Archive for the ‘Visually Impaired’ Category

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.

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Resources

Transcript

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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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Hopeless to Thriving Blind

Wednesday, September 25th, 2019

Kristin Smedley on stage
When Kristin Smedley was told her first son was Blind the doctor said there was no hope. Hear about her journey which took her from a lack of information to writing Thriving Blind: Stories of Real People Succeeding Without Sight.

Hear what sparked her journey, lessons for others impacted by vision loss and how you can see her at a live event geared to those adjusting to Blindness.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

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TR:

Welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
A podcast made for those adjusting to any degree of vision loss – meaning low vision to total blindness. You know this includes family and other loved ones too, right? It’s not just for the individual personally experiencing the loss.

My name is Thomas Reid, host and producer of what I’d like to think is your favorite podcast. Well, I have to believe that in order to achieve that, right?

Today we’re looking at vision loss through the lens of a mom who’s children were born Blind. Exactly what did she think when she received the diagnosis? What changed her perspective?

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

I am Kristin Smedley. Author of the new book Thriving Blind: Stories of Real people Succeeding Without Sight.

TR:

Kristin, spelled with two i’s is a mom of three.

KS:

Two of which are Blind due to a mutation in the CRB1 Gene causing leber’s Congenital amaurosis.

I started the work that I do because 19 years ago and 16 years ago professionals told me there was no hope for my sons.

[TR in conversation with KS:]
Isn’t that amazing though, they have the title of professional and they’re saying those types of things; no hope. I hear these stories so many times and in so many different ways and it always comes down to a lack of information on the side of the professionals.

KS:

In 2019 to still say there’s no hope; You know doctors are told to do no harm, it’s harmful to a family to tell them there’s no hope. They don’t know what to tell them. But it is lack of education and lack of information. That’s why platforms like yours are so incredibly important and I’m so grateful because getting the word out and getting the stories out in as many different ways and media as we can, really closes the gap on that information education issue.

TR:

Fortunately Kristin did gain access to that information, but it didn’t happen overnight.

KS:

All I knew about blindness was really nothing at all.

I knew of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles as most of us do. When I was a kid growing up there was the show little house on the Prairie where the one sister went blind. I still remember the horrific episode. My family was just rocked watching that and that’s how we felt about blindness. And that still didn’t educate much about blindness. I had no information. I had no story or person to go to that they had the same thing and they were doing okay.

TR:

The fact that the entertainment industry really does have such a power to impact our perception is why representation matters.

I’m reminded of a quote:
“It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

– It’s from one of the all-time greatest MC’s, Rakim.

Meaning, we all have a history but what are you doing right now, today.

The history?

prior to learning her first son Michael was blind, Kristin says she was living the perfect life. A large house, manicured lawn, SUV….

KS:

I had worked my whole life to achieve all my goals and they were all coming true.

[TR in conversation with KS:]
I know that you said you were an athlete.

KS:

Yeh!

[TR in conversation with KS:]
I look at specifically people who are athletes and I think they come to disability from a certain perspective and I wonder how you as an athlete kind of thought about disability. So when your son was blind did that make an impact from that perspective?

KS:

You know it’s so interesting and I so appreciate this conversation because nobody in all the interviews I’ve done nobody has asked me about this from an athlete’s perspective. And honestly I think that that was the biggest thing that was crushing for me because my whole life from the time I was maybe six years old had been athletics. I was on every field. I tried everything, it’s like it’s in my DNA. I still at almost 48 years old, three days a week I’m up at the park kicking a Soccer ball around. It just makes me happy and then I thought oh my God, he will never experience the incredibleness of team sports and what athletics can do for a person. That was the biggest crushing thing for me.

TR:
Audio: It ain’t where you’re from, It’s where you’re at!” from “I Know You Got Soul”, Eric B. & Rakim

Today, Kristin is in a much different place.

[TR in conversation with KS:]

You are scheduled to speak at the PCB Conference; Woo, woo! (Laughs…)

KS:
(Laughs) I’m excited!

TR:

And so is PCB.

Specifically, Kristin is a part of the SPARK Saturday lineup. This event is geared to teens, adults, & parents of Children with Blindness or Vision Loss!! It’s a means of helping anyone impacted by vision loss with finding self-confidence, peer support, , Resources, & Knowledge

I asked Kristin to summarize her message to the different audience groups.

First, other parents of Blind children. This includes both those like Kristin who’s children were born blind and those whose children lose their sight later.

KS:

Regardless of what the journey is, I know that it is hard to say okay let’s get all the tools and resources that they need. let’s let them figure out what it is that they’re hopes and dreams are going to be because a lot of the kids come crashing down to because their hopes and dreams they had for their lives have to change.

If you at least face it to the point that let’s get the tools that they need so that they can still manage at school and do well and have a level playing field. Then let’s take a look at okay how do we need to shift their dreams and the things that they want to work on

TR:

the circumstances are specific to parents and children but the idea of accessing the right tools and eventually re-evaluating goals is relevant to us all.

Also important, attitude.

KS:

If your child is seeing you in devastation then there’s a devastation they take on also, so you got to do everything you can even though it is so hard.

If you’re honest with the kids and you’re on the journey with them and you’re their number one fan and their number one advocate and you also realize that friends are going to turn away, and the friends come back, the really good ones come back, it’s all steps in the journey. But if you can stay with them, get them every single tool and resource they need and let go of some of those hopes and dreams for a while and then tweak them you’ll get there faster and a little easier.

TR:

Addressing that second audience group, adults including spouses adjusting to vision loss, Kristin gives an example from Thriving Blind: Stories of Real people Succeeding Without Sight, her new book and resource to help ease the journey of adjusting to vision loss.

KS:

I always say this, I can never put myself in their shoes because that didn’t happen to me. But I will turn them on to Chris Downey. He was an extremely successful architect, fully sighted. At 45 I believe he had something health wise happen. They nicked his optic nerve and woke up completely blind. He was like everybody gave up and said that his life was over but he had a 10 year old son. His son at that point tried to get on a travel baseball team and didn’t make it and he kept talking to him about that you got to pivot and work and get over it and all that when things change. He said how could I give my son all that advice all these years and now I’m just going to sit here and sulk. Within a month of waking up completely blind he was back to work as an architect and he’s more in demand now then he was as a sighted architect.

[TR in conversation with KS:]

What about a general audience who’s not that familiar with blindness but yet they are interested in experiences other than their own?

KS:

I talk about the 70 percent unemployment rate, only 30 percent of Blind kids are graduating High School and 14 percent of college. It actually has nothing to do with blindness. It’s the general public and access to resources that’s the problem.

The fact that major companies are having to go into law suits to make their web sites accessible for Blind people in this day and age is uncanny to me!

When you back up the problem is perception. Most people perceive blindness to be completely devastating and horrific and they don’t even want to consider it because it’s so awful. My whole Facebook is about all the goofy silly regular things that my kids do alongside the extraordinary things that they do.

The general public’s perception needs to shift. People still thrive if they have sight or not.

TR:

That’s a long way from the images she once saw on Little House on the Prairie. So how exactly did she get to this idea of Thriving Blind?

First, while pregnant with her second son Mitchell, she was still learning to accept that her 3 year old Michael was blind. On this one particular day she found herself, I guess you can say bargaining.

KS:

I said to God, Dude you’ve known me for all these years. You know that will break me. You and I both know that I don’t have it in me to do this twice so let’s just call it a deal right here. And this one’s going to be sighted and Michael will be fine.

TR:

In the movies, this is where something far out of the ordinary happens. But in real life the signs tend to be right in front of our face.

KS:

Then Michael bounced into my room like he did every day. Every day of his life he was bouncing and smiling and singing so it was no different that morning.

TR:

The difference, Kristin was in the right place to recognize the message Then, little 3 year old Michael said:

KS:

Isn’t this the best day ever!

The sun is up and I’m playing with all my toys and gosh I’m just so happy!

And then it was like a lightning bolt… I’m looking at him bounce right down the hallway and I thought this kid couldn’t care less about the challenges he’s facing. He didn’t see them as challenges. He figured out to that point everything he needed to do with a smile on his face at all times and that’s when I said alright you know if you’re going to do this to me twice then you’re going to have to send me every person, every resource because we both know I can’t do this alone. And from that moment on it was like weekly, daily I swear now it’s hourly by the minute a new person comes into my journey, a resource comes across my email. It is nonstop.

TR:

Meeting the people and learning of resources led Kristin to an understanding.

KS:

Who am I to sit on all that information and not turn around and share it because people were constantly calling me and messaging me saying how did you do it?

TR:

her answer to that question is the book Thriving Blind. One of her goals;

KS:

I want every specialist to hand that to a mom that was like me, nowhere to turn, never met a Blind person before had no idea of the possibility and put that in her hand. It’s the resource that I never had. The optimism that nobody could hand me; that’s what Thriving Blind is.

TR:

This shouldn’t be news to anyone but a change in attitude doesn’t fix everything. For example, while her children are all indeed thriving; Kristin says the feelings return.

But now she has a new way of handling them.

KS:

I sit in those feelings. What is it all about? And then realize it’s fear of the unknown.

I’m definitely not without moments of slipping into that pit again. I just have a way better system now to get me out of it.

TR:

An extremely honest and important reality for anyone in the midst of an adjustment to
understand.

KS:

I beat myself up a long time over those first three years of sitting and crying on my couch. I think you’re exactly right now that I think about it. Gosh, my heart is exploding because maybe the thing is I had to be so devastated that I had nowhere else to go and that’s why I had that moment of surrender the way I did.

[TR in conversation with KS:]

Again, always thinking about the person adjusting to vision loss, that’s what I’m doing, I remember my experience like you just said beating yourself up. I remember kind of beating myself up but it was like nah you are making progress but it was hard to see it. I guess I just always want people to know who are in that process that, nah, keep walking that journey because you’re going to get through. You got to keep moving forward in order to get through it.

TR:

A change in perception, a chance to meet others who have successfully walked a similar journey, access to resources; all ingredients to Thriving Blind.

Similarly, this is what you’ll get at SPARK Saturday where You’ll hear from Kristin Smedley herself along with Founder of Bold Blind Beauty and Co-Founder of Captivating Magazine, Stephanae McCoy, Dr. Andre Watson and yours truly kicking it off on October 19, 2019.

You can find links to this event on this episodes blog post at ReidMyMind.com. I’ll also link you to Kristin Smedley.com, , her TED Talk and of course Thriving Blind: Stories of Real people Succeeding Without Sight.

KS:

Paperback and Kindle versions available on Amazon with the audio version coming soon. And the electronic Braille format, the BRF file is available at KristinSmedley.com thanks to an incredible donation from the CEO of T-Mobile, it’s available at the same price of the Kindle version, $9.99. We’re working on the printed Braille version. That’s been an interesting journey, getting printed Braille in this country.

[TR in conversation with KS:]

Are you reading the audio book?

KS:

So the big surprise is that I’m reading it but my son Michael is doing all of the male interviews. He’s reading theirs.

# Close

TR:

Shout out to Kristin and her kids, Michael, Mitchell and her daughter Karissa.

KS:

Michael’s the oldest, but Mitchell would probably want me to point out that Mitchell’s taller than Michael.

[TR in conversation with KS:]

I love it when the youngest is taller than the oldest one. I’m a younger child.

KS:

Well I’m sure that my daughter would probably want me to point out that she’s the youngest but she’s the tallest.

[TR in conversation with KS:]
Oh, look at that. Okay, go head girl!

TR & KS laugh…

TR:

And if you haven’t yet, you should really go ahead and subscribe to this podcast wherever you like to listen. Apple, Spotify, Google or your favorite app.

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Audio Description: More than Movies Television and Theater

Wednesday, August 28th, 2019

Most people familiar with Audio Description or Descriptive Video have probably experienced the art access through movies, television or live theater. Today we hear about other applications where the art form provides access.

Headshot of Kat Germain
Kat Germain, a Describer from Toronto Canada tells us about providing description during conferences, sporting events and more. Plus we hear how she is training future describers on more than narration and post production.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up family. Reid My Mind Radio family!

You know, we’re growing. That means, our message is spreading to more people. Slowly we’re changing what people think about blindness. With every episode we’re challenging the perceptions of what it means to be blind.

Unfortunately, some people think it means life is over. They no longer see the life as being filled with opportunity. I get it, remember I’ve been there and felt that. But today I can definitely tell you there’s lots of opportunity if you’re willing to see them as such.

If you’re listening that means you are. And I got you.

If you want to assist in getting this message out especially to those newly impacted by blindness, low vision disability; tell a friend, to tell a friend…

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR:
today, we’re continuing with our look at the opportunities available through Audio Description. Both from the consumer perspective as in additional applications and production.

To do this, we’re going North.

KG:

My name is Kat Germain and I am an Audio Describer based in Toronto Canada.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So let’s start with the definition of Audio Description as described on your website KatGermain.com. You mentioned talking pictorially.

KG:

We’re trying to use dynamic language. language that is descriptive , multi textured and vibrant. Painting a picture with words and filling in information in ways that is not going to distract from that which we’re describing but is going to add to it and help the understanding of the listener.

TR:

A multi textured vibrant painting with words.

That’s a cool definition of Audio Description or AD. If you’re a regular here you’re probably already familiar with AD.

I’m pretty confident however that you’re less familiar with description in the settings Kat tends to apply her artistic skills.

Like conferences and workshops.

KG:

If there’s a presenter they’ve got a Power point presentation, video clips associated with that, they’ve got photographs, whatever it is and my job is to describe those things to the listener. There’s also often a lot of signage around, people places, the size of the room, where the washrooms are all of those things to help the listener be as A., independent as they choose to be and then B., to give them information.

TR:

I know what you’re thinking. Wow, Canada. First health care and now this. Well it’s not yet as common as you may think.

KG:

I have sort of two or three people who are from the Blind partially sighted and low vision community and when they go to conferences they specifically ask for the accommodation of Audio Description and so I’m called for that. I have a close relationship with those people and so I know the kinds of things that they want and I also adjust it to what their needs are.

[ and so for example a lot of them are going to conferences where there’s a large number of people who are disability identified or parts of the conference are specifically geared towards or celebrating people with lived experience of disability or people who are working with those communities. And so they often want to know what people look like. If the person who is speaking about a lived experience actually potentially has a lived experience. And those kinds of questions are potentially a little bit politically incorrect. I wouldn’t announce that over a system with a large number of listeners but if it’s one person I’m always very happy to answer a question. And likewise even if it’s a lot of people after the show or the event or whatever it is if they want to ask me a question about perceived cultural background of a character or a person I’m happy to do that as well.
]

[TR in conversation with KG:]

So can you describe how it actually works because if you’re there for one person I’m sort of imagining that you’re sitting right next to the person but my understanding is that’s not the way you do it.

KG:

That’s not the way I do it but it is a possibility. Generally speaking I am a little further back and away from the crowd and mostly that has to do with so other people are not distracted by me speaking because while I’m trying not to speak on top of the words of the person whose presenting as best as I can because it’s going to be improvised, it still can be a little distracting for people that are around. So I separate myself from the group and I speak through a little microphone and then the person has a receiver that’s about the size of a fold up wallet and they listen through a single ear piece.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
So then in that case it’s a one way communication?

KG:

Correct.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ok. So those questions they would ask you later on. They wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity to ask you right there unless they’re texting you.

KG:

Which as happened as well. Yes.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Ah, ok!

TR:

While these accommodations are often for individuals, Kat requests that the service is advertised so others can also benefit. Just in case, she’s prepared with multiple receivers.

So is this available here in the states?

KG:

I’m not familiar with anybody who does conferences in the states but I am familiar with lots of Describers down there.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Ok, so for our purposes if you do want it you have to call Kat Germain. How about that! Laughs…

KG:

Laughs… Yes that is exactly the rule.

TR:

I mean it makes sense! Not only does she have the experience, but there’s a knowledge of best practices for the describer. And, she also has great suggestions for presenters.

KG:

Accessibility doesn’t have to always be on the describer. We can be a little bit more interdependent and a little bit more inclusive. For example the presenters can talk a little bit about their video themselves. They can introduce themselves and what they’re wearing that day.

TR:

And what about group or panel discussions where multiple people are contributing.

Whether you are participating in the discussion or in the audience, from a blindness perspective, it can get tricky.

KG:

Often people who rely on visual cues can tell that somebody has sat back in their chair, they put their hands down and are looking around , there’s a visual cue that they’ve stopped speaking. But if you’re not accessing things visually, if you’re not accessing them in the same way visually then you don’t have that cue and so the person if they say that’s the end of my thought then the person knows ok maybe I can put up my hand now , I can say something, I can interject without interrupting them etc.

TR:

What are some of the other applications for Audio Description that you may have not experienced or considered.

KG:

I love my theater, I love my conferences, I love my Descriptive Video, but sports.

Audio: Play by Play from the NBA 2019 Championship … Toronto Raptors Win!

TR:

Yes, there’s the play by play, but have you ever wondered what you’re missing especially when attending a live game? Like when Kat described a game of Wheelchair Basketball.

KG:

I worked with a colleague and he has the sports commentary background and I have the Audio Description background. And we worked in tandem. The way that we presented what we were doing is a little bit more of a hybrid. We did do the straight up description, but then also we did a little bit more commentating as well; what does team Canada need to do to catch up? How is so and so playing in this game? We made that decision to do it that way and the people who listened enjoyed it.

TR:

I think what makes this exciting is how the description goes beyond the action on the court.

KG:

In more detail than you would hear for example on a radio broadcast. Additionally though, I was describing what was happening in the stadium. I was talking about the antics of the mascot and where the t-shirt cannon was pointing. What the half time dancers were doing and what the logos look like that were all around the stadium. What was happening on the Video-Tron because they had a bunch of gag things. A kiss camera where they put a heart around you and filmed you when you were about to kiss. A bongo camera where they super impost bongos in front of a person who was on screen and they had to move their hands up and down as if they were playing the bongos.

TR:

Now, I’m not the biggest sports fan, but I do enjoy the energy of a live game. So I was immediately interested when Kat mentioned that they’re looking into describing a baseball game.

KG:

I’m really hopeful we’re going to sometime in the near future get a baseball game. We’d ask the arena to offer us a box and then invite folks in the community to come and we’d do the description in the box with them there. I promise to invite you.

[TR in conversation with KG:]
Oh yeh, please do!

TR:

Just when you thought you knew what to expect from Audio Description. Someone pushes the boundary a bit further because they believe in access.

KG:

I’m doing a sketch show right now because I have a comedy background. I did the Second City Conservatory. I love comedy and want very, very much to support it and for the audience to get the jokes and hopefully get the jokes as close as possible to the same time as the rest of the audience.

TR:

AD in this particular application gives Kat a bit more room to use techniques that she would otherwise forgo.

KG:

I do feel to support the work and to support the people listening presumably who are there at the show because they want to laugh with everybody else that I felt like it was a little bit of nudge was needed for a couple of spaces. Not throughout the whole thing. For example there’s a witch scene. A witch does a spell and the lights and flicker. And there’s another one… flash and flicker and the third one, she does her spell and, …. nothing. So I can do a little bit of that inflection. A little bit of pause so it’s that comedic timing within the Audio Description itself without being comedic myself.

TR:

A sense of humor is important in live events, you never know what you may have to describe.

KG:

One of the men gets completely naked we had a long description of what the average size of a man’s…

Audio: Ahem, Ahem, Got Damn! “Let Me Clear My Throat”, DJ Cool

TR:

With such vast experience, Kat’s recently started her latest role in Audio Description; training future describers.

KG:

I’ve trained ten people to be Descriptive Video Specialists. It was a three day workshop and there is another one planned for the very near future

TR:

Kat couldn’t devote time to teaching voice work, so she sought students with a background in either acting or voice over. Additionally she wanted those interested in writing description.

KG:

Post production as well. Editing the voice recording, getting it all up to spec, mixing it etc. Sending it off to the broadcasters.

TR:

Creating AD is more than technical.

KG:

Identity is a huge topic here, particularly in Toronto. It’s my understanding that we have the most diverse city in the entire world. We have the most number of languages spoken here, the most number of countries represented here. It’s a thing!

TR:

It’s a thing that finally we’re talking more about.

Respecting cultural differences through inclusion and representation. From all perspectives including the consumer, and creators.

KG:

It’s a pretty challenging balance. What would fly in Toronto is not necessarily going to fly in a teeny tiny town on the northern east coast. [of Canada]

TR:

Similar to the U.S. Canada is trying to figure this out. Currently there aren’t any rules just some generic guidelines recommended by Accessible Media Inc.

KG:

Describing a person’s race or ethnicity or disability is not necessary unless its perceived to be relevant to a plot or character development.

To me the question is who’s doing the perceiving.

The majority of describers in Canada are generally speaking white people, probably sis gender. There is not a huge ton of diversity with the describers and I don’t think that matters in and of itself but I think it would be fantastic if we had a little bit more diversity. And certainly with my Descriptive Video students I actively went and sought out actors of color that I knew and thought might be interested.

TR:

While she follows the guidelines, she does have a particular point of view when it comes to diversity.

KG:

I feel that it’s always relevant who is and who is not represented on a stage or a screen. I work in inner city schools with a huge group of diverse kids and I want those kids to see themselves reflected on stages or screens. Or again, know that currently they are not. I want my students to have heroes and people to look up to and if they don’t know there’s a Blind person on a stage or a person who’s Japanese on stage then to me I feel it’s not doing them or the play a service.

TR:

During a recent live theater performance, one of the actors was Blind. In no way was this relevant to the role.

KG:

I had the chance to speak with the actor himself and he said yes he would like them to know that he’s on the stage and he’s Blind.

[TR in conversation with KG:]

how did you get into Audio Description from the jump? What made you interested in it?

KG:

Representation and equity and access has basically been a part of my life’s work. It started when I was two years old and I went with my Nana to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. They had a residence there. We would go shopping, grocery shopping for the residence. That was the environment I grew up in with a grandmother who’s very interested in volunteerism and working to support communities who are traditionally marginalized. Growing up in downtown Toronto we got all kinds of beautiful skin colors and hair textures and heights and shapes and everything. My friends and my family were not being represented on stages or screens in this extremely diverse city.

Which put a bee in my bonnet.

TR:

My apologies for that rough language!
[
Too often when we hear the term diversity, it doesn’t always include all marginalized groups.

KG:

Cultural heritage, physical, neuro, gender fluidity, so diversity in its full spectrum.

TR:
]
Eventually Kat began working with Picasso Pro. An organization providing training and workshops to artists with disabilities who were not being represented on stage.

KG:

They were the ones who applied for funding and got a grant to bring a woman up from California, Deb Lewis. She was the one person who essentially seeded Canada with Audio Description. She taught the group on the west coast in Vancouver, 8 of us in Toronto, and then there’s also Stratford Ontario and they have the Stratford Festival. Since then Steph, who is the woman on the west coast trained some other people around the country but it’s still only like four or five groups of us in Canada.

TR:

I asked Kat to identify some opportunities for Blind and Low Vision people to participate in the creation of Audio Description. She’s actually seeking funding to develop such a practice.

KG:

The easiest one would be straight up the narration part of Audio Description. I also feel that there is room for people if they are interested in doing the post production for Audio Description as well. They would edit the sound files and mix it and make sure it’s up to broadcast specs. Leading teams who are providing the service in sort of management positions as well.

TR:

Of course, there’s quality control consultants. Not only do they provide feedback on the actual description

KG:

Every time I’m hired to do a workshop I always bring a community consultant with me. I don’t feel like it’s appropriate for me to be teaching any skills about community when there’s no body from the community there. They’re going to know better what their needs are.

TR:

Not everyone involved with AD is familiar with people who are Blind and Low Vision. There’s a lot of power in personal interaction.

KG:

I also think probably it makes everything more immediate and more meaningful for the learners as well.

Kind of the concept of nothing about us without us.

TR:

That’s the perfect way to wrap up these last two episodes around Audio description

I challenge those in the business of AD and in fact, I’ll take this even further, any business that serves the disability community, if the community isn’t participating in that business in a non-consumer role, it’s time you ask yourself why. And it’s crucial you question any response that ultimately keeps a member of the community from doing so.

A big shout out to Kat Germain

[TR in conversation with KG:]

Now where can folks learn more about Kat Germain and what you do, your trainings and possibly contact you to get you to describe a conference?

KG:

Hint, hint! Or sports!

My website is www. KatGermain.com. That’s (spelled out) Kat Germain.com. There’s no E on the end of Germain.

TR:

She can be reached by email as well

KG:

At Kat @KatGermain.com

You can also contact me in Toronto as well. My area code is 647-292-3359.

TR:

Instagram and Twitter?

KG:

Kat_Germain

TR:

You can find links to Kat, transcripts to each episode and more on ReidMyMind.com

There’s only one way to make sure you don’t miss an episode…

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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Opportunities in the Creation of Audio Description

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

As we continue looking at Audio description, we take a look at the opportunities for those within the Blind and Low Vision community to participate in its creation and not just as consumers.

Headshot of Colleen Connor and Guide Dog Joplin
Colleen Connor, co-founder of Audio Training Retreats & an Audio Description Quality Control Consultant is doing exactly that. We explore the challenges and some potential solutions, current ways to get involved and things being done to support future involvement from more Blind people.

Listen

###Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family.

I had to take a little break from the podcast. I’ll explain more about that in a future episode as its directly related both to this podcast and adjustment to blindness.

This episode is actually being posted on an off week. So that means expect to get another next week. In fact the two sort of support one another.

We’ll be moving forward with episodes every two weeks after that taking us through the end of the year, with a break beginning some time in December.
For now, let’s get it!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio IntroMusic

TR:

One question that I suppose is asked by just about anyone adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult, especially working age, is what sort of work can a Blind person do?

If this is your first time listening to this podcast, I’d encourage you to take a listen to the archives. We indirectly answer that question in many episodes where we profile different individuals most often impacted by some degree of blindness or low vision.

Today we’re going to continue with our look at Audio Description or what some around the globe call descriptive video. Specifically, the opportunities available for Blind and low vision people in the creation process.

To do this, I reached out to Colleen Connor. Colleen is a podcaster, web accessibility tester, Audio Description Consultant and Co-founder of Audio Description Training Retreats.

Diagnosed with Cone Rod Dystrophy as a child, Colleen lost most of her usable vision by her Junior year in high school.

CC:

I’m grateful to my parents because they didn’t treat me any differently. I’m a black belt in Tai Kwon Do, participated in school fully and never was held back from doing anything. And so you know I decided to super, super logically major in musical theater (Laughs…).

[TR in conversation with CC:]
Laughs…

CC:

because that’s so practical.
[TR in conversation with CC:]
What did your parents say about that, about that choice?

CC:

I think they just wanted me to be able to do what I wanted and what I was good at. They weren’t thrilled but they didn’t actively stop me. They knew how passionate I was about theater and acting and studying dialects and singing.

TR:

Colleen’s introduction to audio description isn’t what you might have suspected.

CC:
I ended up working in the Spy Museum in Washington DC. They had a described tour there but it was very out of date.

TR:

Guess what Colleen offered

CC:

Hey I’m visually impaired, can I update this for you. And I was too Naive to ask for money. Much like a lot of my work I did it for free.

I was in theater and musical theater almost my entire life and I had no idea that Audio Description existed. No one had ever told me about it. I didn’t know it was something I could ask for. Once I discovered the audio tours in museums someone mentioned to me about Audio Description of plays and musicals and live theater and I was blown away. And then of course I discovered that they were also doing Audio Description for film and television.

TR:

That project at the Spy Museum?

CC:

I rewrote this tour. I added some tactile elements. People were really impressed by it. I got hired by Cortina Productions after that to work on the audio tour of the George W. Bush Heritage Library and Museum in Texas.

TR:

Doing the work and having it well received is great, but AD meant more to Colleen.

CC:

This could be kind of my way back into theater. I started looking into it realizing that there isn’t a lot of training.

TR:

Maybe you’re familiar with the saying, get in where you fit in. That’s what Colleen did.

CC:

As those of us who can’t see we are the users of Audio Description. Therefore it’s my belief that we are your best source of quality control. We are your best source of feedback. One of the things that I started doing was critiquing people. So I would contact people whether it was from a live show or a TV show or film and I would say here are some notes about your description. I thought you did this well, I think this could be an improvement, I don’t think you should have used this voice artist. I started from a place of editing and critiquing.

[TR in conversation with CC:]

How was that received?

CC:

Sometimes it just straight up wasn’t. (Laughs…)
So my messages are somewhere in the ether, I’m sure. Other times people were amazed and then especially as far as live they were very hungry for feedback and critique because they do these shows and half the time nobody’s even listening to their description and so to get legitimate feedback. Some people have an ego about it they think they’re infallible but most of the time people are like thank you so much , what else.

So I realized in a sense it would be ideal if you have people teaching audio description or if someone was an audio describer to have a consultant who is visually impaired or blind who is a user of the experience.

TR:

While in the role of Quality Control Consultant during a conference, Colleen came across another opportunity.

CC:

I met my business partner Jan Vulgaropulos and she is a professional Audio Describer.

TR:

Jan, who specialized in live theater description had a question for Colleen.

CC:

Listen, I’m thinking of starting my own training. Would you do it with me and start a company?

I said yes, let’s do it lets create something new! We both decided that rather than a classroom kind of conference where you’re there for two days 8 to 5 with fluorescent lighting in a hotel trying to get the basics of Audio Description that we would create Audio Description Training Retreats, which is our company, and we would have people in sort of a natural environment . We would do courses in Audio Description . That has become part of my passion and my focus.

TR:

Back to the earlier question; what sort of work can Blind people do? In this case as it pertains to Audio Description.

CC:

I’m not only there to give the student’s feedback, I co-teach Audio Description. I help teach them about Disability awareness and the history of Audio Description, where it comes from. The update as to what’s going on now. We go over kind of our guidelines for helping people establish Audio Description.

And then my colleague does the actual description teaching. The main goal is to give people as much feedback and performance opportunity as possible. So we have our students do a lot of description.

TR:

The hands on approach enables these future describers to figure out what aspect of Audio Description they like.

CC:

Hey you know I like writing, but I don’t want to do the voice artist thing or I don’t think I could do live theater and just say what I’m seeing in real time that’s too hard. Or they might enjoy that challenge.

TR:

I don’t want to be one to say that something can’t be done based on the current process. It may appear that way until someone comes along and changes how it’s done.

Yes, right now, live description and writing the description for a film or television show requires sight. But wordsmithing doesn’t.

What are the other challenges for a Blind person to participate in this work?

How about narration?

CC:

When you are recording in a studio, what normally happens is the script is on one screen and then on the screen next to it the film or TV show is playing and it has the time stamps on it and the Sound Engineer will say ok you have three seconds to record this line will do it three times ready? And they will play the clip and you’re watching the clip and trying to say what’s on the script at the same time.

TR:

Ok, maybe it’s me but this doesn’t seem to be a real obstacle. It’s a process that’s currently in place but there’s no reason it couldn’t be done differently.
For example, a Sound Engineer could cue the Narrator.

A Narrator/Editor with time stamp info alone could easily run through and record and be sure that the narration falls as indicated.

CC:

I think if you were doing it independently you could be successful at it. I think some of the larger studios everything has to happen so fast in post-production that they’re like you have one day to do this. You have one day to record the Audio Description and they just don’t think Blind people can do it.

[TR in conversation with CC:]
Huh!

TR:

That sounds like the biggest obstacle to me, attitude.

CC:

As far as quality control, as far as the people who should be editing, I think that should be Blind people. We’re more attuned to consuming Audio Description as our means of delving into a story and we have more of a legitimate leg up to say something like this voice over artist is super annoying and takes you of the story. The script writer repeated this line twice. At one point in the scene you named this person this and now you’re calling him this. Those kind of things are what we would be more efficient at editing.

TR:

For example, tell me if you think there’s something off with this narration.

[Audio: Shooters Season 2]

This is from season 2 of a Netflix series called “Shooters”. No offense to the Narrator but why in the world is he practically singing every line. I had to abandon the series. I just couldn’t do it. This guy!

CC:

There is room for more employment for visually impaired and Blind people. It’s just a matter of the same that it every was which is unfortunately we have to break down the barriers. We have to be the ones to say , no like we can edit, we can be involved in this, we can be voice artist, like it can happen.

TR:

Colleen is currently a member of an ACB Committee tasked to create an AD Accreditation. They’re developing guidelines that define audio description and requirements for live theater, plays, movies and television.

CC:

It’s not just for the describers, we’re also going to be creating a certification for quality control or consumers of Audio Description. My goal is to make sure that Blind and visually impaired people have a chance to also be certified as quality control and as description consultants.

TR:

When it comes to standards and guidelines for creating Audio Description, there’s a lot of room for growth. How to handle diversity is just one question.

CC:

How much do you say about a person? How do you very quickly categorize somebody if you need a really short term for this one burly guy?What do you say? What’s appropriate to say? What terms are you going to use that may in five in a year, may be no longer appropriate?

A lot of times you may want to reference something, but the main default as far as guidelines will most likely be only if it’s relevant to the story do you need to reference something and then you need to keep in mind you have to reference for everybody because that’s why it would be significant.

TR:

To learn more about Audio Description Training Retreats you can reach them on Facebook or Twitter @ADRetreats or visit ADTrainingRetreats.com.

They have some trainings taking place this fall so go on over to the site and get all the information.

[TR in conversation with CC:]

And your podcast? The name and where can folks take a listen?

CC:

My personal kind of podcast and any of my videos and information can be found at BlindInspirationCast.com

TR:

I’ll have all of these links at ReidMyMind.com on the episodes post.

Shout out to Colleen Connor for taking the time to speak with me for this episode.

I think we may hear from her again in the future regarding AD and more. She and I have some things in common. For example, like when I asked her to try using headphones during our interview and I noticed she too like me enjoys making up songs about nothing.

CC:

Humming a tune…

“Getting my headset!”

[TR in conversation with CC:]

Laughs!

# Closing

TR:

Hey, I’m not sure if you all know this but right now, there’s an incredible sale taking place just about wherever podcasts are distributed.

It costs nothing, absolutely nada, free 99 to subscribe to a podcast including this one. So do yourself a favor and…

Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.

You can always send me feedback or recommend a guest or topic all you have to do is hollaback!

We have the comments section on the blog, ReidMyMind.com.
The email; ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com
The Reid My Mind Radio Feedback Line where you can leave a voice mail: 1 570-798-7343

I would really love voice messages that I can share on the podcast. If you don’t want to call, you can grab your smart phone and record a voice memo and email the finished recording to ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.

I’d love to hear and share the voices of those who are listening. If you want to send a message but don’t want it shared just say so and it’s all good.

I appreciate you listening and if you liked what you heard please rate and even review the show via Apple Podcast. And please, tell a friend to listen. Spread the love, man!

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Hive Uganda – A Sweet Success

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Picture of Ojok standing outside in front of trees under a blue sky.
For our final update from the 2017 Holman Prize winners, we hear from Ojok Simon. The founder of Hive Uganda. This social entrepreneur established the organization to train fellow blind and low vision people of Uganda to create self-sustaining businesses through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

We hear about the relationships made during the year, the impact Hive Uganda is having on the community and the challenges that come with his success.

Listen, subscribe to the podcast and then holla back! Rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcast. Send your feedback to me directly at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. I’d love a voice recorded message that I could include on a future show!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Honey Bee, Lucinda Williams – Heavy guitar intro

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio.
It’s the final episode of the 2017 Holman Prize Update.

That means there’s only one way to get this started.

Audio: Vocals come in… “Oh my little honey bee!” Lucinda Williams.

TR:
We’re kicking this one off with some real energy.

My name is T.Reid. I’m your host and producer of this here podcast.
First time here? I hope my energy doesn’t scare you.
I’m just feeling good because that’s my choice.

Like producing this podcast is my choice to focus on presenting people and topics I find compelling. Every now and then I drop some of my own experiences from my personal adjustment to blindness.

For some my energy right now may not fit what you think about being blind, having a disability.

Well that’s cool. Give me a bit of your time and just maybe something here can expand your mind.

You see, right now we are in the final episode of our look at the Holman Prize winners.

These are the 6 blind women and men to date who have received the $25,000 prize awarded by the San Francisco Lighthouse to implement their ambition.

It’s awarded in the memory of James Holman. A blind explorer in the 1800’s who travelled independently to all 6 inhabited continents.

If you haven’t yet checked those out I strongly suggest you go back and take a listen.

So let’s get this started!

Audio: Heavy guitar and drum backing track moves into lyrics, “Oh my little honey bee”
Audio: Reid My Mind Intro Music

Ojok:

First, thank you to the Lighthouse. Congratulations for the new winners of the 2018 Holman Prize winners.
And I’m ready to give my updates to the listeners.

TR:

That’s Ojok Simon. The third of the 2017 Holman Prize winners.

Before we get into his update let’s go back to the beginning of his story.

First, it starts in Uganda.
Ojok:

I am from the Northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot of friends.

TR:
His beginnings as it relates to blindness, well that’s a much more complicated story.

Here’s a summary from the 2017 episode.

TR in narration from 2017 episode

during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention.

TR:

Sometime later Ojok left his home and went to study at a school for the blind.
Returning home for the holidays, Ojok explained in 2017, is what lead to him being stung with a prize worthy idea.

Ojok in 2017:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do.

TR:
Create opportunities for himself and other blind people in his community through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

As we’ll hear from Ojok, these opportunities are more than life sustaining entrepreneurial ventures.

Since we last spoke in 2017, Ojok traveled to San Francisco to claim his prize.

Ojok:
It was my first time in San Francisco.

I stayed there for one week.

TR:

A week full of activities which included meeting the other two prize winners.

The trip gave Ojok a chance to share how blind people live in Uganda.

His presentation of bee keeping was not only to show how this can be performed by a blind person but also to prove its viability as a vocation.

On top of all that, he says he had the chance to learn.

Ojok:

… About how people keep the environment clean.
The connectedness with different human creatures – create friends, you meet with friends.

TR:

These informal networking opportunities Ojok explains inspire new ideas and thoughts. Meeting the people was just a part of what he found appealing.

Ojok:

I love the environment. The surrounding waters. I love how considerate and how they take care of different citizens from different part of the world. It’s so so amazing. I love San Francisco so much.

TR:

Following the week of activities in San Francisco, Ojok return to Uganda where he began implementing his ambition.
Training blind men and women to own and operate agriculture businesses through bee keeping.

Ojok:

Through the Holman prize, it has been amazing!

We were able to strengthen our foundation base by training 6 master trainers who help a lot to enlighten about self-employment of blind people through bee keeping.

TR:

From our initial conversation with Ojok in 2017, the trainings include much more than bee keeping. Orientation and mobility along with leadership training are a major component.

Ojok from 2017:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

TR:

Ojok initially anticipated training about 16 people this year.

Ojok:

These master trainers were trained by Hive Uganda where they will be able to run more training whether Hive Uganda exists or not.

We were also able to reach right now 36. Imagine 36. Which is a big impact and this is not the end of the project we ar4 still moving forward.

TR:

At the time of this recording, Ojok had an additional 10 people to receive training. Bringing the total trained to 46.

That’s 46 individuals. Multiple families and communities directly impacted.

Ojok:

For instance, one person is called Okot Thomas who started bee keeping after the training. And through his effort of bee keeping he managed to change the life of a young person who is not disabled to come and work in the area of environmental conservation of bee keeping with the blind people.

TR:

The implications are social. Impacting the entire community.

Ojok:

The neighbors accept him as a blind person And then the neighbors understand how important to involve blind people in agriculture especially in bee keeping. And how sweet it is to work in the same environment with different abilities.

TR:

That positive effect has even reached the government – which Ojok says traditionally hasn’t done much for those who are blind.

Ojok:

They were monitoring our training. They were so amazed how we are promoting bee keeping for people with disabilities especially blind people. How we are promoting inclusion to the families. And how we are trained to promote extra abilities of blind people into agriculture and self-employment.

TR:
This development is quite significant.
It’s more than recognition, the government has provided assistance in the form of specific support including;

Ojok:

Inspecting the bee hive, pest control. They’re not giving money to Hive Uganda, but they start including visually impaired persons in their program when they return to the community.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

It’s making them official business where at some point it was a “charity”, but it’s moving from that and now they are even more officially entrepreneurs in the eyes of the government. They’re seeing them as entrepreneurs.

Ojok:

Exactly, exactly, exactly!

TR:

That shift in how the government views the bee keepers is not just symbolic, Hive Uganda has been tasked with registering their graduates as businesses with the local government.

Ojok:

So that they can easily ask the local government directly minus Hive Uganda.

TR:

You may have noticed that was the second time Ojok mentioned Hive Uganda in the past tense. As in a time when he is no longer training or supporting other bee keepers.
I’m happy to report, he has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon, rather it’s just a sign of a strong leader with good planning.

Ojok:

I am still 24/7 working with Hive Uganda. Actually, I’m looking at the sustainability at this age of mine. So that when I reach my retirement or when I say ok, let me sit down Hive Uganda should continue.

TR:
In case you’re not familiar with the terminology…

Ojok:

24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Do you ever get any people with other disabilities who want to participate outside of blindness?

Ojok:

Through the last training that we had, that was in July, we had to force people to go back because our target was to train 16. But people were demanding the services. They are people with disabilities. They look at that as an opportunity. Just waiting for the opportunity so they can also jump in.

TR:

While Hive Uganda’s focus continues to be supporting those who are blind and low vision , future increased resources
could enable their expansion.

Hive Uganda has already developed cross disability partnerships.
As Ojok explains, the value goes beyond economics.

Ojok:
To build strong advocacy system we need to also bring other people so that when we are talking to the government , when we are going to speak to other development partners we will say yes, this is the need for people with disabilities.

TR:

Expanding Hive Uganda’s reach also means geographic.

Ojok

Remember we are in Gulu. Uganda is a big country. Where we are is less than ten percent of the population. It’s not even more than five percent of the population, but the need is still too much. We want to reach other parts of the country.

TR:

Extending the reach of Hive Uganda is now more possible with the training and deployment of the six master trainers.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
This all started [from] a tragic situation. In terms of how you lost your sight and then how you almost literally stumbled upon the idea. How does that feel when you look at where you come from brother? How does that feel for you?

Ojok:
When I look at where I came from and where we are sometimes I have mixed feelings. Yes I’m helping . I’m trying to show to the whole world that yes, out of sight is not out of mind. Should I be the victim of my own success? When I say the victim of my own success, yes I’m doing great what is that reality that will make you self-sustaining If the project of Holman ends, which is coming to September, what will happen next? You . You have raised a lot of expectation, you have proved that you are able to do it, are you going to continue? So that makes me do so much concentrated fundraising , trying networking with others so that we can all together come and say yes.

TR:
Yes to the future of Hive Uganda.

That future right now could be summarized based on their 5 years strategic plan.

Ojok:
One, continue training of blind people around Uganda as well as if possible East Africa.

Also, continue doing value addition to honey and wax products supplied by blind people because we already have a production unit. And then continue advocating for inclusion and participation for people with visual impairment into agriculture livelihood especially in the rural setting. And continued mobilization of resources because all of this to be done, Hive Uganda is in a developing country where everything is not the same. You have to fundraise, look for possible partners, share your ideas so that you’re able to be self-sustaining.

TR:
Strategic plans look forward. Sometimes there’s value in looking back.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

At some point along this whole journey of yours, you have to reflect on the lives you touched. Hive Uganda is already a success.

Ojok:
Laughs, yes that is true!

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
You changed people’s lives. You have and so I salute you for that You know, you are the man to do this 24 7and I’m happy to see that’s what you are doing.

yeh man, don’t put too much pressure on yourself Laughs… because that’s what it sounds like.

Ojok:
Laughing, yes thank you, thank you… thank you for encouraging me.

TR:
He’s the one doing the encouraging.

Whether it’s the students of Hive Uganda or those who are exposed to his story. Ojok’s passion for creating opportunities for people with disabilities through bee keeping is infectious.

During an interview with New Vision a local newspaper in Uganda, Hive Uganda Master Trainer Francis Okello Oloya describes the programs beneficiaries as
“change agents in their communities.”

It’s as if the new entrepreneurs are out spreading the message that blindness alone is no real barrier for participation in any aspect of life. Sort of pollenating the community with the hopes of reaping a sweeter life for themselves and others.

While back in San Francisco reporting on their progress during what is the conclusion of their Holman term, Ojok plans to visit bee keeping friends in San Diego. This is just one of the relationships established as a result of the prize.

Ojok:

We congratulate Lighthouse for coming up with such amazing idea.

Whether with the Holman Project or not we will remain in collaboration with the Lighthouse.

I have to remain.

TR:

To stay up to date or find out how you can support their mission visit HiveUganda.org.

Once again, salute to Mr. Ojok Simon and yes, may you remain!

Audio: “Honey, Honey” Fiest

By the time this podcast is published December 4th, I believe the 2017 Holman Prize trio would have met for their final reports in San Francisco.

I really did consider trying to make my way out there to meet them all in person. Unfortunately, personal obligations and finances in that order didn’t permit that from happening.

First of all, it would have been nice to just give them a hug or shake their hand. Ah, forget that, everybody would get a hug!

Of course I would bring you the listener along. I think it would make for a great episode and I have the feeling you all grew almost as fond as I have of these three.

That’s Penny Melville Brown, Ahmet Ustenel and Ojok Simon.

Shout out to the San Francisco Lighthouse and everyone responsible for the Holman Prize including the judges,
Jason Roberts, author of the biography A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.    

Shout out to Lucinda Williams on the opening track Honey Bee and Feist for Honey Honey riding underneath us right now.

Shout out to you the listeners. I truly hope you enjoy these episode because I have a good time producing them.

I hope to have another episode to finish out the year. I’m not sure if my daughters are taking over the podcast this year for the last episode. My oldest is 21 and the other 15. If not I think I have a good way to wrap up the year.

You know what’s a good way to wrap up this episode…
Subscribing to the podcast! You can use Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or your favorite podcast app.
You can always slide on over to ReidMyMind.com and sign up for the email notifications

You know, I would love your feedback. Either

Rate the podcast on iTunes if you like it of course. If you don’t like it I’m not sure why you are still listening. I have no plans on doing anything differently at this stage in the game.

You can even leave a review there.

Send me direct feedback at Reid My Mind Radio @ gmail.com.
If you feel up to it, you could even record a message on your voice recorder and send that over. That would make my day!

Plus my daughter doesn’t believe anyone listens so it will help me convince her! Yawl think I’m joking’?
She says like all the time. I’m talking’ 24/7
Ojok:
24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

TR:
Peace!

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