Posts Tagged ‘Accessibility’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description – A Hip Hop Approach

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021

Nathan Geering, a mixed race man of afro carribean and British descent is wearing an orange sweat shirt with a patchwork pocket on his chest and elbow pads that are patchwork also. He has navy blue jeans and grey shoes with red shoelaces. He is balancing upside down on his right hand with both of his knees tucked into his chest as he executes a handstand freeze on one hand.

Take the elements of Hip Hop culture; Rap, DJ’ing, Break Dancing, Graffiti and Knowledge of Self and apply that not only to Audio Description but disability in general, and you have the Rationale method.

Finding a way or a reason to bridge the disabled and non-disabled world of theater goers has been one of Nathan Geering’s goals. He’s the founder of the Rationale Method, a non-objective means of providing description that incorporates immersive artistic expressions including poetry, beat boxing and sound design to create accessible and inclusive performances for all.

His award winning short film “Still a Slave” will be a part of the 2021 Superfest Film Festival. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to experience this innovative approach to Audio Description.

Combining Hip Hop with blindness has always been a theme on this podcast whether you recognize it or not. It goes beyond the music, it’s in the small references, the samples … it’s in the DNA. Therefore, it’s fitting that I open this final episode of the 2021 Flipping the Script series with a hot 16 and my beatbox debut. So has we use to do it… “From the south to the west, to the east to the north, T.Reid go off, go off!”

This episode is dedicated to all the Hip Hop pioneers.

Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp. – Chuck D, Public Enemy

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Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

Greetings y’all!

Before we get into this last episode of the Flipping the Script series,
I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be off in October.
The podcast will return in November for our
final season of 2021, Young Gifted Black & Disabled.

the best way to be sure you don’t miss anything is to simply subscribe to the podcast on your favorite podcast app.
The next season starts in November, but you never know, I may have something to say in October.

Let’s kick it!

— Sample: “Ok, party people in the house. You’re about to witness something you’ve never witnessed before!” Slick Rick & Doug E Fresh
— Sample “Listen carefully” Daffy Duck
— Sounds of city streets and kids playing & hanging out

TR:
Once upon a time, in the 1980’s
Kids like me, well our parents said we were crazy
Hanging in the park, or in front of the building
Doing nothing wrong, we were just children
Sometimes we had music and it would be rocking
If not, someone was beat boxing
— Beat Box begins with TR now rapping…
All of a sudden, someone would start rapping
breakout the carboard time for break dancing
These were the early days of Hip Hop
Back then Most adults said it would stop
Today, please, it’s an unstoppable force
Fashion, Movies, and entertainment of course
Ladies & Gentlemen may I have your attention
This episode has a whole new dimension
Pump up the volume I need you to listen
Flipping the script on Audio Description

– Reid My Mind Theme Music

Nathan:

I’m a firm believer that wherever possible, we should be having audio description as part of the main soundscape for any kind of artistic endeavor, not just for television or film.

TR:

That’s Nathan Geering, Accessibility Innovator and my guest today. He’s the director of the Rationale Method and the registered charity Rationale Arts.

Nathan:

I’m six foot one, I have an afro Caribbean heritage so from Antigua and Jamaica, and also British and Romany Gypsy heritage on my other side of the family. I have a short afro hair slightly longer on top of this tight Afro curls, I have a beard so I guess a sound that would go along with the texture, my beard is kind of like a kind of like a rough course kind of texture. I’m wearing a grade sports t shirt, which has “Move More” on one side, which is in white and yellow lettering.
The texture of the T shirt is very smooth. (Makes a smooth sounding sound)
I go by the pronouns of he or him.

TR:

Nathan didn’t mention that he’s also a Break Dancer , and that’s where this story begins. In fact, he shares some things in common with the early pioneers of the art.

Nathan:

I grew up watching old school kung fu movies with my grandmother and the rest of my family. And when I would be falling asleep, I could still picture the movements of the kung fu fight based on the sound effects from the kung fu movies. So you can tell it’s like a punch or a kick, or if it landed.

— Music begins, a dramatic intro leads into a pulsating groove.

TR:

Before we get to the sound effects, let’s hear more about the dancing.

Nathan:

I studied kung fu as a kid. And then I was a B-boy. From my early 20s, I did a couple of breaking moves as a kid, but I never really had anybody to teach me breaking. Then I went to university. And then there was like a breaking society there.

Within a couple months, because of my approach with Kung Fu, I ended up teaching the classes.

I picked up a lot of movements like really quickly.

And then from there, I ended up being an internationally touring performer. I work with a guy in the UK called Jonzi D. who runs a big hip hop Theater Festival called breaking convention. And he kind of like gave me my break into theater. And it just snowballed on from there.

TR:

He soon started his own Hip Hop Theater company called Rationale.
The company’s approach to developing their performances is interactive. It starts with what Nathan calls a scratch performance.

Nathan:
We show the audience certain scenes, and then they’ll give feedback based on those scenes. And then, based on that feedback will further develop our show.

This one particular time, we just didn’t have enough material.

TR:

So they borrowed an idea from another company called New Art Club.
It sort of creates a stop animation performance or creating what appears to be movement from still images.

Nathan:

We decided to remix that into a hip hop version. So when the audience would open their eyes we’d be stood up right and then when they close their eyes and open their eyes again, we’d be upside down spinning on our head or jumping up and down on one hand or doing freezes and poses, and the audience went crazy for it.

We couldn’t believe that we got such a profound response from just kind of taking the audience’s site away and bringing it back. So we decided that we were going to really focus on the theme of visual impairment, but sort of real superficial level.

TR:

That superficial turned to a real genuine interest after one of the members of the company explained how any of them could really be impacted by blindness.

Nathan:

And then that’s when it really hit home to me. My daughter at the time, she was about two years old. And I thought what if I was to wake up tomorrow, and I couldn’t see my daughter. And I wasn’t emotionally prepared for that, if I’m honest, I was a mess, I broke down in tears.

I was really afraid. And so with me, if I’m afraid of something, I develop a curiosity about it. And so I decided to find out as much as I could about visual impairment in depth.

TR:

We often talk about the correlation between the limited opportunities for people who are Blind or have Low Vision and the fear associated with blindness.

So I can’t help but wonder, what if the default response to that fear was more like Nathan’s.

Nathan:

I want to be able to get to know myself as a human being as best I possibly can.

I became quite aware, like in my, in my 20s, that
if I’m afraid of something, that fear can stop me living a happy and fulfilling life. And just because I’m afraid of something, it may be, because actually, I don’t know enough about it. And obviously, you can find great beauty on the other side of fear, but sometimes you just have to go through fear. Or sometimes it’s good to tolerate uncertainty.

I would say to anybody out there, if there’s something that you’re afraid of, develop a curiosity about it, because you may find some incredible things not only about yourself, but also about the thing that you’re actually afraid of, and it’ll help you grow as a human being.

we just had so many incredible discoveries that it became my life’s work.

— Music ends

The more I found out, the more I was just inspired.

TR:

In case this sounds like using disability as a gimmick.

— Sample “I don’t think so!” LL Cool J, “Going Back to Cali”

Nathan:

We worked with blind and partially sighted communities every step of the way.

It was really great that they were willing to come on this journey with us, because it meant that we were getting the information straight from the people that needed these provisions, they were helping to shape it and develop it. And we were always in consultation with them.

TR:

Nathan worked with various blindness organizations where he
met all sorts of people with varying degrees of blindness and low vision.

He asked why more blind people weren’t attending performances and what he could do about that.

Nathan:

they said, they need the dynamics of the movement to change quite abruptly from like, wide to narrow or high to low.

It’s not the case with every type of visual impairment but some kinds of vision impairment, the audience see better when you look down towards the floor, because the floor gives such a blank canvas for contrast. I was like, Okay, well, where does most breaking happen, kind of like on the floor.

We worked with a visually impaired playwright called Kate O’Reilly. She sees the world in 2d, so the world’s like a flat picture to her. And she said that when she watched my company break in person, she said, she got an experience of what it was like to see in 3d. Something gave her like a sense of depth and perception that she didn’t see in any other art form. And she thinks it’s something to do with the access, which we were spinning out with our power moves, or the kind of like, non typical positions, we put our bodies in, when we do freezes, or poses, she thinks there’s something that our brain is trying to make sense of that.

TR:

Blind people in the audience, that’s one thing. With help from Kate, Nathan sought out Blind breakers but couldn’t find any.

He wanted to do more than include Blind performers in his show. He wanted to provide value.

Nathan:

I realized that braking actually is increased my spatial awareness. And because with braking we have go down. So we go from standing to the floor very quickly, but we do that in very stylish ways, but also in very safe ways.

We teach people how to sustain the momentum and keep moving and keep rolling. And a lot of injuries happen when somebody falls and all the shock gets absorbed into one part of their body.

We teach how to sustain the momentum, therefore the force gets dissipated for a larger surface area of the body. So it means that it greatly reduces the chance of injuries and things.

TR:

In addition to schools and organizations for the Blind, He taught these lessons at the Royal Opera House.
During the pandemic, he began teaching one on one classes online via Zoom.

Nathan:

I have a blind student that can’t speak, that I teach in Italy, but we communicate through, obviously, my verbal directions and his hand signals. We’re still able to have that dialogue and to be able to teach him the techniques effectively.

TR in Conversation with Nathan:
You work with adults, and children?

Nathan:
Oh, yeah. So I think the youngest kid we work with is like six. And the oldest person we’ve worked with is about 7374.

We have them do like CCS and Zulu spins and handstands. So it’s a real life intergenerational style.

TR:

As far as attending these performances, Nathan began to learn that the Audio Description provided just wasn’t doing it for these consumers.

Nathan:

in the UK, it was common practice for the audio description to be really kind of like objective.
And the way it was delivered was almost like a science experiment, there was like, a monotone voice, it was like the dancer lifts her up, moves her head to the side. And the thing is, our art is subjective. If you have that objective voice coming in over it, it can be quite disturbing and take you out of the immersive artistic experience.

— Music begins, a slow Hip Hop groove.
— Sample, Acapella “it’s Bigger Than Hip Hop” Dead Prez

TR:

So what does Nathan do?

Nathan:

I again turned to hip hop.

What are the more vocal elements of hip hop, obviously, we have emceeing, rapping and we have beatboxing and vocal percussion.
I started to pair beatboxing sound effects with certain movements.

We got people with visual impairment to basically like physicalize each sound effects a beatboxer makes. So for example, if a majority of people were saying that (makes a sound) represents a jump, we’d always use that for a jump or (makes a sound) represents like a low spin to the floor, we’d always use that is to represent the low spin. We created our own language, which is known as RM notation. Rationale Method – a way of giving people a richer soundscape really. Within the sound effects, you can get an idea of like the speed of a movement, or if a movement is traveling from high to low, all those kinds of directional input that it would take a very long time to describe through words.

TR in Conversation with Nathan::

Explained to me the name rationale method.

Nathan:

Rationale means a reason or a way. And we were like, We always will, or we will always find a way and a reason for doing good in the world. And so, that kind of stuck. We really try and find a way to bridge the gap between disabled and non disabled artists and audiences across the world.

TR:

The Rationale Method also includes poetic elements.

The goal is to provide a choice of aesthetics for implementing immersive, non objective Audio Description.

Nathan:

So there’s tons of audio description companies that deliver objective audio description

, We’re not saying that what we’re doing is a substitute for that we’re just trying to offer choice. Everybody has different tastes, some people will prefer objective audio description, some people prefer subjective, some people prefer, like beatboxing. Some people prefer poetics some people for emotive text. And so we just tried to open up the choice of what is available to blind and partially sighted audiences within what we’re doing.

TR:

The applications go beyond dance and artistic performances.

Nathan:

It can be used to describe like sport.

If you were to have a basketball game, or a football game, or a soccer game, for example, you, you can have an excited commentator delivering the commentary. But you don’t know, for example, if a ball is being passed from one person to another How long it takes for that pass, to travel from one person to another, if it’s a high pass, or low pass, but with the sound effects that we have, you can give a person an idea of how long it takes the ball to travel from one person to another based on the sound effects used.

TR:

Nathan couldn’t speak about the details for such an application, but he’s working on something that in his words, if it comes to fruition;

Nathan:

It’s gonna be big. It’s gonna be big.

TR in Conversation with Nathan:

I know, you can’t talk about it too much. But is that something that would be over TV? Or is that live in the venue or something?

Nathan:

So we’re looking at both. Obviously, with a live element, there may be like a slight split second of delay in terms of reaction times, right? It wouldn’t be enough to disrupt the experience. But again, when we go to the post production in the Edit, we can then tighten those elements up.

— Music ends.

TR:

I don’t really watch sports, but this does sound intriguing.

— Audio from Still a Slave

TR:

Another example of the Rationale Method at work is in a short film titled Still A Slave. It pairs emotive poetry and sound effects as subjective Audio Description.

The film itself runs about five minutes and is directed, written and stars Nathan.
It comes out of the same energy as the Black Lives Matter movement and all of the trauma that was resurfaced following the murders of George Floyd and Brionna Taylor.

Nathan:

There was a lot of, I guess, throwaway comments on social media from people saying, all lives matter, slavery doesn’t exist anymore.

These were really kind of like gaslighting comments and painful comments to us and myself.

It was getting to the point where I was like this is going to consume me if I don’t transform this energy.
I decided to take all that energy and transform it into a source of power, rather than keep it as a source of pain.

TR:

Nathan incorporates break dancing, fire and rope to convey his message.
In line with his martial arts background, he redirects that negative energy from the social media comments to reveal them for what they are.

Another key element of the film is the setting.

Nathan:

I shot it in Morecambe, which is one of Britain’s oldest slave ports, and the body of the first black slave is actually buried in marking, it’s called, like Sambo’s grave.

I was harnessing the energy from that space.

TR:

Combining the art with the activism, Nathan included a live performance of Still a Slave during a peaceful protest he organized outside a venue in his home city of Sheffield. He describes this venue as institutionally racist.

Nathan:

I made sure that I audio described all of the images leading up to the protest. I wanted to ensure that the protest was accessible. There’s so many people that organize protests that don’t think about the accessibility elements of a protest. For example, if you have physical content, is that physical content audio described?
Do you have a sign language interpreter there? If there’s people with neurological differences, Is there a space that they can go to where it’s not so noisy or not so hectic? If you’re doing a march? Is it an accessible route on the march that a wheelchair user can take. within the protest.

TR:
The response from the Blind Community?

Nathan:

Thank you, we felt because of this, we were able to take part in activism in a way that we typically don’t get to take part in activism, due to the inaccessibility that some protests have.

So for me, it was really important when I did Still a Slave to ensure that it was made accessible to as many people as possible when I made the film.

I’m a firm believer that wherever possible, we should be having audio description as part of the main soundscape for any kind of artistic endeavor, not just for television or film.
It was sort of right from the inception of the production I always knew it would have audio description within that.

TR:

That’s the goal we always strive for; being considered at the point of creation or design.

In this case, the choice of aesthetic from the Rationale Method toolbox was poetry along with enhanced sound design.

Nathan:

I beefed up some of this sound effects from the fire. Just so again, you’ve got a bi t of an idea of the speed at which the fire was spinning and traveling from one point to another

we work with an incredible audio describer, Tashinga Matewe, who provided the beautiful poetry. I coached her in terms of what elements we needed to focus on to make it more accessible and the dynamics she needed to add to her voice at certain parts.

I made sure that the person I worked with to do the audio description came from African descent. I also made sure that the person that did the music, track the sound score that he came from African descent as well, just to make sure that there was authenticity running right through the entire short film in production.

— Sound of a record spinning backwards, into a scratch
— Music begins, a bouncy Hip Hop beat

TR:
What’s up family, I need to interrupt the episode for a brief moment.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I enjoy bringing them to you.
I really want to make this podcast a sustainable venture.
Will you help me?

All I need is a bit of your time.
Please, go on over to ReidMyMind.com and check out the post for this episode and hit the link that says survey. It takes about 5 minutes to fill that out.
— DJ Scratch leads into “Check it out y’all!”

TR:
Reid My Mind Radio now has merch!
T-shirts and more on sale now!
Show your support for the Flipping the Script series directly or show some love for the podcast with an Official Reid My Mind Radio t-shirt, hoodie, cap or more. Just go on over to Reid My Mind.com and hit the link that says Shop!

I appreciate you family!

And now,
— Sample: “What we’re gonna do right here is go back, …”

TR:
Back to the episode!

— Music ends

TR:

Both The Blind and the non Blind communities responded favorably never seeing this kind of approach before. The non Blind community acknowledging that it also adds an extra layer for them to understand what’s happening.

And, that venue in Sheffield, they decided to begin adding more programming from people of color on their main stage. And that includes locally within the city of Sheffield. This includes a performance from Nathan’s Rationale company.

Nathan:

We did a hip hop fair production called trusting care. And that production was made with young people and carers are artistic consultants on the production.
We would work with them on some artistic residencies, and then we create scenes with them, and then they’d watch the scenes back, like, Nah, that doesn’t represent me, or they’ve like, yeah, that’s, that’s exactly how I feel. So based on that, that’s how we create the production.

The audio description, again, was for everybody to hear.

TR:

No headphone and receiver? Open Audio Description?

Nathan:
We set the parameters at the beginning of the production.

TR:

That’s right, they did a pre-show for all attendees.
The cast was invited out along with the Audio Describer and British Sign Language interpreter.

Nathan:

We were like, okay, so right now, you know, you’re going to have this unique technique, this unique method, rationale method of audio description and accessibility can be fully embedded, and you may hear certain elements that you feel is like why are you stating the obvious, but we have to remember that there’s blind and partially sighted audience members here. So these elements are key in order to ensure that everybody has the same level of access. But not only that, you know, some of you sighted people may actually get a deeper understanding to some of the subtext or elements within the production as well. So it may just heighten accessibility for you as well.

We explained that the BSL interpretation was fully integrated within the performance and the production as well. So we have the sign interpreter dancing throughout the whole production,

We sold out the venue, we got a standing ovation.

It was just a massive hit.

TR:

That open Audio Description, even helped a Blind cast member who became disoriented while on stage.
— Music begins, a slow dramatic Hip Hop beat

Nathan:

The audio describer would literally be guiding her back to her space and where she needs to be to help her get a sense of direction or a sense of bearings within the audio description. It enabled the blind performer to be able to safely navigate the space without taking away from the aesthetic. So people got to see that firsthand in terms of audio description being used as a form of accessibility for performers as well as for audience members. It was incredible.

TR:

When something is new and starts to receive a level of attention and success, two things are likely to happen. First, people want to learn how they can implement it.

Nathan:

I’ve just been teaching the accessibility techniques, to some organizations out in Peru, in terms of how they can enhance accessibility not only through the rationale method, but also through creative techniques within audio description.

There’s loads of ways that people can get creative with audio description. We’re just scratching the surface.

I’m trying to give people the tools to unlock their own creativity and to try and tap into their authentic self,

Hopefully they’ll be able to unlock their own techniques.

the rationale method is just another alternative is it’s not a one size fits all. And I think there’s enough room for everybody in the more choice that we can provide for people the better.

TR in Conversation with Nathan:

Are you getting love from the other audio description companies or are they hatin’??

(Tr & Nathan share in a hearty laugh!)

Nathan:
Well, it’s really funny. It’s a mixed bag.

So we got the audio description company in Canada, the main audio description organization, they’ve given us nothing but love.

Even though the Rational Method has its roots deeply embedded in hip hop, it doesn’t mean that the aesthetic that you will get will be a hip hop aesthetic.
We’ve audio described award winning contemporary dance and like ballet and even children’s, even children’s short films.

Just because it has its roots in hip hop doesn’t mean that the aesthetic is gonna always be hip hop. Sometimes it will be if that’s what it calls for.

We have one of the main audio description companies here in the UK. I approached them when I first started out kind of like can we partner on this? And they were just like, yeah. And then nothing. I tried to reach out since and nothing good. So I’m just like, Okay, well, we can just offer choice, you know, and that’s it. For me, I’m not competing with anybody. I’m just here just trying to do my part to provide accessibility.

So, because the way I, the way I see it, you know, everybody is different. And so, like I said, before, you know, our rational method, maybe ideal for some people, not ideal for others and other organizations aesthetic may be ideal for some people and not ideal for others. So that’s, that’s where it’s at. But yeah, but yeah,

We got hate because they know what we do is dope, that’s fine. You know,

TR in conversation with Nathan:
That’s when you know you’re doing something good.

— Sample: “Play on Playa”
TR:

Haters are always gonna hate.

— Sample: “No diggity, no doubt!”

Nathan really does have greater aspirations which include visions of the future of Audio Description.

Nathan:
For example, people could turn on the TV They have a button for audio description. And they have about 10 different aesthetics that they can choose from that suits their particular personality or taste or style. For me, that would be dope because for so long, it’s always been one size fits all for audio description for when there’s a production or performance.

TR:

Talking technology!

Nathan:
There’s like an event I run called demystifying tech, where we get people to play with both cutting edge technologies and basic technologies.

There’s so many artists still scared of technology and working with it. So we just try and demystify some of these preconceptions and talk about how we can utilize them to enhance accessibility in a variety of ways.

— Music ends
— Sample: “This is a journey into sound”

TR:

Nathan’s working on incorporating the sounds into a pad that can be triggered.

Essentially, taking the language of the Rationale Method which pairs sounds to movements, and making it easily available to anyone, Blind or not, at any time.

Nathan:

Then a sighted or blind dancer can then interpret those sounds.
And then all of a sudden, you’re opening up career pathways for blind and partially sighted choreographers and movement directors. Because there’s not that many of them out there. I don’t think it’s because they don’t want to I think it’s more so because they haven’t had an accessible pathway created for them to be able to do that.

We just finished in the second stage of prototyping. And we’ve had incredible responses. We’ve had people saying that Yo, if I had this in college I would have passed my drama and dance exams.

TR:

Sounds as language, a means of communicating. Enabling a Blind choreographer to easily relay their idea or
conversely a Blind dancer to perform a desired move.

Nathan:

for example, if you were to do a Zulu spin. Zulu spin is if somebody is crouched low to the floor, and they’re spinning on the floor with both their hands and their feet in contact with the floor, but they’re keeping a tight ball. You get an idea of how fast the spin would happen.

TR:

Again, the applications go beyond dancing; maybe a Blind martial artist, actor or athlete.

Nathan:

Also, like fashion shows, if people can get a feel of the, energy of the person walking down the catwalk, and if they’re spinning around, the flow of dress on or a different style dress, the sound effect can also reflect the, you know, the movement quality of the dress as well. So, you know, there’s lots of applications that this sound pad can be used for.

I’m just in the second lot of prototyping, then hopefully, after that, we’re going to do a bit more triangulation in terms of research. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get it to production and get it out to people in the world. And yeah, hopefully, we’ll be able to have some more blind and partially sighted directors and choreographers.

TR:

Assuring value for those who are Blind and disabled was always part of Nathan’s objective.
Nathan:

Me not being disabled myself, I had a lot of skepticism from the disabled community and quite rightly so. But I think once they talk to me and understand, actually this guy’s coming from a genuine place. It’s just been nothing but love from the disabled community which I’m eternally grateful for.

– Sample: “Nothing But Love For You Baby” Heavy D

TR:

That relationship and understanding the importance of centering the community is probably one reason Nathan was selected to coordinate the opening ceremony of the 2017 Special Olympics
— Audio from Special Olympics in 20xx.

Nathan:

I was adamant that the non disabled art companies and artists, they weren’t about to impose their choreography on the disabled artist. It had to be disability led The opening ceremony.
The people with disabilities, they would take the lead on what movements that they wanted and what themes they wanted to explore.

The non disabled artists they would fit in their choreography around and it just be a real mix. But it was disability led.

There have been other breakers that had performed the opening ceremonies, like the New York City break is done in the 80s, but I think I made history is the first ever B boy to be in charge of an entire Olympic opening ceremony.

So that was kind of like a big achievement for hip hop within that kind of context.

— Sample Hip Hop Hooray

TR in Conversation with Nathan:
So it sounds like you have a lot of the elements of hip hop kind of incorporated into what you’re doing is that something that you specifically looked at?

Nathan:
Yeah! My route was hip hop. I know how hip hop can save lives.

I’d always look to hip hop first, within everything that we do and see how that can work.

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface on what hip hop can really do.

So for me, it was really important to connect with those ways that how hip hop saved my life, and influenced me as a human being.

TR:

Through his charity Rationale Arts, Nathan’s incorporating the elements of Hip Hop
or
Rapping or Emceeing, Break Dancing, Graffiti or Street Art, DJaying and the final Knowledge of Self ) to help hospitalized children.

Nathan:

We teach them bedside beatboxing. Hip Hop hand play, hand dance movements, we teach them smashing street art, graffiti writing, and how to write their own name. And then we also have a thing called Doctor Decks where somebody dressed up in Doctor scrubs and pushes like a trolley around the ward and has like DJ Decks on them and teaches the kids how to mix and scratch

There’s so many great like accessibility elements with that.

A beatboxes best friend can be a loop station.

TR:

Okay, for those who may not be familiar, a loop station is a recording device that repeats or loops a sound at a given tempo recorded.
For example:
— beat box…

The applications can go beyond beats.

Nathan:
With people that have trouble forming speech, we can sample their voice into that. And then that can be then part of their main soundscape that we create within that loop station, then if they want to, they can trigger their voice whenever they want it to come on and off.

TR:

Working directly with the children in real situations helped Nathan really understand the value of this work.

Nathan:
We’re actually teaching these kids like distress tolerance and emotional regulation,
Beatboxing is just meditation because meditation is controlled breathing.

— Music begins, a bouncy, upbeat Hip Hop beat

We’re teaching these kids life skills through these elements of hip hop in ways that people wouldn’t normally think that hip hop can help people’s lives.

Even down to the graffiti writing. We even teach them how powerful and important it is to put in your intention, even down to how you hold your pen. We teach them that if you want to write your name, and you’re holding your pen sloppy, then your name is going to come out sloppy. Where if you put your emotional intention everything your heart and soul into it, even just that how you hold your pen, you’re going to give not only yourself, but the world, the best representation of yourself.

I’m just trying to spread as much knowledge as possible in terms of ways in how we can utilize hip hop to enhance people’s quality of life.

TR:

This truly does go back to the essence of Hip Hop culture.

Nathan:

Within Hip Hop, originality is so important. Everybody thought about original style, original flow, and all that kind of thing. But the originality of thought, is something that we’re really trying to push with this.

This is a hip hop approach to accessibility and inclusion.

TR:

Yes, and ya don’t stop!
That’s right, Hip Hop don’t stop. And Nathan Geering, you brother…

Tr in conversation with Nathan:

you are now official.!

TR:

Member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

— Air Horn

Nathan:

Dope, dope!

TR in Conversation with Nathan:
Give me some contact information, brother, where can people, check you out,

Nathan:

yeah. Yeah, yeah. So if you want to check out the work that my charity does all the community based work and theatrical work that I mentioned, it’s www dot RationaleArts.com

If you’re interested in the audio description, service and provision, that’s www dot RationaleMethod.com.

On Instagram it’s RationaleArts, RationaleMethod or NathaGeering.

On Twitter RationaleArts again or MethodRationale.
if y’all want to hit me up via email, hit me up at Nathan at rationale method.calm

TR:

You can check out Still A Slave during the 2021 Superfest Film Festival. You know, the premier disability film festival that you can attend online.

— We should do something on CH in conjunction with SF —

All you have to do is point that handy dandy browser of yours at SuperfestFilm.com. There are multiple options for tickets that fit in all budgets.

Just like Reid My Mind Radio! Which by the way is available for only free 99 wherever you like to consume podcasts.

Plus, we have transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com.

So there’s no confusion, like a true Emcee, I spell it out, that’s R to the E I D…
(“D)” And that’s me in the place to be!

Like my last name.

— Sample from Kung Fu movie “Were you just using the Wu Tang School method against me?”
Nathan:
Wicked!
— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Ajani AJ Murray – Starting with Imagination

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

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

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Ajani AJ Murray:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

Audio: AJ “Dope” “Fresh”

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

Audio: AJ, “Resource”

For anyone especially those adjusting to vision loss.

And with that said, let’s do this!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

Audio: Tom Joyner show…

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

TR:

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

AJ:

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

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughing…

AJ:

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

TR:

AJ knew his true passion.

AJ:

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

TR:

Of course, there’s the big screen.

AJ:

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

[TR in conversation with AJ:]
Laughs…

AJ:

TR:

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

AJ:

I appreciated that several years later.

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

Don’t open it! He’s lying!

(exhale)

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

AJ:

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

AJ:

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

TR:

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

AJ, made use of what was in his reach.

AJ:

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

TR:

Screens bring their own access challenges.

AJ:

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

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

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

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

AJ:

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

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

TR:

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

Most things physical that is…

AJ:

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

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

TR:

AJ’s imagination was open.

His opportunity to hit the stage came in high school.

AJ:

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

TR:

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

AJ:

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

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

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

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

Audio clip from film…

TR:

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

AJ:

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

TR:

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

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

Audio clip from film…

AJ is the focal point of the doc.

AJ:

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

AJ:

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

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

TR:

Think Living Single, Friends or the Big Chill…

AJ:

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

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

AJ:

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

TR:

Alright, fine, it’s not about me.

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

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

TR:

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

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

For example…

AJ:

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

TR:

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

AJ:

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

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

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

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

AJ:

That’s a hundred percent accurate.

[TR in conversation with AJ:]

So it doesn’t sound like that dissuades you.

AJ:

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

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

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

TR:

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


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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ya dig!

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

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

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

TR:
Llike my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Joe Strechay: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019
A picture of Joe Strechay with his cane in hand, standing in conversation on the set of See.

Image Courtesy of Apple

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

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

Image Courtesy of Apple

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

But his adjustment to blindness wasn’t all glitter.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome bac to the podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Scene from See…

TR:

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

Audio: Scene includes Audio Description Narration

TR:

yes, there’s audio description.

Here’s the synopsis from the opening scene

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

Audio: Air horn

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:.

Definitely!

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

Audio: Joe singing “Radio”

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

TR:

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

Audio: Clip from Daredevil episode.

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

JS:

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

TR:/

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

A day or two after his final day at the Bureau

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

TR:

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

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

JS:

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

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

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

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

TR:

A world, Joe points out is not of blindness.

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS

Our show battles with Ableism purposely at times.

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

That’s Joe with the cast of See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

JS:

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

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

Yeh, I’m a relationship guy for sure!

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

Whew! Hooray for technology!

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

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

But skills are only a part of what it takes.

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

Did you catch that?

Audio: Rewinding Tape Deck

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

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

JS:

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

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

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

JS:

You know I could see co-directing with someone.

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:

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

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

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

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

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

JS:

Oh yeh, Alfre Woodard saw your video.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Alfre Woodard saw me? Laughs…

JS:

It’s true, it’s true. Yup!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Ahh, that’s cool!

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

JS:

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

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

JS:

Can I say it again?

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

JS:

My favorite podcast!

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Your what?

JS:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughs…Yeh, there it is!

JS:

Woo!

TR:

See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

was released with 3 episodes and subsequent episodes dropping weekly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: A Career Launched from Print Disability

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

Happy New year! Hopefully you my favorite Reider (my name for any Reid My Mind Radio listener or reader of Reid My Mind.com) is well rested and revived following your holiday and hopefully time spent with loved ones.

Today on the podcast, an interview with George Kerscher the creator and founder of Computerized Books for the Blind and Print Disabled.

For those who weren’t around for this company before it became part of what is now known as Learning Ally, you’re probably familiar with DAISY books like those available from the National Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped, E-Pub, or Bookshare. If you’re a person impacted by vision loss or some other print disability, Mr. Kerscher has directly impacted your access to information.

Plus, his practical advice taken from his own experience adjusting to vision loss is in itself worth the listen.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

GK:
Judy Dickson who works at the library of Congress she said if you like puzzles, if you like solving problems being blind is just great.

TR:
I’m pretty sure that this quote doesn’t refer to games but rather the life puzzles and challenges that come with living in a world with the dominant form of communication assumes you have a pair of perfectly functioning eyes. Today’s guest on the podcast has spent a career working to improve access to print for people with disabilities. Before we get into that, Happy New Year! Now you know we can’t start this show without the theme music.

[Reid my mind radio’s theme music plays]

TR:
Allow me to introduce you to George Kerscher. Mr. Kerscher has been a key figure in improving access to printed material for people with vision loss around the world. In fact, his role was significant enough that he was named the 1998 innovator of the year by USA News and World Report. His career in accessibility began with his own vision loss due to Retinitis pigmentosa.

GK:
I didn’t learn about it until I was 21 back in 1971. The prediction was that I be blind in 5 years. I ended up meeting my wife and we go out on the first date, I said “well you know I have a bad knee, I got a bad shoulder and oh by the way I am going to go blind”. It was full disclosure on the first day. After we got married, we took three months off and in 1974 we went all over Europe with the backpack and the Euro Pass. In 1977, I was declared legally blind. I was fired from my first job because of blindness. I was finishing furniture I worked for an antique store. I went to Social Rehabilitation Services and I said “Can you help me?” They arranged for an eye exam and I was declared legally blind.

TR:
George went back to school and became a teacher. Which is where he remained until he could no longer fulfill a promise he made to himself.

GK:
If my blindness ever prevented me from being the best teacher possible, I would quit. I don’t want to do anything that wasn’t really great.

TR:
George returned to school and this time pursues a master degree in computer science. He made use of magnification and until that proved to be limiting because of painful headaches. The only accessible textbook was produced by recordings for the blind; however, they didn’t produce any of the books he needed for his master level course work. He began using human readers to help complete his work.

GK:
It was at that time that I just met an author and he was doing a lecture. He said “Well you know, I don’t have the files. The publisher has the files”. I wrote letters to several publishers asking them for the files that drove the printing press. This was in 1987, I had a publisher that sent me 3 diskettes and I looked at them and it was all garbage. And, I threw them in the drawer and I finished my course work for that semester and over Christmas break I pulled those files out and I started to write software that could convert them to the first digital book. Took a couple of weeks to write the programs but by the beginning of 1988, I had three books. One on Word Perfect, Lotus 123, and D-Base. And I had brought these up on the screens and had the screen reader read them to me and I just said “Oh my god, this is just fabulous! This is absolutely amazing!” I got in touch with Microsoft and kind of asked them for the same kind of things. People at Microsoft and other places would say “you know blind people have been asking for this for a long time”. I wasn’t the first one to think of this, of course. They said “but we don’t have any place that we could go to, to provide these materials for people who were blind”. I contacted recordings for the blind and they said we don’t do that, we do audio recordings, we are not interested. So I wrote back into Microsoft and said “I just started a company that would provide this to blind people and I call it Computerized Books for the Blind”. They sent a contract with a copyright release for all of Microsoft Corp. and all of Microsoft Press to do all their materials, a blanket copyright release. This was 8 years before the Chafee Amendment and the copyright exceptions were passed but I had literally the right to produce any of the Microsoft documentation and get it out to people.

TR:
George’s reaction for not having access in comparison to his new improve method for reading course materials…

GK:
It was just torturous for not having access to the information.

TR:
In 1988, George began Computerized Books for the Blind under the University of Montana. As in often the case, accessibility accommodations prove to have benefits that extend to more than just to an originally targeted audience.

GK:
I had a fair number of people with Dyslexia that had contacted me and asked if they can use these materials as well. And, I said well sure, no problem because I had a copyright release that allowed me to send to literally anyone with a disability, the copyright release was very broad. So I added the print disabled that coined the term ‘Print Disability’ which is a word that is commonly used today.

TR:
George put about 10,000 from his own savings into Computerized Books for the blind and Print Disabled. After hearing about the company’s impacted, Recordings for the blind later changed their opinions on digital books. They offered to absorb the company.

GK:
July 1, 1991was the first paycheck I got from 5 years. Boy that was great. Later they changed their name to Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Tell me how this became what we all know as DAISY.

GK:
The library serving the blind saw the writing on the wall about cassettes going away and going to a digital format was something that they were very interested in. So they formed a consortium in 1996 called the DAISY Consortium. Half a dozen aid companies in Canada, Europe and Japan that wanted to develop a digital format and they called it the Digital Audio Information System. A few years later it became, Digital Accessible Information System. They needed to figure out how to take analog recordings and digitalized them. I believed that if we were going to do something with digitalized audio books that you had to have the possibility to synchronize texts and audio. And, also have a navigation system that would allow you to move to headings and pages. There was a conference I attended in Sweden, I attended in ‘97. They were talking about this proprietary audio format. Mark Hanken, he is now with ETS, Educational Testing Service and I went to that meeting and we had this long prepared document about how this approach to proprietary system was wrong. And, we were like the 6th or 7th speaker and every one of the speakers who came before us said the same thing that we were going to say. So we just stood up and got to a white board and started explaining. In two months, I was hired as the first employee of the DAISY Consortium. We did such a good job on that, trying to get into the next generation with EPub is one of the barriers. People are saying “Why do we need anything else if we are making an audiobook, the DAISY format is just fine”. Now we are trying to move people more into the mainstream so that the mainstream products are accessible right out of the box.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What do you see in terms of the future for folks with print disabilities?

GK:
I think that we are real close to essentially having all textual contexts being access. We should be there; there is no reason that shouldn’t be access out of the box. Same thing with all textual contexts in textbook materials and websites and learning management systems. All of that stuff should be accessible. The hard parts like the data visualization, photographs, we are seeing a lot of good progress on facial recognition and photograph interpretation automatically. I think we have a long way to go there, I think it is going to be important for educators to identify the concepts that are being communicated in a particular visualization. Newton’s Law of Motion is in every physics book and each physics book has a different visualization but the underlining concept is the same. And, we should be able to identify that concept and the person should be able to go to like image share from book share from Benetech is an initiative where we are trying to get those concepts and if you want to learn that concept you can just go here and learn the same concept at image share that has been treated to be fully accessible. And address the needs of people with disabilities as this visualization of a pool table that is in the book. Log motion of pool table or marbles or planets it is all the same principle that I think we can refer people to. This is all with personalization of educational materials; I think that is going to be very important as we move forward.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
There has been a lot of improvement with people with print disabilities but there are still several challenges. PDF’s, are coming out of Enterprise programs, different companies, various different things. And, they are supposed to be accessible but often it’s not. Will DAISY end up being something that could help that?

GK:
Yes, absolutely. When PDF came about in the mid-90s, it was a printer driver format; PDF is the name, Printer Driver Format. The marketing people at Adobe changed it to a portal document format.
Fundamentally PDF is a huge problem. I would like to see PDF use for its intended purpose which is printing but you got something is intended for human’s consumption use a EPub. The mobile movement now is everyone reading on tablets and phones is the biggest reason for companies ditching PDF. Reason for going from PDF to EPub is that you can use it anywhere, any size device and it’s reflowable and it is just a much better way to go.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
If you can access a book downloaded in the EPub format, those are accessible?

GK:
iBook, Google Play, Kobo… All of these companies, the publisher wants a single file that they can distribute into their distribution markets. So the trade books… novels and things are pretty straight forward because they are usually just paragraphs and straight texts. You get into a textbook science and math, you get into another level of complexity and that’s really where we think the certification comes in so that the publisher takes that table and makes sure it is a real text table and not a picture of a table. so publishers will do that and that is wrong and it will fail the accessibility conformities that we put together because it is a table that you should be able to read with a screen reader, you can’t read pictures with a screen reader. The publisher industry is excited about it, the USA there is a lot of legal requirements in education that the school needs to purchase access materials and that is really important.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
You sort of mention infographics and I know that it is supposed to be some sort of a picture is I guess symbolic to something and it is taking information and making it easier to understand by using pictures but what other than that, why is it so popular in the internet and what are folks doing to make it accessible?

GK:
Okay so first of all it’s a great question, we hear a lot about big data, data visualization, and infographics. I like data visualization, in the simplest forms if you think of a pie chart where you got some information about cars sold in the United States and how many Chevy, how many fords, how many Chevrolet, how many by Toyota and who got the biggest market share and say you have ten companies with their statistics and there is a ton of statistics that go to make up the pie chart and it is easy to see when you have this pie and there is this big chunk of the pie that says Ford and this small chunk of the pie that says Honda, it is easy to visual that this has the biggest market share. That is an example of data visualization, it’s automatically generated by things like excel and statistical packages, SAS and others will take the data that they got and create this visualization that makes it easy to see the trends in this data. Benetech book share is the company that does book share but they do other things as well. They have a grant from the department of education called the diagraph project to try and work on issues like this. That picture is generated by data and so we can go backwards and try to get the data and try to get the information about the data and have it presented directly to the person through text and speech. What is the meaning of these things and the scatter plot? I think that data visualization can potentially is one of the greatest benefits for people that are blind that is out there cause some much is presented visually but that data is there and can be presented in different ways than just visual. We heard about sonification, I saw Ed Summers from SAS did a presentation in …. Where he had this scatterplot divided into nine parts like a tic-tac-toe and he could press on each part of that tic-tac-toe and it will explain the data that is underneath it. And that was fabulous; he just unfolded that data visualization as texts and presented the underlying to me. It was great. I am concerned about the complexity of all of these things where I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all of the time. Most of the times I win but boy you know it is complicated and my concern is that these interfaces and how to use the technology gets to be so complicated that average people have a hard time using it.

TR:
Being concerned about the challenges that computers present the average person doesn’t stop George from getting his hands on the latest technology.

GK:
I use GPS apps and they are very good. But with the AIRA glasses it is actually a human being looking at the video of what is in front of you. Walking up to my son’s house that is a mile away, heading up there and I had the glasses on and of course there is road construction that blocked by path and we had a pretty significant detour if I just was using GPS, then I would have just abandon that trip.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
Computerized Books for the blind and Print Impaired began with not only George’s need for access but much more importantly what sounds to me like a bit of self-advocacy.

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
What made you think that they would send you the disks in the first place?

GK:
Well, at this point in time, every publisher was using computers to format and publish and it was driving their printing processes. I knew that it existed and it was I am blind, I am a student, and I need these books, can you send them to me?

T.Reid in conversation with George Kerscher:
I am thinking about those people who can be listening that are new to vision loss and your life path some of it might been dictated by vision loss but I am wondering also the other way around in terms of the things you done. How have they impacted your adjustment?

GK:
[sighs], I was denying that I was going blind, I would do downhill skiing with guidance and two way radios but I would never put a vest on that said blind. I would put on visually impaired. I avoided the ‘b’ word; I didn’t use a cane for a while. Hopefully it is a fully incident where you get into a situation where someone knew if I was blind, it would have been a lot easier. I don’t know if you want to put this on the air but I was at a basketball game and went to the men’s room and there was this urinal with a clear plastic on it and a little sign up of above that says Out of Order. Well it was opened and I just walked up to it and the guy next to me was like 6’8” and weighed 300lbs and he was really mad at me. Well the next day, I started to carry a cane. It just helps. I have seen people who are blind and they are pretty good at accepting it but they are always hoping for a cure. It is great to hope for a cure but you should not build your life around it. You should charge forward with what you got right now and do the best you can. Solving problems all the time, listening to people who already solved the problems learn from them on how to get things done. Cane is super important, your navigation skills. You can’t get a guide dog at least from Guide Dogs for the Blind unless you got adequate mobility skills to get you around. A dog is wonderful, they are fast but you got to have those fundamental cane skills that come first. Don’t let yourself become sad over vision loss just say okay this is it and go forward.

TR:
Allow me to send a sincere thank you to anyone who has ever benefited from a digital book. All of those students who didn’t have to worry about finding people who could read their textbooks for them and subsequently probably had a better educational experience. Anyone who like myself after vision loss who yearned for a faster way of navigating through a book and all that comes from all that improved access. Let me echo Mr. Kerscher and encourage you all to go forward and subscribe to this podcast. It is called Reid My Mind radio and you can find it on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune in Radio, and of course Reidmymind.com. So hear me now, believe me later. This podcast is becoming more popular every day and I will tell you the secret.

GK:
Yeah, I am a computer geek and I battle with my computer all the time. Most of the time, I win but boy you know it is complicated.

[Reid my mind Radio’s outro music plays]

TR:
Peace.

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio: Get On Board With The Blind Captain

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

Ahmet in his kayak on a blue sea with a beautiful beach in the background.

Holman Prize winner Ahmet Ustunel says the water is his “happy place.” Hear all about his plans to be the first blind person to independently kayak from Europe to Asia… alone!

Plus the water being my Happy place means Ahmet and I have at least two things in common.

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family…

If you’ve been here before, welcome back! If you’re a new jack, come on in…
take your shoes off if you like, it’s
not mandatory in my house, but I do want you to be comfortable.

Let’s get it! All aboard!
All Aboard!

[Audio: Ship Horn]
[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
In this second of our three part series, we’ll meet another winner of the Holman Prize.

The prize is named in honor of James Holman.
Known as the Blind Traveler, Holman completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.

Sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse $25,000 is given to each of the winners who are all legally blind and in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

Ahmet Ustunel Our featured Holman Prize winner today like James Holman, is quite comfortable on the water.

I spoke to him via Facebook Audio while he was at home in San Francisco.

Ahmet:
I am originally from Turkey. I have been in the US for about 11 years now.
In my free time I like water sports. I like swimming, kayaking, fishing, sailing.

I’m totally blind since the age of two and a half or three due to Retinoblastoma.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

I’m also a Retinoblastoma survivor Sir.

Ahmet:
Man, yeh, wow!

TR:

Retinoblastoma, is a rare childhood eye cancer that usually affects children before the age of years old.
By rare we’re talking about seven thousand children a year.

In the US and other developed nations the survivor rate is
around 90 percent with significant children losing sight.
In under developed nations, the rates are reversed and children’s lives are lost.

One common sign possibly indicating Retinoblastoma is a
white reflection in a child’s eye resembling that of a cat’s eye reflecting light.

Early diagnosis and treatment are key to saving both lives and sight.

By the time Ahmet’s cancer was detected, doctors in Turkey
were out of options to help.

Ahmet:

One of my relatives was in Germany working at a children’s hospital as a janitor so my Gran Ma took me there and they treated me there with radiation an enucleation.

TR:

Enucleation or the surgical removal of Both his eyes, Ahmet returned home to Turkey now as a blind child.

Ahmet:
I was lucky in terms of having really supportive people in my family. I grew up in a really big family. Everybody had a different approach in terms of blindness.

I was the only blind person in the family and even in the town I guess. I didn’t know any other blind person.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Wow! How big of a town are you talking about?

Ahmet:
Maybe like ten fifteen thousand people.
Then I moved to Istanbul which is like fifteen sixteen million people and that actually changed my life.

TR:

Ahmet was aware of the contrasting dynamics in his family as it pertained to his blindness. Some were over protective while others wanted to help him do the things other little boys were doing.

Ahmet:
Ride a bike, tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:

These early lessons in the ability to make something accessible played a role in his education and future.

After not being accepted in a mainstream school , Ahmet watched as his peers went to school at around 6 years old.

Moving to Istanbul his parents tried to enroll him in the only school for blind children. With a waiting list Ahmet wouldn’t begin until he was 8 years old.

Attending school during the week and returning home on weekends, Ahmet credits this school with teaching him valuable life skills.
After 5th grade he would attend a mainstream school.

Ahmet:
They send you back to mainstream school with no support. So you go back to school with no books and no teachers for the blind.

I was the first blind student in the school. I had to prove myself as a blind person.

TR:

At an early age, Ahmet took his education and future into his own hands.

Ahmet:
I was walking around with my Walkman and asking everybody you know, can you read me a page or two.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So you were basically learning to advocate for yourself at that young age?

Ahmet:

Oh yeah I mean absolutely I mean there was nobody to advocate for me.
I could choose to sit around and do nothing you know get a C and pass, but if I really do well then people and teachers and you know the principal will understand that I can do stuff and they will let me stay. And if I cannot do it
I will just withdrawal myself.

TR:
Ahmet when on to not only prove himself to the administration but gain the confidence in his own abilities.

He studied Psychology in college where he met his wife, a US exchange student.

But his early life exposed him to more than academics

Ahmet:

When I was in high school my school campus was right on the water, you can literally jump into the water from the campus.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

So is that where the kayaking came in, from high school.

Ahmet:
No actually I did a lot of you know water related activities since my childhood as I grew up by Black Sea.

When I was in college I use to go rowing and stuff, but I haven’t started kayaking until I came here.

TR:
A Kayak is a very narrow boat like vessel. You steer and move the kayak with a paddle that has a blade on each end. They average about 25 to 35 inches wide and 12 to 19 feet in length.

Ahmet:

So let’s say you have a kayak nineteen foot long and twenty eight inch wide. You can go really fast but it will be a little tippy.

If it is twelve feet long and thirty five inches wide it will be really stable but you will go half as fast as the nineteen foot one.

It’s made of either corrugated plastic or fiber glass, there are some inflatable models.
So you sit in it. And you’re like really close to the water if you put
your hand your right there the water is right there. So you’re like maybe four inches above the water.

And you have a spray skirt which covers the kayak. So if you have a splash water doesn’t get in and if you flip over you are upside down but know water gets in.
So you have to pull the skirt off the kayak and get out of the kayak and flip it over and get back in. Or you can do the special row it’s called Eskimo row. Without pulling the skirt off you can flip the kayak back and keep paddling.

If you go paddling in cold water like San Francisco the water temperature goes below fifty degrees most of the time. So you don’t want to stay in that water more than 15 minutes. If you stay more than 15 minutes they say Hypothermia kicks in.

TR:

So what does Kayaking have to do with the Holman Prize?

[Audio from Ahmet’s Ambition]

You’re listening to Ahmet’s Holman Prize Ambition video where he explains what he would do with the 25 grand.

[Ahmet in Video……]

I have been kayaking for about 10 years and I always wanted to be able to paddle independently. If I win the Holman Prize I will equip my kayak with high and low tech devices that will enable me to navigate the kayak by myself.

TR:
His mission…

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
You heard him correctly…
[Audio: Tape rewinding ]

[Ahmet in video…]
My dream is to be the first blind person to paddle from Europe to Asia by crossing the Bosporus Straits.

TR:
Exactly what is required for someone to non visually, independently navigate their way through the Bosporus Straits from Europe to Asia?

Let’s start with the Kayak

Ahmet:
The kayak I’m going to use has kind of like fins going down from the bottom of the kayak kind of like penguin feet. And so you can pedal with your feet if you want or you can just do a classical paddle strokes.

I want to keep my hands free because I’m going to use whole bunch of different technologies.

TR:

No surprise here the technology includes an iPhone.
Ahmet:

I’m going to use a G.P.S. app – Ariadni G.P.S.

You can mark way points and it will let you know when you get close to that way point.

It also has a compass with degrees and tell you how far you are from your way points. And then I have a talking audible compass. Similar thing it will tell you degrees and you will set you course before you start and it will tell you if you are off course.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
and you will South your course before you start and it will tell you the field

Is that a separate device or is that an app?

Ahmet:

It’s a separate devise.

I will also have parking sensors or security cameras sensors.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Probably the same thing they use when the cars park themselves… right?

Ahmet:

Right, right right! You know when you’re backing out so if you are about to hit something it beeps.

I have a depth whisperer.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

D E P T H?.

Ahmet:
Yes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Ok at first I thought you said death (laughs) I was like I don’t like that one!

Ahmet:
Laughs… I hope not!

It tell you if there’s shallow water underneath the kayak. If you are about to hit a rock or something .

TR:

Ahmet does have to prepare for all scenarios.

There’s redundancy in his technology so if one device fails another can provide the same or just as useful information.

Not all the technology is off the shelf. While searching for the best methods for non-visually navigating his way through the water Ahmet
came across Marty Stone.

Marty is an AT&T I.T. Project Manager by day and after hours…

Marty:

I’m just one of those people that like to tinker with things.

TR:
Marty created a device that simply put:

Marty:
It was developed to allow blind people to get a kayak and race it in a straight line and then turn around and come back.

TR:

Reading about this device, Ahmet reached out to Marty who decided to expand on the original design.

Marty:
Now we’re working on something that not only includes a compass but gyroscopes, accelerometers, and three different axis.

So you get a lot better information as far as movement and heading. We’ve got a G.P.S. module that’s it’s married to along with Bluetooth. That’s going to be interfaced with a device Ahmet will be able to wear on his life vest that will have some buttons that either he can program in some coordinates or commands to the system that he’ll just wear a headset and it’ll talk to him.
It’ll tell him that in order to get from where he is to his next way point he needs to row in a certain heading direction. And if he gets off course the system will tell him to paddle more on the left or paddle more on the right. And when he gets to a way point it will let him know and then he needs to change his heading to another course direction and then it’ll tell him that.

TR:
With both equipment and technology accounted for, Ahmet needs a few more things to be fully prepared to reach his goal; first a plan..

Ahmet:
Istanbul is a city on both continents. And we have this Bosporus Strait that separates the city into two different parts. And the area I’m going to cross is about three, three and a half miles which is not a big physical challenge, but it has heavy traffic.

A lot of ships like tankers, containers, fishing boats, tourist boats, sailing boats you know all kinds of stuff.

These tankers are the size of multiple football fields. A small kayak would probably go unnoticed anywhere near such a large vessel. And getting out of the way even if you could see it would be virtually impossible.

Ahmet:
I don’t want to take my chance with those guys!

TR:
The Bosporus being such a very narrow waterway. Authorities closely control the traffic flow in each direction.

Ahmet:

I will listen to the traffic channel. Usually they have half an hour or forty-five minute break in between and I will do my crossing during that time.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]
Do you have to schedule this?

Ahmet:

Well, I talked to the Coast Guard in Turkey and they .. first they didn’t believe that I could do it and I showed my videos to them and they said ok do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility.
(Ahmet and TR Laugh)

There will be a really fast boat watching me from the shore. If something goes wrong they will come and pick me up in like few minutes.

I’m not worried about the physical challenge – I can paddle you know three miles right now, no big deal. Being an expert using the technology if the key because I don’t want to have hesitation right in the middle of the shipping channel you know. That could be fatal.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Why are you doing this man?

Ahmet:

I always loved the water, it’s my happy place. It’s the place I feel good about myself I feel free. I grew up in a fishing boat when I was a kid. My father was a fisherman. In the fishing boats I used to ask my Dad, you know can I steer the boat. he said yeh, you know, it’s water there’s nothing around you, it’s like miles and miles of open water. I used to take the steering wheel and just feel like I was the captain of the boat. And I was imagining like how can do something like this as a blind person as a blind kid. I always wanted to do something water related but my option were very limited in college.
If I grew up in the US I would have probably do something like marine biology.

I love what I am doing right now, I’m teaching special ed. It was always somewhere in my mind to do something water related and being able to do it independently. I have been thinking about it for a long time and I thought you know, it’s doable if I have the financial support I can do it.

TR:
I believe him. And I will admit it, partially because he is a fellow Retinoblastoma Survivor but mainly because he began as a child.
Think about the early lessons from his family helping him adapt all the different activities so he could participate…

[Audio in flashback Ahmet]

Ride a bike… tie hooks on a fishing line… avoid Sting Rays when you are swimming.

TR:
Then becoming his own advocate at such a young age and showing such determination to get an education.

I imagine these are some of the qualities seen by the Holman Prize judges who awarded Ahmet the 25 thousand dollars to complete his objective.

Ahmet:

You know, I’m not saving the world or I’m not creating job opportunities or changing the lives of blind people , but I think I’m doing something cool!

At least it might encourage younger kids to try new things. I see that my students, high school kids, they get discouraged in terms of finding alternative ways… I think it will help.

Everything could be adapted. Everything could be more accessible, that’s what I want to show. I don’t want it to be a success story of one person … he’s blind but he did that, he did this. It doesn’t mean anything you know one person did this.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

It’s cool, you focus on kids, you’re a teacher so that’s what you do, but for anyone, you’re pursuing your passion and that’s something that we forget in life. To be able to say you’re going to go and pursue your passion and have a dream and do it that is a universal thing that goes way beyond any sort of disability. There are people who are perfectly sighted, physical abled who are not pursuing their passion and we can all learn from that.

Ahmet:
Absolutely, yeh, I mean you know, it’s not a blind or sighted thing. It’s just I think being adventurous and take a risk take a chance.

TR:

That’s probably the final ingredient necessary to complete this mission. courage!

As a young boy on the fishing boat with his Dad, Ahmet dreamt of becoming the captain. It takes real courage to go for your dreams. I’d say Ahmet’s been captain of his ship for quite some time.

If you’re interested in wishing Ahmet safe travels or want to follow his progress, go and Like his Facebook page; Ahmet The Blind captain.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio,
[Audio repurposed: Ahmet ” do whatever, we don’t take any responsibility! ]

audio for independent living!

[Audio: Grand Funk Railroad… The Captain]

TR:
Being affected by the lack of accessibility is frustrating. Especially when you know the so called limitation isn’t real.

It could be a website or program that doesn’t work with a screen reader. That was a choice. Probably not an intentional one, but if made aware of the problem and
a solution isn’t sought well, that’s intentional.

Companies usually fall back on the cost and yes there could be a cost to updating a product, but there’s no real cost to changing how we think and design for the future.

Inaccessibility is frustrating when you know that the reason for technology is to make our lives better.

That was one of the reasons I wanted to reach out to Marty Stone, the developer creating an enhanced device to help Ahmet stay the course.

Marty:
You can never accuse me of being an optimistic person I’m afraid, but I do hope that we can save the world with science, I really do. The world needs a lot of help and a lot of people really don’t trust science or scientist it’s kind of shameful.

[TR in conversation with Marty]
This is what technology is all about.

Marty:
Helping people…

[TR in conversation with Marty]

Yes!

Marty:
Absolutely, the stuff I do for AT&T is great and all that but doing this other stuff… this is the best stuff in the world. Volunteering and doing this other work. Taking some of that Geek ology and helping other people’s lives.. make them better. Man that’s just the dandiest thing in the world.

TR:
We need more of a bridge between the users of technology and the programmers, engineers, scientists … nerds.
Marty:
It’s cool to be a nerd now, yeh…. laughs.

TR:

The opportunity to profile Ahmet and his story came at the right time for me personally.
For the past few years, September has been a pretty busy time here on the Reid Compound.
As a survivor and a family impacted by Retinoblastoma, my family and I have spent the past few years telling stories to bring awareness of this childhood cancer.

September is childhood cancer awareness month. This year unfortunately we couldn’t produce the stories so being able to bring you Ahmet and drop a little info about this eye cancer means a lot to me personally.

In fact, I’d encourage you to check out some of the prior videos we have produced and see how the cancer impacted their lives. While these are videos the visuals included are enhancements, the story is told verbally.
I’ll have some links on this episode’s post on ReidMyMind.com.

I’m always hopeful that a story like Ahmet’s when presented in the mainstream media is done the right way. By that I mean, find and convey his message to the wider audience. In addition to the accessibility and self-advocacy I’m always personally encouraged when I see others going for their dream.

Ahmet was already preparing for the dream. He just needed the funding. His fortune, the San Francisco Lighthouse created the opportunity. Ahmet was prepared. Some say that’s the definition of luck… being prepared for opportunity

That’s another take away for me, be prepared for that opportunity. Begin moving towards your dream.

I hope the Holman Prize winners; Ahmet and Penny are encouraging you the listener to go for your dream if you’re not already.

I hope they’re encouraging you to subscribe to this podcast just
about anywhere podcasts are distributed… Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In and Sound Cloud

The world is going to be buzzing with this next episode, featuring
the final Holman Prize winner. Don’t miss it.

Peace

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