Reid My Mind Radio – A Girl From the South Who Made Her Way to NASA

August 29th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

A picture of Denna during a keynote presentation.
Continuing from the last episode “Black on Audio Description” I present our interview with Denna Lambert. The modern day “Hidden Figures.”

This episode highlights her journey including lessons for those pursuing their own goals, advice for those in positions of power and notes the various ways aspects of identity intersect with blindness or disability.

Before you blast off and hit play, remember, now’s the best time to go ahead and subscribe to the podcast to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

Ok, 5, 4,3,2,1… hit play!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family?

If this is your first time here, welcome. My name is T.Reid. Today’s episode to some extent is a part 2. However, it’s ok if you listen out of sequence.

Talking about sequence, we have to start with the theme music.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Raven:
Last time on Reid My Mind Radio.

Audio: Final closing segment from last episode “Black On Audio Description.” Screen reader reading the email signature which revealed Denna worked for NASA.

TR:

Last time, I introduced you to Denna Lambert.
Denna took part in a continuing discussion around audio description and cultural competence.

When I learned Denna works as a project manager for NASA, I wanted to hear more about her journey. And that’s exactly what we do here at Reid My Mind Radio.

We meet interesting people doing things that often challenge stereotypes and expand on what it means to be a person who is blind or lives with a disability..

The experience of blindness is unique to each person. Impacted by all aspects of an individual’s identity. Today, I get to introduce you to Denna Lambert. Her personal journey takes us through the experience of blindness as a Black woman from the South.

DL:
I was born with congenital cataracts. It was hereditary. It’s on my dad’s side of the family he is also blind. He grew up in the days the schools were segregated
when his parents found out he was blind, they sent him to the School for the Blind. You know the Negros School for the Blind.
TR in conversation with DL:
Ok, where was that?

DL:
Arkansas.

TR in conversation with DL:
Was it actually called The Negro school for the blind?

DL:
Yeah, yeah.

## TR:
RMM:
Audio: RMMRadio Announcement – part of intro
For further exploration of growing up in a segregated school for the blind as an African American,
take a listen to a past episode titled:
[At the Intersection Between Black & Blind](http://reidmymind.com/reid-my-mind-radio-at-the-intersection-of-black-and-blind/)

spoke with Robert Lewis who attended the Maryland School for the Blind both pre and post segregation.

Now, back to Denna discussing her father’s experience.

DL:
My dad graduated I think a year or two before they desegregated schools. If you remember like the Little Rock Nine this was all in Little Rock. he felt like
if they integrated schools then he would have been in this environment where he would have been vulnerable and in danger.

## TR:

The Little Rock Nine refers to the group of nine black students
who were the first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September1957.

They were greeted by the Arkansas National Guard called in by the governor. Along with some pretty angry & racist residents.

Audio from archives of this event.

Our life experiences are impacted in some way by the generations that
come before us.

The lessons learned by our parents help shape our own lives.

For example, Dena’s father had more information about cataracts and was aware that his new born should be examined early.

His experiences as a black and blind man in the blind school system framed decisions made on behalf of his daughter.

DL:

And this is again kind of like a testament to him. just knowing that in order for me to receive services he had to ultimately face the very people that I think he feared and distrusted the most. Most of the professionals were white and came from the school for the blind that he said he was going to avoid. And that’s what pushed his decision that I attend public school. versus the school for the blind – which I’m really glad they did.

TR in conversation with DL:

The people that you were interacting from the blind school, were any of them blind or were they all sighted folks?

DL:
All of the TVI’s, the early intervention people, the O&M, they were all sighted. and white.

TR:

Children observing and identifying with adults in their environment often serve as early role models. It can make a real impact on what they themselves aspire to reach in their own lives.

In other words, that question what do you want to be when you grow up can really change based on what a child believes is possible.

DL:
My music teacher, I took piano lessons from first grade on up to when I graduated, so that was actually my Dad’s principal. He did teaching on the side after he retired. He was kind of my first person who was blind who read Braille, used a cane , he took public transit. I was like woh I want to be like him because I was partially sighted so I didn’t know Braille. I saw that he could read, he wasn’t[‘t shuffling with his feet. I was like what is this? It definitely taught me that hey you know blindness doesn’t have to be something that you have to hide. Which is something that I think my Dad had to deal with because I think the thought was if you have any kind of vision then it’s better to pass as sighted then to just be who you are as blind.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh, there’s a lot of people today who are dealing with that.

TR:

Of course, there is no substitution for having teachers who recognize a child’s potential. We see the fruit of those early seeds planted in the form of encouragement and support.

DL:
I went to public school from pretty much first grade all the way up. I had a really great TVI (Teacher for the Visually Impaired). She stayed with me from preschool all the way until I graduated. We still stay in touch now.

My parents couldn’t take off and come to the school and do the things, but my TVI she would. She was kind of like my surrogate Momma in a way. (Laughs) Which I know a lot of kids don’t get that kind of services.

TR:
Teachers of the Visually Impaired or TVI’s often work with students to
assure they have materials in an accessible format.
This includes Braille, large print or electronic.
They often serve as a child’s advocate in the school communicating with the child’s teachers.

Denna was fortunate that her TVI made sure to teach her how to do all of this herself.
Teaching her to be independent.

DL:
She really kind of laid the ground work for when I got to college. I didn’t necessarily need the DSS office as much as what I probably would have needed if I didn’t have those skills to do it on my own.

TR:
DSS office is the disability student services available to college students with disabilities – playing a similar role as the TVI in high school just no hand holding, figuratively speaking.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Where did you go to college?

DL:
I went to University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. So that’s in the north west portion of the state. My mom , she wanted me to stay close to home and study Special Education you know work with blind kids, but I was the one who liked tearing apart radios and light bulbs and you know just different things.
(Laughs from DL and TR)
I went in as an Electrical Engineering major. There were some minority programs that really were trying to encourage students of color to study STEM fields so I got a scholarship to Fayetteville and just went from there. It was definitely hard because North Arkansas, those programs would have that real conversation of do not be in certain areas after dark. You have to be aware of where you are in this part of the country.

TR:

We just traveled back to the intersection of black and blind.
There are still lots of places all throughout the country today maybe more places where people of color truly aren’t feeling welcomed let alone safe.

And as a Black woman who is also blind that safety is a real concern.

For now, let’s walk back across to the blind side of the intersection.

DL:
I was one of the first blind students in the Engineering program. There was some things that I needed to learn in that there weren’t a lot of books from RFB&D available in like the Physics and the Electronic magnetic classes and Circuits classes. That’s where I would have to work with other classmates or find readers – which was something I wasn’t quite used to doing. Everything from K through 12 wasn’t available, but since I was entering into this field where they really didn’t have a need for that then you kind of have to get used to making up stuff. (Laughs) You know to get it to work.

[TR in conversation with DL]
And a lot of that stuff is graphical based I would think.

DL:
Yeh, thankfully a friend of mine, well actually two of them. We grew up together in Little Rock. So Noel Romey, he was the first blind Chemical Engineering major at U of A. And then my friend Chris Nestru he was the first Computer Science major. So they were a year ahead of me. They were kind of that advanced team laying the ground work for doing tactile graphics and then they started building up a corps of readers or note takers that were either Physic majors or Chemistry majors who would be willing to take notes. In some of my Calculus classes s I would have somebody sit next to me just drawing on paper because I could see with like a marker. they would draw whatever the professor was doing on the board. I couldn’t see what was happening on the board, but that student would sit next to me and we would do it together.

TR:
Being a trailblazer isn’t easy.
Denna offers some consideration for professors who sometimes fail to believe in their students abilities.

DL:
I think when you’re in that early 18m, 219, 20 years of age and you’re one of those very few people that look like you’re going through the same thing, then it is easy to get discouraged when somebody starts casting their own doubt on your ability. I wish I could kind of go back and say hey, you have power in your position. If you don’t know how something’s going to be done, that’s fine but with that student say hey if engineering is about discovery you know and science is about discovery then let’s use that same philosophy in figuring it out with a blind student.

TR:
Quite honestly that attitude should extend outside of the university setting.
It’s good advice for anyone in a position of power

Denna was very clear to note that lots of her experiences with professors were quite positive.

Establishing relationships played a significant role in her success.
In fact, it was one such relationship with a staff member in the University’s Career Services department that helped lead to her eventually landing her job.

Not finding many companies in Arkansas willing to hire a person with a disability, this staff worker helped Denna attend a Microsoft sponsored conference as a student speaker. The conference was called Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities.

DL:

That was kind of becoming a thing. How do we increase opportunities. So I was invited to be a guest speaker. She helped me get a way to go. And that’s where NASA was (laughs…)NASA had a really good recruitment program.

[TR in conversation with DL]
Ok, so hold on. When you say that’s where NASA was , meaning they were one of the employers taking part in the conference?

DL:
Yes. It wasn’t so much recruiting, but they were ready to help me network with the right folks. So they were like hey, would you be willing to move out of Arkansas. I’m like yes!

(DL and TR laugh)

[TR in conversation with DL]
Hell yeh!

DL:
Yes!

(DL & TR laugh)

TR:
I’m sure Arkansas is a great place, but Denna was in search of opportunities that weren’t presenting themselves in the state.

And it wasn’t for a lack of trying. In fact, while she interviewed with NASA things didn’t necessarily go the way she would have liked.

The conference and conversation with NASA was in May 2003.

While waiting to hear back from NASA she completed her school work and graduated in December.

Her father discouraged her from going on to get her Masters in fear of her becoming a professional student. He suggested she get some work experience.

DL:
Finding a job was my job (Laughs…)
[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh! Did you have any other prospects at that time?

DL:
I was volunteering for some nonprofits. Helping them with some data management now we call it analytics. I had that programming background. I was trying to keep busy and keep my skills up but unfortunately it wasn’t paid positions but I think that was helpful because I had to get dressed, take a bus and go somewhere. Staying at home, it was easy at the time to spend all day on those blindness listservs. The days can just go by and you know one day will turn into one week and one week will turn into a month and then it will just cascade into a longer period of time where you’re not being productive.

TR:

There’s lots of benefits gained from volunteering.
The work experience, increasing your network and even the possibility of leading to a paid position.
Yet, Denna found value in the mundane.
DL:
Getting dressed, doing my hair, going on the bus even if it was just 4 hours a day of volunteering. That’s what I did. It just helped.

TR:

Finally, in May 2004, Denna received an offer and a word of advice from her father.

DL:
When NASA sent the offer, he was like you got to go because there’s nothing here.

TR:

And that’s what she did.

[TR in conversation with DL:]
You’re the current, modern day Hidden Figures? (Laughs)

DL:
A little bit! There’s a lot of us at Goddard and at NASA that we’re the first in our generation from our families to move away or…

[TR in conversation with DL]
Which us are you talking about?

DL:
Us as in Black Women or Black men.

TR:

Notice how quickly the shift occurs between identity.

Hidden Figures is the 2016 film that is based on the lives of three of the African -American female mathematicians known as the “human
computers”, tasked with calculating
the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and guaranteeing his safe return.

DL:
I saw Hidden Figures 5 times.
Those are the grandmothers of NASA. We’re here because of them.

[TR in conversation with DL]
For sure!

DL:
Just to see how true to what the work environment is like. That was pretty amazing to see. That whole thing where she’s running 30 minutes from one end of the campus to the other – that is very true because even at Goddard, our campus is 1600 acres of land. We have three shuttle buses that take you from building to building. She was walking in high heel shoes. And they did have that, they did have segregated areas. There still are some things that need to be changed but it definitely improved a lot because of them.

[TR in conversation with DL]
So what about from the perspective of blindness?
DL:
there have been blind people at NASA for quite a while. Either in the programming or Electrically areas, because Electrical engineering can be very theoretical in addition to tangible or hands on. There’s a guy, Marco Midon I think he started in the 90’s I think working at NASA. Bob Shelton started in the 80’s. So there’s definitely been some folks around. I think NASA has because of the really ugly history that they have to confront and deal with diversifying the astronaut core and the work place with Katherine Johnson and stuff, I think it helped to pave the way to having more robust diversity programs where they intentionally went out to conferences like NESBIor SWE, Society of Women Engineers, or SHPE – Society of Hispanic Engineers.

TR:
Denna began her career at NASA as a Contract Specialist working with the Engineering group.
Active in building her career Denna realizes the importance of having a diverse set of skills and knowledge base.

She’s currently working as the Coordinator of the Goddard Information and Collaboration Center

DL:
A lot of my job honestly is meeting with people, talking with them getting their ideas and putting it together. It could be environmental folks, science folks, budget. You have to work together as a team and that’s definitely been interesting experience being the young Black, Blind woman in the room leading the meeting. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh, That’s exactly where I was going because I see the technical and the people side challenges. Talk about those.

DL:
Yeh. I think one advantage of being blind if I could say there is an advantage is getting people to verbalize what their thinking. If I hear a pause in something or I hear a change in tone then I can say hey, it sounds like something’s there, let’s talk about it. My team knows I am a very verbal person. If there pointing and saying here and there, you know they’ve adjusted to know that hey we have to talk it through. It’s been interesting to see them adapt. I think they’ve seen the benefits.

TR:

While there have been many advancements in technology, the fact remains, blind people need a set of tools to help effectively manage different aspects of their lives.

As a user of the access service system Aira, not only does Denna find it helpful in accessing documents but its playing a real role in her ability to both better do her job and manage her career.

NASA holds regular open sessions where employees with various expertise offer presentations. The idea is to help share information and give a chance for seemingly unrelated divisions to possibly find synergies – or ways to help one another.

For those who are blind, such a conference can require some planning.

That’s where Aira opens up more possibility.

Aira provides that flexibility enabling blind people to have something often overlooked by many; spontaneity.

DL:
I don’t have to kind of plan a couple of days ahead of time to contact the coordinator to get access a document or whatever. I can show up to those sessions and have AIRA to describe it so it makes it more efficient. They can describe what’s happening, the information on the screen. They can help me kind of find people. (Laughs) So like hey, I want to go talk to that speaker. So while I can do that on my own they can say ok this person is 30 feet in front of you but they kind of have a line … or they can let me know how to navigate to that person . It’s given me that extra edge that I could easily miss those opportunities if I didn’t have it.

TR:
Denna isn’t always consumed by her work.
She has lots of other interests.

Like traveling.
In fact, when first scheduling our interview
Denna was on her way to her first Travel Eyes vacation.

Travel Eyes founded in 2004 by a blind entrepreneur, Amar Latif.
As noted on their website, they’re the first commercial tour operator providing independent travel for
people who are blind or partially sighted.

Blind travelers can sign up for a trip without worrying about needing a guide. Sighted travelers receive a discounted trip in exchange for
guiding and describing the sights to the blind travelers.

Denna says she had a wonderful time on a cruise but offers a word of advice for blind travelers.

DL:
That’s where the day to day experience of being guided by someone who is sighted can vary widely.

TR:
For more local fun and activity, Denna has and rides her own tandem bicycle.
She discovered her own way of finding pilots or the rider in the front steering the bicycle.

DL:
There’s different tandem groups. Most of them have married people , older couples that think they want to ride a bike. And usually it’s the husband that wants to ride the bike and the wife she may think it’s a good idea but then she’s like no I don’t know if I can trust him that much.

That’s how I’ve been able to find some pilots. So my first pilot he was a corporate lawyer. He’s a little crazy, you know he’s a good guy but he taught me how to ride.

(TR Laughs!)

TR:

Currently, Denna’s in the process of starting a family of her own.

DL:
When I started having these conversations of you know I’m 37 years old I definitely would love to be married, find the person and stuff but that just hasn’t happened yet. (Laughs)

When you start to turn past 35 people get a little crazy like ” Wooh so when do you want to start having children…

[TR in conversation with DL]
Yeh!

DL:
That pressure is on. When I would have these conversations the medical community would be like well you know can you handle this, you know with you being blind. So there was a lot of that extra doubt whether I could be as capable of a mother as someone else.

I looked into fertility. They have the technology now if you’re condition is hereditary they can weed out. It’s cool that they have the technology, personally, that was kind of getting into the playing God part so it really didn’t feel right.
If God were to allow me to have baby that’s blind or whatever, you know to me that’s a blessing.

Audio: “Rebirth of Slick” (Instrumental)

TR

In telling Denna’s story, I made a choice to highlight the various aspects of her identity and specifically note how they intersect with blindness – which in itself is just one part of her experience.

I never know what a listener is going to take away from an episode.

I could only hope that those who listen to the podcast don’t see guests like Denna as the exceptions. Rather they see the opportunities that Denna both made for herself and was fortunate enough to receive. Realizing that small differences could have truly changed the trajectory of her life.

It’s probably fair to say that opportunities for black women in Arkansas are not as great as in other parts of the country. And even exploring those available in so called progressive cities we know they too have their own set of challenges attached that other groups don’t experience.

Now add disability to the mix.

I think about listeners who themselves may be experiencing vision loss as an adult.
Denna’s experience and the benefits she notes of volunteering stand out as good advice. Not only for those seeking employment, but even older adults no longer in the job market. In fact, that advice was applicable no matter a person’s disability status.

Every now and then I’m reminded of the first time I heard the phrase cool blind people. I struggled with it for a while because inherent in the term is a separation. It’s an admission of sort that within the world of people who are blind, there are some that don’t qualify.

Truth is that’s true for every community.

The problem really is that too often society seems to suggest that the two could never actually go together. Cool and blind people. I know that’s not what those who introduced me to that term are saying. In fact, cool blind people are those who are living their own lives on their terms. There comfortable being called blind. They know it refers to their eye sight and that alone.

Being blind is just one aspect of who they are. They’re not trying to overcome it or excel in spite of it. They take it with them wherever they go. They wear it well. In fact, they make it look good. Any stranger or passerby who sees someone to be pitied or the receiver of charity, well like beauty, I guess cool is in the eyes of the beholder.

Denna she’s obviously one of the cool. So much that she sums up her story as just being a girl from the south who made her way to NASA.

I’m fortunate enough to have the chance to speak with several cool blind people here on Reid My Mind Radio. Hopefully, as I continue on my journey, I’ll get my cool blind card one day. It’s not something I want to receive based on proximity, I have some things I know I need to work on to make me fully qualified. I look at the RMM Radio alumni as mentors. Along with those I met throughout the state through advocacy work, I got this!

If you yourself are new to vision loss and want to earn your cool blind person card, I got you covered.
Subscribe to the podcast wherever you get podcasts; Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher Tune In Radio. Of course you can go to ReidMyMind.com.

Big shout out to Denna Lambert. Thank you for two great episodes and I have a feeling we’ll hear from her again here on the podcast. We have more to talk about.

DL:
“He’s a little crazy!”

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Black on Audio Description

August 15th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

Earlier this year I posted an episode discussing my thoughts on Audio Description. While I’ve been consuming and thinking about description for some time, it was Marvel’s Black panther that sparked me to share some thoughts and ideas.

I decided to continue a discussion on the topic. This time it’s really a conversation. I called a listener who sent me feedback regarding the episodes question. Why didn’t Black Panther have a Black person narrating the description?

And as a bonus, the listener just happens to be someone I’d like to interview for RMM Radio!

So yes, we’re back on that subject or better yet, we’re Black on Audio Description. Let’s get it!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio family? For anyone new to the podcast, my name is T.Reid.

This podcast more than often focuses on issues of adaptation and adjustment through interviews with people who have been impacted by vision loss – from low vision to blindness. I should say severe low vision because personally I’m tired of people telling me how blind they are without their glasses.

You Sir/Madam are more then welcomed here, but if you can put on your corrective lenses and get into your vehicle and drive off – you are not impacted by vision loss.

The people mainly profiled here are indirectly challenging stereotypes about what it means to be blind.

I’m always hopeful that listeners learn something new. Maybe it’s an unfamiliar subject or a new way of looking at or solving a problem.

Occasionally , I share my own experiences around becoming blind as an adult. These are influenced by all aspects of identity – including
gender, socioeconomic status, age, demographic location and of course so called race.
I mean, this is America!

A few episodes ago I discussed an aspect of blindness that can intersect with race.
Audio description!

Audio: “What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Well that could be two whats…

Audio: “What, What” – From “Jay Z “Jigga what, Jigga Who.”

Don’t be nervous! Let’s get into it…
After the intro…!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

## TR:

Back to the questions.
What is audio description & what does race have to do with it?

If you don’t know audio description, let me really welcome you to the podcast. Audio description or AD is the additional narration distributed with a movie or television show that describes scenes without dialogue,
enabling a person to non visually follow or access the content.

That other what?
What does being black have to do with audio description?

On the technological level , nothing! But as we know, race is complex. It’s ingrained into the fabric of this country. The complexity though, isn’t tied to the tech, rather its the subtle aspects of language, decisions about what is relevant and the voice of the narrator that impact some viewers experience

In the earlier episode on audio description, I was specifically referring to the Marvel hit movie and what many Black people looked forward to as a cultural event; Black Panther.

Following that piece I received a bit of feedback.
If you go to the episode blog post at ReidMyMind.com you can see one commenter’s response and I encourage you to follow the link to her blog
where she shares more. She is a person who herself is involved in the description process. Self described as a white lady she was appreciative of the issues and questions raised and thought they deserved to be discussed. Shout out to you for the link love and being in the accessibility field. I think sometimes we forget that AD is accessibility.

I also received an email from a young lady – who closely identified with the issues raised in the episode.

She was pleased to know that she was not the only one who felt that the description included with Black Panther, well sucked! My words, not hers.

No shots to the gentlemen who described the film, you sound like you’re probably a very nice person and quite honestly, I’d love to speak with you. In fact, I reached out to Deluxe, the company who created the description for Black panther but I never heard back. I really wanted to begin a dialogue.

It seems fair that a consumer would have something to say about a product or service.
And personally I think it could be helpful to have a bit of input from those who consume your product or service. And well that’s today’s focus.

Audio: James Brown: Black & I’m Proud – Instrumental

That email expressing agreement with my opinions, was from a young lady named Denna Lambert. Like me she experiences blindness as an African American.

She black yawl!

I don’t often get the chance to meet new people who are blind and who are people of color. So I’m not gonna lie, I was looking forward to the conversation. I had questions.

So, let’s get black on Audio Description.

Audio: James Brown: “Say it loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”

TR in conversation with DL:
You heard the podcast, what was it that jumped out to you to write the email and say “Hey I feel this too, I get it!”

DL:
Well being blind, sometimes just getting audio description feels like a luxury and your happy that somebody did it and it came out at the same time as everything else and I can just shut up and be happy. But at the same time with you being really thoughtful in what you were saying like “hey this was a mismatch” And I was like “Oh, you voiced what I was thinking!” Just knowing that I’m a consumer of a service and we should have a voice in how that service is implemented. If it’s missing a mark we can help take it to the next level. Yes people have fought and probably sued some theaters to make sure the equipment is functional and that is there from day one. But let’s take it to the next level to make sure that it is culturally confident. And it was like Oh Snap I got to support this too. I think that is why I reached out because I was thankful for being silently dissatisfied at some level. I felt like I didn’t get the full Wakanda experience.
TR in conversation with DL:
I’m still lacking some Wakanda experience myself. [laughs]

TR:

That Wakanda experience was what drove millions of Black people to get excited about the movie.

Some indeed were fans of the Marvel franchise, some may have even been fans of the comic book. But many were simply looking forward to a movie with strong diverse images of Black people on screen.
I talked a bit more about that in the original episode of the podcast on this subject.

Denna herself was anticipating the movie just as much as many others and got a bit more into it than I did.
DL:
I was in the hype just like everyone else when the trailer first dropped which didn’t even have audio description. I called my mamma and said let me get my dashiki so I got my dashiki and I was ready and had my headdress. When i heard voices of Andrea Bassett i was like “Yes!” So I went and thankfully the movie theater I went to they had the audio description devices ready and they were fully operational. From the first introduction where they were talking about how Wakanda was created with the different tribes and the describes voice coming up I was like “Who?! Who is this?!” But I’m still excited. So it was kind of a mismatch from everybody who was in the theater. Some people brought their gymbays and people had their dashikis and you know just black power. And you can hear the describer’s voice and not to say you can sum up a movie by their voice but it was like “huh.” The descriptions were definitely okay but that’s the piece as a blind viewer. But there was so much content for any viewer whether they were sighted or blind. I have to wonder what did i miss. Could there have been different words used that would have more aligned with the culture and the theme of the movie.
I started using AIRA and now i started seeing more AIRA agents of color. Im seeing Antonio and Annika and all them. And I’m like “Okay I’m going to need yall and come and describe some movies for me.”

TR in conversation with DL:
MMM you just made me think about something hold on one second. That takes that whole idea of description out of the movie theater because that’s the whole purpose of AIRA and then cultural inclinations about various things that you are doing.

DL:
Yeah. I’ve seen Black Panther abot 3-4 times just because anybody who wanted to go I wanted to go with them. There’s probably so much mystery and thoughtfulness that was put into it. SO like the scene where T’Challa and Nakia were in the club and they were trying to go after the main guy and they were in their attire. I don’t think the person described the attire, he described her movements but i was watching a video from one of the directors and he intentionally used the colors; green, black, and red to symbolize their african pride. And that’s something that just one little sentence could have brought that out. While I was very happy and thankful that the description was available since day one because that certainly was not the case 10-15 years ago that i could just show up whenever i wanted to. But i think there is some growth that could happen with this area of accessibility.

Tr in conversation with DL:
SO went you went a bunch of times with different people, did you go with anyone that was blind or no?

DL:
No actually no it was just with different sighted friends who just wanted to go.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Did you compare notes with them or anything at all?
DL:
A little bit because I went with some friends that were black and then I went with some friends that were white. And you know they were asking me what was this and what was that and i was like well I don’t know. [Laughs]

Tr in conversation with DL:
“I don’t live in Wakanda!” [laughs]

TR:

There are definitely some overlaps in this conversation around audio description that transcend cultural Competence.

Feeling as though audio description is a privilege, I’m sure is something many blind people have felt.

Going to a theater and the device doesn’t work, well you may not want to trouble the person you’re with to quickly exchange the device. That means missing part of the movie and chances are you don’t want someone to have to do that.

Shout out to ActiView and their audio description solution that puts more of the power in the consumers hands. You can check out the Reid My Mind Radio archives for that interview on that service that I personally hope begins to get more movies in their app.

Audio: Public Enemy: Party for Your Right to Fight

Privilege or a right?

If audio description is access to content, then I believe it’s a right. Like everyone else who has the right to pay money to watch a film or television show, people with disabilities have the right to audio description, captions and physically accessible theaters.

What makes our lack of excitement about Black panther’s audio description
so confusing is the lack of consistency between the big and small screens.

Watching the Marvel franchise on Netflix with audio description is vastly different from Black panther.

For the sake of comparison, I asked Denna about her thoughts on Marvel’s Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is the black superhero who calls Harlem home. He can’t be hurt. Bullets bounce off and knives can’t penetrate his skin.

The person describing Luke Cage, who by my account sounds like a white man, describes the other shows in the series, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Punisher and more.

DL:
He’s been consistent through the marvel comic series as netflix has been rolling it out. So it was almost embedded in brain that this was the dude that’s going to bring it. There was definitely some awareness in hearing when they would say things like “he’s wearing a fedora.,” or “he’s swaggering down the sidewalk” or “he did a dab” or the hair. And I don’t know if just anybody can point these things out.
With Luke Cage there was nothing apologetic about how this is the blackest comic that you are going to get. What I really loved is that the describer, I don’t know if it was apparent to the visually to whomever was viewing it, but I love that they reference the specific artists as they came up in the Paradise Lounge.
So to me that was showing respect and it gave me the experience of thinking “okay let me go look for some of these people.”
Tr in conversation with DL:
It’s not only the ones who are actually performing, they also are good at including people who are just around and even in other scenes.

DL:
Yeah so even like the picture of Biggie, he described his expression, his crown and how it was kind of laid to the side. To me that, I don’t know, it just seems…

Tr in conversation with DL:
Just culturally confident.

DL:
And I think with you were saying earlier, it wasn’t like two different scripts. It felt like there was one different script with the description being apart of the verbalizations too.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I almost don’t even think of the description as description while watching netflix.

DL:
Right!

TR:

That term truly encapsulates what should be a part of the audio description checklist.

Is the description culturally competent – meaning are we informing the blind viewers about the subtle references that will make sense to them? This would probably require input from the films creator if there’s no one in the know involved in the process.

This idea is already relevant to the movie or television show’s dialog and choices made regarding character development.

It’s one thing being black and looking for true representation in Hollywood. What about as a woman? As a black woman with a disability.
Tr in conversation with DL:
What do you think about the role of the black woman in Luke Cage.

DL:
Oh now that was pretty sweet! I was really proud that Luke Cage he’s like the strong Black man. Hes caring. I was really glad to see his girlfriend, Claire. And she was holding on to that no this behavior of holding on to your anger, she grew up with that and she was not going to tolerate it.
I loved Missy. I loved that she was this strong woman who was feminine. She
Didn’t lose not just her sexuality bit sensuality.
There was so many different aspects of black women in this. You had Mariah.
Tr in conversation with DL:
[laughs] She was crazy.

DL:
She was great! She played that! I loved seeing Luke’s father.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I didn’t realize that he passed, I totally forgot he passed away.

DL:
Yeah! Because he was in House of Cards and I was so happy to see he was in there. SO there were so many examples, a whole spectrum of what blackness in. You know you don’t have to be the thug or the jessabella. There were so many different examples of black women in there that i was really impressed.
I love how Missy called out all of her coworkers cause they were staring at her prosthetics. SHe was like “let’s just get a look at it, im here, im not going away, this happened.” And i was just glad that she called it out. That was a way of handling disability, it became a part of who she was. She even described on when she was using her prosthetic arm or robotic arm and when she wasn’t. Which I don’t know if that was so important for me to know but the describer pointed that out.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think the whole idea was that shes statint to use it more and it’s even more of a part of her, she’s getting accustomed to it. And so I’m wondering if she’s going to get her own thing.

DL:
Yeah you know what, she was doing some things that were like humanly impossible so I was wondering if she’s going to get some superpowers.

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah because isnt that a Stark arm?

DL:
Yeah yeah.
I loved the complexity of them having different territories; the choinese, the russians. They pulled in references for Katrina and showing that there can be disagreement. Like the judge who said “i had a family in louisiana who lost everything, don’t use this as an example for your shadiness. I don’t know I loved it I felt it was pretty cool. The ending ended with I think he changed the picture from Biggie to Mohammed Ali. But that’s the thing! I think the way that the description was, we noticed those things but we don’t know what we missed in Black Panther.

Tr in conversation with DL:
What i liked about it was how they would say it because the director meant for it to be. For example when Mariah and Shades were standing in front of the picture and the crown aligned to Mariah’s head to show she was the queen.

TR:

As we see with Luke Cage it doesn’t specifically mean the narrator has to be black. Or does it?

TR in conversation with DL:
What would you think about a woman describing that? A black woman doing the description in Luke Cage.

DL:
Ohh. Oh.

Tr in conversation with DL:
You think it could work?

DL:
It would have to be the right voice because I’ve seen on Netflix the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because it wasn’t really for me. But the person’s voice on there, I don’t’ know if she’s’ white or not, but no she could not do Luke Cage. [Both laughs] We don’t want her! She can do some other shows but she can not do this.
If Octavia Spencer or, why am I forgetting her name.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I know who you’re talking about you’re talking about the woman from How to Get Away with Murder.
DL:
Yes!

Tr in conversation with DL:
Yeah she has a great voice.

DL:
Yeah if she wanted to describe it, then yes.

TR:
For those who are fans of How to get away with murder… my apologies. The star of that show is the incredible Academy award winning Viola Davis.

Whether the description is voiced by a man or woman, Denna says:

DL:
It has to be somebody who follows that it was Harlem so you have to have somebody who has that Harlem… I don’t know.

Tr in conversation with DL:
That texture in their voice, I know what you’re saying.

DL:
It cannot be a very thin voice it’d have to be a full bodied voice.

Tr in conversation with DL:
I think it could work. That is if they don’t give me the job because I’ve put it out there before that I wanted that job. Although I like the guy who does it, I’m fine with him but if he’s going im going to jump in there because that’s Harlem. I’m not from Harlem, Im from the Bronx but I can take Harlem.

DL:
Yes! You could do it. [Both laughs]

TR:
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to speak things into existence. But come on, , how cool would it be to have a person who is actually blind, from New York… born just a few miles away from Harlem, my Daddy’s from Harlem. And I’m blind. Universe, do you hear me talking.

#NetflixCallTReid

There’s much more to this discussion. Hopefully like the original episode, this will attract some feedback. I’d love to hear from others on this subject. Maybe you are a person of color and have some other examples of both disappointing and enjoyable audio description experiences. let me know. In fact, if you’re not a person of color and
was disappointed in the Black Panther description I’d like to hear from you.

When it comes to movies and television, Ultimately, , I think we all want the same thing; the right to enjoy the experience.

I’m interested in all experiences of blindness and disability in general, but I would really like to hear more from other people of color. I know there are some compelling stories out there .

For instance, corresponding with Denna prompted me to be even more nterested in her experience.
Let me show you what I mean.

Audio: Screen reader reading Denna’s email signature…
TR:
If you don’t speak screen reader, that was her email signature. Denna is a project manager at NASA.

Now, this wouldn’t be Reid My Mind Radio if we didn’t find out more about her journey. We’re going to get into that next time on the podcast.

So, if you’re new or if you haven’t just yet, may I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast. Reid My Mind Radio is available on
Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. If you’re using a podcast app you can find it there.
Go on over to ReidMyMind.com for links to subscribe as well as a transcript of the show.

Remember that’s R E I D like my last name.

If this was your first time here I know what you’re thinking…
It happens all the time…

DL:
happens all the time…

TR:
Wait until you hear what more is coming up!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Master Chef Christine Ha

August 1st, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

A picture of 2012 Master Chef, Christine Ha
Christine Ha, winner of Fox’s Master Chef in 2012 never set out to be a cook. In fact, as a young girl she had no interest in cooking at all.

Hear all about how becoming Master Chef changed her life. Including launching her latest venture; The Blind Goat. A restaurant or Chef Station in a new Houston Texas Food Hall.

Christine’s story shows us how advocacy takes various forms. Plus lots of valuable information for anyone adapting to a life change.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Whats up Reid My Mind Radio family, glad to be with you again.

If you are new here, my name is T.Reid.
This podcast is my space to share interviews and profile compelling people usually
impacted by blindness or low vision.
Occasionally I include stories about my personal experiences with vision loss.

Coming up today, I had the privilege of speaking with a young lady who took the subject of vision loss prime time.

That’s right after we get a taste of some of this delicious theme music!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Audio: Christine Ha winning Master Chef
TR:

In 2012 Christine Ha was studying creative writing in graduate school.
Following her husband’s encouragement, she tried out for the third season
of the Fox series Master Chef.

If you’re not familiar with the show,
amateur home cooks audition for the chance to put their culinary skills
up against their peers.
They’re given the task to design and prepare all sorts of dishes
from desserts to main courses.
Well known Chef Judges crown one contestant as Master Chef –
giving the winner a chance to publish their own cookbook as well as a cash prize.
CH:
As a writer, as an artist, you are always trying to experience everything you can in life. And so I thought well there are auditions are coming to a nearby town like why not if anything I have some interesting stories to write about. I went just going for the experience not thinking that I would get as far as I did.

TR:
She won!
Along with the prizes she became synonymous with the title The Blind Cook.
CH:
I lost my vision because of an autoimmune condition called Neuromyelitis Optica or NMO for short. It’s similar to multiple sclerosis so my immune system attacks minor logical system primarily the optic nerves in the spinal cord. There were many times when I had an NMO attacks that involved paralysis. I would lose feeling in my feet or my hands I’ve had a time when my attack on my spinal cord was very bad where I was completely paralyzed from the neck down for several weeks and at the same time I was also experiencing optic nerve inflammation so I was also losing my vision couldn’t see anything, couldn’t move, couldn’t sit up by myself, couldn’t feed myself, couldn’t grip my tooth brush, hold my glass of water, lots of things. So that was a big challenge in my life and that was around the time when I was in my early twenties. Fortunately, I’ve been able to recover quite well from a lot of the spinal cord inflammation.

TR:
Christine describes her resulting vision following the NMO
CH:
As though one were to come out of a very hot shower and looked into a steamy mirror, that’s what I see. So, washed out colors some shapes some shadows very blurry vision I would say in both of my eyes. I still managed to go back to school and get my master’s degree in creative writing after I lost my vision.

TR:

Christine was never planning on becoming a Master Chef.
In fact, she didn’t begin cooking until
moving out of the dorm in college.
CH:
I realized that I had to learn to cook in order to feed myself because I couldn’t afford to always eat out. I decided to buy a cookbook and read the recipes and then just buy some cheap kitchen equipment and teach myself. And I just read the recipes word for word and experimented in the kitchen. Also the fact that I missed a lot of the food that I grew up eating, Vietnamese food, since I’m being amused by heritage my mom was a very good cook but she never taught me how to cook. She was actually very overprotective mom and wouldn’t let me near the knives or the hot stove and I really wasn’t that interested in cooking as a child. And I just thought that everyone ate good food and I took my mom’s home cooking for granted and she actually passed away when I was fourteen and I think when I was older in college I realized what I had missed out on learning to cook from her. So I started reading a lot of Vietnamese cookbooks and trying to reproduce a lot of the dishes that I recall eating growing up in her home. Knowing that I was able to create something with raw ingredients and be able to keep the people around me that I cared about and have them enjoy something that I actually created with my own two hands, that kind of ignited my enjoyment and passion for cooking. And so it was that moment on that I wanted to learn everything I could about food in cooking so I read tons of cookbooks practice a lot of different things in the kitchen just tried my hand at. All kinds of cuisines and it just kind of grew from there and it was interesting Lee end up the same time that I started losing my vision because of the enemy so I was slowly losing my vision at the same time that I was excelling at cooking it always felt like I had to really learn how to cook like every few months or every couple years I would have to really learn how to do things with less vision in the kitchen.

TR in conversation CH:
Did you ever deal with any fear as the vision was gradually decreasing? Did you ever set to say “hey now I’m a little nervous about this?”

CH:
It always felt like I had to start over every time my vision decreased so I felt defeated quite a bit throughout these years.

TR in conversation with CH:
What made you keep on going?

CH:
I think part of it was eventually I realised I just couldn’t allow myself a short time to grieve the loss of my vision and feel sorry for myself and just kind of well in self-pity. But I didn’t want to drop out of life I just wanted to live it in the best way that I can

TR:
Living life in the best way possible doesn’t mean problem free.
Challenging circumstances are inevitable.
Christine identifies some real benefits of going through adversity.
CH:
I think it’s a reminder always when I have challenges today whatever they may be to remember that oh well I’ve survived some tough things in my life so I know that if I’ve been able to survive that I’ll eventually survive this. But when you’re in the moment I think it’s hard to have that attitude. Over time your brain sort of learns that we’re much more resilient than I think we give ourselves credit for, it isn’t until we go through these obstacles or challenges and then overcome them that we realize that “hey we can do this, we can survive, we can succeed in spite of things.” It’s important to celebrate the small victories because I think often times we always focus on our failures. Yes failures are disappointing but they teach you to find new creative solutions to things and I think they help you realise that you know when you do work hard in attaining your goals there’s that much more special

TR:
Special indeed!
You can say life changing.
TR in conversation with CH:
How did it feel when you won?

CH:
My life I feel changed completely. I am grateful that I went through it as a more mature adult. I feel like just that amount of publicity I think suddenly happening in your life if you don’t have a sense of yourself a strong sense of self in a certain level of maturity I think it’s very hard to deal with. The negative part was that I was not used to being recognised and that felt really strange and especially someone who is visually impaired being out and about and having strangers come up to you suddenly and I don’t know people are approaching me and all of a sudden there’s people calling my name and I’m like “is it someone I know is it someone that watch me on T.V.?”
That was kind of a bizarre experience at the beginning and it took me a while to get used to that but the upside was I’ve had so many opportunities since winning Master Chef that have been amazing. I’ve been able to travel around the world and and do work with the U.S. embassy in culinary exchange programs, advocate for entrepreneurship women’s rights and the rights of those with vision impairment and people with disabilities, do things with Asian American focus groups so all of these things have been really amazing in just the experiences I’ve been able to have like judging Master Chef Vietnam or you know having my own cooking show geared towards the visually impaired called 4 Senses in Canada. All these things would not have happened if I wasn’t on Master Chef. I’m really excited because finally this follow opening I very first restaurant in Houston and that’s been a dream of mine and it’s finally coming true as well.
It’s called the Blind Goat it’s coming into a newly built hall that’s very chef driven in Houston so the food hall craze is finally coming to Houston I know it’s you know a thing in New York it’s a thing in L.A. and thing in San Francisco.

TR:
A Food Hall is typically a mix of local artisan restaurants, butcher shops and other food-oriented boutiques under one roof.

A food hall is not the same as food courts found in malls as that consists of fast food chains.
CH:
It’s called the Blind Goat because obviously I am vision impaired and goat is my zodiac sign in Vietnamese astrology so I’m born the year of the goat. So I thought that was kind of a cute and fun name and the cuisine that we’re going to be serving there will be largely southeast of Vietnamese style. And it’s kind of like small plates, I would call it a Vietnamese gastropod so kind of shareable small plates that consist of food that you would want to eat and share with friends over a beer or over a glass of wine. Communal eating is kind of the theme and this is something that I’ve always believed in and the food and ingredients that so I’m very excited to be opening up the place and sharing it with the world.

TR in conversation with CH:
Are you familiar with the acronym the goat?

CH:
I didn’t know but then someone said does that stand for greatest of all time and I was like that is really funny I never heard of that before but now I will have to use that. But do you have another acronym?

TR in conversation with CH:
No that was it the greatest of all time L.L. Cool J. had his whole album he refers to himself as that as the goat and some people when you talk about your top five well you know that type of thing a top five artist you say oh this was the goat.

CH:
Im totally going to have to put that in my tagline or something. [laughs]

TR in conversation with CH:
There you go, run with it [laughs].

TR:

In addition to publishing her cook book;
Recipes from My Home Kitchen – Asian and American Comfort Food,
Christine co-hosted a cooking show produced by Accessible Media Inc in Canada.
CH:
They wanted to do some original programming and of course I was the natural fit because I can cook and I’m vision impaired.
I co-hosted it with Carl Heinrich who won Top Chef Canada and he’s a fully sighted chef professional chef and I’m sort of the amateur home cook that’s vision impaired and we co-hosted the show. It’s a show that geared towards not only vision impaired cooks but also novice cooks or just anyone who wants to get back in the kitchen and learn about cooking. But of course it really was heavily year towards people who have lost their vision and want to learn to cook again or who just want to be getting learning how to cook our show had audio description embedded within the program so we were very descriptive it was almost like you could listen to radio while you were watching our show. We wouldn’t use things like “oh you put this in there” you would say you’re putting the salt inside the pot that contained the chili and of course the recipes were available online in an accessible format.

TR:

Four Senses ran for 4 seasons and is still available online.

Christine’s working on a new cookbook right now.
CH:
When I first learned to cook I would follow a recipe to a tee and if it said to put you know something in the oven for forty five minutes I would do it even if like everything was smoking and it was obviously over cooking and burning. I think that’s kind of the wrong approach to cooking, everyone’s equipment’s different ingredients or different elevation that you’re cooking and that affects like how things cook so I want to write a cookbook that helps people hone in on their own intuition and cook using all of our availale senses.

TR in conversation with CH:
I’m more of a crockpot cooker. [laughs]

CH:
Oh yeah there’s nothing wrong with that at all. It’s very convenient to just dump everything into the pot and walk away and then you’ll have a good smelling meal later.

TR:
If you’re imagining that Christine’s kitchen is full of high tech gadgetry , you may be surprised.

In addition to raised dots on the oven and microwave,
it’s really more about organization.
CH:
I have a baking bin so that will whole my baking soda, baking powder vanilla extract, vanilla pods, sugar. And then I’ll have another bin that’s my coffee bin so that will hold the coffee beans, like the Arrow press, the coffee filters. My spices are organized. I have everything in my pantry actually on a list using the our groceries app on my iPhone I can just read down the list using voiceover and know everything I have in the kitchen so I can meal plan that way. When we run out of milk or something I can move that to the grocery list and then we know when we go shopping I share the list with my husband and he can see on a list we need milk so he can grab the milk. So that’s kind of you know the adaptations I had in the kitchen. I have an Amazon echo which I love to set timers for different things I’m cooking, to do quick conversions standard measurements to metric, and of course I love listening to music while I cook.

TR in conversation with CH:
What’s the music you listen to while you’re cooking.

CH:
I actually listen to all sorts of stuff. So I listen to a lot of classic rock I grew up listening to The Beatles because my parents love the Beatles so I listen to classic rock, I listen to a lot of indie rock, alternative rock. You know I’m a child of the eighty’s and ninety’s so I do like some new wave and some eighty’s pop, British pop, ninety’s of course like the grunge rock alternative rock from that and then there’s also like ninety’s hip hop I grew up listening to quite a broad spectrum of things. Jazz to me is relaxing so I’ll put on just jazz music maybe more of the mainstream country but not like a lot of the country music and not a lot of the heavy metal stuff.

TR:

Not mad at her at all.

Continuing to Master her craft while revealing other talents;
Christine’s not only a cook, author, television host, entrepreneur and public speaker
but through her work she’s an advocate.

Using both her words and actions she’s changing some of the
half baked stereotypes about what it means to be blind.
Non apolegetically walking through life with her white cane in hand striving towards her goals.
At the same time educating society about the many issues of importance to those who are blind and
visually impaired and in general people with disabilities.

Like she does through her TEDx talks which you can see online.
TED is an acronym for technology, engineering and design.

In one such talk she was clear to inform the audience about making sure they
consider how people who are blind or visually impaired access information, websites and more.

We discussed one of her TED x Talk titled
Lets Cook By Eatting First.

In this presentation, Christine offers 4 key points to
becoming a better eatter and subsequently better cook.
1. Try everything
2. Try everything twice
3. Always be in the moment when you eat – get rid of distractions
4. Travel – opens your mind
TR in conversation with CH:

CH:
I think that’s a really good point you have there Thomas I think that I originally wrote those points for cooking but they’re definitely applicable to many other things in life. For example try everything and try everything twice. I think that’s important because you really don’t know what you like or what you prefer or what your talent could be if you don’t try everything. I had a huge fear of public speaking but I had a lot of opportunities to public speaking after Master Chef so I decided why not I should conquer that fear because you never know what it could lead to and I did. I kept doing public speaking even though at the beginning I was sweating and my voice was shaking and I was extremely nervous but I just kept doing more and more and more until it became more comfortable. And the good that’s come out of it is that my story has touched a lot of people inspired people experience life that goes hand in hand with traveling I think a lot of times especially as Americans because our continent is so large we don’t travel far. We’re fortunate that we can get so many things here within our country you know. I live in Houston which is now the most diverse city in America so I can get Mexican authentic Mexican street tacos I can get Ethiopian food, I can get the VIetnamese, Chinese food French food, whatever. All those things are available pretty much within my city so I’m fortunate in that way. But I think sometimes we’re so comfortable that we don’t want to leave our comfort zone so we choose not to travel and learn about other cultures and when I do travel and I meet other people and I learn about their culture whether it’s through their food, how they interact with others, how they live their lives, the news that they receive, way that they dress, the things that they like to do to pass their time. I learn a lot about another culture and then it teaches me that I’m quite small very insignificant dot on this earth and that you know I’m just part of this bigger world with so many other people equally as important special as I am. I think it helps you keep an open mind as well we get so hung up on our politics and our way of lives here in America that I think it’s important to remember that you know our way is not always the only way.

TR:
Beginning this fall, if you’re near Houston Texas make sure you check out the Blind Goat.
That’s her new restaurant or chef station at the Bravery Chef Hall,
a Food Hall currently being built.

In the meantime you can find 4 seasons worth of
her cooking show 4 Senses online at ami.ca .
Her cookbook Recipes from My Home Kitchen is available from Amazon in print and EBook Kindle edition.
And you can always visit her online at TheBlindCook.com where you’ll find links to her social media and her latest blog posts.

I’m Thomas Reid
For Gatewave Radio

CH:
I went just going for the experience not thinking I would get as far as I did.

Audio for Independent Living

TR:

Did you notice that when I mentioned I was a crock pot cooker, Christine didn’t make fun of me.
She showed no signs at all of putting me down or superiority.

I’ve experienced this in the past as if cooking in a crock pot made sense simply because I am blind. Christine showed no signs of that. She was cool!

I cook on a stove. Both before and after vision loss.

When it comes to cooking, I’m
pretty strict regarding my environment.
I obviously need to know where everything is and need things labeled properly.
I like it very organized and clutter free.
I also like being alone.
I don’t want to be watched unless I’m doing a cooking show.
I don’t want people budding in telling me where things are, or
I should check this or stir that.
My response will most likely be to let them have at it.
Call me when it’s ready!

As made clear from Christine’s story;
cooking is a learning process.
When learning anything you’re going to have some failures or setbacks.

Cooking as a metaphor actually illustrates this very easily.

Christine mentioned how when learning to cook in college, she threw away a lot of meals.
This Master Chef made things that weren’t edible during her early days.

What are you currently in the process of learning?
An instrument, a new function on the job?
Whatever it is you are going to cook up some meals that you are not going to want to serve to your friends and family.
You have to, its part of the early process.

This same advice applies to vision loss and the process of learning to adapt.

You are going to have setbacks at times but stay with it.
As long as you’re cooking you’re headed in the right direction.
Are you in the kitchen?

Here’s a recipe for a quick meal that is sure to satisfy.
It’s called Reid My Mind Radio Gumbo.
Just find Reid My Mind Radio wherever you listen to podcasts like
Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio.
Then just hit the button that says “Subscribe”.
That’s it. The dish is served up every two weeks and I personally think they are scrumptious!
Perfect for any meal or snack.
You can even serve to others. I’m just sayin!

You smell that… somethings burning! I think I overcooked that metaphor.

Talk to you next time!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Let’s Play Ball… Beep Baseball!

July 18th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

A collage including the cover of the book Beep: Inside the world... plus photos of a Beep player hitting & another photo of someone catching a ground ball.
For many, the idea of people who are blind or visually impaired playing baseball seems farfetched.

Today, we take a look at the adapted sport through a new book on the subject; Beep Baseball: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind. I speak with the author David Wanczyk, some players and learn about the National Beep Baseball Association World Series coming up later this month.

If you like what you hear, help spread the word about Beep and RMM Radio by sharing this episode and subscribing to the podcast.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Whats up Reid My Mind Radio family.

I hope your summer is going well.

Summer seems like the best time to make great memories. I know I have many that involve swimming pools, beaches, boardwalks.

If this is your first time listening to Reid My Mind Radio welcome. I’m your host TReid.
If you’re a returning listener welcome back.

Usually I bring you a story or an interview or profile of someone impacted by vision loss or disability or sometimes it’s just one of my personal experiences hopefully told in an interesting way.

Today’s piece is summer related… baseball. You know hot dogs, cracker jacks, beer oh my!

But first, hit me with the intro music!

Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Beep baseball sound

Chances are most people wouldn’t associate the sport of baseball
with people who are blind or visually impaired.

Since 1976, the National Beep Baseball Association (NBBA) has been working hard to change this.

The new book titled Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind is contributing to the effort.

I spoke with the author David Wanczyk about the game, his reason for writing the book and more.

There’s lots for those familiar with baseball to recognize when watching Beep Baseball for the first time.

This adapted version of baseball also called Beep Ball or sometimes just beep is similarly played on a grassy field set in a diamond shape. While we’re used to three bases in addition to home plate…

DW:
There is no second base.

TR:
That’s author David Wanczyk telling us more about the game.

The bases positioned at first and third are blue , about 5 feet tall .

They’re equipped with foam interior with the electronics that cause it to buzz serving as a beacon for the batters.

When a pitch is thrown, an umpire flips a switch which activates one of the bases. If the ball is hit the batter needs to run to the buzzing base before the ball is fielded in order to score a run.

DW:
There’s no, like, outfield fence. In most tournaments there’s an 170 foot line. You know, where like a softball fence would be. If you hit it beyond that line it’s a home run. I have never seen a homerun so it’s a very heavy ball. It’s pretty hard to make really really great contact because you got to be really insync with the pitcher in order to do that. And you know in the time that I was paying attention to beep ball I think there was one home run.

TR:

You may have caught one of the other big differences between the two versions of baseball…
In Beep, the pitcher and batter work closely together. In fact there on the same team.
The pitcher who is usually sighted, is trying to release and position the ball where the batter will make contact.
The better synchronization between the two teammates, the more likely the ball is hit.

DW:
There are also two sighted people on the field helping the fielders. What they can do is once the balls hit they can shout “four” and that means it’s coming to the left side of the field. The quickness of that call combined with the strength of the fielder’s ear is what kind of makes the fielding possible.
If the team is really advanced, so for instance Boston Renegades they finished second a couple years ago and they’re very organized team. One of their spotters, will call out something like *exaggerated* “threeeee,” right? And the idea that I can say one word but if I can say it in a long gated way I’m giving a little bit more information to my fielder. “It’s really a short ball it’s in the number three zone but it’s short so charge it!” Or you know *short* “four,” right, in that you hear the abruptness and that means it’s a line drive it’s coming right at you you better cover your face, right, there or cover your most sensitive parts. And that happens that happens for everyone talks about it so. I actually got hit in the nose when I was playing, luckily, it didn’t have too much injury and made the play.
On that note it is a dangerous and pretty exciting game and there are measures for safety, of course. People feel a lot of excitement playing and they should, you know, there’s a lot of diving, a lot of sprinting. A lot of players told me it was among their first chances to feel that kind of energized exercise.
Depending on your exercise regime kind of off the field maybe you’re jogging maybe you have a stationary bike whatever it is that they’re feeling like this there’s a freedom. And the people feel that a lot of a lot of the players don’t have otherwise and that was it was good to us to learn about.

TR:

That’s just one reason both men and women from
different communities with varying degrees of vision loss enjoy the sport.

Like Tanner Gers Executive Director of the accessibility non profit My Blind Spot.

Gers lost his sight after being impaled by a tree during an auto accident.

He recalls first learning about Beep.

TG:
I was just going about my life you know just doing the best I can to create something of meaning something I could be proud of. And I was going to school full time and working full time.

TR:
Returning home at the end of the night following a day of both school and work Tanner caught the end of the sports segment of his local nightly news.

TG:
The reporter comes on and says “now here’s a team who doesn’t let anything come between them and the game they love to play” I’ll never forget. It went out the very next week and I started playing and the rest is history.
TR:

Prior to losing his sight , Tanner had been An athlete all of his life,
and just assumed he would never have that opportunity again.

In 2008, four years after the accident, he began playing in the NBBA.

Currently living in Arizona, he’s playing on his third team, the Indy Edge out of Indianapolis Indiana.

TG:
When I lost my sight and I began meeting blind people and becoming introduced to the resources I realized that I can still do something with myself. I already had my motivational pilot light lit but beep baseball just threw like gas, gasoline, right on top of it.
Because of my success in beep baseball a local adaptive sports coach you know introduced into the Paralympics and I didn’t know what that was either. Very fortunate to have represented Team USA in a three big international events.
Being in that community opened up my mind to all different types of disabilities and people who were crushing in their lives both in sports and outside of it. And then it just introduced me to a lot of leaders in the blindness community. That led me to speaking professionally and to the career that I’m in now.

TR:

For some involved in the sport, it’s more about the game itself. Like the NBBA league secretary, captain of the Minnesota Millers and owner and operator of Guerra Access Technology Training, Stephen Guerra.

Currently living in Rochester Minnesota, Guerra is originally from Long Island New York where he grew up listening to Yankee games.

During a surgery to remove congenital cataracts when he was about 5 years old, Stephen was left totally blind resulting from what he describes as …
SG:
I’ll use the legal term of deviation of standard procedure. I grew up knowing nothing about sight I learned by sound, I learned by tactile. I’m a long time baseball fan. I remember growing up and listen to the New York Yankee games I created a baseball field as of Lego. So I took a Lego sheet and I created what I thought a baseball diamond would look like. There was first, second base, there was a pitcher’s mound, home plate and of course the outfield wall because that’s where all the home runs went. So I taught myself how to play baseball how I saw it. Which was really not far off the way the game of baseball went and that’s just what I did to pass time you know as a six, seven year old kid. My parents did everything they could to get me a electronic games of those days like ColecoVision Head to Head Baseball. I mean it’s a it’s a totally visual game but they they saw where it was something that I could do without sight.

In 1988 Stephen began playing the sport. In the mid 90’s he wanted to elevate his own game.
SG:
I went and spoke to a couple friends, I created with them the Long Island Bombers. We played together for a couple of years and we went to the World Series for the first time in 2002 as a team.
TR:

Jamie Simpson, Supervisor of Admissions and Counseling at the Chris Cole Rehabilitation Center in Austin Texas was Active in sports like Goal Ball & track as a teen.

Introduced to the game by her boyfriend, now husband, Wayne Simpson a fellow member of the Austin BlackHawks featured in the book, Jamie recalls her initial reaction to Beep Baseball.

JS:
I was ready to go I love sports I love being outside. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa which is degenerative eye disease. So I had some useable vision up until I was about twelve. So you know when you’re out like P.E. you’re just playing with kids. We would play schoolyard baseball or whatever and I could maybe run the bases but I could never see the ball and so playing in some form of baseball, softball was something that you know I’d always really wanted to do. To be able to find a sport that allowed that, even being slightly modified it’s still a very competitive game it’s still the same concept. And I think that’s why when I saw it actually being played for the first time I was like “oh yeah I could do this.”
TR:
That’s right, women and men play this sport side by side.

Taking a break from Beep during the early 2000’s to raise her children, Jamie is back in the game and working to make sure other women are informed about the sport.
JS:
I’m a member of the NBBA Board and I’m also a member of the WOOL, Women of Our League, committee. Kind of like the governing committee of women of our league we just try to make sure that we’re getting information out to any of the women who are interested in playing with us. Trying to grow the sport for women that’s kind of our big mission right now is to really get women involved and promoting beep baseball at the same time. Basically the women of our league it’s one game that we play at the World Series that consists of obviously nothing but women and we have the Southwest bombshells which I’m a player on the team and then there’s a north east dynamic divas. We play one game this year it’s going to be held on Wednesday at the World Series. In hopes that we can get more people to come out and support here on and be spectators. We have a new T. shirt that was just designed. So we’re hoping to sell some T. shirts to raise money. Just to help us with growing more and being able to buy our own balls for practice and that sort of thing and contribute a little to NBBA in whatever way that we can.

TR:
Whatever the reason for getting involved in the sport,
Author David Wanczyk says it’s about fun.
DW:
The fun’s different for different people. Some people are taking it extremely seriously. For some people it’s a reunion and for a lot it’s in between. I want to win this game hard but I’m going to also reconnect with all these all these friends from all over the country and everything.

TR:
Beep Baseball is a sport. Players and spectators alike should expect what comes along with that.

Like Competition

DW:
Tempers get high sometimes, yeah. It can get heated but I think for the most part for the love of the game.

TR:
And you can’t really have a team without the good old fashioned pranks.

DW:
What’s a kind word I can say on the radio? Give and take, I guess?

TR in conversation with DW:
[Laughs] You can say whatever you want to say.

DW:
[Laughs] Yeah, some ballbusting I guess I could say. I love to see that too. When you grow up playing baseball that’s obviously part of the heart of the game whether it’s your you know your teammate giving you a cup check or. You know pranks or nicknames or whatever that’s all there. You know especially with the Austin Blackhawks. So they are one of the strongest teams that won a number of championships in recent years.

TR:
A member of the BlackHawks, Jamie Simpson tells us first hand about her experience.
JS:
We were in the World Series tournament in ‘99. I probably in my mind a little bit thought it wouldn’t happen to me just because I was married to Wayne and he was team captain and all that right. So of course he goes out to go to a room where all the guys are gathering and I’m like well I’m going to hang back for a minute and get everything settled when of course the phone rings and these bulls had already put toothpaste on the phone receiver. [Laughs] So you put the phone to your ear and you get an ear full of toothpaste. So I’m like OK you guys suck and you know I hang up and I’m like you know cussing them and whatever. I’m cleaning up or whatever and then the stupid phone rings again so I’m thinking I’m being smart and I’m going to go for the other phone that’s in the room because the one’s already full with toothpaste and they had put toothpaste on the other damn phone too!

TR:
Some aspects of Beep may not be recognizable to those that are accustomed to being a part of the majority.

DW:
One player told me it’s the one chance that we get to be in the majority. You know there are four hundred people in the hotel and if you go to the bar at night it’s predominantly this group. One of the things I said, and I’m not sure I’m right about this and I did my best to be kind of humble about any sort of you know judgment I was offering, but it occurred to me that in most situations there was probably a kind of brotherhood of blindness in this case it was like “well we’re all blind, let’s fight” or “let’s be competitive!” And we can kind of we can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

TR in conversation with DW:
Yeah, I think you see that sort of comradery in other activities. I’ve been
Involved in some blind avocadcy stuff. You know, similar thing, you have about 150 people at an hotel and we kind of take over and it’s kind of cool. It’s the one weekend where everything is really accesible because we make it that way.

TR :
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind like the sport itself is about the people who participate. The men and women who were either born with some degree of vision loss or for various reasons lost the ability to see later in life.

It’s also full of the drama that is competitive sports.

DW:
There was an international rivalry that I thought was incredible and it was this Taiwan home run team versus the Austin Blackhawks. Austin had taught the Taiwanese team how to play about fifteen years prior and over the course of that time Taiwan had become kind of a juggernaut. And so there was this like brotherly relationship that was you know sometimes you just want to kick your brother in the shins, right?
So I thought wow here’s teams that got very different personalities, they’ve got very different backgrounds. This seems like a story that I want to tell. You know it’s about on one side it’s kind of a balls to the wall approach, pranking approach. On the other side, Taiwan, there’s a seriousness, great sense of humor over there too, but a seriousness and a kind of mental preparation. These cultures could meet on the field and we saw what happened and hopefully people will hear what happened in the book.

TR in conversation with DW:
So why were you interested in writing this book? Do you have any relationships to blindness?

DW:
Great question. So I was in writing school for a long time. Kind of writing various things and got out and graduated in 2010. And kind of decided that for a while I was going to write about sports. I wrote about something called 24 hour bike racing, something called Wife Carrying and realize…

TR in conversation with DW:
Wait wait wait wait wait… Wife Carrying? [Laughs]

DW:
Yeah so there’s a there’s a sport where you know you throw a throw your wife over your shoulder and with the Estonian carry, you hold by the ankles, And the woman is kind of behind you and you have to do an obstacle course. I finished thirty eighth in the nationals and I believe in 2011. I fell twice one one embarrassing right at the very end but I did finish it.
The idea was you know maybe participate in some of the sports people haven’t really heard of trying to see what the culture is. February 2012 or so there was a magazine article about beep ball but it wasn’t really about beep ball it just listed the rules and I realized it listed the rules straight from the website. It was like, you know, almost like “hey look at this” sort of “isn’t this odd” or “isn’t this kind of curious” sort of thing. Rather than, “hey, you know, what might this actually be about?” “Who are the people who who are involved in this?”
So I went out to the World Series that year and wrote an article. And then about a year later I had a daughter, my first daughter and my first child. And you know I had been busy and hadn’t been writing and kind of had a moment where I thought “I love writing, I want to want to write a story, I want to be involved in telling a story.” I kind of had a moment where I thought “I think I think that’s the story I’m invested in. I love baseball.”
I don’t have a connection to blindness personally but it’s something that I did feel like I could become very invested in. So for the next from 2013, ‘14, and into ‘15 I would spend a good part of every day usually try to do about a half an hour at least either interviewing someone or trying to compose a book. And got there it was just kind of one look and then realizing this is an intense sport and you know I can know more about this.

TR:

Fortunately, Wanczyk clearly didn’t see this project as a novelty.
There’s evidence in the small details included in the book that reveal a respect for the game and more importantly for the people who participate.

TR in conversation with DW:
Since this was your introduction to blindness, give me a couple of things you took away from it, what did you learn?

DW:
Of course I’m reluctant to make kind of blanket statements. But what I would say is, at least among this group, that I got to know there was like a bravado that I would maybe not have expected. You know that’s different from bravery I mean even reluctant to say bravery because I think sometimes when sighted people say that it might have a little bit of condescension. You know, I read one book that said you know, “I’m not brave I get up and I live my life just like you.”
And so but bravado I think is right, that this kind of storytelling panache among a lot of the players and the kind of joking spirit, the suspicion of sympathy because you know I accept your compassion and your help but I also don’t want to be limited by what you think of me. And that was instrumental to see.
The teamwork is really something to watch in beep ball. I can’t get out of my mind this image from 2012 where a diving play was made and then the third baseman and the left fielder high five and then their high five kind of turn into a “we’ve got to get back in position.”
Another image would be the kind of train onto the field not all teams do this but quite a few teams will line up and and be a six player train out on the field.
A lot of partying. And if I had asked myself “hey do blind guys party?” before I started. I’d say “well, of course they party.” But it’s different to then kind of be in the party and kind of feel what that’s all about. And yeah I had some of my best times with some of these guys to tell you the truth and kind of some of my wilder times.

TR in conversation with DW:
SO you’ve been to the bar with them? [Laughs]

DW:
[Laughs] I’ve been to the bar! Yes, oh lord I have.

TR:

Beginning July 29 through August 5, the National Beep Baseball Association will hold the World Series of Beep Baseball in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

NBBA Secretary Stephen Guerra tells us more.

SG:
The World Series is held each year in a different city and it’s a coming together of all the teams. And at this point for 2018 we have twenty three teams coming to this year’s World Series. And we have teams coming from Taiwan, the Taiwan Lightning. We have a team coming from Canada the Toronto blind jays and then twenty one other teams from around the United States. The most teams we’ve had was twenty four which was in Rochester New York 2015. The last couple years we’ve hovered between twenty and twenty four teams and we only anticipate that we are going to get bigger.
TR:
The NBBA continues to expand the sport around the world. All of those I spoke with are looking forward to more international representation during future World Series events.

Several people mentioned a desire to see beep as a part of the Paralympics.

Finally, Tanner Gers has this to say about how listeners can be a part of the game.
TG:
There’s a way for you to support somebody playing beep baseball. Whether through donations or you showing up and volunteering your time. Please come and see a VERY MUCH higher action game then you could ever imagine when you think of baseball. Because when blind people play baseball things get wild.

TR in conversation with TG:
Is that the tag line for the association [Laughs].

TG:
[Laughs]

TR:
For more information about Beep Baseball checkout the NBBA website at NBBA.org.

And of course don’t forget to pick up the book:
Beep: Inside the Unseen World of Baseball for the Blind from Amazon.com.
It’s available in print, EBook and as an audiobook from Audible.com

I’m Thomas Reid
For Gatewave Radio

DW:
Well we’re all blind, let’s fight! Or let’s be competitive. We can kind of do this on a level playing field here and have a good time with it.

Audio for Independent Living

TR:

That’s really just an introduction to the sport of Beep Baseball.
The game sounds pretty intense. Understand this, line drives are being hit and fielded.
There was an incident captured in the book where a young lady from Taiwan was pitching to a batter, who happened to be her boyfriend, and he hit a line drive right back at her face. Fortunately, she was okay. I’m pretty certain that was probably the end of their relationship.
Seriously, share this Podcast and spread Beep Baseball. Lets do what we can to help spread Beep Baseball. I truly need to get out give it a shot.

I hear there is a league in the Dominican Republic. If anyone out there hears this please feel free to fly me out for an event. Let’s say anytime in January or February. I’ll stay as long as required… like the winter?

Ok, it’s summer right now, no need to think about Winter. So much to look forward to right here right now. Like subscribing to this podcast.
You can do that on just about any podcast app. We’re on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Soundcloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio. Of course you can go over to Reid My Mind.com. Remember that’s REID like my last name.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @tsreid and don’t forget to check out the other podcast I do with Doctor Dre – the one from Yo MTV Raps. It’s called 2BlindMics. If you are remotely interested in Rap music or Hip Hop culture, we have some goodies over there. Like interviews with some legendary DJ’s including Red Alert, Kid Capri, DJ Scratch and DJ Chuck Chillout. It’s a podcast but to me they sound like mini documentaries. It’s not just Hip Hop so check it out, there may be something there for you.

Now lets get back to summer…

peace!

Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: On Music & Identity with Graham Norwood

June 20th, 2018  / Author: T.Reid

Full body picture of Graham in all denim in front of a brown wooden background with a white framed door.
“It’s been a long time coming…” and we’re finally here. Back with another episode and finally bringing you a request from a listener. NYC based Musician Graham Norwood spoke with me about his music, the process of becoming a part of the disability community and more. Plus hear some samples of his music and become a fan!

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Hello RMM Radio family.
I hope you all are doing well.
And I mean that with real sincerity.
I honestly miss you!
Before we get into this week’s episode I feel as though I should apologize. I’m truly committed to producing this show so when things get
reprioritized in my life I still want to make it happen.
Missing the last installment really bothered me but we’re back today with a new episode and a special one at that.
This one itself is long over do
Last year I received a request from a listener of RMM Radio asking me to interview a musician she followed on Instagram.
I know, it sounds like I am a private investigator for hire minus the fees. Actually, I think it’s pretty cool. She wanted to know more about this person and thought he would be a good fit for the podcast. She was correct and for that I send a sincere thanks.
It took some time for he and I to find some common ground in our schedules, but because it was a request, I couldn’t drop the ball on this one.
So here we go.
Audio: RMMRadio Intro
TR:
You’re listening to Graham Norwood, a New York City based musician.
He currently also serves as the Director of Foundations and
Corporate Relations for the Partnership for the Homeless a
New York City based nonprofit.
GN: I grew up a town called San Mateo which is about twenty miles south of San Francisco. I have a condition called L.C.A. Labor’s congenital amaurosis which is similar to R.P. Actually I thought I had R.P. my whole life until I had genetic testing a couple years ago and they said it was actually L.C.A.
TR:
LCA or Leber’s congenital amaurosis
has similarities to RP or retinitis pigmentosa and many
eye doctors consider it to be an early-onset form of RP.
Just like RP or retinitis pigmentosa,
LCA is a slowly progressive condition that
also has several forms, each with
different genetic causes.
As Graham experienced this all of his life it was his normal.
GN:
I honestly didn’t give it that much thought. All the schools I went to really kind of were willing to provide whatever accommodations were necessary but I don’t know I didn’t really need a ton of accommodations. Growing up my sight was a little bit better. I was able to kind of follow along okay, so wasn’t it wasn’t that big of a deal.
TR:
Music came pretty natural to Graham.
Starting with the piano around 7 or 8 years old, moving on to the guitar at 10.
He later realized he could sing and since then music was a central part of his life.
GN:
Music is kind of like a level playing field where whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant. If you sound good then it’s not that big of a deal. I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of that but you know looking back that’s very true. I think I was able to meet and play with a lot of you know really pro level musicians and they were very accepting of me there was never any sort of like “well you’re blind you can’t do this.” That’s not always the case, I mean, there are certain professions in careers where even if you maybe do have a work around and people are still kind of suspicious and the joblessness rate in the blind and low vision community is seventy percent. It’s very hard for people with low vision to build careers for themselves and they deal with a lot of prejudice even just sort of unconscious bias they really don’t have a sense of what the technological adaptations are how people go about their lives they try to empathize and try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. But if you don’t have the experience of being blind and figuring out the work arounds and having a good problem solving skills then you have you know your first thought is like “oh my God if I couldn’t see I couldn’t do anything.” So they don’t realize how adaptable people are and how they come up with ways to get around all that stuff and be successful in spite of the little vision
TR in conversation with GN:
Do you find that that was in all aspects of music? So do you get involved in the recording side of it as well?
GN:
You know, I honestly don’t really I’ve never really been that good with kind of recording myself. Certain programs like Reaper, an audio software program that’s pretty good and pretty accessible for low vision people, but I’ve honestly never gotten too far down that road I’ve always worked with other engineers. I really like the kind of studio atmosphere being able to focus in on the performance and having somebody else kind of worry about the engineering side of it.
TR in conversation with GN:
I am recording you through Reaper right now. (laughs)
GN:
(Laughs) Right on! Yeah it’s cool I just spent six months at Colorado Center for the blind and they showed me a little bit of how to use Reaper. And yeah it was cool. I did a little bit of recording on that it’s a pretty cool program.
TR:
The Colorado Center for the Blind is located south of Denver.
Taken from their website;
the center provides innovative teaching techniques and philosophy
that continues to have Far-reaching effects on
the lives of blind people, taking them to new heights of independence.
I was a little surprised to hear that he just returned from the center since he has experienced vision loss his entire life.
His explanation made total sense and gives a bit of insight into his character.
What sounds like the type of guy who will fix a perceived flaw.
GN:
There were certain things that I didn’t really learn when I was growing up. My domestic skills were pretty limited. I didn’t really know how to cook I didn’t really learn that much about like how to clean you know keep an apartment clean and things like that. I got to a point where I really wanted to learn those things. Colorado school teaches that stuff they also teach Braille, they teach mobility assistive technology. Some stuff I found more immediately useful than other things. I mean, I’ve had a cane training, I’m pretty mobile so the mobility stuff I felt like I had a pretty good handle on. Certainly, the home management stuff was really helpful to me and you know has made a pretty big difference.
TR in conversation with GN:
Did you have a lot of contact with other people who are visually growing up?
GN:
No I didn’t at all. That’s a good question because that was actually the thing I think that was most beneficial to me or made of the biggest impression when I did finally get the Colorado school. It was the first time really that I had been around a lot of other blind and vision people. It’s really only been in the last maybe five years maybe not even maybe four years, that I’ve kind of become much more involved and aware of that blind and low vision community and also the larger kind of people with disabilities community. When I was going up I was the only blind person I knew. I think in a lot of ways it was it was great for me in the sense of I never really thought of myself in those terms and I kind of when I would come to a situation where it would be harder for me to do something than a sighted person I would just sort of figure it out. I didn’t put any barriers or restrictions on myself in terms of what I could do. But I think what I didn’t get was it was the vision thing was something that I always kind of marginalised and I never really embraced it as a part of who I was. At the end of the day it’s a pretty big thing. It’s certainly not what defines me but it’s definitely a significant piece of that identity. And so I met some people maybe starting four or five years ago I started working as a grant writer at The National Organization on Disability and getting more and more interested in the sort of employment issues for people with disabilities. I met a few pretty cool blind people and the best advice I got actually was that you know you got to meet other cool blind people and you know see these other blind people that are doing really interesting stuff. So I found that very inspiring to start meeting other people in the community.
TR:
And that’s exactly what he did.
By volunteering with Team Sea to See.
GN:
S E A to S E E. It’s for kind of very successful business people who are also blind who are athletes and they’re taking part in this crazy bike race. Basically the world’s toughest bike race for blind people and then for sighted people riding tandems coast to coast in nine days. I’ve been helping them with fundraising we got funding from Google and the American Foundation for the Blind. Gatorades helping us out and some other pretty cool sponsors. And it’s basically to raise awareness of this godlessness issue. That’s kind of indicative of my transition over the past few years to really feeling more a part of the blind and low vision and people with disabilities community and wanting to be more involved in that. I think the biggest issue that people have, people with disabilities have, in a lot of ways is visibility and just getting out there. I don’t think people without disability see enough of that. One in six Americans has a disability I think something like one to two percent of the population this is low vision. It’s not like one in fifty people that you know are blind that’s not true for most of the population. People just don’t have a sense of how blind and low vision people or people with other disabilities can really thrive and succeed in and do amazing stuff. I’m much more aware of this idea now and I’m wanting to get the word out and just wanting to live my life in public as a low vision person so that other people can kind of be aware of you know the fact that they we’re out there and we’re doing awesome stuff and people can just sort of revise what they think is possible for people with disabilities.
TR in conversation with GN:
Was there any one thing that made you go that way? Was there something that occurred in your own experience?
GN:
I don’t think strictly so. I had a long term relationship and I think on a very practical level I went from living with this person for eight years to suddenly living on my own again for the first time in a long time. And I think you know on a very practical level that was a wake up call in terms of like the things that I took for granted that this woman helped me out with suddenly I had to do myself. Honestly, it was just maturing a little bit and realizing that I had been marginalizing this big component of my identity because I was so I was so paranoid of the idea that someone would just label me as like “oh the blind guy” you know and I never wanted to be that I wanted people to think of me more broadly and see the whole person as opposed to just the disability. That was something that I intuitively felt even from a very young age and so I just never wanted to make a big deal out of it and never want to be engaged with it and as I got a little bit older I think I realised that, I understood why I did it and I see you know the motivation behind feeling that way but ultimately I thought “this is kind of silly.” I need to own this more and be proud of who I am and you know not ignore this one thing but really embrace it and turn it into a positive. In addition to starting to work for the National Organization of Disability I went to National Federation of the blind, a national convention in Florida one year. I don’t know if you’ve ever been it was like completely overwhelming to me it was like twenty five hundred blind people in a convention center just like absolute chaos you know people like crashing into each other and just like (laughs). It was it was so overwhelming when I first got there. But then it really struck me because it was basically just a bunch of people who were like “you know what screw it like I this is who I am and this is this is how I get around and this is the way I live my life.” I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way but one of the takeaways for me was you know blindness isn’t always elegant, right? Like you use a cane to feel what’s in front of you and you know sometimes you whack a trash can and it’s like super loud. But that’s what the cane supposed to do and that’s how you get around and it may not be the most aesthetically beautiful way but it’s how we operate. I think I also felt like maybe I had been I had been trying to minimize those kinds of situations but I was going to such great lengths to not have those situations that I wasn’t authentically being myself and you know being just a person with a visual impairment who is out in the world and being independent and so that was my other, I think, turning point was seeing so many other blind people just living their lives and doing their thing and and being proud of it and not ashamed of it. So that was another thing that happened around the time that I started working for a National Organization of Disability that just made me realize you know this is how it is and there’s nothing to be ashamed of there’s nothing to avoid. I came away thinking this is a really beautiful thing that I haven’t been authentic and I haven’t been embracing and I want to start being more more real about being a person with a visual impairment. I don’t think there was any real like turning point that brought me to that it was it was a slow process and I really kind of started by like dipping my toe in the water and starting to reach out individually do a couple in the vision people and then it built from there. Then you know I had these these moments where I was like oh I get this now and I want to be more apart of this.
TR in conversation with GN:
I know I met so many people with low vision who straddle that line. And I’m not saying that they need to make a decision and go one way but it sounds like what you chose was the best for you to continue on and be your authentic self and sometimes I don’t think that people necessarily make that their choice I don’t think they’re being really authentic. And you know I’m trying not to judge necessarily but I’m also just saying like I see them that they’re not doing everything that they can and they’re hoping they holding on are grasping on to something. Do you understand what I’m saying?
GN: Oh absolutely and it’s hard because especially you know like I said I was born and grew up with this. And I think it’s probably really hard if somebody has you know normal or relatively normal vision and then they have to navigate that transition. Because you know let’s face it there’s a lot of stigmatization out there and you don’t necessarily want to suddenly identify as being a, well I avoid the term disabled person I was always say person with a disability because like smoke alarms get disabled and people are still people whether they have a disability or not. But yeah I mean you know I think I’ll always probably straddle that line. But the important thing for me was was the realization that I could exist on both sides of it and I didn’t have to make a choice and when I want to I’m fully qualified to be part of the blind and low vision community and there’s nothing wrong with that and people except me there and I didn’t know if they would it and then I realize that they totally do. And if I want to just hang out with all of my sighted friends and I don’t want to talk about or think about blindness I can do that too. For the longest time I felt like I didn’t belong in either world and then eventually I realized that I belonged in both.
TR:
It’s pretty obvious that raising awareness of blindness and disability issues is a high priority for Graham. I can respect that.
Learning to self-identify as a person with a disability is a process.
It begins with real self-examination and truthfulness.
Based on those I have spoken to who have gone through the process, it appears it leads to a greater level of comfort in one’s own skin.
In a way, Graham’s relationship with music is mirroring his life.
He traditionally played a more supportive role as a musician.
Playing in bands and producing records for others.
He’s currently working on his own album and he hopes will
get picked up by a label and released later this year.
You can learn more about his upcoming album, show dates and more.
GN:
My website is just my name Graham Norwood Music dot com (spells out grahamnorwood.com ). Custom tracks up on there I put my upcoming gigs on there know we will be putting up some announcements about the album when it comes out later this year people can email me through that and that’s that’s probably the best way.
TR:
Producing this episode probably began sometime last summer. It took some time to actually reach Graham, then scheduling problems, then my back issues and more recently my other commitments.
With certain people I interview, I can’t help but think how effective it would be to have the opportunity to really hang out with the person and observe them in their environment.
I suspect I would have seen relationships between his day job,
his self-discovery and acceptance of his identity as a person with vision loss and his music of course.
I couldn’t help but hear some of my own story in Graham’s.
I always mention the impact attending the state conference of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind had on my life.
While it wasn’t as large as the national conferences and conventions it was impactful.
Meeting the cool blind people who were living productive lives.
Observing their level of comfort in their own skin made me know it was possible that I too could attain that.
I’m reminded of hearing about these cool blind people from
prior guests on Reid My Mind Radio including Josh Miele, Chancey Fleet and more.
I know Using my white cane to navigate effectively may not look very smooth at times.
Occasionally, I might mess up but that’s ok. I get better. Most importantly I’m better at accepting when I get a bit thrown off.
Like I did with this podcast.
Just to let you know I have some episodes coming up in the next few weeks so please stay tuned.
Remember, 2BlindMics; the number 2 capital B, lind capital M, ics.
This is the show I co-host with my podcast partner Doctor Dre. It’s right down the block on your local podcast app. Give it a listen and feel free to let me know what you think good or bad. I’m interested in hearing from the RMMRadio listeners. We have a lot of interviews with some of the rap artists and others involved in the Yo MTV Raps experience.
I really do appreciate feedback. it’s the only real way to improve…
Even if it’s something I disagree with, I can decide to not do anything about it but at least I was informed.
Sort of like Graham making the decision to go to the Colorado center to improve his own skills. You have to respect that. We’re supposed to fix our flaws and become the best person we can be.
You can do the same by subscribing to this podcast – Reid My Mind Radio – remember that’s R E I D.
It’s available just about wherever you get podcasts plus Sound Cloud, Stitcher and Tune In Radio.
And I plan to talk to you soon!
Peace!
Audio: Graham:
Whether you can see or not is pretty irrelevant, if you sound good it’s not that big of a deal.

Hide the transcript