Posts Tagged ‘Accessibility’

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

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – 14 Year Old Makes Talking Laundry Machine

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

TReid in front of washing machine which appears to be talking... machine says "47 minutes remaining on the wash cycle!
Touch screens and digital displays look sexy and futuristic, but for those who are blind or low vision these can present a real access issue.

Jack DuPlessis, a 14 year old programmer stepped up to the challenge of making a washer and dryer talk! Hear how he did it and the possible impact this can have on the future of appliances.

Resources

More of Jack’s work on Git Hub
* Purchase from First Build

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR :
What’s up RMMRadio family.
We’re getting right into this today.

And I can tell you from the jump, there’s know original musical creations in this episode.
[Applause]
Oh seriously who did that… that’s not cool!

[Reid My Mind Theme]

TR:
Accessibility issues are everywhere. Transportation, information like the printed word or that which appears in movies but isn’t spoken and too often employment.
When you think about the problem solvers who find solutions to these types of access issues, you may not think he’d sound like:
[TR in conversation with JD]
How are you?
JD:
I’m good!

TR:
… Well, like a 14 year old young man.
That’s Jack DuPlessis,.

Jack developed a way to make an otherwise inaccessible washer & Dryer talk.

Many of the newer appliances on the market today whether stove tops, microwaves and laundry machines are using digital displays and no real tactile options.

I spoke with Sam DuPlessis now known as Jack’s Dad.
I wanted to learn more about First Build, where this project all began.

SD: First Build was started about three years ago by G.E. appliances. We’re a wholly owned subsidiary of G.E. appliances. We want to incubate new products and
we want to do it in an open and collaborative way. We have all the tools to design build and sell new products and new innovations. And we invite anybody to come in and collaborate with us. Truly we mean anybody. We’ve got an on-line presence. You can come in and sign on and use our tools and create with us or you could go online and submit ideas to our website – we call it Co creation.

TR:
Others in the community and those who visit the site vote for their favorite ideas. The more votes and idea gets;

SD:
We put them in queue to make them and see if we can make products out of them. So really let the creativity of this place and ideas of a large group, come in and help us accelerate product development where from a G.E. appliances point of view things used to take years, we want to just take weeks and months to get these ideas out there tested.

TR:
First Build isn’t just sitting around waiting for ideas to come to them.

SD:
Once a year we do something called a mega hack a thon.

TR:
Hackers usually refers to computer programmers .
A hackathon is a fast paced event that
can last for a few hours or over a weekend.
The intention is to design a new piece of software often with a specific goal in mind.

In the case of the First build hackathon, hackers includes
programmers, engineers, machinists and others.

SD:
We just take things apart and put them back together and try to create new concept products in a weekend.

This year’s Hackathon is September 9 & 10.

TR:
Last year’s hackathon inspired what would become a talking laundry machine. But it started with a Stove or cook top.

SD:
An induction cooktops that was really designed specifically to address some of the cooking issues for the visually impaired. It was a great idea it had a pan locator on a smooth cook top where the visually impaired person wouldn’t have to feel with their hands where the burner was starting to warm up. They could just feel with the pot and it kind of self-locates over the cooking surface. we’ve never seen that before. We happen to have here in Louisville. the American Printing House for the Blind. It’s been here for one hundred fifty years and it’s where they print almost all the materials and teaching aids for blind and visually impaired education in the United States. When their leadership came in and reviewed the cooktop, it had like a cap touch control. It’s not very accessible.

TR:
It was through this outreach and communication with those who are impacted by the inaccessibility, where Sam received a request.

SD:
As things get more electronic like laundry, the knobs just spin three hundred sixty degrees they don’t have a home position. They don’t even have a home beep. You’ve grown this capability but you haven’t really addressed a good universal control. If you can give me a home beep . On Something that would be great.

So I took that as an idea for laundry. Something that here at first build we could just program a test for that and have something maybe that we could
update have in the field and just have a home beep on laundry. Really easy to do. I came home and I asked Jack would he be willing to work
on something like that.

[TR in Conversation with JD]
So your father comes to you with the idea, what did you think about it when he first asked you?

JD:
Yeah, I never thought about visually impaired people using a washer and how hard it would be without something as simple as a home position. So that was just a new take on controlling a washer, but I thought it would be a fun project.

[TR in Conversation with JD& SD]
Jack did you get into programming because of your Dad? Dad, how did it happen
SD:
The cool thing that I did was I brought home a Raspberry Pi and connected to a T.V.

TR:
Sam’s not referring to an actual pie here.
He’s talking about the tiny and affordable computer that you can use to learn programming through fun, practical projects

Getting his hands on this in 4th grade along with a visual coding interface, Jack began working on small projects that included making his own games.
Eventually that led to him learning other languages and other projects like a website that lets users test their typing speed and proficiency

And of course, talking laundry machines!

JD:
So yeah, I went with it and got a working like prototype version in about a weekend or so.

[TR in conversation with JD:]
For some kids, that would deter them to even continue. “Ah this is gonna take too long”, but that’s not you, it doesn’t sound like that.

JD:
[long pause]
No!
[TR & SD: laughs]
## TR:
Jack is humble which is an endearing trait for a very bright talented young guy.
Plus, he has Dad. And Dad’s love to talk about their children.

SD:
What took a few hours that weekend, was a very limited functionality and as this thing developed and we got the feedback, Jack rewrote this to not only address just the knobs but to address many of the buttons that are on the laundry and went through four total structure rewrites. and it has turned him from a very simple piece of code into a very very elaborate piece of code and it’s all self-taught.

I’m an engineer and I lead the technical development here at First Build. The passion that we look for in successful engineers is you got to see the problem and want to solve it and Jack has that and spades. He really
sees problems and really likes to dive in to figure out what it takes to solve it.

When Jack makes a significant improvement in anything the corners of his mouth turn up ever so slightly.

TR & Dad laugh!

TR:
That code Jack wrote is now on a small device that attaches to both washer and dryer via a cable that plugs into the diagnostic ports in the back of each machine.

Turning the knob on the machine gives you immediate feedback:
[Sample Sounds]

It even allows you to press a button on the device while the machine is running and hear how much time is remaining.

[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Have you gotten any feedback from anyone who is visually impaired who may have used the device?

JD:
Yeah…So we put a device in the Kentucky School for the Blind. So we’ve gotten good feedback from them.
And that same person who gave us the feedback about the cook top from the American printing House for the Blind, he has given us great feedback on it as well.
SD:
Not only has he been able to take their feedback you know one on one, but he’s since been able to release software that provides the features that they asked for.
[TR in conversation with JD & SD]
Congratulations to you young man! It’s a really cool thing you’re doing. Dad you too. Obviously you introduced him to it. What are you learning about accessibility?

SD:
I’ve made appliances for twenty five years and we’ve got we call it a heuristics evaluation. Where we look at the usability of controls. And from a I mean just a basic use of what could be in a control to make it more accessible I’ve learned that there are they they can actually be free and we can start putting them in appliances that we make today. If something has a tone capability instead of having it beep the the same beep as it slews through maybe a couple different selections. If it has a high and low tome Automatically it’s much more usable. With these types of insights you know we can put a home beep, it the minimum and that’s free.

We started to update our heuristics evaluation. I’m taking what we’ve learned in this point of view and seeing how we can update our control algorithm so that everything comes
out a little bit more accessible.

TR:
Of course, I had to ask about an iPhone app

SD:
That’s probably where in a few years I think many of our appliances will end up.

Wi-Fi has started to be added to our top end appliances including laundry and there is
a laundry app. One of the things Jacks work has done is uncovered these communications that Go back and forth in the app don’t exist. He’s actually telling
them the things that they need to do to create a more accessible app experience..

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
What’s your favorite piece of technology right now Jack?

JD:
My favorite piece of technology right now that I want is probably a Mac Book.

SD:
Santa Clause is getting some hints!

[Tr in conversation with SD:]
And it sounds like he’s been a real good boy!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Do you see yourself going more into what area? Do you want to stay with manufacturing coding, I heard games what do you want to do?

JD:
I’m not sure exactly what I want to do. As long as it involves computers, programming it will probably be good with me.

[Tr in conversation with JD:]

And accessibility too, right?

JD:
Yeah!

[Tr in conversation with JD:]
Laughs!

TR:
It’s refreshing to know that this talented young man and possible future leader in technology is already showing signs of committing to accessibility.

Right now, the First Build Talking Laundry Module is available for one GE washer and 2 dryers 1 electric and one gas.

The modules right now are being produced on demand and available for purchase
via the First Build website; firstbuild.com

It costs $99 and works for both washer and dryer. and comes with the cables and AC adapter.

The device is 5 x 5 x 2.5 inch and has built in speaker and volume control knob and includes magnets on the base to hold the unit to the side of dryer

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[JD: from the piece… long pause and he then says… No!]

Audio for independent living!

TR: RMMRadio Outro

The purpose of technology is to help us accomplish a specific task. The first tools used by our ancestors in Africa could be considered assistive technology.

Accessibility, just extends the us. For too long us only included those with fully functioning… fill in the blank.
More people are understanding and being informed that just because your eyes don’t function at a certain level, you don’t hear the way others may or any other disability, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to get the same things accomplished.

I can really appreciate this story for several reasons.

I can relate to the Dad, Sam, recognizing that his son’s interest. Then challenging him to get involved with a project that has a real world purpose. Encouraging him to not only get better at coding but gaining an early lesson about technology – it should improve our lives.

There’s another lesson that can be gained… it’s about disability but even more so it’s about humanity. Everyone has unlimited potential. Disability doesn’t reduce that in anyway. People do.

People who see limitations and then whether directly or otherwise restrict someone from reaching their potential.

People who internalize that idea and restrict themselves.

People who refuse to make their products accessible even after learning that by doing so they are restricting 20 percent of the population who has some form of disability.

Whether from a business or creative perspective, not working towards a fully accessible product is a very limiting move. Convincing me once again that the limitations are in the eye of the beholder.

Accessibility advocates will tell you the goal, is accessibility included in the design phase. The time when all those involved with the creation of the product are beginning to figure out what the product will look like and how it will work. It sounds like Sam is taking steps toward that. Especially realizing that it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

We can say that Jack getting involved at 14 is right in line with that. Part of the problem is that accessibility isn’t often included in computer science curriculum.

Getting introduced to the concept of accessibility at 14 years old, makes me optimistic about the future.

You might say this is one person, one story, but that’s never really the case unless the story goes untold.

Well Jack’s story has definitely made its way around the web and I’d like to think that the accessibility conversation has been advanced a little further.

Shout out to Sam and Jack DuPlessis First Build and GE for advancing access for those who are blind or visually impaired.

And here’s hoping Santa is listening to this episode of the podcast and Jack finds some cool stuff under that tree this year!

You know what else is cool? Yes, you do!
Subscribing to this here podcast. You can subscribe on Apple, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and follow on Sound Cloud.

Give the podcast a rating, a review and or tell a friend or two to take a listen.

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Microsoft Seeing AI – Real & Funky

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

!T.Reid wearing a hat with a "T" while the Seeing AI logo is imposed on his shades!
Okay, I don’t usually do reviews, but why not go for it! All I can tell you is I did it my way; that’s all I can do!
It took a toll on me… entering my dreams…
I’m going to go out on a limb and say I have the first podcast to include an Audio Described dream! So let’s get it… hit play and don’t forget to subscribe and tell a friend to do the same.

Resources:

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Wasup good people!
Today I am bringing you a first of sorts, a review of an app…

I was asked to do a piece on Microsoft’s new app called Seeing AI.for Gatewave Radio.

The interesting thing about producing a tech related review for Gatewave is that the Gatewave audience most likely doesn’t use smart phones and maybe even the internet. However, they should have a chance to learn about how this technology is impacting the lives of people with vision loss. Chances are they won’t learn about these things through any mainstream media so… I took a shot… And if there’s anything I am trying to get across with the stories and people I profile
it’s we’re all better off when we take a shot and not just accept the status quo

[Audio from Star Trek’s Next Generation… Captain La Forge fire’s at a chasing craft. Ends with crew mate exclaiming… Got em!]
[Audio: Reid My Mind Radio theme Music]

[Audio: Geordi La Forge from Star Trek talk to crew from enemy craft…]
TR:
Geordi La Forge from Star Trek’s Next Generation , played by LeVar Burton, was blind. However, through the use of a visor he was able to see far more than the average person.

While this made for a great story line, it also permanently sealed LeVar Burton and his Star Trek character as the default reference for any new technology that proposes to give “sight” to the blind.

[Audio: from intro above ending with Geordi saying…
“If you succeed, countless lives will be affected”
TR:
What exactly though, is sight?

We know that light is passed through the eye and that information is sent to the brain where it is interpreted and
quickly established to represent shapes, colors, objects and people.

A working set of eyes, optic nerves and brain are a formidable technological team.
They get the job done with maximum efficiency

Today, , with computer processing power growing exponentially and devices getting smaller the idea that devices like smart phones could serve as an alternative input for eyes is less science fiction and well, easier to see.

There are several applications available that bring useful functionality to the smart phone ;
* OCR or optical character recognition which allows a person to take a picture of text and have it read back using text to speech
* Product scanning – makes use of the camera and bar codes which are read and the information is spoken aloud again, using text to speech
* Adding artificial intelligence to the mix we’re seeing facial and object recognition being introduced.

Microsoft has recently jumped into the seeing business, with their new iOS app called Seeing AI… as in Artificial Intelligence!
There’s no magic or anything artificial about these results, they’re real!

In this application, the functionality like reading a document or recognizing a products bar code are split into channels. The inclusion of multiple channels in one application is already a plus for the user. Eliminating the need to open multiple apps.

Let’s start with reading documents.

For those who may have once had access to that super-fast computer interface called eyes , you’re probably familiar with the frustration of the lost ability to quickly scan a document with a glance and make a quick decision.

Maybe;
* You’re looking for a specific envelope or folder.
* you want to quickly grab that canned good or seasoning from the cabinet.

With other reading applications you have to go through the process of taking a picture and hoping you’re on the print side of the envelope or can. After you line it up and take the picture you find out the lighting wasn’t right so you have to do it again.

Using Microsoft’s Seeing AI you simply point the phones camera in the direction of the text

[Audio App in process]

Once it sees text, it starts reading it back! The quick information can be just enough for you to determine what you’re looking for. In fact, during the production of this review, I had a real life use case for the app.

My wife reminded me that I was contacted for Jury duty and I needed to follow up as indicated in the letter. The letter stated I would need to visit a specific website to complete the process. I forgot to put the letter in a separate area in order to scan it later and read the rest of the details. So rather than asking someone to help me find the letter, I grabbed the pile of mail from the table and took out my iPhone.

I passed some of my other blindness apps and launched Microsoft Seeing AI. I simply pointed the camera at each individual piece of paper until finding the specific sheet I was seeking. The process was a breeze. In fact, it was easier than asking someone to help me find the form. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s glancing!

Now that I found the right letter, I could easily get additional information from the sheet by scanning the entire document. I don’t need to open a separate app, I can simply switch to a different channel, by performing the flick up gesture.

Similar to a sighted person navigating the iPhone’s touch screen interface , anyone can non visually accomplish the same tasks using a set of different gestures designed to work with Voice Over, the built in screen reader that reads aloud information presented on the screen.

Using the document channel I can now take a picture of the letter and have it read back.

One of the best ways to do this is to place the camera directly on the sheet in the middle and slowly pull up as the edges come into view. I like to pull my elbows toward the left and right edges to orient myself to the page. Forming a triangle with my phone at the top center. The app informs you if the edges are in view or not.
Once it likes the positioning of the camera and the document is in view, it lets you know it’s processing.

[Audio: Melodic sound of Seeing AI’s processing jingle]

You don’t even have to hit the take picture button. However, if you are struggling to get the full document into view ,
you could take the picture and let it process. It may be good enough for giving you the information you’re seeking.

If you have multiple sheets to read, simply repeat.

Another cool feature here is the ability to share the scanned text with other applications. That jury duty letter, I saved it to a new file on my Drop Box enabling me to access it again from anywhere without having to scan the original letter

Let’s try using the app to identify some random items from my own pantry.

To do this, I switch the channel to products.

[Audio: Seeing App processing an item from my pantry…]

What you hear, is the actual time it took to “see” the product. All I’m doing is moving the item in order to locate the bar code.
As the beeps get faster I know I am getting closer. When the full bar code is in range, the app automatically takes the picture and begins processing.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces the result of the bar code scan… “Goya Salad Olives”

It’s pretty clear to see how this would be used at home, in the work environment and more.

Now let’s check out the A I or artificial intelligence in this application.

By artificial intelligence, the machine is going to use its ability to compute and validate certain factors in order to provide the user with information.

First, I’ll skip to the channel labeled Scene Beta…
Beta is another term for almost ready for prime time. So, if it doesn’t work, hey,, it’s beta!

Take a picture of a scene and the built in artificial intelligence will do its best to provide you with the information enabling you to understand something about that scene.

[Seeing AI reports a living room with a fireplace.]

This could be helpful in cases like
If a child or someone is asleep on the couch.

[Audio: Action Movie sound design]

I can even picture a movie starring me of course, where I play a radio producer who is being sought by the mob. The final scene I use my handy app to see the hitman approaching me. I do a round house kick…
ok, sorry I get a little carried away at the possibilities.

While no technology can replace good mobility travel skills I can imagine a day where the scene identification function will provide additional information about one’s surroundings.
Making it another mobility tool for people who are blind or visually impaired.

Now for my final act… oh wait it’s not magic remember!

Microsoft Seeing AI Offers facial recognition.
That’s right, point your camera at someone and it should tell you who that person is… Well, of course you have to first train the app.

To do this we have to first go into the menu and choose facial recognition.
To add a new person we choose the Add button.
In order to train Seeing AI you have to take three pictures of the person.
We elected to do different facial expressions like a smile, sad and no expression.
Microsoft recommends you let sighted family and friends take their own picture to get a good quality pic.

The setup requirement, while understandable at this point sort of reduces that sci fi feel.

After Seeing AI is trained, once you are in the people channel
when pointing your camera in the direction of the persons face, it can recognize and tell you the person is in the room.

[Audio: Seeing AI announces Raven about 5 feet in front.]

Seeing AI does a better job recognizing my daughter Raven when she smiles. That too me is not artificial intelligence because we all love her smile!

The application isn’t perfect. it struggled a bit with creased labels, making it difficult to read the bar code.

Not all bar codes are in the database. It would be great if users could submit new products for future use.

As a first version launch with the quick processing, Seeing AI really gives me something to keep an eye on. Or maybe I should say AI on!

Peering into the future I can see;

* Faster processing power that makes recognition super quick,
* Interfacing with social media profiles to automatically recognize faces and access information from people in your network
* lenses that can go into any set of glasses sending the information directly to the application not requiring the user to point their phone
at an item or person and privately receiving the information via wireless headset.
That could greatly open up the use cases.

In fact, interfacing with glasses is apparently already in development and
the team includes a lead programmer who is blind.

Microsoft says a Currency identification channel is coming in the future;
making Seeing AI a go to app for almost anything we need to see!

The Microsoft Seeing AI app is available from the Apple App store for Free 99. Yes, it’s free!

I’m Thomas Reid
[Audio: As in artificial intelligence!]
For Gatewave Radio, audio for independent living!

[Audio: Voice of Siri in Voice Over mode announcing “More”]

I don’t know if that’s considered a review in the traditional sense, but honestly I am not trying to be traditional.

The thing is, thinking about the application started to extend past the time when I was working on the piece…

That little jingle sound the app makes when it’s processing… it started to seep into my dreams…
[Audio: Dream Harp]

[Audio: “Funky Microsoft Seeing AI” An original T.Reid Production]

The song is based around the processing tone used in the app with the below lyrics.

(Audio description included in parens)

(Scene opens with Thomas asleep in bed with a dream cloud above his head)

The processing sound becomes a sound with Claps…

(We see a darkened stage)

(As the chorus is about to begin spotlight shines on Thomas & the band)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Thomas rips off his shirt!)

Verse:
Download the app on my iPhone

{Background sings… “Download it, Download it!}

Checking out things all around my home

(Thomas dances on stage)

Point the camera from the front
Huh!
Point the camera from the back!

I’m like;
what’s that , what’s this
Jump back give my phone a kiss!
Hey! (James Brown style yell!)

(Thomas spins and drops into a split)

Chorus:
Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

Microsoft Seeing AI
Helping people see without their eyes

(Back in the bed we see Thomas with a fading dream cloud above his head)

Ends with the app’s processing sound.

TR:
Wow, definitely time to move on to the next episode…

With that said, make sure you Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Tell a friend to do the same – I have some interesting things coming up I think you’re going to like.
And something you may have not expected!

[Audio: RMMRadio Outro]
TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript