Joe Strechay: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

A picture of Joe Strechay with his cane in hand, standing in conversation on the set of See.

Image Courtesy of Apple

An RMM Radio O.G (Original Guest) is back! Joe Strechay, former Director of the Bureau Blindness & Visual Services of Pennsylvania and Blindness Consultant tells us all about his work on the new series See from Apple TV Plus. Yes, he found himself hanging out with See cast members like stars Jason Momoa and the legendary Alfre Woodard, but the job required some real sacrifices.

Jason Momoa as Baba Voss stares out past the camera. His eyes are white, face is scarred. See from Apple TV Plus

Image Courtesy of Apple

We dive in to see exactly how the events from his past lead him to being the right man for the job. Let’s just say he has a particular set of skills!

But his adjustment to blindness wasn’t all glitter.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome bac to the podcast.

First time here? Cool. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Thomas Reid host and producer of this podcast. This is the place to be if you want to hear from compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness or disability in general. They all share one thing in common; their dope!

Not because they’re doing anything magical. No, their human. In fact, many of them have been where you may find yourself right now.

If you’re uncomfortable with those words, blind, disability, that’s ok for now. But take a listen to how comfortable my guests are with these words at their current place in their life journey.

Your journey will be different, but you’re definitely on one. And the R double M Radio family and I are here for you.

I think there’s only one way to bring on this one; lights, camera, action!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Scene from See…

TR:

This is a scene from the premiere episode of the new series called See available on Apple TV Plus.

Audio: Scene includes Audio Description Narration

TR:

yes, there’s audio description.

Here’s the synopsis from the opening scene

Audio Describer: Following the outbreak of a deadly virus in the 21st Century, the Earth’s human population was reduced to less than 2 million humans who survived all emerged Blind. Now centuries later the idea of vision exists only as a myth. To even speak of it is considered heresy.

TR:

Well RMM Radio you should be proud because in a six, well three, degrees of separation sort of way you are each connected to this new series. No, not because you yourself may be blind, but because one of our family members are let’s say, associated with the production of the show.

JS:

I’m Joe Strechay, I’m a Blindness Consultant for Apple TV Plus’s See, which is a streaming television show. And I’m also a Blindness Consultant out in the world outside of that working with organizations around blindness.

TR:

That’s right, our brother is back! He’s and O.G. in the R double M R Family.

Audio: Air horn

I couldn’t let 2019 end without discussing See and the role Joe played in its production. And even more in tune with this podcast is looking at his life path and how embracing his blindness helped his journey.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Why don’t you catch up the family, because you’re part of the Reid My Mind Radio family big time!

JS:.

Definitely!

My favorite podcast around blindness! You heard that, favorite one!

Audio: Joe singing “Radio”

Last time you heard from me I was the Director of Blindness & Visual Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, overseeing the services for people who are Blind or Low Vision. I’d been working in the entertainment field part time over the last years.

TR:

That includes working with writers of the shows like Royal Pains, The OA on Netflix and of course Marvel’s Daredevil.

Audio: Clip from Daredevil episode.

While working as the Director of BBVS Joe was presented with an opportunity.

JS:

Apple TV Plus’s See Production in their infancy days reached out to me to see about working on the show. I had an interview first with the creator of the show Steven Knight and Jenno Topping who’s the president of Chernin Entertainment one of the studios involved. I think one of the Executive Producers involved was on the line as well. And then I had to do a Skype interview with Francis Lawrence who’s an Executive producer and the Director for episodes one through three. Once I cleared Francis I was able to land the position. We kind of talked about it and I talked to the production staff and it sounded like it was full time. And I’m like I’m going to have to leave my place of employment.

TR:/

His responsibilities first began with part time work. Consulting on scripts and exchanging ideas via a secured platform and conference calls in the evenings.

A day or two after his final day at the Bureau

JS:
I flew to British Columbia to officially start my full time job.

TR:

So what exactly does a Blindness Consultant do in the making of a series like See?
Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

There’s the pre-production work like reviewing scripts and providing input…

JS:

We prep’ d for almost two months in person. We worked with a movement director like a choreographer type person and a team of choreographers.

I have lists of these little aspects of blindness that most people don’t know about. You’ll see more and more of that in the scripts I would say four through eight and maybe most people won’t notice them, but they’re in there.

Walking through some of the set pieces and saying oh, I think I would do this. Meeting with the set dressing department who puts out the objects that are set out in the space. Where I would put stuff, how I organize things.

Ideas for props. Even the weight of the props. How they might use that prop. Kind of help create the world with this amazing creative team.

TR:

A world, Joe points out is not of blindness.

JS:

It’s a Science fiction world probably somewhere between now and 100 or 200 years from now somewhere in there, a viral apocalypse happens. Kills off the majority of the population of earth. There are just a few million people left on earth and then those individuals emerge blind. Our show takes place centuries after that where civilizations have built out different environments.

It’s not a world of blindness, it’s a world of See really.

TR:

Definitely not a real world and therefore not a true depiction of how Blind people live. But representation matters. You know, sometimes you just have to take a stand!

JS:

There were definitely times. We did a lot of exploration around these people and making them different, each group different. Even differentiating the posture of people for their environment and like how they do things. There were times when I was yeh, I don’t think we’re gonna do that!.

TR:

Yet the science fiction format is known for exploring social and cultural issues.

JS

Our show battles with Ableism purposely at times.

TR:

Specifically, exploring, what happens when a set of twins are born with the ability to see in a world where everyone is blind

JS:

What people with vision might think versus people who are Blind. In a world where everyone else is Blind. Seeing that battle, seeing where people who are Blind are better at some things and people with vision are less than. I love that aspect. Everyone has different skills.

TR:

Multiple members of the cast are actually Blind or Low Vision. Again, representation matters.

JS:

One of the things I was really proud of in our background and some of our actors had other disabilities. We have background who are Deaf or Hard of hearing, a gentleman with Cerebral Palsy, all kinds of different disabilities. Our show embraces that. We want to make sure people have opportunities. These were talented interesting people that we could include in our show. There are people with other disabilities that you’ll never know that are within the show and even behind the scenes in production. It’s not because of their disability, it’s because they’re talented individuals.

TR:

As the majority of See’s characters are Blind, Joe is working closely with each. This includes the show’s lead, Jason Momoa.

Audio: Scene from see featuring Baba Voss played by Jason Momoa.

JS:

He’s super nice. He has a big heart and he brings so much consideration, energy, enthusiasm ideas. I’ve never met someone so creative. He sees things in the scenes. Most actors they see their role and their part in the scene, but he sees the whole scene at many times like where other actors are and what kind of story you can show with the angle. He’s directed.

TR:

Directed, co-wrote and starred in Road to Paloma a 2014 Drama thriller.

Also starring in the series is the 4 time Emmy Award Winning Alfre Woodard.

Audio: Scene from See featuring Paris, played by Alfre Woodard.

JS:

She taught me so much and continues to. Brings so much to our show and just as a person is an amazing friend as well.

That’s the thing I didn’t just make professional relationships it’s like so much bonding. We spent like six weeks at least in remote areas if not like 10.

TR:

That’s Joe with the cast of See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

JS:

So Nesta Cooper, Archie (Madekwe), Mojean Aria, Hera Hilmar and all of them became my friends.

We spent time in an isolated area in British Columbia which is in Vancouver Island. There was a pub at our hotel and pretty much was the only place you could eat or drink! We’d have like an hour and forty five minute ride to set and back each day, so long days. You’d go to the pub and hangout.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Now you’re there full time so you’re living there while you’re working. Were you the only Blind person there?

JS:

Yeh, at first I was the representative of Blindness originally, working through the setup of the show in person. I was there for 9 months originally and then another month for re-shoots. I became part of the Blindness community in Vancouver in British Columbia. The community really invited me in. I started going to audio described theater in the area. There was an international Goal Ball tournament I went to. I went to this organization’s Blind Beginnings events. Met with CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Blind Sports Association of British Columbia and Canada. They were fantastic. Going to fundraisers for different groups and going to see the Blind Hockey team practice. They actually started becoming part of our background in our show.

TR:

Away from home for about 10 months, eventually Joe moved into an apartment after spending about three months in a hotel.

JS:

Right next door they had one of the best breakfast or lunch places . I met a couple of people out at this Ramen shop in the neighborhood who work there. I was eating Ramen and having a beer and we just started chatting. We became really good friends. Charlotte and Sebastian. My wife hung out with her too when we came in. I met so many people in the community. I was definitely in the community doing things. Going snow shoeing with friends.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

Ok, so I kind of want to move this to your career. And what you just talked about I think is probably an important aspect, especially from what I know about you. Networking, but really I don’t want to just call it networking because I feel like you’re a relationship guy. How important has that been in your career? Like that aspect of your personality.

JS:
You know throughout my career I moved up and down the East Coast to places where I didn’t know anyone at all.

I literally make an effort to go out places and sometimes it’s tiring you know, you worked all day, but that’s how you meet people. That’s how you become part of the community. That Ramen shop I went to a lot, I love that Ramen shop. they know me by name there(laughing). I also stick out, I have long hair, a beard and white cane so…

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

JS:

But it has been important. I’m careful to ask people about what they do, their life, what they want to do. The same stuff we do in career counseling. That’s a great thing about blindness, I don’t judge a book by its cover. I just met someone and I talk to them . For the better or worse and typically for the better. Once in a while I get screamed at from some random person for no reason but you know everyone’s dealing with something.

TR:

Whether it’s moving to Florida for his Master’s degree or West Virginia where he ended up meeting his wife;

JS:

I meet people, I get to know them, maybe exchange information. If we click as friends or if I can help them I’m always willing to help people and connect people.

Yeh, I’m a relationship guy for sure!

TR:

Looking back, we can see signs of Joe’s interest and early preparation for a career in the entertainment industry.

JS:

I love television and movies. In high school I worked my four years at a video store, a VHS store.

TR:

For those too young to recall, A video store is like having a bunch of Netflix’s oh wait my bad, Apple TV Plus, in stores in every community. Rather than opening an app and making your selection, you’d have to leave your house and get to the store. You’d search the shelves for the movie that you wanted. If it’s there cool, take it to the front desk and pay to borrow that for a day. Now hurry home and watch it but don’t forget to bring it back the next day or you’ll have to pay additional fees.

Whew! Hooray for technology!

JS:

In college I never thought about working in film really, but I took a film and literature class. I enjoyed it.

TR:

His studies included the portrayal of minority characters as well as gender roles in film.

After receiving his Communications and Public Relations degree hhe went out into the world.
JS:

Worked in Public Relations right after school but I didn’t fall in love with the product side of it. I’m mission oriented I want to see things succeed.

TR:

Joe even came pretty close to landing the coveted job of a NBC Page.

JS:

I made it out of they said 10,000 or so. Six people on a panel interview with four people interviewing us. And it was like Valedictorian of Howard University, Valedictorian of another or a guy who worked on 20/20 already. Legally Blind since 19 and I had that opportunity to be part of that six.

I didn’t have all the skills I should have had to be successful at that point. I learned from it too.

TR:

Audio: I have a certain set of skills…Scene from “Taken”.

Joe’s particular set of skills include his Master’s degree in Orientation & Mobility.

But skills are only a part of what it takes.

JS:

When I had the opportunity to work with entertainment programs a little bit at American Foundation for the Blind and then more so with Netflix’s Marvel’s Daredevil which I did outside of my work at AFB. I had to complete all of my duties plus all my work so I was travelling all over the country, using New York City as my home base. There’s a lot of sacrifice.

TR:

Sacrifice is leaving a comfortable position and putting yourself out there for possible disappointment.

JS:

I’ve been offered other entertainment opportunities for movies. They want you to leave and be full time for like 2, 3 months at the most. To leave a full time position to go do that is a gamble. It was a big decision. My wife Jen and I discussed it and weighed the options. I sought advice from friends I worked with on other productions. When it came down to it, it just seemed like a unique opportunity. A game changer to impact the world but also they were committed to hiring actors that were Blind and Low Vision as well and wanted me to help with that. Making sure that there was accessibility and figuring out what that was. I never had that opportunity. I worked on other shows but it always just involved the portrayal of blindness, scripts some set advising and props s but this was a full time doing all that and so much more. We were figuring out what my role was as we went. It just kept expanding.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
How important was Apple? Was that a big factor in you making the decision to leave BBVS and go there?

JS:

It was a huge factor. When you throw the name Apple out in our community, the blindness community the disability community, it is like the gold standard.

Since 2009 and the third generation iPhone and even right before that with the Nano iPod where it had Voice Over embedded into it. It changed the game in accessibility. I have multiple Apple TV’s in my home, my Apple keyboard on the table here, Air Pods, iPhone 11 pro here and a iPod Touch over there so when Apple was connected to it I’m like this is going to be something!

TR:

When it comes to Joe’s real motivation, I think it’s pretty clear to see!

JS:

I’m very passionate about the portrayal of blindness in entertainment. I wrote an article about how disability is portrayed for AFB Access World years ago even before my time on Marvel’s Daredevil

Our show shows people as heroes, villains, good guys, bad guys, warriors, lovers. Things that you don’t typically see people who are Blind doing. Living their lives in a community cooking, building all kinds of things like that. That means something to me.

TR:

Did you catch that?

Audio: Rewinding Tape Deck

JS: “Things that you don’t see Blind people typically doing”

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now you’re on set, working side by side with the Director? That’s pretty cool man! Explain that.

JS:

We had been talking and meeting a little bit. I gave him some ideas and suggestions. He wanted to make sure the world brought some reality of blindness as well and there’s interesting ideas that most people wouldn’t notice. And he’s like I want you next to me at every shot! It was unreal. I learned so much from all the directors, Francis, Lucas and Steven and Fred and Sally and all these amazing directors. They’re all so different and preparing in different ways and how they manage the set and each shot is different. So I learned a lot about how they setup things and their process and how to give input.

As the season goes on there were scenes that have no individuals who are Blind in it that I have input on that made it into the show. It wasn’t just the blindness that I was helping with.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Are you interested in directing? (Laughs) You’re standing right next to the director man, like you’re already getting all this info.

JS:

You know I could see co-directing with someone.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Now I know you have your YouTube channel so is this your preparation for being in front of the camera? (Laughs…)
Are we going to see you in See? (Laughs…)

JS:

I had a cameo or two . It hit the editing room floor – some of the scenes got cut. And it wasn’t because of my work. Who knows maybe in season 2.

TR:

Do you hear that optimism? That belief in anything is possible? Don’t get it twisted, that’s a process. Joe wasn’t always feeling that way. Like when he was 19 and diagnosed legally blind.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

If you could go back to some of that initial reaction. What would you tell yourself, your 19 year old self now?

JS:

When I first lost my vision I went through depression and I got counseling. They helped me guide through and understand that blindness and disability is not to end my life or anything. It changes and it changed how I viewed life. I would say embrace all of it.

It would be introducing myself to successful people who are Blind or Low Vision. Go someplace and learn how to use a white cane and learn the skills of independence as a person who is Blind.

People are always going to tell you what you can and can’t do as a person with a disability as a person who is Blind. They like to say no or you can’t do this. Don’t let them say no. During our show most of the things that you see people who are Blind do, I did as well. To figure out or feel. Climbing cliffs, hiking through different areas all kinds of different things that you see , I’ve done.

My buddy Dan Shotz, the show runner will tell you like early on people were like uh, I don’t think he should be doing that. I’m like, are the characters who are Blind doing this, then I’m going to do it. They embraced it. Dan pushed it and really allowed me to put myself out there and show them how we can do things. And if I didn’t have the expertise you know Erik Weihenmayer sent videos about climbing that I shared with Jason Momoa. I reached out to people such as T.Reid, Thomas Reid to share about their life and that was shared with all of our casts and production. Every couple of weeks I shared videos about people who were successful who were Blind or Low Vision from various types of work, backgrounds, life experiences.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Hold on you’re telling me that Alfre Woodard saw that video?

JS:

Oh yeh, Alfre Woodard saw your video.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Alfre Woodard saw me? Laughs…

JS:

It’s true, it’s true. Yup!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Ahh, that’s cool!

Joe Stretch! Dude I told you that I think your story in terms of your hustle and what you’re doing is just so cool and inspiring to folks and to me personally. I definitely salute you, what you’re doing and keep doing it Bro. You’re doing your thing! I’m happy for you.

JS:

Thank you brother. You know how I feel about you and your podcast.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Yes Sir… laughs…

JS:

Can I say it again?

[TR in conversation with JS:]
You can say it again!

JS:

My favorite podcast!

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Your what?

JS:

My favorite podcast around blindness is Reid My Mind… (Singing) Radio!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughs…Yeh, there it is!

JS:

Woo!

TR:

See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

was released with 3 episodes and subsequent episodes dropping weekly.

Creating See as a premier show for the launch of their network (Apple TV Plus) could be viewed as a risky move.

First, Apple has such a positive reputation with the Blind community. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to risk offending or having negative press like what we saw earlier this year when the CW launched “In the Dark” and the NFB responded with #LetUsPlayUs.

Yes, it’s Sci-Fi but blindness is real. Anyone who understands the power of media knows that it does impact how people view others.

but it appears they made every attempt to get it right.
Apple’s influence on accessibility goes beyond their own products.
When a clear leader of design and innovation makes such an open commitment to access, well it’s clear that others follow suit.

Leading off the launch of their streaming service, Apple TV Plus,
With a show built around a world where
blindness is the norm,
in an actual world where the thought of being blind is so feared.
I don’t know, that to me sounds like Apple once again being bold and let’s hope setting some trends.

This episode sort of made me want to look at whether I’m challenging my comfort level, putting myself out there enough, taking risks. As
people adjusting to blindness, disability I think we should be doing that.

It doesn’t have to be climbing mountains and what not. Those days are done for me. My back just hurts thinking about it. But there are definitely other ways. Who’s with me!

Joe’s experience is a great example of what’s possible.

I know there are some who hear Joe’s story and say he’s lucky. Well, I’ll agree with you. If you’re working with the same definition of luck. That’s when preparation meets opportunity. Because that’s when things happen.

[TR in conversation with JS:]
The coolest thing about watching the first episode was that right when it’s over and then ran the credits and I hear my man,
Audio: “Associate producer, Joe Strechay”, Audio Describer from See.

TR:
Dude I’m on the treadmill and I’m like yeh Joe, yeh! Laughs!

TR:

You can check out See (Available on Apple TV Plus) right now. Just open that TV app and you can get right on it. You can even get the first episode for free.

You can check out Joe on YouTube, his channel is called Joe Strechay. And he’s also on Twitter and Instagram under that same name.
That’s S T R E C H A Y!

TR:
I think this is a perfect way to officially close out the 2019 season.

I may drop an extra holiday episode, but you know there’s only one way to make sure you get that… Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or where ever you like to get yours.

The podcast will be back in 2020 in time to help make things clear for anyone adjusting to blindness.

In the meantime please help spread the word. I hate to think of another young 19 year old who doesn’t get that help and have the same opportunities to reach their potential

Feel free to reach out and say hello. I love hearing from listeners.

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 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

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Leave a Reply