that as well. I don’t want to use language that is so open that only a very small amount of people with very specific references will understand.

We need to have more conversations with consultants and also understanding what the history is and what the perspective is of people who are heavy users of Audio Description. We need to talk about it.

TR:

She’s talking about multiple conversations from all perspectives. Some times that just means raising the issue.

Rebecca:

It’s all of those little tiny actions that every person can do just to point out when things could be better perhaps or when things could be more inclusive.

Just being self-reflective about how we’re receiving information. I think many voices is much better as opposed to a government mandate or something like that.

Sometimes words aren’t enough.

TR:

But the words can inspire actions that lead to real change. Like getting film makers and broadcasters to include a bit more space to allow for Audio Description.

Ultimately, the change happens when our thought process becomes more inclusive.

Rebecca:

If the creator of the material no matter what it is, has the Blind and partially sighted community in mind as part of their audience from the beginning.

TR:

Having Blind people in mind translates to our access not being an afterthought. When it comes to Audio Description?, we need to be centered.
[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

So the idea that there are sighted people enjoying Audio Description?, that’s cool, that’s really cool and I get it because hopefully that means there will be more of it, right?

Rebecca:
Yeh!

[TR in conversation with Rebecca:]

Do you see the potential for that to be a problem?

Rebecca:

I’m really in favor of Audio Description guidelines and standards being created for the needs and wants of the Blind and partially sighted community. Anyone who is putting something forward that they call Audio Description is aware of these guidelines and is providing something that is standardized. That said I think it’s also okay to create things that are not necessarily Audio Description?, but use techniques of Audio Description and as long as they’re not called Audio Description. I think more is better and so as long as it’s not called Audio Description when it doesn’t meet the standard, go for it!

TR:

From my understanding, there are conversations happening today exploring these guidelines.
I’m not sure what will end up being decided, but I do know that if these conversations do not include people of color in a real way, including decision makers, then we have to ask the question, why? Is it just fashionable right now to appear as though we’re addressing issues of diversity?

It’s a similar question I asked of all those in the Flipping the Script series;

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

It’s a simple question, so feel free to answer (laughs) because I’m asking it!

Elaine:

(Laughs) I see I have no choice. (Laughs) Okay!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

(Laughing )No, but answer it anyway you want.

My question is why, why AD?

Elaine:

Oh! That’s a lovely question.

AD has brought me into contact with people that I probably would have never have met. In terms of the Queer drag community that I’m now part of and speaking to Blind users and Blind performers as well. I think that’s enriched my life and I hope that the descriptions I give in turn enrich their experience.

Last year I remember telling someone another sighted person, that I did AD. They just laughed and were like Blind people don’t watch TV. That was just like a whole education let’s just say for that person. (Chuckles)

I think it’s a really, really beautiful service and I think that it’s having a bit of a moment over here where people are certainly from the describer point of view, people are starting to think about how we can change it and engage even further with the community who uses it and that’s really, really exciting to be part of honestly. It’s so so fun! I honestly want to keep on doing this and developing my skills and my confidence and listening to people.

— Music begins – a chill piano leads into a smooth jazz chill Hip Hop beat

Rebecca:

I am a storyteller, I was born that way (chuckles). I think it’s really important to be able to tell your story in a way that everyone can hear it, receive it. I don’t think we have any excuses to ignore that anymore. We have technology to help us out. I want to see the amazing wonderful gifts that actually like Blind and partially sighted creators present having had access to some of this more popular culture. Some kind of performance art. So I think it’s important for everybody to have those opportunities. and I really feel like access to art is as important as access to sport. I think it’s part of what makes us human. And so everybody should have this access.

I just think it’s fair!

TR:

That’s Rebecca Singh, you can call her CEO of SDS or Superior Description Services where she centers Audio Description.
Rebecca:

Also known as described Video here. I do live description, image description, I produce podcasts with the Blind and partially sighted community in mind. Consultation to help with Universal Design. My Twitter handle is @SDSDescriptions.. I’m also on Face Book Superior Description and you can always check me out at SuperiorDescription.com.

TR:

Elaine Lillian Joseph is on Twitter @@elaineLJoseph.

I’d like to thank Elaine for putting up with my attempt to include the London slang in our conversation.

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Init! (Hysterical laugh)

Elaine:

(Laughs) Oh my days, you really love Top Boy don’t you?

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

I do!

I get in to the whole street shows and all that type of thing so, I’m sorry! it’s Hip Hop I’m going to be in there!

Elaine:

Ah, that makes you (possibly says me) really happy! I love it, I love it!

[TR in conversation with Elaine:]

Yeh! (Laughs)

TR:

Big shout out to Rebecca and Elaine for all they do and for openly sharing their experience and opinions for the improvement of AD for all.

So let me welcome you to the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Audio: Air horn!

I’m hoping you’ll hear them back on the podcast in the future.

While this is the last official episode of 2020, you know I usually do something for the holiday season. Right now at the time of this recording, I have no idea what that is, but I’m pretty sure I’ll put something together to wrap up this incredibly challenging year.

To be sure you get that episode;
Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And let me do a bit of Audio Description for you. That’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

— Music Ends

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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Charles Curtis Blackwell – Words of Meaning Empowerment & Inspiration

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

A side Head shot of Charles Curtis Blackwell in a dark space leaning forward in thought with his pointer finger placed on his lip and the sunlight cascading across his face

Photo by Liz Moughon


Visual Artist, Writer and Poet Charles Curtis Blackwell, the subject of this year’s #Superfest2020 feature film God Given Talent shares stories of his life. We hear pivotal moments of influence including Jazz and school busing. Loss, Forgiveness, Purpose and of course Art!

His experience and approach to adjusting to vision loss is a must hear for anyone new to blindness. As evident in the episode, I too was inspired and hope this production, may I dare say, is a bit more artistic.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of one of my teachers; Sijo Abu Bakr. May We Remain!

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Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Audio: City soundscape merges into a nightclub atmosphere.

TR as on stage Host:

Greetings & Salutations brothers and sisters!
My name is Thomas Reid.

— Applause

Thank you, thank you very much!

Allow me to welcome you all to the Reid My Mind Lounge.!

— Jazz Music Begins

That’s right; today’s episode deserves an appropriate atmosphere.
I want you to sit back and really feel this one.
This was inspired. And y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell is an artist. A visual artist, a writer, poet and definitely a story teller.

Where I come from, what he has to share, we call science or gems. Either way, he’s dropping it!
My hope is that you pick it up!

It all drops after the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

TR:

Influence!

Music – Rahsan Roland Kirk, Volunteer Slavery

CC:
Have you ever heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?

Jazz horn player. He was more than that. Originally from Columbus but he wound up in Newark. He was totally Blind. He played three saxophones at the same time. He had them hooked together. He influenced a lot of Jazz musicians with this thing called circular breathing. In one nostril and out of the other. Their still blowing. You think they’re holding the note.

I caught him live before I lost my eyesight.

Kind of influenced me years later. I says ok well just do whatever.

Somebody said hey man how you do that? I’ve done some crazy stuff with the poetry. I just said hey man; I’m kind of like Rahsaan Roland Kirk you just got to get crazy on stage. Just go ahead you know get wild, you know (laughs)!

Music Begins… Jazz Track 9 from Charles Curtis Blackwell In Color

I liked Jazz at an early age. They crammed classical down our throats going from 6th grade to 7th grade. It was Mozart, Bach, Beethoven you know, so I got turned off. I tried to flunk the test. Wound up in music anyway. (Laughs) next semester I transferred back to art.

I was doing art before 5th grade. I remember the instructor she pointed out this drawing that I did. It had the whole class’s attention.

maybe because art it just came easy. I didn’t know I was taking it for granted.

Audio: Historic Radio News Broadcast

“the Supreme Court ruled in 1954, that pupils cannot be segregated by law on the basis of race.”

CC:

I was in a busing program. They bused us to this high school from this neighborhood in Sacramento. I was in 9th grade; I think I was around 13 or 14. They didn’t want us there.

The first day we got there, there were white folks with pickets. The end of the school year it turned into a racial riot; 14 people arrested one in the hospital and another one that was supposed to be in the hospital, he was Black, they arrested him instead, they didn’t send him to the hospital. One of the most scary days of my life. I was small man and I was scared man, these cats could fight.

My folks continued to make me go to the school. I didn’t really want to go. And it seemed like it wasn’t a day past some racial remark, I don’t know if you want me to mention those names on here you know. It really messed with me.

There was one incident. They had a policy; you could put the gloves on and have a boxing thing. Oh cool!

This guy kept messing with me. Shoving me into lockers, kicking me, but he always had his buddies with him. His name was Souza. He was a distance runner, He was up for championship.

This went from year to the next year. So I’m from the neighborhood, right. This year we had the same PE class. I told the coach I want to put the gloves on. The first coach his name was McFadden, he was ok. He spoke to me and said ok, we’ll call him in. I trusted McFadden. The other coach, he was a new coach. I didn’t know about him because he wasn’t there the day of the riot. The day of the riot the teachers, they weren’t breaking up the fights, they were yelling you damn Niggers! (Pause) These were teachers. You couldn’t trust nobody.

Coach called him.

Man I’m busy tucking my shirt in, tightening up my tennis shoes, I’m getting ready you know.

They say yegh Charles says that you’ve been harassing him, you did this and you did that.

No, no, no I didn’t!

The new coach he was sitting there, he jumped up and said you a such and such liar I saw you do it. Man, I was knocked off my feet.

They turned to Souza and said what is you ready? He says no, no I don’t want to…

I’m getting teed off. He don’t want to box with me. They say well do you want to apologize to Blackwell (laughs…). I ain’t want no apology. (Laughs…)
The dude apologized, the coach says ok Charles can you accept his apology. I did but I didn’t really want to. (Laughs….)

Audio: Sound of white school busing protests.

All this racism stuff and busing program stuff, I had poor self-esteem.

I was like a D student. My idea was like finish high school, get a job as a janitor and you know bang, that was it. I didn’t have no big aspirations.

I got into reading.

Audio: School bell ringing

We had to write like a newspaper article. And the way I learned how to write was from reading the San Francisco Chronicle. They had real good writers at that time. And so that’s how I kind of picked up on expository writing from reading the newspaper. I wrote an article for this class and you didn’t write this. Someone else wrote it. You know, this is not your style of writing, you didn’t write this. I got a low grade. I said eh whatever. Sometimes they give you a low grade realizing oh wow, what they’re really telling you is you got raw brute talent.

Music transition…

I used to sell the paper it was called the Sacramento Observer, it was a Black newspaper. William Lee, he was over the paper. So I called the paper and spoke to him and I said what if I write a story about these Black students graduating from this busing program. It wasn’t me it was the class ahead of me. They were graduating. He said yeh, write it and get it to us we’ll run it. I said ok. Paper comes out I open up the paper looked inside, looked on the back of the paper I said wow that’s funny they said they were going to run the article. So I called the newspaper, Secretary answered. I said yeh, this is Charles Blackwell, she says yes! I wrote this article they said they were going to run the article in the newspaper, she says yes. I said well I looked inside the paper and I didn’t see then I looked on the back of the paper and I didn’t see it. She said well did you look on the front page? (Laughing) I was knocked off my feet man! I never would have thought they would put the article on the front page. That was poor self-esteem. man I was just flabbergasted, I sold extra copies. I would go door to door selling the paper man, you know. (Laughs…)

Music Transition

I got to college my whole world started changing.

I was an art major. I was trained to do sketches. Funny, I was talking to you earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So I had a copy of Down Beat Magazine. We had to turn in a final drawing. Kind of like a shadow of the person you know it’s like super imposed, almost like shading. I did it with my 20/20 eyesight just looking at it and doing it. And the instructor said you used the Opaque projector that’s not right. I said no I didn’t use no Opaque projector; I just did it from a magazine. He downgraded me but he was telling me that’s how good my eyesight was.

TR:

Loss!

Audio: Sound of ocean waves continues with van driving…

CC:

I was staying in Santa Cruz for a little while. I was with some friends so we get in the van and go to the ocean. Stop at one place and we’d go further up. The waves were coming in. So they get out and they go down.

I’m in the van, I’m reading this book. A little while later I get out. I go down but I’m going the wrong way. I’m thinking this is the path. I made the mistake of allowing the terrain to half way carry me. There was this big rock, I was going fast and I said well I’ll just go jump and go over the rock. I was assuming it would be a slant. There was a cliff. I didn’t know.

— brief silence

Temporarily paralyzed on one side, concussion, internal bleeding. Broke one small bone. It was my finger. I don’t know how that happened.

Ah man, I just knew I was going to die.

By the grace of God here I am.

I was in the hospital for like a week, seven eight days, something like that. I don’t know man, next thing I know I’m up and going and I returned to my place in Santa Cruz. A few days later I headed back to Sacramento trying to regroup.

I got back in college a few months later.

Finished that semester. Christmas time man, we partied like crazy. I went to every party there was and the next thing you know I met this girl; I was in love man I wanted to get married.

Music – Cymbal crescendo followed by a cymbal crash and flute begins…
Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color
The unspeakable artist
Yearning, in and out of the room
If we sit in a dark room too long
We will meet the who
In the form of a tormented scream
Examining who we really are

Cymbal crash

CC:

I’m driving, I left college and I’m headed home and I remember I’m at this intersection and the horns are honking behind me and I had to turn. I barely made it.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Cymbal crash

And has fearless as we may be to ourselves
Those ghostly cries are all of us laid out in the dark

CC:

They’re doing all these tests, morning to night.
They call it an Edema – it’s where I hit and the fluid went to a state of rest and when it returned back into motion it left my macular pale. Macular Degeneration.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

But if we stay in a dark room for so long we could see all the colors of the rainbow
Which reside on the other side where tombstones, grave sights pilferage and sorrows dwell.

CC:

They told me there’s nothing we can do. it all comes down to God. That was the end man, I just gave up.

I just dropped out of college. I didn’t go sign out or nothing.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Magenta unwrapped, indigo unveiled and cobalt for all those chance given up when the soul gave chase to something of an eastern religion.
For residing in a dark room for so long can cause one to worship the form instead of the creator.

CC:

It was like what do we do to carry us through and it’s kind of bad but I was out drinking hook up with some friends get a beer. Somebody else would have some hard liquor. I was doing that too drinking wine.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Many hales for the blood we fear running through our veins
Flowing upward like the Nile to our heads
In the dark room so sacred yet so cold the skin can’t breathe it

This tranquil rite of passage
Oh woman can you hear me in absence of gender
Nothing but flesh crawling in the dark
Solitary confinement

CC:

The worse thing I think I did, I didn’t know how to be… (Phone connection failing…)
Can you hear me any better? 1, 2, 3… that’s better?
Ok, I’ll turn around then …

I was raised southern family, my folks from Mississippi.

The idea, if you’re going to be with this person you going to be married, you gotta be able to provide. You got to be this man. The male role.

It ain’t about the male role, the macho, the strong…
So that was a big mistake I made trying to push her away, put her at a distance. I was 20. We get taught certain things but we realize that’s not going to help you in terms of dealing with life.

All I remember man was being in the bedroom and crying day in and day out. I would never tell her that’s what I was doing, which was really bad

When life hits in such a manner what do you got to hold onto. Faith and trying to trust God and trying to believe.

Audio Cymbal crash

Might be somebody there that could help you build (hope) and (encourage you to live).
(Each emphasized with echo audio effect…)

Audio: Subway train on tracks

CC:

Wound up at some friends. They were having a pool party at some apartment complex.

Audio: Train comes to screeching stop.
Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Pre De Term Mind! Mind! Pre Det term Mind!

CC:

I wound up sleeping at one person’s house, another house.

Had a fight with my Dad, he snatched the phone. I was a psychological mess.

This friend, his name was Ken, we had met on a bus. And we were talking, we discovered we were both born on the same day. He came and visited me while I lost my eye sight. He was from the Santa Cruz area.

It was getting to the point where I really got depressed. I mean real, real serious depressed. And then I just kind of disappeared. Nobody knew where I was. I wound up at the bus station. I went on to Santa Cruz and caught up with ken. I started a fight with the landlord. I was going crazy! I didn’t want to pay no rent. (Laughs) Really wasn’t going to make no sense.

I wound up sleeping on the beach. I got a cheap room at a hotel. Something like six dollars a night. I think I only had a hundred.

I would hang out at this book store and listen to people talking.

I was standing on the corner, people came by and said hey brother, do you know anything about Jesus. I says yeh, God and Jesus I know, what I need right now is food, shelter and clothing. And they said brother we got food, shelter and clothing. I said what? It was a Christian Commune. So I went and stayed with them.

They had me on the laundry detail. They had a second hand store. I was with this other guy, the only other brother and we would go and pickup refrigerators and stoves and other stuff. When I look back on it things moved kind of fast. January I’m losing my sight and going bizerk in the head, the crying and everything. Around August I had disappeared . The early part of September I wound up with this commune. From September til about January I had returned back to my folks in Sacramento.

It got me back into the swing of things not feeling like I’m going to be an invalid for the rest of my life.

Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

An older Smokey voice off mic repeats

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

But the Blue line escapes all the mental anguish, mental breakdown of knots tied up inside.
(fades out)

Music – Curtis Mayfield Back to the World

CC:

Curtis Mayfield had this song called Back to the World.

I leave the commune and now I’m back in the world. The world is not the same as the commune. People there are kind of helpful and everything. Now I’m back in the world and I didn’t know what to do.

Even though I got back into the swing of things I hadn’t really adjusted all the way.

Signed up with Voc Rehab. They ask if you need a cane. I use a cane now but at first I didn’t. There main thing was trying to make a person productive in terms of society, getting a job, being trained for some kind of work situation. Then they had another part of going to college.

It was the social worker. She was with the welfare department at that time. She was this white lady and her isms started coming out. I made the mistake of when I left town, disappeared, I was 21, I got a beer. I called her of all people, I said I’m not going to be here, I’m gone. Where you going? Well I’m busy drinking a beer. I was dismantled anyway. Some people they don’t understand that because there all emphasis is like get you ready to be productive in society. Well how you going to be productive when inside, you’re a wreck. They don’t comprehend it. She’s saying uh, last time I spoke to Charles he was busy getting drunk on the phone and he was going to do this, this and this. And I was just sitting there , I know it was God. I just sat there and let her run off at the mouth. Huh!

“Words that have meaning” – CC with Ambient effect

Then the guy from Voc Rehab, well you really don’t seem like you know what you want to do in life. And I said oh, ok. I was just agreeing because I was in a different place spiritually. A little time past and I called him and said hey I think I want to go to college.

If you can get me two C’s we’ll fund you to go to college. So I did summer school and got two B’s but I was trying to get two A’s.

They always shifted me, changed, got a different guy for Voc. Rehab. This guy was totally Blind, ok? Man, I go in to meet with the dude and we’re talking. I’m saying oh, this is going to be ok because he’s totally Blind, he can relate to my situation, being partly Blind you know. We’re sitting there talking for over an hour. He’s interviewing me and at the very end of the interview he says ok, boy!

Man he did it in such a manner, I was just shocked.

“Words can help you be empowered!” – CC with Ambient effect

My Dad wasn’t the best communicator. I got back home, I was angry. My Dad was waxing the car. My Dad had a Cadillac (laughs). Picked up a rag, what the heck wax the car, maybe that will help me. I told him what had happened and my Dad, like I said, he wasn’t a real good communicator but this was one time he said something.

He said, he’s testing you.

He’s testing me?

Yeh, he’s testing you.

And that’s all my Dad said.

I milked that counselor like crazy. every time they had something to offer I grabbed it. So we had to bring our grades in, well it looks like you got some A’s here and you got a B and an A and another A . He says well, what kind of help do you need? Well, we got cassette recorders and do you need more reader service, I says oh yeh, oh yeh!

I get out of college and I could have changed counselors but I’m like no I’m gonna stay with this dude because I know what’ he’s like. He was testing me and I’m reading him.

I get out, well congratulations Charles. You can’t go to graduate school, we don’t have no money. We got a training program here.

You could have a cafeteria in a federal building.

I went to Montana, I went to Seattle, Los Angeles trying to get a job. Couldn’t get a job. The reality hit me, being partly Blind, ain’t no opportunities. I signed up!

When almost two weeks or a month we’re sitting at this table. This white dude is sitting next to me. He’s much older than me. He was losing his eyesight. This other guy’s across from me, he was Mexican, fresh out of Soledad prison, but he was in the program too. The guy in charge of the program it was his cafeteria, the guy comes up and says Charlie my boy, you talk back to my employees you can’t remain here you understand that. And I said yes! Just automatically. The white dude sitting next to me said that was F’d up. He was in his 40’s. You know something was wrong. The Mexican fresh out of Soledad said Charles are you ok?

I come back to the world, I’m being all well love one another be real open, be kind to people. This is the racism of America. Even though I may change the world hadn’t changed. I had to deal with it some kind of way. That’s the horror of this country. This is it, this is what’s on the table.

The next day man, I scared the slop out of that man. I threatened that man like crazy man. (laugh) They called a meeting with another state official. The man had me, the guy I had threatened.

Alright Charles, he says he’s scared to be around you. Well just what the F do you want.

“Words that can help you be inspired” – CC with Ambient effect

I came up during the 60’s man. I was involved in the Black student Union, we got 9 out of 10 demands for Black Studies and here this joker gonna do something racist like this.

You know how we learn from people. My mind went back to this brother, his name was Amyl Palmer, he was head of the Black Student Union. The brother could deal, he was way older than me. I leaned back and said what you got to offer?

You want to go to graduate school? I said that sounds workable. (Laughs) So I went to grad school. (Laughs)

CC:

A buddy of mine wrote a poem. I like real conversations.

Real conversations can really help you in life. What is it that helped me, you know, having real conversations like words that have meaning. Words can help you be empowered. Words that can help you be inspired.

Music Begins…

CC:
You gotta deal with the race and then you got to deal with people’s ignorance toward disability even with Black folks.

You think they’re going to relate to your blindness.

You might know, Berkley is where the center for independent living started. They were filing law suits way back in the 70’s. You could be in Berkley it could be a totally different story as opposed to being in Oakland. You get to Oakland, you get people like; Hey, is you blind? (Laughs…) I’ll be waiting for a bus. Hey I’m trying to catch the bus … it’s right there don’t you see the sign? And I’m carrying a cane now. You try to say ok, let it teach me something, try to just grin and bear it, but if you’re trying to hurry up and get somewhere. Let’s say there’s two people at the bus stop. I ask somebody and they say something ridiculous like it’s right there just look at it. I just turn to the next person and say, excuse me can you tell me which bus… and they tell me. And then the other person goes, oh hey I didn’t know you blind. I just walk off and leave them alone. I do them cold but it’s like what can I say to the person?

Every once in a while a person says oh excuse me I’m very sorry. Ok, cool.

I walked in a business before, with a cane, I’m trying to figure out why are they paying so much attention to me but it’s not a friendly attention it’s almost like do they think I’m going to steal something.

One of the worse things I got … I got off a bus one day and the dude said yeh, man, you got that game down, carrying that cane pretending to be Blind. I had some cuss words, I didn’t say them out loud cause it was night time and I ain’t ready for no fight. It’s kind of what they call the Pre Antebellum South the days before Helen Keller. A lot of this society is still like that.

I’m a church going brother. I remember I was at this church a little over a year ago, this friend named Joyce and Leo, hey Charles we’re going to this other church, come on and go, I said ok. I’m sitting there participating in the worship and then the minister calls someone here need to accept Jesus. And this lady is sitting behind me, she ain’t said nothing to me, she hasn’t given me a friendly greeting or nothing. She poked me on my shoulder , you can go up now and accept Jesus. (Laughs) I’ve been sitting there participating in the service and it’s like, no communication she just automatically assumed oh you Blind you need Jesus.

Sometimes there are store front churches and then there’s a good ol’ store front church That kind of backward condemning. maybe the reason you lost your eyesight is because you did something bad. You sinned. God is punishing you. If a person is just losing their eyesight and a person comes along and tells him something like that, oh God man, they’re condemned to hell. It could take them years to get out of that.

I remember this lady, it was Kay Stewart she setup a program for the Blind students at the college. And she was very hip. White lady from Texas. A very, very nice lady. A matter of fact she knew the racist counselor at Voc. Rehab. She wasn’t too fond of him. She was always whatever I can do to help you here at the college, knowing you weren’t going to get all the help you needed from Voc. Rehab. So she would do these cultural programs. When I finished college she got in touch with me and she asked me to go on this outing. She wanted me to talk to this guy, a white guy, he was just losing his eyesight. He was condemning himself, you know, God this and God that. I said hey man that’s not it God is not a condemning God. You got to find out about the love of God.

I had a real good family doctor and he would talk to you. Not like today, they’re running you through like a number. He said you lost your eyesight, take your defect and use it as your asset. Man, that was a strong piece of wisdom. And I passed that on to this other guy.

You find Blind people man, they know the Bible, backwards forward, sideways and down. But do they know how to get out of that condemning. Do they know how to get to that place of being and inspiration to someone else and being inspired and being (forgiving.)
(Emphasized with a slight echo effect)

CC:

I used to listen to Martin Luther King and James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer you know.

I’m in college, when I could see good, I’m sitting in front of the library one day reading an article and a dude came up and sat down. It was Souza. And he apologized to me. And I’m looking at him like what. I don’t know whether to listen to him or grab him. He said that he was dating this girl that was Asian and she confronted him. He realized it was his father that instilled all this racism in him. And I was listening and I said wow man!

It was like a Martin Luther King story man.

This time it was real.

Audio Bridge

One of the greatest lessons I learned man, the minister told me, he said, “Never be ashamed to apologize. Be it 8 to 80.”

The lady that I pushed away, it was fourteen years later.

I called her I said, I just want to apologize. She said no you don’t owe me no apology. I says well hey everything in my life is falling apart, I was in a writing project and it collapsed, nothing’s going right and I’m trying to get my life right with God. So I just want to tell you that I’m very sorry I did what I did to you.

I heard her crying on the other end of the phone and I realized I did the right thing.

I realized that I hurt her and I didn’t know I did.

When we apologize it’s like something spiritual takes place on the inside. When we forgive something happens on the inside in a good way.

TR:

Purpose!

CC:

I went to the college with my cousin Anita and I just went over to hang out. So I ran into the friend she used to be a neighbor, her name was Pat. She was much older than me. “Hey Charles, I heard you lost your eyesight.” I says yeh. She was you know very courteous, she knew me. “Come go to class with me.” So I went to a class with her and it was African American Literature. Eugene Redmond was the instructor. He was saying some stuff that caught my attention. I still remember he was presenting this book called “Black Suicides”. I was listening because I was at that point a year before because I had lost my eyesight. By the grace of God it didn’t happen. Black people they say we don’t do this, but here’s a book called “Black Suicides.”. We don’t do it when in fact we do. I says oh wow, this cat is saying something.

“Graduate school!” – CC with Ambient effect

One of the best things I did is sign up , it was an independent study with Eugene Redmond. He was also the editor of the Henry Dumas collection. I don’t know if you heard of Henry Dumas, but Henry Dumas did this poem I still remember;

America!

If an eagle be imprisoned on the back of a coin and that coin is tossed into the sky

That coin may dwindle, that coin may spindle, but that eagle will never fly.

Henry Dumas was shot and killed by a New York subway cop.

Redmond became the editor of the collection. Redmond did a book called Drum Voices. It’s the history and development of African American poets going all the way back to slavery and coming on up to Hakim Muributu, Sonia Sanchez, Amir Baraka. He was always an encouragement and I got an A.

Years later I was having dinner with this brother he was a political person in Sacramento, Grandin Johnson, trying to push for affirmative action years ago. So he had brought Eugene Redmond to the college for a part of Black Studies. I told him yeh, Redmond, I took a class with him and he gave me an A. He looked at me and he said; (pause) Redmond, didn’t give out A’s. If you got an A man you must have been producing some serious work. I kind of hung my head and said well he liked my work. He said I’m telling you he didn’t give out A’s. You had to work to get an A. He really dropped a bomb on me.

I kept in touch with Eugene Redmond, he’s published me about six different times in Drum Voices Review and some other publications too.

Music begins… Slow piano riff moves into a cool Hip Hop groove.

I realized ok, God gave me this talent and with this talent he’s kind of helped raise me up from that bed of poor self-esteem. Lift me up and encouraged me and inspired me. And I have to take care of this talent. I have to nourish it, be kind to it, treat it right and try to use it.

I’m at this place now it’s called Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkley, working with homeless young adults in high school. I try to use stuff like ok, let’s write about the last time someone said to you I love you. The last time you were angry and you felt like you wanted to kill somebody. How you see the situation where the guy is beaten to death on the street and the cop put his knee on his neck. Let’s write about that. Let’s write about mercy. What does it mean for you to be merciful to someone else . And I’m trying to use writing to confront.

I really embrace the Black Live Matter because we fought for the demands for Black Studies apparently somebody was listening.

Audio: Prison door slams and continues with ambient sound of a prison.

I used to do writer’s workshops in prisons and I’d go in and try to be an inspiration and encouragement to those people locked up behind bars with this talent that God gave me.

I did a presentation at Folsom prison and this inmate he wasn’t sitting with his back to the wall. You had to pay attention to that. Other people sitting at the table. It might have been ten people. This one guy when it was over turned out he was a point man in Vietnam and he wiped out a whole family drunk. If it hadn’t been for Vietnam he wouldn’t have did what he did.

He says hey can I ask you a question? I said yeh, go right ahead. He says when you lost your eyesight did you lose your will to live?

Man, I was shocked by that question. I really didn’t want to answer his question, but you deal with inmates they’ll be real with you so it’s best to be real with them. It’ll protect you. I said yeh, I lost my will to live. He says hey brother, he took my hand and said I’m glad you made that decision to live because you’ve really been an inspiration here today. Man, that dude gave me a PhD.(Laughs) He stamped it on my forehead

I got to be like I said, an inspiration, encouragement. Be it if I’m at a prison, at a school, wherever it is try to take this talent, try to inspire, encourage someone to live.

Music ends

TR:

Art!

I started off being trained to do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. Hand and eye.

I can’t do that anymore. I can’t set something in front of me draw it make it look like realism. That’s out!

I had to take a different approach. When I got back into art I was a Sacramento County CETA Artist. CETA program that’s the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, Jimmy Carter was president.

I was doing stuff that I knew from college because I had been out of art for about seven or eight years.

I did these large carrots, seven foot carrots (laughs). These were paintings. The middle of the carrot had another piece of canvas sewed on it was blue, called “This Carrot Got the Blues.”

I did these large pieces, I took styro foam balls and I stuffed them with Latex paint and then I painted a jet seal over that. It was Braille dots on canvas, it said “Do Not Touch”. And then another one said (laughing) “Read this with left hand only”

I was doing stuff that was workable for my blindness.

Music – Jazz drummer sol – off beat groove Track 9, Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Allen Gordon he was the head of the Art department at one time at Cal State Sacramento. He introduced me to the NCA a group of Black artists from around the country. National Conference of Artists, Margaret Burrows out of Chicago, but even before that time he says oh you’re doing some African art. I says I ain’t took no classes. He said, it’s in you; line, shape, color, rhythm movement. I says oh wow! I’ve been doing more and more of that.

I cover the paper with oil pastels and then I come over it with water down acrylics doing line drawings of African masks on paper. or maybe drummers or jazz musicians on paper. Then I started doing African sculptures playing saxophones or playing a flute, playing a bass. African dancers. Using my blindness and doing abstracts. It might look like a Jazz drummer, a horn player, a dancer with all this abstract stuff you know,

line shape, rhythm color, movement. (Delayed effect on the groove of the beat.)

I’m using my blindness to create the art piece and get to my own originality.

Music ends!

I use my blindness in terms of writing. It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say.

Sometime I’m producing art, well I’ll stop and I’ll do some writing. So in a sense the art is influencing the writing.

I produce some writing, well let me set this down and I’ll produce some art. So the writing is influencing the art. Inspiring on the inside- give me some encouragement and inspiration.

I get tired of that well, I’ll go out here and catch a performance, theater play some jazz. I’ll go to an art gallery and see what they’re doing or go catch some poets. I might even sit there and don’t say nothing . I don’t even want to read I just want to you know listen to other people. Right now it ain’t happening. Truthfully I I’ve gotten depressed. Five months I’ve only finished one piece. I started about nine others and finished one. That ain’t saying nothing. I’m usually producing anywhere from one to three pieces a week. So that tells you this thing has hit me in such a manner and all I could do is relate to other people when they’re saying the same thing, feeling uninspired. It’s hard it’s really hard to deal with and I wish I knew some answers. Even I try to get to the spiritual place man I’m blocked on that too. I don’t know maybe you , hey you got some ideas tell me. (Laughs)

The sad part about it is I don’t have a computer and I use visual tech that enlarges print. And I spend a lot of time on that writing. In some ways I wish I had the hook up with the computer but I think I’d be lost.

I don’t take pride in it but I’m computer ignorant and I know I’m ignorant when you get one of these little five or six year olds in here and they know how to hit all the buttons and get everything just right. (Laughs) I know I’m out of the loop.

“Whatever you can do to drum up hope, do it!” – CC with Ambient effect

Music begins.

I never would have dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing.
I’ve been published, locally nationally and internationally. I’ve had my artwork shown. Some people have my artwork in foreign countries. I’ve had theater plays produced.

Like my Grandmother used to say she said the Lord works in mysterious ways and has wonders to be performed. Maybe that would be my story. I look back on it I’m baffled.

I remember a lady was gonna date me, oh he ain’t got no job, he’s not doing this, he can’t do this. Somebody else said,

Music pauses

apparently you don’t know the brother. ..

My name is Charles Curtis Blackwell!

TR:

Well, it’s a privilege and honor to say Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell,
It’s official! you Sir are a part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Music begins.

While Mr. Blackwell does not have a computer, he does have a Facebook page at Charles Curtis Blackwell. I’ll link to it on this episodes blog post.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been inspired. He said, his art influences his writing and his writing influences his art. That resonates with me. Inspiration from within.

If you’ve been inspired I hope you will let that influence you…

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

CC:
“Laughs, I was knocked off my feet man!”

TR:

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!

Hide the transcript

Viewing Audio Description History Through Audio Eyes with Rick Boggs

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

Audio Eyes LLC Logo - graphic of film transforming into brain waves with the text "Turning pictures... into words"
Continuing with the exploration of Audio Description, I’m very happy to have one of the founders of Audio Eyes, Rick Boggs on the podcast. We get a bit of a lesson on the history of Audio Description with an emphasis on the role Blind people played in its creation and advances. Why is this important? How can we be proactive in promoting AD? How can we become more than consumers of AD?

Listen in as Rick doesn’t hold back sharing his thoughts on the problems with AD, Blind consumer organizations and more.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Audio: Crash Crew Hi-Power Rap.
“We don’t want to be left behind, all we want to do is just blow your mind, just one more time!”

Instrumental.

TR:

What’s up Family!
Back again! Bringing you more of what you bargain for. Reid My Mind bringing you the baddest guests and topics we can find!

We are here to tell the world, just who we are.

I’m Thomas Reid your host and producer of the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

Every now and then when I’m inspired, I bring you some of my own experiences as a man adjusting to becoming blind as an adult.

Audio Description is and will continue to be an ongoing topic on this podcast. it makes sense. We focus on those adjusting to blindness. Audio Description in my opinion, is a part of that process.

Its access to information, entertainment, bonding with family and friends and maybe even career opportunities?

If you’re new here, check out the link on this episodes blog post that has a page with all of the podcast episodes featuring Audio Description.

Today we’re looking at the contributions of Blind people in Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

RB:

I needed a job as a young guy, 17, 18 years old. I have many, many as most Blind people do, many grueling stories of discrimination. Just in telemarketing to sell the local newspaper here in Los Angeles and I don’t mean the LA Times, They hired me on the phone. But then when they told me to come to their office and were giving me directions they were vague. I said would that be the second building from the corner? They said, don’t worry about it just come down the street you’ll see the yellow sign. I said well, I don’t think my guide dog will notice the yellow sign. They said your what? Wait a minute, put me on hold for 20 minutes and came on and made an excuse; “Oh you know what, I didn’t understand my partner was also interviewing someone on the other line. We already filled the position.”

I’m Rick Boggs, professional Audio Engineer and am responsible for making Pro Tools, the state of the art audio recording software accessible for Blind Audio Engineers. I’m also a musician, playing multiple instruments. I’m a composer and song writer. Something of an accomplished actor. many appearances on television and film between 1987 and 2007. And for the last 20 years I’ve been operating the company that I founded which is called Audio Eyes and we produce Audio description for film and television.

TR:

As you can see, Rick came a long way from that 17 year old young man in search of a job.

Today, we’re specifically exploring Rick’s career within Audio Description. As he has been involved with the industry for over 20 years, we get a bit of a history lesson on the role Blind people played in Audio Description.

Rick’s own introduction to Audio Description, from my understanding illustrates how many people felt at the time.

RB:

When I first heard of Audio description was when the American Foundation for the Blind was conducting their research and creating the booklet that eventually became “Look Who’s Watching”. Where they surveyed Blind people and asked them if we could add a voice to TV programs describing what was on the screen when no one’s talking would you like it?

No, I feel very independent. I can watch TV all by myself. I don’t need some voice telling me what’s going on.

TR:

AFB’s next step was to invite a group of those surveyed to watch a film.

RB:

I think it was a Forrest Gump film with Vince Skully doing the description.

TR:

The group was then re-surveyed.

RB:

90 percent of the people who said no, like me, changed our mind and said well actually, this is really cool and I didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy it. I would like to have this.

TR:

No, like he really liked it!

RB:

In 95 and 96 when WGBH, which is now Media Access Group, they were installing Audio Description systems in movie cinemas. they called me because I was very visible on television at the time. they figured I would be a good representative of Blind people and they asked me to find other Blind people to come to these events. I helped recruit Blind people to come to their installation celebrations and then of course the media would come. I was interviewed on cable news and broadcast news, talking about what the value of Audio Description was. I became a volunteer promoter and the face of WGBH.

TR

This was in addition to his actual career at that time.

RB:

From 1987 to 2002 I had a record label and recording studio. I built a recording studio from money I had earned as an actor. My desire to get into audio recording was driven by my passion as a song writer. I wanted to be able to record and produce my own things mostly because I couldn’t afford to go to a bunch of other studios and hire a bunch of musicians, so I wanted to be able to do it myself.

TR:

And he did. He produced bands and song writers in his studio located on his residential property.

Doing it yourself can present very specific challenges .

RB:

That led me down the path of the transition from analog audio to digital
I wanted to make sure that we weren’t left out. That’s a long and interesting story of how that ended up happening.

TR:

For now, we’re focusing on another sort of accessibility.

RB:

Then moving forward to 2002 when my good friend Mike Hansel who at the time was working for Caption Max, he came to visit me and my good friend Jack Patterson. We were in the music studio and he was coming over to play drums and we were going to jam and he said, rick, I don’t get it, how come you’re out there promoting this Audio Description stuff. You’ve got the studio and you got the chops as an engineer and all the equipment to produce and you’re not producing any. I was just stunned.

Well, I guess I never thought of that.

I immediately said let’s look into that. maybe that’s not a bad thing to do.

TR:

Even today, when we discuss Audio Description, it’s more than often from the perspective of a service FOR Blind people.

During my conversation with Rick, it was apparent to me that Audio Eyes should be viewed from a historical perspective.

So let’s go back to the beginning of Audio Description.

RB:

Well this is one of my favorite topics, I have to tell you. I’m so proud to say that United States of American has invented many, many , many things and has held many, many patents. And many of the things we’ve created and invented benefit people with disabilities, but normally those things are created, invented, delivered by people that don’t have that particular disability. Hey we will help those that are less fortunate kind of thing. What I’m proud to say about Audio Description is Audio description as created by Blind people. And every innovation and advancement in Audio Description that has really contributed to what it is now was made by Blind people.

TR:

According to The History of Audio Description, written by Joel Snyder, the idea of Audio description in its current form was first conceived in the 1960’s by Chet Avery, who lost his sight at 17 years old.

In 1981 Margaret Rockwell, a blind woman with a PhD in Education decided to pair the assisted listening devices with her future husband, Cody Pfanstiehl. An expert in media and public relations, Pfanstiehl read for the Washington Ear, the radio reading service founded by Rockwell.

RB:

Cody and Margaret, their gone now, rest in peace, but they set the standards for how description should be done so that it’s not condescending, so that you’re not explaining the plot. And they trained some people.

TR:

One of those trained was Allen Woods who continued training others in the Pfanstiehl method.

RB:

Another Blind person, a wonderful guy that I know, Jim Stovall, created the Narrative Television Network, NTN. He set out to try to apply Audio Description to television programs And in 1989 he worked I believe with WGBH, a television station, to demonstrate how it would be done. They used the SAP channel that was originally devised by Congress and the FCC to facilitate foreign language broadcast. They demonstrated it successfully in 1989. Jim received an Emmy actually for technical achievement.

TR:

During the 1990’s the only television network broadcasting Audio Described content was PBS.

RB:

Commercial TV wouldn’t do it no matter how much we pushed and advocated. They resisted.

In 2002, the FCC made a rule that commercial broadcasters would have to do three and a half hours of prime time described programming on their network. That’s how I got my start and some of the other companies got there’s

TR:

In hindsight, it seemed obvious. Rick familiar with recording technology was already promoting Audio Description and learning the business.

With his good friend Jack, Rick formed the first iteration of Audio eyes known then as We See TV.

RB:
I was invited by my good friend Jolene Mason who is a Blind person who should receive a lot more recognition than she has for her contributions to Audio Description. She insured that the Tournament of Roses parade every New Year’s is described live on television for Blind people. And has done so since the mid 90’s at least. Putting that on through her nonprofit, the Los Angeles Radio Reading Service.

Well, she invited me to a meeting with Deborah Shuster.

TR:

Deborah Shuster did the captioning for ABC television. She was approached about creating Audio Description for the network.

RB:

Deborah having the integrity to realize that Audio Description was not her forte and she didn’t know it was going to go look for a company that was good at it because she cares about providing good services in the industry, unlike some people who were caption companies who just said let’s just throw something out there and call it Audio Description. No one will know the difference because no one knows if it’s good or bad anyway, which we’ll get into at some point.

TR:

That meeting led to him describing for ABC television.

In 2007 Rick renamed the business.

RB:

Same company, same service same people and everything, but it became Audio Eyes.

We secured various clients and now we’re on as many as 9 broadcast networks, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix. Large venues and many corporations that produce corporate videos and so on.

The Pfanstiehl’s created it and trained sighted people to do it. Jim Stovall put it on television and GBH took it, but it became sighted people doing it without any input.

Yet another important stage in the development of Audio Description was made by another wonderful professional Blind person, Dr. Josh Miele.

TR:

Long time listeners should be familiar with the Smith-Kettlewell Physicist Dr. Josh Miele. He’s an alumni of the podcast and a member of the Reid My Mind Radio family. I’ll link to his episode on this episodes blog post.

RB:

He has developed a lot of really cool adaptive stuff for Blind people, but he was interested in description. He found that there was a grant available through the Department of education which he applied for initially.

He did the impossible, he brought together all of the major providers of Audio Description services and created the Description leadership Network under the Video Research and Development Center. the legacy is its website VDRDC.org

TR:

It served as a resource on Audio Description related information and provides a communication platform where leaders in the field discuss topics like inclusion.

As Josh too is a proponent for the inclusion of Blind people in the Audio Description production process he began an internship program.

RB:

Paid internship so that any description provider, who’s writing description could experiment with having a Blind employee and not have to have a financial risk for whatever the time period was three months, that any, six months and experience the value of having that person. The disappointing part of it was that really only one other vendor besides myself did it. I shouldn’t say one I think it’s technically two. One of them absolutely did take on the intern as a staff member for whatever the period of time was. The other one simply contracted with a Blind person as a third party to review their work after it was already done. It’s a little different to have a Blind person critique your work when it’s already out there on television as opposed to give the Blind person the opportunity to have input before its finished.

TR:

As for the company taking on the Blind intern, the feedback was positive. Full of praises for the intern and admitted to it being a mutual learning experience.

RB:

Josh had the great courage and integrity to ask well then does that mean going forward you would consider maybe employing the Blind person in your process. And there was a long silence and the person answered by saying. Well, we think maybe it will be a great idea since there’s so much work going on the internet right now, these Blind experts could volunteer their time helping companies that providing description on YouTube and other places on the network. The whole room kind of ooo’ed!

Maybe in an unintended way it sounded very much like they were saying that they should work for free.

TR:

Meanwhile back at Audio Eyes…

RB:

Our staff is now 30 people and it started with just two of us back in 2002.

Our desire was to provide the best quality description out there. And we emulated WGBH who was doing the best Audio Description. The only difference was we were going to be inclusive. We were going to make sure performers with disabilities had opportunities to work in it and Blind people in particular would always be included in the company. We would recruit, find train Blind people to work in production and we’ve always done that.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You have 30 employees, can you talk about how many of those are Blind/disabled?

RB

Seven staff members that are totally Blind. Actually one guy might be qualified as Low Vision but it’s pretty low. (Laughs)

TR:

Rick was active as an advocate within the Screen Actors guild serving as an alternate board member and co vice chair of a committee creating opportunities for actors with disabilities. This and possibly those early experiences in the job market, helped form his early hiring policy.

RB:

I was very connected to a lot of disabled talent. for the first two years I willingly practiced reverse discrimination. I would only cast Voice Over artists with disabilities. I just felt like there was so much discrimination in the industry. We’re never giving people with disabilities and opportunity. I wanted to make my statement. I boasted about it on the internet and I naively thought it would make other companies feel the pressure and they would start hiring people with disabilities too, but it didn’t work.

TR:

Now looking towards the future and how we improve Audio Description.

RB:

Making sure that Blind people have a voice; what’s good, what’s bad, what are the standards, what should it be. I was eventually invited to edit and re-write a lot of sections of the style guide for one of the major streaming services. The big dog in the industry. To their credit, they recognize hey this guy is the expert he’ the professional let’s take his notes on what our style guide should be about, what description should be.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

You mentioned that this was your favorite topic, what’s the importance of this topic? Why do you think it’s important that people are aware of that history?

RB

I think it’s really important that people understand Audio Description was created by Blind people for Blind people because I want the industry to be accountable to the consumer. I want the industry not to be like many services for people with disabilities which are well intending but also have unintended patronizing elements to the services they provide. In other words, making people feel less than, less powerful, helpless, creating a dual class system. Sort of treating the people you’re helping like they’re not really equal to yourself
.

TR:

Audio Description is not a charitable venture, it’s commercial. The need for inclusion is therefore even more relevant in my opinion.

Making sure not to leak any revealing information, Rick shared a recent experience. One of his Audio Description clients received some complaints about description from the general public.

RB:

(In a mocking tone)

What’s with this annoying voice? Why do you have to put that in here? We don’t like this. How can we get rid of it?

They decided to address it in the TV program itself. Which I thought was a unique decision. The comment wasn’t very flattering of description itself. It offended some of my staff who are Blind. To the customer’s credit, when we notified them and said you know this is offensive. They decided to change it. And kudos to that organization that was willing to do that and showed some sensitivity to their patrons and actually care about the feelings of Blind consumers.
[
[TR in conversation with RB:]

What are some of the other hurdles that seem to be in the way , “in the way” (laughs) of Blind people being involved in the production side of Audio Description

RB

Blind people are not loud and vocal about wanting good service.

[TR in conversation with RB:]

Talk about it!

RB

Blind people are all too often grateful to have anything. In recent online forums…

TR:

I’ll include links to these forums on Reid My Mind.com.
They include the Audio Description Discussion Facebook group and the ACB Audio description project listserv.

RB:

A lot of Blind people and describers are on there. Unbeknownst to the members of that group there are actually a whole lot of network executives and TV people that watch that group sort of lurk there. Someone was complaining because the description on a particular series or program was poor. They told us stuff we already know. They didn’t tell us stuff we wanted to know. Bla, bla, bla!

Now I love it when Blind people get up and go hey man if you’re going to describe it for me do a good job otherwise I’ll turn off the description and listen like I used to.

So the discussion was fruitful, it was very constructive. But then some Blind person, inevitably, comes on and says guys I don’t understand why we have to be complaining about the description that we’re getting. Can’t you remember the days when we didn’t have anything at all. I mean can’t we just be grateful that these people are providing something.

That is the most destructive thing that Blind people can possibly do.

TR:

I have a feeling this attitude exists in any marginalized group. Perpetuating the idea that Blind people should just be happy with what they get implies they don’t deserve quality.

RB:

I have been told by one of my customers. And a major customer at that. Rick we’d be happy to even pay increase rates for this stuff if we could verify that what you’re saying about the quality of your service is actually true. Basically, they said if you can point us online to anywhere Blind people are saying this is what makes good description and it lines up with the kind of service you provide Rick well then yeh, we’re not going to grind you on the prices as much as we do because we want to pay for the best service there is.

TR:

At the end of the day, are these really just excuses based on what they already believe to be true?

RB:

the public perception of blindness and Blind people is really inaccurate. And really flawed and really is the greatest barrier to inclusion of Blind people in anything. Anything at all! Social services, employment of any kind. From my perspective in particular in inclusion in Audio Description production.

TR:

Misperceptions that ultimately question the abilities of blind people. Assumptions that lead people to think it’s amazing that a Blind person can do even the most basic things that have little to do with the ability to see like brush their teeth, get dressed…

RB:

People trying to drag them across the street, talking loudly because they can’t see or all these stereotypical things that do happen to all of us. Those same misperceptions are the same barriers within the entertainment industry, that prevent production companies, caption companies, localization companies these post production companies from thinking about Blind people and considering employing Blind people in their operations. And I have story after story I have so much inside perspective and direct contact with people.

TR:

The type of stories, based on real experience, that can provide insight into the industry that we as consumers may otherwise never
know.
RB:

It really is far and away public attitudes toward blindness and Blind people. That’s why I became affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. I always sort of walked the fence between that and the American Council of the Blind and been a member of both and participated in both. I appreciate the American Council of the Blind’s advocacy. It was there advocacy really that led to the FCC ruling in the first place in 2002 to make description mandated for commercial television. They really deserve the credit for that.

What I’m about to say may sound like sour grapes, but it really isn’t.

TR:

The difference between organization’s as Rick sees it conflicts with his own philosophy of employing Blind people.

It stems from the initial development of ACB’s Audio Description project.

RB:

Committing themselves to ongoing advocacy and promotion of Audio Description. They did not include a plank that would strongly advocate for inclusion from an employment perspective. I felt that they should have consulted me because I had already been employing Blind people in this field for eight years. they knew very well of what I was doing. And yet when they created this initiative they didn’t even call me to say hey do you have any thoughts on this or that or the other thing. As a result in my opinion, they failed to include the professional opportunities and the importance of inclusion in the process in their initial manifesto on Audio Description.

TR:

While he appreciates both organization, for Rick, the difference between the two is clear. The National Federation of the Blind…

RB:

In my view, walks the walk. When they needed a lawyer they hire a Blind lawyer. When they need a travel agent they look for Blind travel agent.

TR:

The two teamed up and Rick and his colleagues offered a training.

RB:

It was a 50 week intensive training program. To train 10 Blind people to become Certified Description Quality Specialist.

TR:

The NFB’s support not only enabled Rick to provide this training but it also helped lead to opportunities for those trained.

RB:

We found that we definitely had a like mind.

I would like to have the legacy that providers of Audio Description automatically seek to include Blind professionals in their own operations. We are really far from that now, nobody does that, but that is my goal. I eventually want to return to producing music and get out of Audio Description but I would really like to establish that first.

TR:

As far as finding ways we can help, Rick suggests that those with a platform, podcasters, YouTubers, bloggers, no matter what your topic is, find a way to include discussions about Audio Description.

RB:

Get people talking about it whether they’re Blind or not. Kind of introduce people to it that don’t already know it.

TR:

And from the consumer point of view, well let’s share our comments; good or bad.

RB:

And they need to get those comments directly to anybody and everybody. In other words; tell the network, you write to the show, and to the description company that did it. And then publicly on social media. On your FB timeline on your Twitter account. Hey saw a great Audio Description and name where it was and when it was. And why? I love the voice that they chose or they had a horrible voice or the mix I could hardly hear the movie the description was so loud. Whatever it is be vocal about it.

TR:

If you want to be vocal about Rick, well, he’s on social media;

RB:

@BoggsBlogs (spelled out) on twitter. Facebook at rick Boggs.

TR:

You can find links to his social and more by visiting AudioEyes.com. Remember, that’s plural
RB:

AudioEyes (spelled out)

TR:
Or…

RB:

Give us a ring 818-671-6190. We’ll take your phone calls. We’ll talk to people, sighted people, Blind people, Voice over artists. I take demos over the internet all the time. Any Blind person interested in getting involved in this kind of stuff, I’m the only way in right now. We’re pretty busy but I do get to everybody eventually, if you’re patient and persistent. And I thank everybody really, if you listened this long, thank you so much for your interest in the whole topic, really!

Shout out to Rick Boggs! I enjoyed this conversation. Audio Description as you hopefully realize is about so much more than entertainment. It’s adoption, the level of commitment given by entertainment producers and broadcasters is a reflection of how Blind people are perceived in society.

Scripts censoring on screen scenes or talking down to the viewer, expecting quality control work for free,
overlooking the contributions and minimizing input from Blind people…

That to me sounds like a statement about how much Blind people are valued.

As Audio Description evolves it becomes more important to understand and assure its original purpose is maintained. All the more reason for more Blind people to be involved in its development.

I personally suggest Audio Description to those who are not Blind, however, I would not want to see Audio Description move away from centering Blind people and possibly becoming less about making the visual accessible.

How do you feel about Audio Description? Do you like this sort of dive into topics? Let me know; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com or leave me a voice mail at 570-798-7343.

If you liked what you heard today, Tell a friend to check out Reid My Mind Radio. It’s available wherever you get podcast

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 Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Ajani AJ Murray – Starting with Imagination

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

AJani AJ Murray , a Black male with short haircut & facial hair seated in a wheelchair. He wears black & white print baggie pants with a blue long sleeve hoodie with words printed in black: "Young, gifted, black and disabled."

Pursuing your passion can take you down a road filled with all sorts of obstacles. Ajani “AJ” Murray knew from an early age that he wanted to act. his first school was television which he studied intently.

His latest role is in Best Summer Ever, screening at SxSW later this month

Hear how television and movies provided much more than entertainment for him and his family. His methods for navigating the obstacles along his journey and how he’s making his own place in an industry that isn’t always welcoming. In each case, imagination was at the start.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Ajani AJ Murray:

Our friend that we have in common, Cheryl green, told me about you and I’ve been listening to your podcast and I love it! It’s so dope and fresh. I’m kind of a Geek so I watch like a lot of PBS and I listen to NPR and so it reminds me of like radio documentaries. I particularly enjoyed when you were talking to Leroy about the Black History especially from the disabled perspective. I did something like that on my Insta Gram and some of my friends were like keep it coming AJ. So now you’re a resource.

Ajani Jerard Murray, a lot of people call me AJ.

TR:

And me, I’m Thomas Reid
producer and host of this podcast.

I usually reserve the opening of the episode for me to
tell you a bit about what this podcast is all about,
but as you’ll see in a minute, AJ is a media connoisseur,
so I was like man, everyone needs to hear his review.

I like to let new listeners know that here,
we bring you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability,
told in a way that sounds

Audio: AJ “Dope” “Fresh”

And I do always hope Reid My Mind Radio can be a

Audio: AJ, “Resource”

For anyone especially those adjusting to vision loss.

And with that said, let’s do this!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Audio: Tom Joyner show…

AJ:
I became a big fan of radio because of Tom Joyner. We went to one of his Sky shows in Atlanta and it was at Greenbrier Mall. It was the whole cast and we listened to the S.O.S Ban. From that point for about 2 or 3 years I did a mock radio show.

TR:

A youngster at the time, AJ study the format of the now retired
Tom Joyner, host of the number 1 nationally syndicated urban
(that’s code for Black) morning radio Show.
AJ created his own show which he put on for his family.

AJ:

To make a long story short as I told you earlier I can really talk and go on long.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughing…

AJ:

I kind of sort of gave up on going into radio because I realized that in mainstream FM radio you don’t really program your own shows. You’re basically playing the same music and also to get to where I really wanted to be and the kind of radio that I would do is something that you have to be in the game for years and years for, like a Tom Joyner.

TR:

AJ knew his true passion.

AJ:

I’m a huge, huge fan of the screen big and small. From the time I was a very little kid I was always just enamored by the screen . I grew up on three camera sitcoms; Cosby Show, A Different World, Facts of Life, Different Strokes. As I got older there was the Fresh Prince era, the TGIF era, the Martin era, the WB era. My love for television in the very beginning was the sitcom.

TR:

Of course, there’s the big screen.

AJ:

My mom loves film. When it came to film she wasn’t really restrictive on what we could watch. Now we couldn’t watch everything, there were certain films I couldn’t watch but like it was 1989 I remember actually going to see Do the Right Thing. I had to of course cover up my eyes during the Mookie ice scene.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughs…

AJ:

TR:

Shout out to Rosie Perez!
If you don’t know the scene let’s just say Ice cubes are for more than chilling your lemonade on a hot summer day.

AJ:

I appreciated that several years later.

TR:

Now, I’m from the era where parents let you ride in the front seat with no seatbelts,
where you were encouraged to leave the house and explore so
I cannot judge.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You know the movie Death Wish? Charles Bronson. I saw that at 6 and nobody cared (laughs) and nobody cared.

Audio: Scene from Death Wish: Knock at door and unsuspecting woman says she’ll anser it. She asks who is at the door and the intruder replies he’s delivering her groceries…

TR:

Don’t open it! He’s lying!

(exhale)

Fortunately, there’s a lot of good that can come from family movie outings.

AJ:

That’s one of the ways we connected as a family.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Very cool. So it was the whole family going?

AJ:
My mom and my two sisters. In my house it’s three women and me.

We’re all very very close. That’s one of the ways we bonded. Sometimes we’d listen to classical music or something really peaceful because I grew up in a very peaceful household.

TR:

Television & movies can also initiate conversations about all sorts of topics and
even ways to explore culture.

Just be careful about that last one there, we know Hollywood doesn’t always get culture right. (Ahem!)

AJ:

I always had this dream of being an actor. It was something that was always looming in the back of my mind. It was always in my spirit, but I didn’t know how to physically make the connection. I couldn’t necessarily afford acting classes at the time and I wasn’t in high school at the time to be a part of an acting club.

TR:

Financial accessibility, we don’t often talk about that in our conversations around access.

AJ, made use of what was in his reach.

AJ:

The screen was my classroom! Anything I could get my hands on or watch or any old interview s. I really appreciate actors that do interviews like I stay stuck on the Biography channel, on Actor’s Studio. Any time there was a documentary series about behind the scenes I’m all over it!

TR:

Screens bring their own access challenges.

AJ:

when I watched re-runs of television in the 50’s and 60’s even like 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they always had like a voice over guy read everything. One of the things I always laughed at is like watching re-runs of the old Andy Griffith show. the announcer says it’s the Andy Griffin Show, starring Andy Griffin and I always laughed because I’m like didn’t he just say it’s the Andy Griffin Show.

But I realize he said that because he was reading the opening credits. Everything was announced. it really helps me as a visually impaired person.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

People think Blindness is an on or off, so you see everything or you don’t. I know that there are real specific challenges for people with low vision when it comes to that.

AJ:

I’m glad you brought that up. There could be things that I can see one day and the very next day I won’t be able to see. I look like I can see and so people they start laughing or they think you’re lying or they think you’re not looking hard enough. I’m like I can’t see this.

Even when I’m in my power chair I would rather like walk behind someone so it could be like a human guide.

TR:

AJ’s vision loss is related to his Cerebral Palsy or CP.
It impacts all four limbs so as he described to me, he needs physical assistance with most things.

Most things physical that is…

AJ:

If I was watching Happy Days or Laverne and Shirley or Three’s Company or All in the Family I would create a character, none of it is written down because I’m not able to physically write.

If I was watching Three’s Company, if Jack and Larry were going down to the Regal Beagle well I was too. If I was watching Law and order , no I couldn’t be a detective but I could help Jack McCoy as one of his assistant DA’s. I just made myself a part of the cast.

TR:

AJ’s imagination was open.

His opportunity to hit the stage came in high school.

AJ:

I had such a ball in high school. It was such an atmosphere of like were going to support you and you’re a part of us. My favorite drama teacher his name was Dr. McMichen. I was thanking him for making sure the stages had ramps and I was included in on all the trips.
He let me know, you are a part of this club and a part of these plays and it’s because you are good not because you are in a chair. And that made me feel so good.

TR:

following high school he continued working on his craft by attending workshops and finding a community of other actors.

AJ:

I would say over the last three and a half years I’ve gotten the opportunity to be on screen.

the first thing I booked when I got my agent was, we did an episode of Drunk History. And that comes on Comedy Central. That episode was actually about 504Act. That’s kind of the precursor to the ADA.

Then I was able to do an episode of ABC’s Speechless. I played a character named Charlie.

I was able to do an independent film called Bardo Blues. It’s an interesting very nonlinear artsy film that talks about depression and bipolar. I play the neighbor to the lead.

Audio clip from film…

TR:

His latest role is Best Summer Ever, A Musical.
It takes place in a high school.

AJ:

It’s a romantic story and all kinds of teenage angst ensues. I play the older brother so I’m not involved in the teenage angst but I do sing in the film.

TR:

The film consists of a cast of over
60 disabled actors as well as those without disabilities.
It’s being screened at South by South West on March 14.

You can also see AJ in Becoming bulletproof.
Every year, actors with and without disabilities meet at
Zeno Mountain Farm to write, produce, and star in original short films.

Audio clip from film…

AJ is the focal point of the doc.

AJ:

I also did a documentary, it’s called Take A Look At This heart. So I talk about my experience around my sexuality and dating. So it’s an ensemble so It’s not just me. I believe that’s now streaming on Amazon.

TR:

AJ’s getting some roles and definitely
making a name for himself by judging film festivals, hosting events yet
he found himself in a dark place.

AJ:
Heavy dark! Like I was really, really down.

I was on a walk with my mom. I was in California at the time and it was a beautiful sunny day. It came to me, instead of being down about not getting auditions or you know nobody’s calling or you’re having a hard time with employment; why don’t you write what you want to see?

TR:

By now you can tell AJ puts a lot of thought into what is on the screen,
big or little. So of course he would do the same for his script.

AJ:

A lot of characters that we see it’s either one person with a disability and I’m not saying you don’t ever see it, typically they don’t have any friends. To my experience I have a bunch of friends with disabilities. Not just CP, but all kinds of disabilities.

I just want to lend my voice to reflect that on screen.

TR:

Think Living Single, Friends or the Big Chill…

AJ:

These group of friends, People with disabilities in a more adult context. All with different types of disabilities like CP, like me. He also works. Then you have another character who has CP they walk with a gate. Another character she has a traumatic brain injury and she’s very athletic…

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
And may I lobby for a Blind guy who likes audio and…

AJ:

If we get picked up brother I’ll write you in a couple of episodes.
[TR in conversation with AJ:]
There you go man, there you go!

TR:

Alright, fine, it’s not about me.

In order to physically write his words, thoughts and ideas AJ has a very special writing partner.

AJ:
My mom helps me a lot with a lot of stuff behind the scenes. We’re actually working on a book and that’s going to be out sometime soon and we do public speaking.

TR:

The latter is done under the name, I Push You Talk. What a powerful statement.

Pursuing your passion can really be hard.
There are always reasons to throw in the towel or change course.
Legitimate reasons that wouldn’t in anyway classify someone as a quitter.

For example…

AJ:

Just because you perform in school, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to translate to the screen or you’re going to have this career.

TR:

There’s also the physical pain that comes with his CP.

AJ:

I’ve been in pain since my early teens to pre-teens. As I’ve gotten older sciatic pain and nerve pain over the years have like sort of advanced to like more of a chronic level as far as nerve pain.

My love for everything that I experience and everything that I’m going to and want to experience has to be bigger than my pain.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

You don’t probably see people with disabilities in many of these films that you are watching.

AJ:

That’s a hundred percent accurate.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

So it doesn’t sound like that dissuades you.

AJ:

I didn’t necessarily have this as a child but with the combination of my mother speaking to me and my imagination, I just had this sense that it was put inside of me so I’m supposed to be doing what I’m doing.

There’s people of faith in my family so I do have spiritual background. With all those things combined because of my atmosphere, I’m the man you’re interviewing today.

Audio: AJ Scratch… Ladies singing “AJ” while beat rides under…

TR:

That’s Mr. Ajani Jerard Murray.
Actor, Writer, Speaker, Consultant and soon to be Author Producer &…


AJ:
Things sort of have this way of coming back around full circle. I’ve gotten into podcasts and I want to start a podcast and I want to do it with a group of people like a morning radio show. Sometimes my dreams are very big and lofty, but I have a lot of faith and I believe it could happen.

TR:

It really does all start with imagination.
And it continues with that determination, persistence and faith.

AJ, brother, thank you for letting me share your story!
And you know what’s up, you are officially a member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family.

You can reach AJ via social media at:
Twitter – @GotNextAJ
Instagram: @AjaniAJMurray
Ajani Murray on Facebook

You can catch both
Becoming Bulletproof and Take a Look at this Heart
streaming on Amazon.
For those with that prime membership it’s included.
Unfortunately they don’t have Audio Description, however Becoming Bulletproof does at it included on the DVD.

Best Summer Ever is screening at South By South West so if you’re hanging out there go check it out.

I’ll have links over at Reid My Mind.com to AJ’s social media and more including a web series on YouTube.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know AJ as much as I have. I look forward to continuing our conversations and I have a feeling based on his thoughtful insight that you’re going to hear from him again in this space.

If you agree that what we’re planting here on the podcast can provide some nourishment or maybe a sweet treat, please share it with others.

Ya dig!

If you want to help it grow a bit, you can even go on over to Apple podcast and leave a rating (5 stars, a review would be pretty cool too!

Please, , do not apply water to the podcast, that will not help it grow at all!

Reid My Mind Radio is available wherever you get your particular flavor of podcasts. Remember links and Transcripts are at ReidMyMind.com.
That’s R to the E I D
Audio: Slick Rick, “D, and that’s me in the place to be!”

TR:
Llike my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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