Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Charles Curtis Blackwell – Words of Meaning Empowerment & Inspiration

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

A side Head shot of Charles Curtis Blackwell in a dark space leaning forward in thought with his pointer finger placed on his lip and the sunlight cascading across his face

Photo by Liz Moughon


Visual Artist, Writer and Poet Charles Curtis Blackwell, the subject of this year’s #Superfest2020 feature film God Given Talent shares stories of his life. We hear pivotal moments of influence including Jazz and school busing. Loss, Forgiveness, Purpose and of course Art!

His experience and approach to adjusting to vision loss is a must hear for anyone new to blindness. As evident in the episode, I too was inspired and hope this production, may I dare say, is a bit more artistic.

This episode is dedicated to the memory of one of my teachers; Sijo Abu Bakr. May We Remain!

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Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Audio: City soundscape merges into a nightclub atmosphere.

TR as on stage Host:

Greetings & Salutations brothers and sisters!
My name is Thomas Reid.

— Applause

Thank you, thank you very much!

Allow me to welcome you all to the Reid My Mind Lounge.!

— Jazz Music Begins

That’s right; today’s episode deserves an appropriate atmosphere.
I want you to sit back and really feel this one.
This was inspired. And y’all know I don’t use that word lightly.

Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell is an artist. A visual artist, a writer, poet and definitely a story teller.

Where I come from, what he has to share, we call science or gems. Either way, he’s dropping it!
My hope is that you pick it up!

It all drops after the intro!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme

TR:

Influence!

Music – Rahsan Roland Kirk, Volunteer Slavery

CC:
Have you ever heard of Rahsaan Roland Kirk?

Jazz horn player. He was more than that. Originally from Columbus but he wound up in Newark. He was totally Blind. He played three saxophones at the same time. He had them hooked together. He influenced a lot of Jazz musicians with this thing called circular breathing. In one nostril and out of the other. Their still blowing. You think they’re holding the note.

I caught him live before I lost my eyesight.

Kind of influenced me years later. I says ok well just do whatever.

Somebody said hey man how you do that? I’ve done some crazy stuff with the poetry. I just said hey man; I’m kind of like Rahsaan Roland Kirk you just got to get crazy on stage. Just go ahead you know get wild, you know (laughs)!

Music Begins… Jazz Track 9 from Charles Curtis Blackwell In Color

I liked Jazz at an early age. They crammed classical down our throats going from 6th grade to 7th grade. It was Mozart, Bach, Beethoven you know, so I got turned off. I tried to flunk the test. Wound up in music anyway. (Laughs) next semester I transferred back to art.

I was doing art before 5th grade. I remember the instructor she pointed out this drawing that I did. It had the whole class’s attention.

maybe because art it just came easy. I didn’t know I was taking it for granted.

Audio: Historic Radio News Broadcast

“the Supreme Court ruled in 1954, that pupils cannot be segregated by law on the basis of race.”

CC:

I was in a busing program. They bused us to this high school from this neighborhood in Sacramento. I was in 9th grade; I think I was around 13 or 14. They didn’t want us there.

The first day we got there, there were white folks with pickets. The end of the school year it turned into a racial riot; 14 people arrested one in the hospital and another one that was supposed to be in the hospital, he was Black, they arrested him instead, they didn’t send him to the hospital. One of the most scary days of my life. I was small man and I was scared man, these cats could fight.

My folks continued to make me go to the school. I didn’t really want to go. And it seemed like it wasn’t a day past some racial remark, I don’t know if you want me to mention those names on here you know. It really messed with me.

There was one incident. They had a policy; you could put the gloves on and have a boxing thing. Oh cool!

This guy kept messing with me. Shoving me into lockers, kicking me, but he always had his buddies with him. His name was Souza. He was a distance runner, He was up for championship.

This went from year to the next year. So I’m from the neighborhood, right. This year we had the same PE class. I told the coach I want to put the gloves on. The first coach his name was McFadden, he was ok. He spoke to me and said ok, we’ll call him in. I trusted McFadden. The other coach, he was a new coach. I didn’t know about him because he wasn’t there the day of the riot. The day of the riot the teachers, they weren’t breaking up the fights, they were yelling you damn Niggers! (Pause) These were teachers. You couldn’t trust nobody.

Coach called him.

Man I’m busy tucking my shirt in, tightening up my tennis shoes, I’m getting ready you know.

They say yegh Charles says that you’ve been harassing him, you did this and you did that.

No, no, no I didn’t!

The new coach he was sitting there, he jumped up and said you a such and such liar I saw you do it. Man, I was knocked off my feet.

They turned to Souza and said what is you ready? He says no, no I don’t want to…

I’m getting teed off. He don’t want to box with me. They say well do you want to apologize to Blackwell (laughs…). I ain’t want no apology. (Laughs…)
The dude apologized, the coach says ok Charles can you accept his apology. I did but I didn’t really want to. (Laughs….)

Audio: Sound of white school busing protests.

All this racism stuff and busing program stuff, I had poor self-esteem.

I was like a D student. My idea was like finish high school, get a job as a janitor and you know bang, that was it. I didn’t have no big aspirations.

I got into reading.

Audio: School bell ringing

We had to write like a newspaper article. And the way I learned how to write was from reading the San Francisco Chronicle. They had real good writers at that time. And so that’s how I kind of picked up on expository writing from reading the newspaper. I wrote an article for this class and you didn’t write this. Someone else wrote it. You know, this is not your style of writing, you didn’t write this. I got a low grade. I said eh whatever. Sometimes they give you a low grade realizing oh wow, what they’re really telling you is you got raw brute talent.

Music transition…

I used to sell the paper it was called the Sacramento Observer, it was a Black newspaper. William Lee, he was over the paper. So I called the paper and spoke to him and I said what if I write a story about these Black students graduating from this busing program. It wasn’t me it was the class ahead of me. They were graduating. He said yeh, write it and get it to us we’ll run it. I said ok. Paper comes out I open up the paper looked inside, looked on the back of the paper I said wow that’s funny they said they were going to run the article. So I called the newspaper, Secretary answered. I said yeh, this is Charles Blackwell, she says yes! I wrote this article they said they were going to run the article in the newspaper, she says yes. I said well I looked inside the paper and I didn’t see then I looked on the back of the paper and I didn’t see it. She said well did you look on the front page? (Laughing) I was knocked off my feet man! I never would have thought they would put the article on the front page. That was poor self-esteem. man I was just flabbergasted, I sold extra copies. I would go door to door selling the paper man, you know. (Laughs…)

Music Transition

I got to college my whole world started changing.

I was an art major. I was trained to do sketches. Funny, I was talking to you earlier about Rahsaan Roland Kirk. So I had a copy of Down Beat Magazine. We had to turn in a final drawing. Kind of like a shadow of the person you know it’s like super imposed, almost like shading. I did it with my 20/20 eyesight just looking at it and doing it. And the instructor said you used the Opaque projector that’s not right. I said no I didn’t use no Opaque projector; I just did it from a magazine. He downgraded me but he was telling me that’s how good my eyesight was.

TR:

Loss!

Audio: Sound of ocean waves continues with van driving…

CC:

I was staying in Santa Cruz for a little while. I was with some friends so we get in the van and go to the ocean. Stop at one place and we’d go further up. The waves were coming in. So they get out and they go down.

I’m in the van, I’m reading this book. A little while later I get out. I go down but I’m going the wrong way. I’m thinking this is the path. I made the mistake of allowing the terrain to half way carry me. There was this big rock, I was going fast and I said well I’ll just go jump and go over the rock. I was assuming it would be a slant. There was a cliff. I didn’t know.

— brief silence

Temporarily paralyzed on one side, concussion, internal bleeding. Broke one small bone. It was my finger. I don’t know how that happened.

Ah man, I just knew I was going to die.

By the grace of God here I am.

I was in the hospital for like a week, seven eight days, something like that. I don’t know man, next thing I know I’m up and going and I returned to my place in Santa Cruz. A few days later I headed back to Sacramento trying to regroup.

I got back in college a few months later.

Finished that semester. Christmas time man, we partied like crazy. I went to every party there was and the next thing you know I met this girl; I was in love man I wanted to get married.

Music – Cymbal crescendo followed by a cymbal crash and flute begins…
Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color
The unspeakable artist
Yearning, in and out of the room
If we sit in a dark room too long
We will meet the who
In the form of a tormented scream
Examining who we really are

Cymbal crash

CC:

I’m driving, I left college and I’m headed home and I remember I’m at this intersection and the horns are honking behind me and I had to turn. I barely made it.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Cymbal crash

And has fearless as we may be to ourselves
Those ghostly cries are all of us laid out in the dark

CC:

They’re doing all these tests, morning to night.
They call it an Edema – it’s where I hit and the fluid went to a state of rest and when it returned back into motion it left my macular pale. Macular Degeneration.

Audio continues from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

But if we stay in a dark room for so long we could see all the colors of the rainbow
Which reside on the other side where tombstones, grave sights pilferage and sorrows dwell.

CC:

They told me there’s nothing we can do. it all comes down to God. That was the end man, I just gave up.

I just dropped out of college. I didn’t go sign out or nothing.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Magenta unwrapped, indigo unveiled and cobalt for all those chance given up when the soul gave chase to something of an eastern religion.
For residing in a dark room for so long can cause one to worship the form instead of the creator.

CC:

It was like what do we do to carry us through and it’s kind of bad but I was out drinking hook up with some friends get a beer. Somebody else would have some hard liquor. I was doing that too drinking wine.

Audio from Track 6 from Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color.

Many hales for the blood we fear running through our veins
Flowing upward like the Nile to our heads
In the dark room so sacred yet so cold the skin can’t breathe it

This tranquil rite of passage
Oh woman can you hear me in absence of gender
Nothing but flesh crawling in the dark
Solitary confinement

CC:

The worse thing I think I did, I didn’t know how to be… (Phone connection failing…)
Can you hear me any better? 1, 2, 3… that’s better?
Ok, I’ll turn around then …

I was raised southern family, my folks from Mississippi.

The idea, if you’re going to be with this person you going to be married, you gotta be able to provide. You got to be this man. The male role.

It ain’t about the male role, the macho, the strong…
So that was a big mistake I made trying to push her away, put her at a distance. I was 20. We get taught certain things but we realize that’s not going to help you in terms of dealing with life.

All I remember man was being in the bedroom and crying day in and day out. I would never tell her that’s what I was doing, which was really bad

When life hits in such a manner what do you got to hold onto. Faith and trying to trust God and trying to believe.

Audio Cymbal crash

Might be somebody there that could help you build (hope) and (encourage you to live).
(Each emphasized with echo audio effect…)

Audio: Subway train on tracks

CC:

Wound up at some friends. They were having a pool party at some apartment complex.

Audio: Train comes to screeching stop.
Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Pre De Term Mind! Mind! Pre Det term Mind!

CC:

I wound up sleeping at one person’s house, another house.

Had a fight with my Dad, he snatched the phone. I was a psychological mess.

This friend, his name was Ken, we had met on a bus. And we were talking, we discovered we were both born on the same day. He came and visited me while I lost my eye sight. He was from the Santa Cruz area.

It was getting to the point where I really got depressed. I mean real, real serious depressed. And then I just kind of disappeared. Nobody knew where I was. I wound up at the bus station. I went on to Santa Cruz and caught up with ken. I started a fight with the landlord. I was going crazy! I didn’t want to pay no rent. (Laughs) Really wasn’t going to make no sense.

I wound up sleeping on the beach. I got a cheap room at a hotel. Something like six dollars a night. I think I only had a hundred.

I would hang out at this book store and listen to people talking.

I was standing on the corner, people came by and said hey brother, do you know anything about Jesus. I says yeh, God and Jesus I know, what I need right now is food, shelter and clothing. And they said brother we got food, shelter and clothing. I said what? It was a Christian Commune. So I went and stayed with them.

They had me on the laundry detail. They had a second hand store. I was with this other guy, the only other brother and we would go and pickup refrigerators and stoves and other stuff. When I look back on it things moved kind of fast. January I’m losing my sight and going bizerk in the head, the crying and everything. Around August I had disappeared . The early part of September I wound up with this commune. From September til about January I had returned back to my folks in Sacramento.

It got me back into the swing of things not feeling like I’m going to be an invalid for the rest of my life.

Audio from Track1 Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

An older Smokey voice off mic repeats

Y’all gonna hear from me… someday!

But the Blue line escapes all the mental anguish, mental breakdown of knots tied up inside.
(fades out)

Music – Curtis Mayfield Back to the World

CC:

Curtis Mayfield had this song called Back to the World.

I leave the commune and now I’m back in the world. The world is not the same as the commune. People there are kind of helpful and everything. Now I’m back in the world and I didn’t know what to do.

Even though I got back into the swing of things I hadn’t really adjusted all the way.

Signed up with Voc Rehab. They ask if you need a cane. I use a cane now but at first I didn’t. There main thing was trying to make a person productive in terms of society, getting a job, being trained for some kind of work situation. Then they had another part of going to college.

It was the social worker. She was with the welfare department at that time. She was this white lady and her isms started coming out. I made the mistake of when I left town, disappeared, I was 21, I got a beer. I called her of all people, I said I’m not going to be here, I’m gone. Where you going? Well I’m busy drinking a beer. I was dismantled anyway. Some people they don’t understand that because there all emphasis is like get you ready to be productive in society. Well how you going to be productive when inside, you’re a wreck. They don’t comprehend it. She’s saying uh, last time I spoke to Charles he was busy getting drunk on the phone and he was going to do this, this and this. And I was just sitting there , I know it was God. I just sat there and let her run off at the mouth. Huh!

“Words that have meaning” – CC with Ambient effect

Then the guy from Voc Rehab, well you really don’t seem like you know what you want to do in life. And I said oh, ok. I was just agreeing because I was in a different place spiritually. A little time past and I called him and said hey I think I want to go to college.

If you can get me two C’s we’ll fund you to go to college. So I did summer school and got two B’s but I was trying to get two A’s.

They always shifted me, changed, got a different guy for Voc. Rehab. This guy was totally Blind, ok? Man, I go in to meet with the dude and we’re talking. I’m saying oh, this is going to be ok because he’s totally Blind, he can relate to my situation, being partly Blind you know. We’re sitting there talking for over an hour. He’s interviewing me and at the very end of the interview he says ok, boy!

Man he did it in such a manner, I was just shocked.

“Words can help you be empowered!” – CC with Ambient effect

My Dad wasn’t the best communicator. I got back home, I was angry. My Dad was waxing the car. My Dad had a Cadillac (laughs). Picked up a rag, what the heck wax the car, maybe that will help me. I told him what had happened and my Dad, like I said, he wasn’t a real good communicator but this was one time he said something.

He said, he’s testing you.

He’s testing me?

Yeh, he’s testing you.

And that’s all my Dad said.

I milked that counselor like crazy. every time they had something to offer I grabbed it. So we had to bring our grades in, well it looks like you got some A’s here and you got a B and an A and another A . He says well, what kind of help do you need? Well, we got cassette recorders and do you need more reader service, I says oh yeh, oh yeh!

I get out of college and I could have changed counselors but I’m like no I’m gonna stay with this dude because I know what’ he’s like. He was testing me and I’m reading him.

I get out, well congratulations Charles. You can’t go to graduate school, we don’t have no money. We got a training program here.

You could have a cafeteria in a federal building.

I went to Montana, I went to Seattle, Los Angeles trying to get a job. Couldn’t get a job. The reality hit me, being partly Blind, ain’t no opportunities. I signed up!

When almost two weeks or a month we’re sitting at this table. This white dude is sitting next to me. He’s much older than me. He was losing his eyesight. This other guy’s across from me, he was Mexican, fresh out of Soledad prison, but he was in the program too. The guy in charge of the program it was his cafeteria, the guy comes up and says Charlie my boy, you talk back to my employees you can’t remain here you understand that. And I said yes! Just automatically. The white dude sitting next to me said that was F’d up. He was in his 40’s. You know something was wrong. The Mexican fresh out of Soledad said Charles are you ok?

I come back to the world, I’m being all well love one another be real open, be kind to people. This is the racism of America. Even though I may change the world hadn’t changed. I had to deal with it some kind of way. That’s the horror of this country. This is it, this is what’s on the table.

The next day man, I scared the slop out of that man. I threatened that man like crazy man. (laugh) They called a meeting with another state official. The man had me, the guy I had threatened.

Alright Charles, he says he’s scared to be around you. Well just what the F do you want.

“Words that can help you be inspired” – CC with Ambient effect

I came up during the 60’s man. I was involved in the Black student Union, we got 9 out of 10 demands for Black Studies and here this joker gonna do something racist like this.

You know how we learn from people. My mind went back to this brother, his name was Amyl Palmer, he was head of the Black Student Union. The brother could deal, he was way older than me. I leaned back and said what you got to offer?

You want to go to graduate school? I said that sounds workable. (Laughs) So I went to grad school. (Laughs)

CC:

A buddy of mine wrote a poem. I like real conversations.

Real conversations can really help you in life. What is it that helped me, you know, having real conversations like words that have meaning. Words can help you be empowered. Words that can help you be inspired.

Music Begins…

CC:
You gotta deal with the race and then you got to deal with people’s ignorance toward disability even with Black folks.

You think they’re going to relate to your blindness.

You might know, Berkley is where the center for independent living started. They were filing law suits way back in the 70’s. You could be in Berkley it could be a totally different story as opposed to being in Oakland. You get to Oakland, you get people like; Hey, is you blind? (Laughs…) I’ll be waiting for a bus. Hey I’m trying to catch the bus … it’s right there don’t you see the sign? And I’m carrying a cane now. You try to say ok, let it teach me something, try to just grin and bear it, but if you’re trying to hurry up and get somewhere. Let’s say there’s two people at the bus stop. I ask somebody and they say something ridiculous like it’s right there just look at it. I just turn to the next person and say, excuse me can you tell me which bus… and they tell me. And then the other person goes, oh hey I didn’t know you blind. I just walk off and leave them alone. I do them cold but it’s like what can I say to the person?

Every once in a while a person says oh excuse me I’m very sorry. Ok, cool.

I walked in a business before, with a cane, I’m trying to figure out why are they paying so much attention to me but it’s not a friendly attention it’s almost like do they think I’m going to steal something.

One of the worse things I got … I got off a bus one day and the dude said yeh, man, you got that game down, carrying that cane pretending to be Blind. I had some cuss words, I didn’t say them out loud cause it was night time and I ain’t ready for no fight. It’s kind of what they call the Pre Antebellum South the days before Helen Keller. A lot of this society is still like that.

I’m a church going brother. I remember I was at this church a little over a year ago, this friend named Joyce and Leo, hey Charles we’re going to this other church, come on and go, I said ok. I’m sitting there participating in the worship and then the minister calls someone here need to accept Jesus. And this lady is sitting behind me, she ain’t said nothing to me, she hasn’t given me a friendly greeting or nothing. She poked me on my shoulder , you can go up now and accept Jesus. (Laughs) I’ve been sitting there participating in the service and it’s like, no communication she just automatically assumed oh you Blind you need Jesus.

Sometimes there are store front churches and then there’s a good ol’ store front church That kind of backward condemning. maybe the reason you lost your eyesight is because you did something bad. You sinned. God is punishing you. If a person is just losing their eyesight and a person comes along and tells him something like that, oh God man, they’re condemned to hell. It could take them years to get out of that.

I remember this lady, it was Kay Stewart she setup a program for the Blind students at the college. And she was very hip. White lady from Texas. A very, very nice lady. A matter of fact she knew the racist counselor at Voc. Rehab. She wasn’t too fond of him. She was always whatever I can do to help you here at the college, knowing you weren’t going to get all the help you needed from Voc. Rehab. So she would do these cultural programs. When I finished college she got in touch with me and she asked me to go on this outing. She wanted me to talk to this guy, a white guy, he was just losing his eyesight. He was condemning himself, you know, God this and God that. I said hey man that’s not it God is not a condemning God. You got to find out about the love of God.

I had a real good family doctor and he would talk to you. Not like today, they’re running you through like a number. He said you lost your eyesight, take your defect and use it as your asset. Man, that was a strong piece of wisdom. And I passed that on to this other guy.

You find Blind people man, they know the Bible, backwards forward, sideways and down. But do they know how to get out of that condemning. Do they know how to get to that place of being and inspiration to someone else and being inspired and being (forgiving.)
(Emphasized with a slight echo effect)

CC:

I used to listen to Martin Luther King and James Farmer, Fannie Lou Hamer you know.

I’m in college, when I could see good, I’m sitting in front of the library one day reading an article and a dude came up and sat down. It was Souza. And he apologized to me. And I’m looking at him like what. I don’t know whether to listen to him or grab him. He said that he was dating this girl that was Asian and she confronted him. He realized it was his father that instilled all this racism in him. And I was listening and I said wow man!

It was like a Martin Luther King story man.

This time it was real.

Audio Bridge

One of the greatest lessons I learned man, the minister told me, he said, “Never be ashamed to apologize. Be it 8 to 80.”

The lady that I pushed away, it was fourteen years later.

I called her I said, I just want to apologize. She said no you don’t owe me no apology. I says well hey everything in my life is falling apart, I was in a writing project and it collapsed, nothing’s going right and I’m trying to get my life right with God. So I just want to tell you that I’m very sorry I did what I did to you.

I heard her crying on the other end of the phone and I realized I did the right thing.

I realized that I hurt her and I didn’t know I did.

When we apologize it’s like something spiritual takes place on the inside. When we forgive something happens on the inside in a good way.

TR:

Purpose!

CC:

I went to the college with my cousin Anita and I just went over to hang out. So I ran into the friend she used to be a neighbor, her name was Pat. She was much older than me. “Hey Charles, I heard you lost your eyesight.” I says yeh. She was you know very courteous, she knew me. “Come go to class with me.” So I went to a class with her and it was African American Literature. Eugene Redmond was the instructor. He was saying some stuff that caught my attention. I still remember he was presenting this book called “Black Suicides”. I was listening because I was at that point a year before because I had lost my eyesight. By the grace of God it didn’t happen. Black people they say we don’t do this, but here’s a book called “Black Suicides.”. We don’t do it when in fact we do. I says oh wow, this cat is saying something.

“Graduate school!” – CC with Ambient effect

One of the best things I did is sign up , it was an independent study with Eugene Redmond. He was also the editor of the Henry Dumas collection. I don’t know if you heard of Henry Dumas, but Henry Dumas did this poem I still remember;

America!

If an eagle be imprisoned on the back of a coin and that coin is tossed into the sky

That coin may dwindle, that coin may spindle, but that eagle will never fly.

Henry Dumas was shot and killed by a New York subway cop.

Redmond became the editor of the collection. Redmond did a book called Drum Voices. It’s the history and development of African American poets going all the way back to slavery and coming on up to Hakim Muributu, Sonia Sanchez, Amir Baraka. He was always an encouragement and I got an A.

Years later I was having dinner with this brother he was a political person in Sacramento, Grandin Johnson, trying to push for affirmative action years ago. So he had brought Eugene Redmond to the college for a part of Black Studies. I told him yeh, Redmond, I took a class with him and he gave me an A. He looked at me and he said; (pause) Redmond, didn’t give out A’s. If you got an A man you must have been producing some serious work. I kind of hung my head and said well he liked my work. He said I’m telling you he didn’t give out A’s. You had to work to get an A. He really dropped a bomb on me.

I kept in touch with Eugene Redmond, he’s published me about six different times in Drum Voices Review and some other publications too.

Music begins… Slow piano riff moves into a cool Hip Hop groove.

I realized ok, God gave me this talent and with this talent he’s kind of helped raise me up from that bed of poor self-esteem. Lift me up and encouraged me and inspired me. And I have to take care of this talent. I have to nourish it, be kind to it, treat it right and try to use it.

I’m at this place now it’s called Youth Spirit Artworks in Berkley, working with homeless young adults in high school. I try to use stuff like ok, let’s write about the last time someone said to you I love you. The last time you were angry and you felt like you wanted to kill somebody. How you see the situation where the guy is beaten to death on the street and the cop put his knee on his neck. Let’s write about that. Let’s write about mercy. What does it mean for you to be merciful to someone else . And I’m trying to use writing to confront.

I really embrace the Black Live Matter because we fought for the demands for Black Studies apparently somebody was listening.

Audio: Prison door slams and continues with ambient sound of a prison.

I used to do writer’s workshops in prisons and I’d go in and try to be an inspiration and encouragement to those people locked up behind bars with this talent that God gave me.

I did a presentation at Folsom prison and this inmate he wasn’t sitting with his back to the wall. You had to pay attention to that. Other people sitting at the table. It might have been ten people. This one guy when it was over turned out he was a point man in Vietnam and he wiped out a whole family drunk. If it hadn’t been for Vietnam he wouldn’t have did what he did.

He says hey can I ask you a question? I said yeh, go right ahead. He says when you lost your eyesight did you lose your will to live?

Man, I was shocked by that question. I really didn’t want to answer his question, but you deal with inmates they’ll be real with you so it’s best to be real with them. It’ll protect you. I said yeh, I lost my will to live. He says hey brother, he took my hand and said I’m glad you made that decision to live because you’ve really been an inspiration here today. Man, that dude gave me a PhD.(Laughs) He stamped it on my forehead

I got to be like I said, an inspiration, encouragement. Be it if I’m at a prison, at a school, wherever it is try to take this talent, try to inspire, encourage someone to live.

Music ends

TR:

Art!

I started off being trained to do a sketch of you in a minute and a half. Hand and eye.

I can’t do that anymore. I can’t set something in front of me draw it make it look like realism. That’s out!

I had to take a different approach. When I got back into art I was a Sacramento County CETA Artist. CETA program that’s the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, Jimmy Carter was president.

I was doing stuff that I knew from college because I had been out of art for about seven or eight years.

I did these large carrots, seven foot carrots (laughs). These were paintings. The middle of the carrot had another piece of canvas sewed on it was blue, called “This Carrot Got the Blues.”

I did these large pieces, I took styro foam balls and I stuffed them with Latex paint and then I painted a jet seal over that. It was Braille dots on canvas, it said “Do Not Touch”. And then another one said (laughing) “Read this with left hand only”

I was doing stuff that was workable for my blindness.

Music – Jazz drummer sol – off beat groove Track 9, Charles Curtis Blackwell, In Color

Allen Gordon he was the head of the Art department at one time at Cal State Sacramento. He introduced me to the NCA a group of Black artists from around the country. National Conference of Artists, Margaret Burrows out of Chicago, but even before that time he says oh you’re doing some African art. I says I ain’t took no classes. He said, it’s in you; line, shape, color, rhythm movement. I says oh wow! I’ve been doing more and more of that.

I cover the paper with oil pastels and then I come over it with water down acrylics doing line drawings of African masks on paper. or maybe drummers or jazz musicians on paper. Then I started doing African sculptures playing saxophones or playing a flute, playing a bass. African dancers. Using my blindness and doing abstracts. It might look like a Jazz drummer, a horn player, a dancer with all this abstract stuff you know,

line shape, rhythm color, movement. (Delayed effect on the groove of the beat.)

I’m using my blindness to create the art piece and get to my own originality.

Music ends!

I use my blindness in terms of writing. It’s not what you say, it’s what you don’t say.

Sometime I’m producing art, well I’ll stop and I’ll do some writing. So in a sense the art is influencing the writing.

I produce some writing, well let me set this down and I’ll produce some art. So the writing is influencing the art. Inspiring on the inside- give me some encouragement and inspiration.

I get tired of that well, I’ll go out here and catch a performance, theater play some jazz. I’ll go to an art gallery and see what they’re doing or go catch some poets. I might even sit there and don’t say nothing . I don’t even want to read I just want to you know listen to other people. Right now it ain’t happening. Truthfully I I’ve gotten depressed. Five months I’ve only finished one piece. I started about nine others and finished one. That ain’t saying nothing. I’m usually producing anywhere from one to three pieces a week. So that tells you this thing has hit me in such a manner and all I could do is relate to other people when they’re saying the same thing, feeling uninspired. It’s hard it’s really hard to deal with and I wish I knew some answers. Even I try to get to the spiritual place man I’m blocked on that too. I don’t know maybe you , hey you got some ideas tell me. (Laughs)

The sad part about it is I don’t have a computer and I use visual tech that enlarges print. And I spend a lot of time on that writing. In some ways I wish I had the hook up with the computer but I think I’d be lost.

I don’t take pride in it but I’m computer ignorant and I know I’m ignorant when you get one of these little five or six year olds in here and they know how to hit all the buttons and get everything just right. (Laughs) I know I’m out of the loop.

“Whatever you can do to drum up hope, do it!” – CC with Ambient effect

Music begins.

I never would have dreamed I’d be doing what I’m doing.
I’ve been published, locally nationally and internationally. I’ve had my artwork shown. Some people have my artwork in foreign countries. I’ve had theater plays produced.

Like my Grandmother used to say she said the Lord works in mysterious ways and has wonders to be performed. Maybe that would be my story. I look back on it I’m baffled.

I remember a lady was gonna date me, oh he ain’t got no job, he’s not doing this, he can’t do this. Somebody else said,

Music pauses

apparently you don’t know the brother. ..

My name is Charles Curtis Blackwell!

TR:

Well, it’s a privilege and honor to say Mr. Charles Curtis Blackwell,
It’s official! you Sir are a part of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

Music begins.

While Mr. Blackwell does not have a computer, he does have a Facebook page at Charles Curtis Blackwell. I’ll link to it on this episodes blog post.

I don’t know about you but I’ve been inspired. He said, his art influences his writing and his writing influences his art. That resonates with me. Inspiration from within.

If you’ve been inspired I hope you will let that influence you…

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

CC:
“Laughs, I was knocked off my feet man!”

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

When it comes to Audio Description, are we listening between the lines? There’s so much more to AD than what we hear. So, today on the podcast, we’re going to expand who we actually hear from on the topic. There are the “experts” but there are plenty more with something really valuable to contribute. Like, Alejandra Ospina, Liz Thomson & Chanelle Carson who share their expertise on the subject.
Sometimes you just have to Flip the Script to hear what’s on the other side!

Plus I’ll introduce you to someone from the other side who I’ve been turning to when I need a bit of help! Or maybe I really do just need some help!

Listen

Resources

Alejandra Ospina
Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

Geez, this idea of trying to open the podcast with something different or catchy is just starting to get to be too much.

If only I had help. If only I had help, If only I …

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

Yes, oh great Kazoo. Didn’t you hear me calling you?

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

Bruh! Isn’t that your job. To be there to look out for a brother.

The Great Kazoo:

My dear fellow, I’m not only undependable, but I’m a bit of a Kook… That’s why I’m hear remember I’m being punished.

TR:

Really, punished? You act like I call you that often. It’s been a minute since I actually needed your help Bruh. Plus I looked out for you that last time. I sent a very nice email to your supervisor.

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

Oh, it’s like that son? Aight, forget you. I’ll just do the regular intro myself with you, nahmean!

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family! My name is Thomas Reid. I’m the host and producer of this podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. I should clarify that a bit because I think it may get lost. People impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability? This includes all those experiencing disability directly. A person new to blindness for example. But it also includes their family members and friends. The teachers of the visually impaired, O&M & Rehab instructors who teach the white cane for example or other daily living skills. There are also those in supporting industries from technology, accessibility & of course Audio Description. I consider all of this to be summarized by impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. For the record, I think our entire society is all impacted by disability, but we don’t all happen to realize that or even feel that way. But don’t worry y’all eventually they’ll catch up with us. That’s on them. So let us just keep doing our thing!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning) Oh look, I don’t wish to stay here forever. And since I am supposed to serve you I will try. But take heed, don’t ask for more than you can handle, you may get it.

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

Maybe I don’t need help. I think I have an idea after all.

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning…) Well, see you tomorrow. Maybe. Laughs. Sound effects signaling his disappearance.)

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

Today I’m bringing you excerpts of some conversations I had over the past few months with multiple Audio Describers. Specifically writers and narrators, each bringing their own perspective and background.

AD is still new. There’s no one “right” way. With there being so much more to Audio Description than what we hear, it’s past time we hear from a more inclusive set of people involved in the process.

So, this is the first in a series I’m calling Flipping the Script on Audio Description. You know, sometimes you just need to hear from another side.

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

Alejandra:
My name is Alejandra (American English accented) or Alejandra Ospina depending on your audience.

TR:

That’s what I’m saying! The Reid My Mind Radio Family like our world is diverse. And that’s how we roll!

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

My business cards have a long list of things, but I like to consolidate it into what I’m calling a Media Accessibility Provider. I do Close Captioning and I do transcription and I do translation and Audio Description and so I like to imagine the things I’m doing all sort of promote access to content. I don’t consider myself as often a content creator but I like to facilitate people getting to see or hear or know what they’re watching.

TR:

That makes me think Alejandra’s introduction to media access is personal.

Alejandra:

Having close friends and chosen family members that are visually impaired and I’ve spent a lot of time describing things for them so it sort of was a natural progression.

Related sort of anecdotally growing up as the primary English speaker in a Spanish speaking family I spent a lot of time explaining things to so the concept of explaining comes naturally to me.

TR:

That sort of hits home for me. My mom played that role for much of her family. One thing I know is that can be a great way to develop an advocate’s spirit.

Alejandra:

I was one of those folks that got on my high horse which isn’t very high, about having people on social media describe images and photos that they post. So I spent a lot of time in the last five years gently shaming or encouraging people to describe the things they post on social media and over time that has caught the attention of folks in disability community and communities of people that are doing this kind of work. And it was sort of a natural progression.

TR:

Next, one of the first Describers to provide a visual description of themselves. This prompted me to not only begin asking other describers to do the same but really to think about incorporating that going forward with all interviews.

Here’s Liz Thomson, who is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree in Disability Studies.

Liz:

(Spelling her name)
Liz Thomson. I would visually describe myself as a dark skin 5 foot 2 person with black eyes and black rimmed glasses. Currently I have a mostly shaved head with a band of 2 inch short black hair. I identify as someone who is disabled, also bisexual and queer. A Vietnamese adoptee. Mostly grown up and worked in the mid-west. I use they, them they’re pronouns.

TR:

you can say Liz had a fast tracked introduction to AD. Learning of it and experience it all in the same evening.

Liz:

One of my good friends who is Low Vision, he invited me to go to a Disability Cultural Program. At the very beginning of the program they ask if anyone needed headsets for Audio Description. He’s used to that and I think he typically takes advantage of that accommodation, but I had never heard of that. And so I was like hey you know I’ll try it out. So I got my headset. I believe this was kind of like an open mic performance.

TR:

It included things like poetry, dance or movement and other artistic expression. probably not the most traditional first experience with Audio Description.

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

My name is Chanelle Carson. I am a Freelance Audio Describer out of Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m also the Senior Audio Describer at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Las Vegas.

I’ve been working with the Smith Center for actually 8 years now. About 4, 5 years ago actually, during one of our pre shifts they just asked if anyone was interested in learning how to do Audio Description.

At the time I was 22 just out of college. I had been studying film with a focus on screen writing, I was thinking oh, this sounds like it’s right up my alley. I’m a writer and at the time I was very interested in learning how to do voice acting.

Didn’t hear anything for a few months then they sent me and another woman off to get trained at Joel Snyder’s Audio Description seminar.

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

Was it kind of hard to take what you learned and go right into the live stuff?

Chanelle:

Oh yeh! It was extremely difficult going from the training to doing live theater because the training was so heavily focused on TV and film that sure the basic stuff like;
Don’t talk over the dialog, Blind people aren’t idiots – don’t worry about being too tender or politically correct with your description. What you see you describe.

Of course with TV and film when you’re doing description for that you have the lovely pause button. You don’t necessarily have that for live theater.

(Music ends!)

You can’t go hey guys I screwed up can we go back. (Laughs along with TR) So it’s very much having to learn how to do things on the fly.

TR:

Like Chanelle, Liz too completed the ACB AD Training. Similarly, the application was less about TV and film.

Liz:

I’ve done photography ever since I was in middle school. I did photo journalism at my high school newspaper, in college. As a photo journalist I was realizing I wasn’t adding Alt Text. I wasn’t adding description in my captions to make it kind of more integrated. I would add a caption but I wouldn’t add that photo description.

TR:
Today, Liz can take up to 25 minutes crafting an image description when preparing to upload.

Liz:

Sometimes people are like how can you do that? Do the in their eyes the extra time and labor to do the Audio Description. My response now is how can you afford to not.

TR:

Even if you put aside making the world a more accessible place for all (boring!) there are some real benefits:

Liz:

It makes me look at my images more closely. It makes me reflect a lot more on images that I shot.

TR:

That reflection could lead to a better understanding beyond the pixels. Photography biases for example.
Liz:

Not taking images of people with disabilities. Taking more images of cisgender men.

TR:

It’s not just about description – Liz is thoughtful about phrasing.

Liz:

Language is also fluid and socially constructed and also has different meanings over generations and time. Like modern and traditional. Well that means something very different now than it did in 1940.

My first draft will be one way and then I’ll look at it later on in the day and then I’ll change it. If I say something like traditional, then I have to ask myself well what do I mean and also what did I really see.

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

In addition to learning the sort of standard ways that one is meant to do Audio Description for video for things like Netflix and Amazon, I’ve also been thrown into the world of how do you break that open and describe differently in ways that are actually respecting the culture, respecting the art. becoming part of the art and not just being tacked on after the fact because somebody does not want to get in trouble for not providing access.

TR:

I find it very empowering to see a lot of that pushing of the boundaries around Audio Description coming from the disability community.

It’s no surprise that Alejandra has worked with Alice Sheppard and laurel Lawson who we featured here on the podcast. All sharing this way of looking at Audio Description as more than an access accommodation.

Alejandra:

I don’t have a specific background in writing, but I have a specific background in wanting to be right!
[TR in conversation with Alejandra:]

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

Given that I have a personal investment with my community and the people that I care about

TR:

That’s the Disability community. When you’re connected like that it’s more than a job.

For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it being a job that you perform professionally.

Alejandra:

I have AD on for almost everything that I watch as well as captions. And there have been so many times where I’m like you know that’s not right, I don’t like that.

TR:

Word selection, maybe failure to fully describe what was on screen…

Alejandra:

We both know that a lot of it is in the timing. And again it’s because AD is added on after the fact. There’s some really interesting things that I’ve been able to consult with

I did a live Audio Description for a panel sponsored by the New York University Center for Disability Studies. it featured the short films of a film maker named Jordan Lord. They create autobiographical films but the AD is baked into the narration. It’s written in sort of a prose style and the shots sort of follow as it’s written. So it’s not something that you have to add on after the fact. The filming is informed by what the film maker has written. And it’s very interesting. I think more films should be made that way.

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

No, I haven’t. Four or five years ago I was in the Disability Studies program, another student was talking about her letter of accommodation and her relationship to disability and her own disability identity. She also had mental health issues and mental health things and I was like oh my God like I’m also part of this community and I didn’t even know.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

I don’t think people are talking about this, the identity of the describer or the person who does the voice, who writes it. They’ve made a huge impact on how I think about Audio Description and describe.

TR:

While working on an art gallery project, Liz and a colleague each drafted what they refer to as positionality statements. This included their bio’s and a statement about how they became involved in description.

Liz:

If you’re going to read a book, you might want to know a little bit about the author. You don’t have to.

We are not in a post racial world. I think it’s very important and necessary to know if you’re in an art gallery or theater you definitely need to know who’s writing that book or that script or who’s doing the painting, where they’re coming from.

TR:

Liz who completed the ACB Audio Description project training, refers to one of the lessons taught.

Liz:

In Snyder’s training even in his book, I don’t know about other people’s training and workshops but there’s about two sentences about race and that’s about it.

Basically, just to kind of paraphrase it says to describe race if it’s important.

TR:

The guideline refers to importance in regards to the movie’s plot. But like Liz says:
Liz:

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

It’s especially important to those who are marginalized . those who have been under or misrepresented on and behind the camera. Important to those who care about equity & justice. Important to those who want to see the real world which includes so much more than just white men. (My words, not Liz)

Important is subjective. So who should make the determination when it comes to consuming content?

I propose the consumer. In order to do that, Blind consumers need that information.

Liz:

If you are describing race you need to do it for all the people or all the characters not just the people of color because otherwise it centers whiteness. So I agree with that. What I’ve experienced though, race is not described. Even in for example, Black Panther or in some movies or TV shows that is predominantly people of color.

Chanelle:

Traveling Broadway shows, they are so white. (Laughs) I’ll be the first to admit and I am about as white as you can get. Thank God more recently we have had a lot more diversity in shows.

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

Hamilton is like the perfect example of this. Also Hades Town more recently.

I will absolutely go out of my way to make sure to point out that there are Black actors, Hispanic actors, Asian actors in a show just because I really want to celebrate the diversity of these shows going forward. I’ll do the same thing when I’m doing Circe Sol as well. The audience will always be very diverse as well so it’s great for someone who may not be sighted or may be Low Vision to be able to imagine themselves within that person in the show.

TR:

And if we’re going to change the way we think about race & privilege it’s just as important that non people of color also see and acknowledge & respect this diversity.

Like the saying goes, things are rarely black and white. There’s lots of shade in between. Those shades are important and often reveal other stories.

Liz:

If I do distinguish between someone who might be light or medium or dark skin, is that perpetuating colorism? I don’t want to perpetuate colorism. On the other side, probably when people in TV or film make casting decisions they are making decisions like that. Unfortunately!

TR:

Colorism or the practice of favoritism towards those with lighter skin has its roots in slavery and white supremacy. It’s not exclusive to the US or to African Americans but rather throughout communities of color.

Acknowledging a person’s color as description does not perpetuate colorism. A Blind viewer Wanting descriptive information about a person doesn’t make them a racist. Including editorial such as the prettier or menacing followed by color or racial identification, well that’s another story. It’s going beyond what’s required for Audio Description and providing opinion or analysis – which is the responsibility of the consumer alone.

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

I’m Hispanic, but I have a lot of experience code switching and ultimately being very white passing, both in my physical appearance and in my voice. And whether or not I realize it or admit it in different situations that’s opened different doors for me.

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

The two things are very separate, AD script writing and AD Voicing, but I’ve done some AD script writing for some Netflix shows as a contractor. Not particularly things that I found super exciting but they needed somebody to write a script and then I didn’t get to voice those things because AD Voice work is like any kind of performance and acting work, they sort of have to want you for the part.

I think it’s important for the voicing of Audio Description to match the tone and the content and the intention of the work. And I don’t see that happening. Not very often anyway.

TR:

And then, there’s physical access for the creation of accessible digital content

(Music ends)

Alejandra:
At a practical level, places that are doing audio production, voice recording and audio books, even our local library that handles recording for the NLS, booths are tight. Wheel chairs are not. This is not an experience that these places generally have. They’re not generally expecting a wheelchair user to come in to record and it’s unfortunately like everywhere else I’ve had to have this discussion. Yes, I use a wheelchair, yes we’re going to have to make adjustments to booths so I can get inside, you can just barely squeeze into the booth and you need space to do these things.

And I’m also very interested in Spanish language content AD as well because there’s not as much of it.

TR:

This raises the question of non-English access in general. Something I fail to personally remember on my own when thinking about access.

Chanelle:
Each studio sometimes has their own rules of stuff that you can or cannot say. You can’t say that they point a weapon at someone. You can’t refer to anatomy in certain cases like you can’t say chest you can’t say butt!

TR:

I’ve heard this about Disney. At first, you may think well, Disney produces a lot of content for children. So they’re being sensitive to the viewer. But remember, it’s on screen. And it’s not just Disney.

It’s not just the censorship that annoys me, but even in terms of researching this, we’d need sighted help.

Liz:

If we as describers similar to people who do interpretation with like ASL, if someone swears, the interpreter should interpret that. I think the captioner should caption that. Because that’s what the person said. So similar to Audio Description, I think we also have that obligation.

TR:

Whatever the medium, television & film, live theater, video games, museums, art galleries and yes, you too right now uploading your images and videos to social media – getting all of these content creators to know and think about Audio Description needs to be a goal.

The benefits of AD extend further than the consumer. We all win!

Chanelle:

Regardless of what I’m watching now if it’s a TV show if it’s a movie if it’s another stage show, I find myself kind of mentally describing it like I would do it for an actual performance. So it’s very much changed my view point of media in general.

TR:

I know I’ve heard some conversation around what qualifies someone as an AD professional. A specific number of training hours? Certification perhaps?

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

There are many folks who do this work because they have particular kinds of voices. Because they can crank it out because they’re smooth and more power to them.

I just am not that kind of describer because I have a very particular investment in my community and in the work that I am producing and that doesn’t mean that other folks aren’t doing high quality work. It’s just that what is informing their work is very different.

TR:

For an example of what’s informing her work, you can hear Alejandra narrating Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility: First Person Stories From the 21st Century right now on Audible. The book is available on Amazon and other outlets and it’s Alice y’all so it’s in a variety of formats because Access is love!

Alejandra does a great job narrating and I highly recommend the audio book.

Shout out to all of my guests for taking the time to speak with me;
Alejandra Ospina (Spanish accented pronunciation)
Available at SuperAleja.org that’s S U P E R A L E J A. O R G
The site Includes links to all social media.

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

You can find both on Facebook especially in the Audio description discussion group

Sound of News Breaking Segment…

This just in, it’s official! You are all a part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

I have a couple more episodes that I’m including in this Flipping the Script on Audio Description series. I’m not publishing them back to back so if you’re interested in the subject and want to make sure you don’t miss the next installment, please allow me to make a suggestion.

Subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
Transcripts & more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D
(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio from The Flintstones:

Barney Rubble:

Do you think he’ll be back?

Fred Flintstone:

I don’t know Barn. Might be better if he wasn’t. Look at all the trouble he caused us.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

He caused us or we’ve caused us? I wonder which it really is. Augh, I think he’ll be back.

Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

Hide the transcript

Adjusting to Vision Loss – A Creative Approach with Victoria Clare

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

Victoria Clare with sculpture
Living a creative life for Victoria Clare is more than a way to express herself. It serves as a way to help her own adjustment to vision loss

Hear her story from denial and rebellion to acceptance and putting her in a position to support others.

Victoria Clare is a Sculptor, Musician, Entrepreneur… and she’s working on becoming a Scratch DJ! For real though!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family? I missed you all for real!

Happy 2020 to you all!

A bit of a slow start, but you know, you can’t hold a brother back!

So much of what’s going on in the world today makes it more challenging to find that hope and optimism.
Audio: There’s no need to fear…”

Reid My Mind Radio is here!

Let’s get this poppin

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

VC:
“Creativity is one of the most powerful, healing, it’s one of the most connective things that you could ever do to get to know who you really are.”

TR:
Getting to know who you really are is a big part of our early lives especially from our teenage years and on through college. For Victoria Clare, an artist specializing in sculpture, vision loss added to the process.

VC:

I just passed my driving test. I never had a lesson at night ever. Not any reason to that its was just my lessons were never booked for that time. When I passed my driving test I jumped in my car very elated wanted to go tell my boyfriend at the time that I passed my test.
Pulled out of my mom and Dad’s driveway and all of a sudden it became very very apparent to me that I really shouldn’t be driving. I just could not see enough to be driving.

TR:

On that ride to her boyfriend’s house, she clipped another vehicle and lost her driver’s side mirror. Fortunately, no one was hurt. It was enough to prompt her to see an Ophthalmologist

VC:

That’s when I found out I was going to go Blind.

TR:
The diagnosis was Retinitis Pigmentosa.

VC:
My particular Retinitis Pigmentosa is one of the recessive types so therefore we have no people in the family that have had it. So I’m literally the start of the chain if you will.
So finding that out as well kind of made me feel like wow what a responsibility. For me to get married and have children later in life would be a big choice for meat some point in my life which I was very aware of. However, I went back to college.

TR:

College in the UK refers to where many students go for two years after completing compulsory schooling at 16 in order to prepare for
exams to get into university. You can also take
vocational courses
at college.
While studying graphic design with plans to move on to University to continue in this field, Victoria just happened to come across a book about sculpture.

VC:

I knew when it was time for me to go to University that graphic design wasn’t for me. Sculpture was going to be my future
It was an amazing course. It only had 28 places in the whole of Europe. I was lucky enough to get one of those places.
I didn’t really consider that perhaps, hold on a second I may not be able to do this, I just carried on.

TR:

For some that may sound like optimism, positive thinking. But others who have been down this road would probably advise differently.

[TR in conversation with VC:]
Did you have contact with anyone else who was experiencing Vision Loss, anyone whose Blind?

VC:

No. No I had no contact with anyone like that.

TR:

Blind mentors can often help provide guidance, resources, and lend an understanding ear when dealing with all the additional loss that more than often accompanies the vision loss.

VC:

I had a lot of people kind of walk out of my life or just feel very awkward around me and didn’t know how to handle it.
My boyfriend I was with at the time, we got engaged, and he kind of was really struggling with the sight loss diagnosis and he actually saw it as too much for him so the relationship broke down.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

His loss! Hmm. We don’t like him.

VC:

Yeh!

TR:
Victoria soon learned that carrying on would require skills that she didn’t have. Living independently in a new town, navigating both in and outdoors.

VC:

I didn’t realize how simple everyday things would become so difficult for me. I had a hard time at Uny for a very short time, I mean literally I wasn’t there for very long before I decided that I can’t do this. It’s too hard. I left.

My lecturers said to me that I was welcome to come back at any time. Which was really really gracious of them considering it was such a prestigious course.

I had a conversation with my parents, they were incredibly supportive. They came and collected me.

TR:

Back at home Victoria says she isolated herself from the world.

VC:

And I started drinking. Initially it was about trying to numb the pain. I just felt like my whole world had shattered into a thousand pieces. I didn’t know how I was going to go forward. I didn’t see a future for myself .
And then something happened.

TR:

To put it simply, Victoria was introduced to possibility. It came in the form of a rehabilitation specialist.
A really lovely lady. She had a work cut out, to be really fair, with me. I was really super rebellious so I didn’t want help from anybody. You know, don’t treat me like a Blind person bla, bla, bla you know a typical kid.
TR:

Soon after meeting, the rehab specialist realized Victoria wasn’t going to use a white cane.

VC:

I just was not going to use one. I wanted to learn every trick in the trade so I could get away without using one.
She started to teach me other things like echo location, which is still really useful to me. trailing, just small things like that, that was getting me by.

TR:

Sometimes it’s the smallest suggestions that have the greatest results.
She was the one that suggested that maybe I should try some sculpture just for therapeutic reasons.
I went out in my Dad’s shed, I got a big old’ block of wood, stole some of his chisels, used his mallet and started creating. It was amazing. I turned my world around because it made me realize alright, I’ve been diagnosed with this sight loss but nobody’s taken away the skills that I’ve always had. They’re still there.

TR

Remember the skills that she began sharpening in University?

VC:

The background and the love was the figurative work so I created a kind of table top size maybe like two feet tall female figure. I called it “Her Spirit”. that was put into a local gallery and sold. I then kind of returned and created another figurative female figure which was also sold. My work has changed a lot over the years but most certainly it was more figurative work back then.
[TR in conversation with VC:]

Did it represent something in your life at that time or what was that all about?

VC:

I would say for me it was more to do with the fact that the course that I had to leave in Uny was a figurative sculpture course. So of course I was kind of making that connection of wanting to keep the figurative sculpture part of me going even though if I had to walk away from the University

[TR in conversation with VC:]

How much of an influence is blindness. The subject of blindness not necessarily your adaptations if there are some but how much does that play into sculpting specifically.

VC:

Now a huge part because I get inspired by it. For example only two years ago that I put on the first sculpture exhibition that was completely in a pitch black gallery. everybody had to use their other senses to discover what the pieces actually were.

TR:

This particular exhibition enabled Victoria to express herself in three different ways.

VC:

It was to share my personal acceptance of my journey with sight loss. It was to also kind of share sight loss with the general public so that they would have an experience and an understanding of what it feels like. And three it was a very strong message to visual arts because they really , really need to up their game when it comes to accessible art in galleries. Most certainly for visually impaired people . When you walk into a gallery how do we navigate and involve ourselves in our environment? By feeling. To be told that you can’t touch a piece of sculpture a piece of art you’re immediately excluded from enjoying it.

TR:

The exhibit, a first of its kind received national media coverage and all of the pieces were sold.
the result opened new opportunities for Victoria including serving as a retina UK Ambassador

VC:

Raising money to create research and pioneer research for Retinal Dystrophies. public speaking started to grow from there really. I get to speak at conferences and various events. I’m speaking at the World 2020 Vision, that’s in Dublin and also chairing a panel.

TR:

The latter is a chance to meet others impacted by vision loss.

VC:

There’s a connection there. It’s something very special.

TR:

A big part of her personal journey is creative expression. Something Victoria believes can be of help to others adjusting to their own vision loss.

VC:

I would recommend anything that will lift somebody’s mood that will connect them to who they are and make them feel that they are enough and give them self-confidence and self-worth. From sculpture to painting, from dance to music and anything in between. I would just say creativity is one of the most powerful, healing, it’s one of the most connective things that you could ever do to get to know who you really are.

TR:

Her own creative expression goes beyond sculpture.
There’s music which began around the same time as vision loss. Specifically, she began learning guitar from a friend.

VC:

Probably one of the things that helped me as I rewind going back to those dark days because I would sit when I was alone and if I was feeling down would just play my guitar. Just compose. I did find that a little comfort at the time.

TR:

About 13 years ago now, she discovered piano.

VC:

I used to be working in a school and this piano was sitting in the hall never being used and I’d be the only person working up a tinkle you know. Slowly but surely I started thinking you know what this is great, I love it and I ended up buying that piano off of the school and it’s sitting in my spare room now. (Laughs)

TR:

And you’re recording your music?

VC:

I Literally just come out of the studio.
Audio:
“Know you Matter”, Victoria Clare

TR:

Singing and performing in bands since she was 23 years old, “Know You Matter” is Victoria’s most recent production. It’s a message to all those that have self-doubt and serves as a personal affirmation to remind her that she matters. She hopes it will resonate with others.

Know You Matter is available on ITunes, Apple Music, Spotify and just about wherever you listen to music.

Next up creatively…

[TR in conversation with VC:]

And you’re rapping too?
Laughs!

VC:

Laughs! Working on it. I want to get into a bit of scratching, you know Tom. Laughs…

TR:

She’s serious! She’s a Hip Hop fan.

Dela 1

VC:

I like a lot of Hip Hop, Dance music, but then I like a lot of singer song writer stuff.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

Since you said Hip Hop, who did you like?

VC:

I absolutely love Dela Soul. Yeah they were definitely my favorite.

TR:
The more I think about her art, it makes sense. She takes an existing piece of wood and crafts that into a whole new thing. That’s Hip Hop.

This past Christmas Santa brought her a DJ controller or the modern day DJ turntables so who knows what she’ll create.

I know what you’re thinking, does this woman ever get bored? Well, she has the answer for boredom.

VC:

Board sports! (Laughs…)
[TR in conversation with VC:]

Yeh, I guess which is really another form of expression I would say.

VC:

When I was 23 a big life change happened for me because I decided to go backpacking with my best friends around the world. Probably the best thing I ever did. I was being faced with beautiful beaches and all the surf community and I was sitting there watching all these guys and girls just riding those waves and I just longed to do it but in my head the voice was saying you’ll never get to do that you’re going Blind you can’t do that.

TR:

If this were a movie, we’d queue up the dramatic music, the camera would pan out to the others easily riding the waves, maybe one falling off the board. The scene would move to Victoria slowly looking at a surf board next her and then back out toward the ocean. Seated on the san, she’d confidently straighten her back, stand, grab that board and sprint toward the water. Her friends would cheer her on as she paddled out to catch a wave…
But this ain’t no movie!
She privately held on to that desire like so many of us do.

VC:

It wasn’t until 2014 that I was actually doing my first solo exhibition. it was a really big14 piece collection exhibition. It was quite stressful at that time trying to do everything for it.
TR:

That’s when her husband had an idea.

VC:

Let me teach you how to surf . And that was it, I was hooked.

TR:

Once upon a time, she was adamant about not using the white cane. Today, Victoria puts that long white cane to good use.

VC:

Skateboarding!

TR:

that’s her way to expel that board energy when she can’t hit the waves.

And of course, where does Victoria go from here.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

You have a line of skateboards?

VC:

Yep, I’ve got the…

[TR in conversation with VC:]

Geez, you make me tired. (Laughs)
I got to up my life! I’m not doing enough.
(Laughs)

VC:

they’re called Blinded Soul and they’re bespoke solid deck skateboard.
When we started surfing we also taught my nephew to surf and then I took that one step further, I made him a surf board. I did the same for skateboards. I was just so amazed how smooth a ride they are. They’re built like in a retro style. They’re not built for tricks, but they’re definitely built for long distance really, cruising.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

The other day when I was reading your blog I was like man I think I want to do this. (Laughs…). Like, I want to try skateboarding Now it’s been years. I skateboarded as a kid.

Audio: from “It’s A thin Line between Love & Hate”
“Here I am laying in the hospital, bandaged from feet to head

TR:

Ok, all jokes aside, I’m going to give that a try.
My personal creativity and expression for a few years now has been less about sports and physical activity today compared to my past.

For anyone experiencing vision loss, finding a creative outlet is worth exploring. It’s hard because the reality is for most these endeavors just don’t help pay the rent.
But that’s not a reason to not pursue a passion or interest. there’s levels to this stuff. find your level and enjoy. The benefits are real.
Victoria’s pursuit of her own interest in music proved fruitful in ways she probably never expected.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

You mentioned your husband. Did your husband know about your vision loss initially?

VC:

Yes, yes. We met through a band that I was in. I was the singer he was the drummer. he had the same kind of silly sense of humor I guess that I’ve got. We’d just have good fun. He would drive me home after rehearsals and stuff. probably only took a couple of months for me to realize that a. how much I liked him and b, I had to tell him.
I sat in the car with him one night, we were just outside the flat where I was living at the time. And I had to take a very very deep breath and I told him. He just hugged me. And I said to him if this changes things you know it’s ok. And he was like no way. I just couldn’t imagine it changing anything between us.
He’s a very, very positive person. Very optimistic. He supports me in everything I do.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

And what’s this fine gentlemen’s name?

VC:

Ah, this fine gentlemen’s name is Adam.

TR:

you just never know where the pursuit of your interests may lead.
Victoria talks about all of her endeavors over at her blog Beyond Vision.

VC:

I want to reach as many people as I can. I want to support as many people as I can but along the way I want to share my vulnerability as much as my successes. I think it’s all very well to sit an talking about all the wonderful things that you get to do with your life but I think it’s more important to share also the vulnerable side of you too because it makes you more relatable. I really do get quite honest with my blogs. They really do tell a story within themselves. They’re raw, they’re authentic.

TR:
T
Encouraged to write her own story in the form of a book, first reluctant, Victoria eventually had an idea to help make the task more attainable.

VC:

What if I started thinking like the book is an extended blog?
So I got in touch with an editor, Molly Somerfield Smith, lovely lady she’s actually a ghost writer. When I first wrote to her I was kind of talking in a way that I wanted her to write it but she was the person that said to me you’ve got to write this yourself. This is your story this can’t come from me, this has got to come from you.
here I am a year later and she’s now got the version that I put together and she’s editing.

[TR in conversation with VC:]

First of all, I see that you’re doing audio blogs. So it’s not enough that you’re doing all the other stuff now you gotta come on into audio? Come on Victoria let some other people keep the audio… (laughs…)

VC:

You know what tom, it’s purely for selfish reasons.

TR:

For the record, I actually welcome and promote more of our voices in the space.
By now you probably can tell Victoria is all about productivity. She’s voice recording what she would have once written for the blog.

To check out her work and more…

VC:

I’ve got my professional website which is for the sculpture and that is www. VictoriaClareSculpture.com And then I got my advocacy website, VictoriaClare-BeyondVision.com. Where there’s all sorts of crazy stuff going on and it’s also got a lot of resources , support and that kind of stuff. And that’s where the blogs are as well.

TR:
Victoria’s working on moving her sculpture website to a more accessible platform.
You can also find her on Insta Gram at VictoriaClareSculpture. That’s Victoria Clare (spelled out)
Don’t forget to go on over to ITunes or wherever you get your music and get her latest single Know You Matter.

Audio: Break of Dawn, DeLa Soul

Shout out to Victoria Clare for sharing her journey. And shout out to Steph McCoy for making the connect!

I’m always hopeful that somehow this podcast finds those who are in the place where many of us once were.
That’s losing their sight, receiving a diagnosis they never expected, maybe fighting against the idea of using a white cane.

It’s easy to focus on what is being lost but as we heard today, the pursuit of those things that bring joy can really help you find what you’re seeking. It’s just right around the corner.

Audio: Lyrics… “Break of Dawn”

If you like what you heard today, subscribe wherever you get podcasts. Why not tell one or two people about what’s taking place here.
Let’s get this information into the ear holes of those who need it the most. In fact, you know we’re about that access here so it’s available for finger tips and eyes too in the form of transcripts available on ReidMyMind.com

That’s R to the E I D like my last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Audimance: Transforming Dance and Movement into Sound

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019

Alice Sheppard is a former Professor turned Dancer, Choreographer and the Founding Director of Kinetic Light. A believer in access, she knew it required asking the right question. “Not how you make dance accessible, that’s boring. The question really is how do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.”

fellow Dancer, Engineer and Kinetic Light partner, Laurel Lawson had the idea; Audimance!

A mobile phone screen sports several pastel colored dots'; the word “Audimance” is visible. The dots represent different soundtracks, and a brown skinned hand reaches into the image pressing on a dot and thereby choosing a mix of tracks.
Hear how they became Dancers, the challenges of finding physically integrated dance schools, the film “Inclinations” and all about the app that is changing the way we think of Audio description. Plus, do you recognize that voice?

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to the podcast featuring essays of compelling people
impacted by Blindness and Disability.
it’s called Reid My Mind Radio!

Every now and then, I include some of my personal experiences as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

I’m Thomas Reid, producer and host of this here podcast
living up to the claim of making blindness sound funky!

I’m not only referring to the actual sound, but I’m talking about the energy.
It’s positive, yet real and always upbeat. Funky is my way of challenging how you the listener may
think a podcast geared to those adjusting to blindness is supposed to sound.
Should it sound sanitized, institutional? Not here it won’t.

So if you’re riding with the Reid My Mind Radio family well then you must be funky too!

On the podcast today…

Audio: “Dance”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

“Once you start asking; how does your body move? How does it communicate movement? Movement is a rigorous and tough beautiful way of communicating. We owe it to ourselves and to our audiences to find, nurture and develop the greatest range of nuance in physical communication that we can. It’s an amazing kind of vocabulary.”, Alice Sheppard

TR:

Today we’re exploring some of that vocabulary with Dancer and Choreographer, Alice Sheppard. She’s also the founding Director of Kinetic Light;

AS:

Which is an ensemble of disabled artists making immersive dance experiences.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Tell me a little bit about your first experience with dance.

AS:

I was a Musician, an Orchestral Pit Musician. Dancers were just simply the things above me on the stage pounding away, being late, needing the music to go slower, needing the music to go faster. (Laughs) I didn’t understand much about the art form . Dance was not something that my family had access to or I would have had access to even try. Dance just wasn’t there.

TR:

Eventually, She’d gain that access but the steps to becoming a dancer were far from choreographed.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

My understanding is that you became a professor… Yes?

AS:

Yes!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Laughing…) AS:

Laughing…

[TR in conversation with AS:] I just want to make sure the internet is correct.

AS:

the internet… in this case the internet is correct! Laughs…

TR:

A professor of Medieval Studies to be exact.

in 2004, Alice saw a performance by a disabled dancer.

AAS:

I didn’t really know what to expect. I was worried it was going to be cringe worthy and it wasn’t.

It was, … amazing! It was smart. It was political. It was sour. It was bitter. It was funny. It was tender, loving and joyful. It was the fullest expression of what you can hope for a body and mind and a heart. It grabbed me. It transported me and transformed me in ways I had not imagined possible.

TR:

Following the performance , Alice had a conversation with the dancer, Homer Avila.

AS:

We were talking about Disability and art and aesthetics and integrity and how you could work from a position of wholeness. He had an amputation to his leg, but he wasn’t saying things like he’s working from a deficit position, he was just working with the body that he had and reforming the art around his body. I was all into this because it was in line with what I was reading and thinking and writing about as a professor.

At the end of the evening he had issued a dare to me and a couple of other people who were hanging out

TR:

The dare?

Take a dance class.

AS:

I said yes because you know when you’re drinking you say yes to a whole pile of things.

[TR in conversation with AS:] Laughing…

AS:

Yeh, maybe this should be a lesson in bad alcohol. Don’t drink!

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughing… Maybe it’s good though because it seems like it worked out for you.

AS:

Yeh, yeh! (Laughing)

[TR in conversation with AS:] Not that I’m promoting alcohol. Laughs…

AS:

Laughs…

TR:

Sadly, that was Avila’s last performance. He passed away six weeks later.

AS:

I really felt like I had to honor that dare.

TR:

Finding a dance class doesn’t seem like it should be that hard, but it took Alice some time to find a school that would actually teach her. Instead she received responses like;

AS:

Well I don’t really know how to teach you or you can just be over there and maybe you can figure something out or make something up.

I never actually got to be in the dance class.

TR:

One school even had security post up outside of the class. We’re still trying to figure that one out!

I personally have never seen dance outside of that performed by someone with full use of their legs. So I asked Alice to describe how she does it.

AS:

Mostly in a manual wheelchair. Sometimes on crutches and some of my work is actually being done in a wheel chair with crutches on my arms as well.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

So tell me what does that look like?

AS:

If you can imagine a pair of manual crutches with rings like the European Lofstrand forearm crutches, they just have hoops at the top so you can hang them off your arms. I made them too short to stand up on, but long enough to be able to push my wheelchair like ski’s. Then I have these huge like 9 feet long, I can reach all the way up to the ceiling up to 11 1/2 feet and 9 feet wide. it’s just the incredible feeling of this huge wingspan and you can whirl those crutches. You can turn like nothing on earth, you just whirl them. Because they’re so wide they give you this incredible balance. It’s awesome! (Laughs…)

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Wow!

You’re going between the chair and the floor sometimes too, right?

AS:

Oh yeh! We use the floor in our chairs. We wear straps so the chairs come with us and we come with the chair. And then we can dive to the floor and roll and do all kinds of things on the floor. Sometimes we’re on the floor without our wheelchair.
It’s an amazing kind of vocabulary. I think once you start asking how does your body move. How does it communicate in movement? Movement is a rigorous and tough and beautiful way of communicating. We owe it to ourselves and to our audiences to find, nurture and develop the greatest range of nuance in physical communication that we can.

TR:

Eventually, Alice found her way to the Access Dance Company in Oakland California, where she took her first physically integrated dance class.

[TR in conversation with AS:] What was the experience like for you?

AS:

No one has ever quite asked me this before. Give me a moment to actually tell you the truth of it.

It was a sense of being at the beginning of something. Something I knew I couldn’t do. I knew I didn’t have control. I didn’t have the skill but it was being at the center feeling this whole area open up wide, wide, wide before me. And the joy and the pleasure of if I could be in there it would be amazing. I was aware that I sucked massively. I wasn’t doing the things that they asked, well. Even though I was doing them to the best of my capacity at the time. As a musician I recognized that I was at the same level of inquiry that I was at in the music practice. Where you’re like oh right I can see it, I can feel it, I don’t know what it’s going to be but I know that I have to work to get there.

TR:

Meanwhile, on the east side, in Georgia to be exact, Laurel Lawson was preparing to enter grad school.

LL:

I grew up playing music both as an amateur and as a professional and acting. I saw this dance class. It was in a great time slot right before I needed to be at one of my acting jobs. I thought it would be interesting, you know pick up a little broader skill base and it would be a good warm up. I’ve done a little bit of jazz like that minimum amount of theatrical dance that you need in order to get through musicals. So I went and signed up for this six week class. Boy I sucked so badly!

TR:

Well Douglas Scott apparently saw some talent there. He’s the founder and director of Full Radius Dance, a premier physically integrated dance school. He invited Laurel to audition for the dance company.

LL:

Two months later I was on stage in my first professional appearance.

It’s a little weird right. I often think about that. It’s like the most “bass awkward” way of falling into this field in some ways. A field that is so competitive that people work and dream and hustle from the time that they’re five years old and I took this weird circuitous path and almost wound up dancing by accident. Maybe that’s the title of my autobiography, “The Accidental Dancer”.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

Laughs…

TR:

The community of professional dancers isn’t that large. Eventually, Alice and Laurel met. First chatting about technique, exercises and shared experiences.

LL:

We always knew we had work to make together. It was just a matter of getting to the point for us as individuals, for us as artists where we were ready to do that. Where we could put together the kind of structure to support it and for the rest of the world to get to the point where we had this little bit of an entry to be able to get other people to realize hey we have something to contribute here. The funding and presentation landscape makes a huge difference in what gets presented and what does not.

TR:

That structure is Kinetic Light.

LL:

At the core of it, Kinetic Light consists of this collective of three artists, Alice, myself and Michael Maag who is our production, projection and lighting designer.

Kinetic Light is a little unusual in the way we operate compared to what you might call a conventional dance company. We’re a multi-disciplinary. In some ways we’re not necessarily a dance company. Dance is front and center but there are also ways in which we are a multi-modal performance company. Are we a tech company? That’s a question that we keep going back to because we’re not quite a dance company.

TR:

There’s multiple functions associated with running a dance company.
Of course, there’s the choreography, but we can’t forget the administrative work of funding, managing projects and more.

And then there’s something of particular interest to those with vision loss that Alice explains has always been a part of the plan.

AS:

My thought was always that we would do access. What I didn’t know was the kind of journey that it would become.

TR:

We’re talking about audio description. Well we’ll call it that for now. But the question is really how do you take a visual art experience like dance and make it available to those who are blind?

First, Alice invited friends to attend a live performance.

AS:

Georgina Kleege who is a Blind professor at UC Berkley. She’s a professor of Blind aesthetics and the arts and writing. She’s got this awesome book out right now called “What Blindness Contributes to Art”.

TR:

The goal was specific.

AS:

We want all of our people to come and have a good experience. How do we do it?

This was in 2016, but in 2012 I began exploring these types of threads anyway in my work. And then she picked up those threads and pushed them to the next level. And I was like ok, let’s do that.

Georgina and Josh Miele who, if you don’t know Josh you should talk to Josh, he’s an amazing technologist.

TR:

Shout out to Reid My Mind Radio Alumni Josh Miele. I’ll link you to his episode on this episode’s blog post.

AS:

Cool!

Georgina and Josh said yeh, ok, so you did better than the average and your definitely on some pathway but that isn’t it. It isn’t enough. We aren’t getting what everybody else is getting.

At that time what we were doing was making description of the physical movement.

LL:

That was really painful for us. this was our community that we had invited to come see us and we failed.
[
We hadn’t offered them an equitable experience.
]

TR:

Describing a dance performance isn’t a straight forward task.

Let’s take an example I feel almost everyone is familiar with.

Let’s say a dancer puts his left foot in.

Audio: Horn!

then puts his left foot out.

Audio: Two horn hits!

he does the Hokey Pokey and turns himself around.

Audio: Hokey Pokey song

Now that’s description!
It’s actually conveying all that’s taking place.
Well, if there’s only one person.

But let’s make that dance a bit more complicated.
say our dancer’s left foot is in while his right hand is up
and his partners right leg is up
and another dancer is flying across the screen with a particularly dramatic facial expression.
I’m not even getting into the lighting or stage props that often accompany the Hokey pokey!

AAS:

What you’re getting is this kind of displaced description. You’re not getting a sense of the art.

This is where Laurel comes in, she’s an engineer and designer and she thought of a way in which you could play multiple sound tracks on an app and a way for it to actually sync in time with the show. And so with this kind of technology at the basis the question became not how you make dance accessible, that’s boring. The question really is how do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.

LL:

I had a little germ of an idea that would become Audimance.

TR:

Audimance was developed in association with Kinetic Light’s DESCENT.

AS:

Descent is a queer inter-racial love story between two disabled women.

Basically invents a backstory to the sculpture the Toilette of Venus and Andromeda by Rodan.

It figures out what does this goddess from Greek myth doing with this figure from Roman myth and why are they put together. Why does Rodan do that with them? It challenges Rodan’s own notions of feminism and lesbianism. It challenges the place of the incomplete body in Rodan’s thinking and sculpture. It’s an incredible kind of imagining of the relationship between the two. A love story maybe. It shows the ways in which disability and art go together. It re-imagines access ramps. It’s a thing this Descent!

TR:

With that in mind, let’s walk through how a nonvisual audience member experiences this performance using Audimance.

It starts with the pre-show. Here’s Alice.

AS:

The program is recorded. In the program there’s some background context to the work, and overall plot summary, a background on the set, an overarching narrative context if you want that. Rodan’s sculptures so there’s some information about that. Basically, information that is contextual.

TR:

That one aspect of Audimance is already surpassing how many of us experience description. Meaning, no longer are we confined to the strict time limitations dictated by the performance. Audience members may be able to access this pre-show information days before the event itself.

And then, if you arrive at the theater early, before the show…

AS:

One of the things we’ve been developing is a kind of tactile experience. This was something that josh was essential in thinking through. We 3D printed the set. The ramp and you could hold a model of the set in your hand and feel some of the things around that. There’s samples of the costumes, the surface, the flooring of the set, the kinds of material elements.

TR:

You may wonder, why a 3D rendering of the set if you’re physically there? the set of Descent is a ramp. And not just any ramp.

AS:

It’s 24 feet wide, 15 feet deep and it goes to 6 foot high at a kind of pointed mountainous peak that I sit on top of.

Each part of the ramp has its name. There’s the peak it’s a top of a mountain. At the bottom of the peak there are waves and there’s water, projections of waves water and rock. And then there’s this huge deck, this angled deck that is sometimes grass and sometimes a mountain range and sometimes an ocean. And the water waves whip up and down the ocean. It’s incredible!

TR:

You have all of the context information about the upcoming performance. And now, it’s ShowTime!

AS:

“How do you transform the art of dance into the art of sound.”

(Repeated from above but with an effect as if reflecting.)

TR:

That one question became several more that she proposed to her friends experiencing the performance non visually.

AS:

What are you listening to? What is communicative sound for you? How do you get art out of sound? What sounds mean something?

And then the question was what sounds are actually in the dance itself? Here’s where we ended up. We have to be able to convey the sounds of the work itself as a sound.

I rang Disabled Queer Trans gender Poet Eli Clare and I said, will you write poetry for this dance? Eli turned the dance into poetry. And I was like wow!

TR:

Audimance empowers the listener with choice and control. Pairing for example the poetry of Eli Clare with the original sound scape composition of Dylan Keefe from the sound rich podcast radio Lab.

Laurel tells us about other tracks and possibilities.

LL:

We can be working with people who are writing prose. For example maybe even describing it technically so that a nonvisual audience member whose also trained as a dancer is actually hearing in dance language about what we’re doing and understanding it in that medium. We can work with sonification of the stage or our bodies or interpreted sonification of the choreography itself. So for example you might be hearing a breath, a heartbeat a sound (slap, slap) as we contact each other as our chairs hit the stage

If you imagine you’re in a big room, a museum gallery, imagine that there are 20 speakers scattered throughout this room. They could be on the ceiling, floating in the middle of the air, on the walls or the floor and every speaker is playing a different track. But all the tracks are part of the same performance. As you wander through this space you can control what you’re listening to. You’re creating your own experience of this art. You can go cuddle up to a single speaker and listen to one track from beginning to end. find a mix, maybe between three or four speakers that appeals to you. Keep moving and keep listening to the way that the tracks and the performance shifts and changes as you’re constantly in motion between these speakers. Got that image. Ok, condense all of that down into a phone screen and you got Audimance!

Since I am sighted every bit of process all along the way we were going back and forth with non-visual audience members, collaborators, testers.

From the describer side I think we’re opening a lot of stuff up to. We’re trying to involve the describer as collaborator through this process. We’re not replacing audio description, we’re blowing it open.

TR:

With other options for Descent’s nonvisual audience members like an interpreted dramatic dialog, a description track specifically for those with kinesthetic imaginations or those who actually feel what’s being described, plus description of lighting… yeah, kaboom!

LL: on centering blind

Audimance is specifically designed for nonvisual users. It absolutely centers Blind users who have advanced listening skills.

TR:

You know you’re an advanced listener when you have the ability to audibly synthesize simultaneous streams of information. Probably more common is the ability to comprehend information at an increased rate. 25 percent, 50 maybe even double or triple its normal rate.

For example, a more seasoned screen reader user probably sounds like this…

Audio: Fast screen reader reading
“You know you’re you’re an advanced listener when you have the ability to audibly synthesize simultaneous streams of information. Probably more common is the ability to comprehend information at an increased rate. 25 percent, 50 maybe even double or triple its normal rate.”
TR:

Someone new to vision loss and therefore new to screen reader technology and synthetic speech and in general active listening sounds more like this…

Audio: Screen reader voice reading in a slow speed.
” You know you’re an advanced listener when you… Oh my goodness this is slow! I’m getting sleepy, sleepy”

LL:

obviously anyone who is hearing can use it but this isn’t a question of trying to make it work for everyone. It is made for and it centers this population that was being underserved artistically

TR:

With multiple choices, someone new to vision loss may be more comfortable simply choosing one or two tracks such as the poetry or traditional description.

Audimance allows users to make selections at any time since the tracks are synchronized to the live performance.

LL:
Are we providing an identical experience to a sighted audience member watching the dance? No Because that does not exist and saying that we’re making something identical is false equivalence. Do we think we’re creating something that is equitable in terms of a rich multi dimension complicated artistic experience? Something that has been crafted by the artist as part of the piece from the beginning?

Yeah! And that’s the feedback we have gotten about it.

TR:

Audimance is Open Source software that’s still in the early alpha phase of development. But there getting close to where anyone will be able to download the program.

LL:

Where venues will be able to download a creator interface and you can just go in a venue and have it pull up the experience for the show that you’re going to see.

TR:

That could be the more traditional description. But I’m hoping for a more artistic, thoughtful, equitable experience.

LL:

It was created for performance art, but certainly any theatrical performance, potentially even for music performances or for speakers to provide visual descriptions of the people on stage.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
That’s going to be fun to watch when people just kind of take that and say I want to play with it because they’re not even thinking about it from the perspective of inclusion or audio description. And it’s just I want to play with this and see what I can do.

LL:

I am so looking forward to that part of it because technically well when you think of it it doesn’t necessarily have to go with a performance. It can be an independent audio only artistic experience. Having people play with this kind of spatialized durational sonic art is going to be fascinating.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
And so that’s open source meaning anyone is going to be able to have access to that. There’s the equity component of that too. Or is this going to really cost people thousands of dollars? (Laughing…)

LL:

(Laughing)

Well you know the problem with that is if we make it cost thousands of dollars we’re going to have a real hard sell telling venues okay, there’s no excuse for your performance not to be accessible. Or dance companies, choreographers here, even if it’s just you describing your dance. You go into rehearsal and you just do the description if you have to. We’re not telling you you have to pay to bring an additional artist in for the week and house them and so forth.

TR:

Audimance is currently being supported by donations. That’s financial and labor.

LL:

If you are interested in contributing to this software itself as a programmer, as a designer, as a technical writer we need everybody right now. If you’re a project manager. If you’re interested in helping us write instructional content. We need tutorials and how to use it. We’re going to need tutorials to introduce presenters to it eventually. You can find the project on GitHub.

People can make financial donations on our website, KineticLight.org.

TR:

you can even earmark your donations specifically for the Audimance project.

Want to learn more about Audimance, Descent, Alice and Laurel?

AS:

There is a newsletter!

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Really and how would someone subscribe to that?

AS:

On your phone you can text 66866 to sign up.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Wow, look how fancy you are? (Laughs…)

AS:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with AS:]

(Playfully)
So you’re telling me, you don’t go to a website and put in all your information. All you have to do is text?

AS:

You can do that too. You can go to the website and put in your information.

[TR in conversation with AS:]

What website would that be?

AS:

(laughs…)
KineticLight.org

[TR in conversation with AS:]
What would folks get from the newsletter?

AS:

That’s a really good question. You would meet some of the team. You would learn about the performances or film screening. You might learn about an award. Sometimes we put in cool ideas about Disability culture. Sometimes we’re talking about work friends of ours are doing.

[TR in conversation with AS:]
Yeh, I like it! Cool!

TR:

I’ll tell you something else that’s pretty cool!
That film screening she mentioned? It’s a film featuring Alice and three other dancers . It takes place…

called Inclinations. it too highlights performance on a ramp. This one however is outdoors.

This particular film consists of audio description with two narrators.

Audio:

TR:

you should recognize that voice. That’s Cheryl Green, a podcast alumni and part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

And the other describer…

Audio:

TR:

Yours truly!

Big shout out to Cheryl Green, Lisa Niedermeyer and everyone else involved in making that happen! That was fun!

Inclinations has been screened at Festivals in Canada and the US including;
National Dance Day at Kennedy Center
Superfest Disability Film Festival 
Cinema Touching Disability

For more on Inclinations checkout Alice Sheppard.com

Audio: “Check it out y’all!”

TR:

there’s a lot to be excited about Audimance. The feature that in my opinion means the most; It’s empowering.

It shifts the conversation from providing access to creating nonvisual experiences.

There’s so much possibility. Especially when you factor in that the technology is open source. It’s made for live performances but the same concepts can be applied to recorded performances.

We’re in a time where audio production is on the rise. I’m talking about the growth of podcasting. I think about the potential in the live podcasting space. Moving away from the Q&A format to a sound rich experience.

Forget about that idea that we need to wait for the kind help from others. Audimance is a collaborative effort from the cross disability community. If you’re not throwing your fist up in solidarity for that one, check your pulse!

Salute to Alice Laurel and everyone involved with the project!

And if you like what you heard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AS:

And I was like wow!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

The Art of Access with Cheryl Green

Wednesday, March 27th, 2019

The camera catches Cheryl & Cynthia from a jaunty angle. Cynthia holds a beautiful plaque for Superfest Disability Justice Award for New Day Films’ Who Am I To Stop It. The plaque has text, Braille, and raised lettering. Cynthia smiles at Cheryl as she burst into excited laughter at the passer-by who shouted “Superfest, whoo!” she holds a bouquet of sunflowers by her face.

Meet Cheryl Green, a filmmaker focusing on disability identity and culture and making media accessible.

She began making films after acquiring disabilities from brain injury. Her media combine personal narrative and activism to create
dynamic tools that critically challenge misconceptions and stereotypes of disability, celebrate pride in disability experiences, and amplify marginalized
voices. Cheryl works to create a platform for people to use the arts to increase connectedness and to promote dialogue and change within the larger community.

Hear why Cheryl views Captions and Audio Description as an artistic part of the film/media and a means of achieving disability justice and equity.

Her latest film Who Am I To Stop it is a documentary on isolation, art, and transformation after brain injury.

She’s a fellow Association of Independence in Radio New Voice Scholar… hit play below and hear how that worked out for yours truly!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Audio: “Fellow Americans, it’s with the utmost pride and sincerity that I present this recording …” PSA, Jay Z (Just Blaze)
— Beat rides underneath…

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.

Audio: “Allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is…” PSA, Jay Z

TR:

T.R E I D, Moving podcasts by the GB!

. I’m your host and producer of this podcast.
Bringing you stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss and disability. Plus, I occasionally explore my own experience around becoming blind as an adult. I try to present that in my own way blending my words with audio and sound design.

Before we get into it, you know movin’

Audio: “Moving’ doin’ it you know” Sex machine, James Brown

I want to send a shout out to those of you who subscribe to the podcast. I truly appreciate you. That simple act of hitting that subscribe button especially if you subscribe via Apple Podcast, increases the chances for others to discover the show.

Audio: Music stops…

I don’t know why, that’s just what they do!..

Music re-starts…

One of my main goals of producing this show is to hopefully reach those who are new to the experience of blindness, low vision, vision loss I think the people across the Atlantic refer to it as sight loss. Maybe you are recently experiencing some form of disability. I think there’s something for you here.

It’s a shift in attitude that is not based on changing just to change but it’s based on experience. Experience from people who have been where you are right now and worked their way through it. People who accepted what they were given, people who didn’t feel the need to overcome but rather embrace and continue.

Hmmm!

If you are new to disability let me send you a very warm welcome. A virtual hug going out to you. I’m referring to anyone impacted by disability. Whether you are Blind or Low Vision or maybe you are the spouse, parent or child or even the friend of… we got something for you right chere. And yes, I said right chere!

So with all of that said, I hope you are ready because I want to introduce you to a new friend of mine who brings a different perspective to how we view accessible media content.

I just hyped myself up and I hope you can feel it too!

Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

# Cheryl Intro

My name is Cheryl Green. I am an independent documentary producer and audio producer.

TR:

She’s also a strong advocate and maker of accessible media content including subtitles, captions and audio description.

As an independent film maker, we see that’s just one of the unique perspectives she brings to her work.

# On Disability

[TR in conversation with CG:]
What is your relationship with disability?

CG:

I like that question. It’s so much nice and more nuanced then what’s your disability and what’s your diagnosis because disability experience is so much more than medical diagnosis.

One of my relationships to disability is political. I’m always looking at cultural and political things from a disability rights and disability justice platform. Another relationship is that almost all of my friends and significant people in my life are disabled people. And then because I like things in three’s; my relationship to disability is that I have multiple invisible disabilities, but I’m not sure that invisible makes sense as a term. Non-apparent or easy to hide. Some of them are acquired and some are stuff that I was born with that has shown up later in life from kind of living as a knucklehead and now it’s coming up. Laughs.

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Laughs…

Oh boy there’s a lot of stories right there. In that one statement, living as a knucklehead. Oh boy!

CG:

Laughing…

But it’s funny because that’s the one that I was born with. It’s a connective tissue disorder and for me it’s very mild , but I have dislocations and I have chronic pain chronic tendonitis, ligaments that are over stretched. I was born with it. The knucklehead part is that I over did it as an athlete through most of my life. So just chronic injuries and stuff but it’s nothing as fun and exciting as you know…what did she do?

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Laughs…

# Captioning

## TR:

Cheryl also experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury that she says is indirectly related to the complications of the connective tissue disorder.

Our conversation however, focused on accessible media content. Beginning first with captioning.

Now I know most of you listening are way smarter than me but I needed a clarification between sub titles and captions.

CG:

Subtitles are just a typed out version of what people are saying. It’s just words on the screen as the words are being spoken. Captions also provide descriptions of the sounds music, whether there’s traffic going by, dogs barking. When possible you can add in a description like whispering or tense voice . There’s all sorts of descriptors you can add in there.
They should identify who’s speaking and when the speaker switches.

The thing about subtitles is that they actually assume that it’s only hearing audiences watching a film that has subtitles because there’s no indication when the speakers change. And if you’re looking at a sunrise and two people are off screen talking and you just see sentence after sentence after sentence there’s actually no way to know who’s talking and when the speaker’s switching. And to me I don’t see how you can follow what’s happening if you don’t know when the different people are talking.

TR:

Maybe you can’t tell yet, but this subject has a special place in her heart. It’s not just about words on the screen.

CG:

I love captioning more than anything else that I do. One thing that I love about captioning is that it is so precise, detailed, tedious and repetitive. That just works for me.

I look at captioning as part of the art. I do not think of it as a piece of accessibility that you have to add or want to add at the end. To me it’s artistic. Translating things. I can’t literally caption every single sound that is in a piece of art. That doesn’t make sense it’s not even possible. So I have to make creative decisions based on what I think it most important from the creator’s perspective and what I think audiences will want to get from something. I don’t want to be like “Speaks slowly, whispers quietly, birds chirp” I want it to be rich and lush especially when the film or the show is rich and lush. I feel like it’s my duty to make the captions as interesting and beautiful and artistic as the film is.

For me captioning is something that I can do in a move towards justice and equity. It is access to information. Whether that’s the news or pure entertainment or something that’s informational or somethings that’s on a social issue. it’s about equity. It’s not just about meeting compliance. I love doing it and I love what it can bring to people and how it can include more people in media and in conversations.

# Audio Description

TR:
Captioning eventually led Cheryl to find an additional way to make media more inclusive and engaging.

CG:

Through one more piece of access that’s very artistic , very subjective and hopefully integrate it into the art itself.

TR:

Maybe that’s not the way you’re used to thinking about or even hearing Audio Description discussed. . but that’s what she’s talking about.

Cheryl recalls first thinking about AD after providing captions for a client and then reading their Facebook post which read;
CG:
“Hey my video has captions now it’s accessible to everyone!”

## TR:

This just wasn’t true!

CG:

You have to be able to read quite well and quite quickly to follow captions. No, captions are not accessible to all people because not everybody can read in whatever given language there in but also I looked at that and thought well these captions are just visible on screen and if you’re not
looking at the captions there not there.

TR:

There’s all sorts of benefits gained from captioning and Audio description. And not just for the consumer.

CG:

I think it takes a lot to acknowledge you know what, I made a great film here but I recognize that not everybody can access it because of the way I made it.

There’s a big piece of acknowledging this film is not complete until more people can come in.

From a capitalistic sense if you have great content and you want an audience why not make your content available to a bigger audience. It just makes sense.

But I hate capitalism so I do also value more of a disability justice and social justice and equity lens to say people need to be participating in civic engagement, arts, culture, entertainment and all of it. And What can I do to make that more accessible and available to more people.

# Film

TR:

She’s answering that question from multiple points of view. That’s a Caption & Audio Description provider and as a film maker.

Following the brain injury which impacted her ability to cook as well as organize she did what anyone would do;

CG:

I made a comedy film about it and it took off.

Audio: “Cooking with Brain Injury”

TR:
Okay, maybe that’s not what everyone does.

That first film was called “Cooking with Brain Injury”

A short film looking at daily struggles of life after traumatic brain injury with dark, honest humor.

CG:

I sold many copies of it. I’ve taken it to state and national speech therapy conferences. I’ve done Continuing Ed. trainings around it and it was totally impairment based. It was a window into my world.

TR:

After other films around brain injury, she decided it was time to close that window.

Audio: window closing

CG:

I realized I need to get out of the spotlight and get behind the camera and do more. Over the years my films have become much less about impairment and much more about disability experience, marginalization, self-empowerment, autonomy and decision making. I do a lot of cross disability work now. It was all brain injuries in the beginning but that didn’t hold my attention because it can be so impairment focused.

TR:

Cheryl’s first film didn’t start out with Captions or Audio Description.

CG:

I didn’t know about access at all when I started, but as soon as I found out I could copy down the spoken words and put them up on the screen; it didn’t look good , but those words were on the screen. And I loved it!
Then I got educated about Captioning software

TR:
She became quite serious about the craft.

CG:

I read up on the FCC guidelines. I love it when the FCC issues new guidelines new recommendations. I’m there with those white papers reading them to make things the best that I can.

I have seen some people criticize the FCC guidelines for example saying, “I don’t care what the guidelines are I want to know what Deaf people want.”

Number one, Captions are not just for Deaf people. There’s a lot of different kind of people who want and need Captions.

Number two, there were Caption users on the committee that wrote the FCC guidelines.

They’re really good guidelines . They make for beautiful Captions They included actual consumers actual Caption users in their creation and that’s another reason I really value them.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

You really are a Caption nerd! Laughs…

CG:

Laughs… I’m such a nerd!

TR:

Deep passion for a given subject. That’s what separates the nerds from the rest.

In this case, the passion is all about inclusion, social justice and equity.

CG:

I have a lot of clients a lot of filmmakers who come to me for captioning and they have a lot of complaints about the way captions look. Or they make requests that I find unreasonable. They’re unreasonable because they are centering that hearing filmmaker who doesn’t actually know what Captions are or can’t really articulate what Captions are for. And I say, your aesthetics around Captions are not what I’m working with. I am working to serve Caption users and I have very explicit reasons why I make the choices that I make. I’ll negotiate with you. I’ll talk with you on the phone but you have to understand that Caption users come firsthand I’m not interested in your aesthetic choices around the Captions.

If you want access you would make captions the most accessible that I know how to make. I get into fights with people all of the time and it’s so much fun!

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Laughs!

TR:

Don’t worry, know one’s out here recklessly out starting fights. This is all about advocating for the user.

CG:

IF content creators always included Caption users and Audio Description users in their minds and their target audience then it wouldn’t be a thing. But it’s specifically because people whether it’s willfully or they just have somehow remained oblivious through their careers, they don’t even consider people who would benefit from the access as part of their target audience. That’s why I harp on it . I would love to get to a place where it’s just we have to do color correction, we have to do sound sweetening, we have to trim off 35 seconds on this, we have to add the Audio Description. Boom, boom,boom boomboom!

When it’s just part of the practice, yeh, I won’t have to be so political and I won’t enjoy fighting with people. But until we’re at that day for whatever reason I enjoy being super fired up and political about it.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

The order in which you laid that out where you said ok, they have to do some color correction, do this and let’s add Audio Description. I want that thought about in the writing because to me the end result would be better. I still think that when it comes to things like Audio Description and Captions, there’s a charity model that starts off the process.. Let’s do this because you know (the following said mockingly) it’s a good thing to do for the people. Let’s give this to them so they can be happy.

If they thought about it has what you said which is it’s going to make our film better Not just because more people are seeing it but it actually may do something better to the film Meaning, if you think about Audio Description at the time of writing it at the time of producing that film chances are you’re going to think of something that’s going to enhance it.

CG:

Oh, hundred percent! Oh my gosh, I just got interviewed yesterday they were like what’s the one take home message that you 3want filmmakers to have.

I say, you put access in your budget in the pre-production phase. You put it in your budget so there’s no “oh we didn’t know”. And then you always consider it. You don’t just get the supplementary footage or the daily footage.

There’s kind of this idea that you find something beautiful you hold the camera on it for at least 10 seconds, get a good shot. You know what? Do it for 40 seconds because then when we’re editing there’s the opportunity to say let’s stretch out this shot a little more because then we can put the Audio Description in.

I am totally with you that if you are considering this stuff from the beginning you’re going to film it differently. You’re going to edit it differently. It is going to be better.

TR:

This is coming from an experienced film maker.

CG:

When I filmed my documentary and I was still new to this, I told my Director of Photography, “Don’t ever do extreme close ups. Ever” I don’t want any extreme close ups. Even with the mouth off to the side because we are going to have captions in every version of this film ever shown. I told the Editor, “I need you to put in spots, stretched out spots where Audio Description can come in.”

Now unfortunately I wasn’t trained in Audio Description back then, and so we didn’t nail that as well. We didn’t have enough stretched out spaces and the Audio Description isn’t as lush as it could be.

We did some re-editing and we added in more space. I re-wrote the script, the original Audio Description script, hired other voices to do it. As you watch my film progress over time the same film different versions Audio Description becomes more lush, more engaging more honest because now I understand Audio Description a little better. So there were things that were a little vague in the description.

TR:

For many such re-writes would feel like a chore.

Like her latest production, “Who AM I to Stop it”, a documentary film on isolation, art, and transformation after brain injury, was selected for Superfest International Disability Film Festival.

The longest running disability film festival in the world – co-hosted by San Francisco’s Lighthouse and the
Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State.

Superfest is one of the few festivals worldwide that is accessible to disabled filmgoers of all kinds.  
CG:

I got an email from the director, hey we love your film it got in, it got an award, but we had to stop during the screening a few times because our Blind jurors felt left out by a joke in the film. It wasn’t described well enough. She said I’m sorry I don’t mean to be negative but are you at all available to re-record.

TR:

I suppose it’s viewing this process as art that produces Cheryl’s response.

CG:

Negative, this is the biggest gift in the world are you kidding me let’s go.

I rewrote several parts but I specifically rewrote the part that people felt left out by. My Blind Audio description teacher helped point out some spots where she still felt a little bit excluded or maybe even confused about what was happening. It’s just more descriptive. That’s how art should be. As you learn and develop your skills it gets more wonderful.

Audio: Basic Able

TR:

Wonderful, like the time she described an improvised dance segment for a video podcast. It featured Antoine Hunter

CG:

He is a really phenomenal person. He’s a dancer, choreographer and healing artist. He teaches dance. He’s marvelous. He’s Deaf and he’s the Artistic Director I think, of the Real Urban Jazz dance Company.

I’ve never done dance before. It was so fun and it was so exciting to try and get the dance moves and match them. And because he’s Deaf he incorporates some sign into the way he dances.

I’m not fluent at all, but I’m familiar with Sign language and I’m familiar with the role that facial expression plays in the grammar and expression of Sign language. So I was able to make references to his hand gestures as being Sign and references to his facial expressions.

I think I said his facial expressions mirror the expansiveness of his bodies motion.

Audio: from podcast if available…

TR:

Hopefully, by now, you too should at least start to see the art. It’s the familiarity with the culture that enables Cheryl to recognize such detail.

CG:

Everything that I do has something about disability or Deaf culture in it. I engage with it seven days a week. Whether I’m making something or reading or watching something. I try to immerse myself in the cultural aspects of Deafness and Disability. That brings a more lush Audio Description

TR:

That level of detail and equity goes as far as seeking input from those being described.

CG:

I sent Antoine the script because it wasn’t going to be in the captions for him to read. He really liked it and he corrected one part that he didn’t like. It didn’t feel fair to him and he gave me words that not only feel more fair to him, but were more beautiful than the words I had chosen. It was so collaborative and so beautiful.

When I’m describing what somebody’s body looks like or how it moves I send them my script. I ask them what they think about how I wrote it. or I tell them I’m going to audio describe this please tell me how you want time to describe what you look like. Sometimes people will send me a description that’s actually not very visual.

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Like what?

CG:

Like when I say how do you want me to describe how you’re moving? And the response is a man with Cerebral Palsy. That doesn’t give me a sense of how you move, but I asked and you answered. And I respect your answer. But it is tricky because the point of audio description is to give people a flavor of the visuals and man with Cerebral Palsy that’s not very visual is it?

[TR in conversation with CG:]
No, not at all.

CG:

If it’s your content and I’m describing you and that’s all you give me ok, that’s what I’ll use.

When it’s my content I’ll use their words as the starting point and expand to make it more descriptive and more visual oriented.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

Give me an idea of the types of things that you would include in a description of someone.

CG:

I try to always describe something that relates to race or ethnicity. If I know how the person identifies then I can use those terms. If I don’t then I might be more descriptive. for instance, I describe myself as a white woman, which is kind of descriptive but not really because my skin tone is darker than any of my white friends. I’m the darkest person I know in my circle of white friends so it’s not super descriptive to say that I’m white. But it wouldn’t be useful to say I’m a brown woman because I’m white. I just have kind of light brown skin. If I don’t know their ethnicity I might say someone with a dark skin tone, someone with a fair skin tone. Sometimes I’ll defer to hair. A woman with bright red hair.. She’s probably white if she has bright red hair. now not necessarily of course.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

(Laughs…) Now-a-days!

CG:
There are different reasons why someone would have red hair regardless of their ethnicity.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

What would make you choose their hair and what would make you include that in the description. I wonder why would they say that? Why did they now tell me that this person is a Black person or whatever. And I’m like hmm, let me see if this is going to be really necessary to the story line.
CG:

Yeh!
[TR in conversation with CG:]

Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. And it leaves me wondering why they made that choice and why they didn’t describe the white person.

CG:

Ok, get ready!

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Yeh, ok! (Laughs.)

CG:

Oh my! I cannot tell you how with you I am. I’m going to describe something if it feels relevant to the story or for political reasons.

Just end my career now if I ever put something out there where I say the black person and the person meaning white. I don’t know if I would ever recover from my remorse.

I don’t do, a wheel chair user and a person. Huh! No! If there’s a wheelchair user and there’s someone else standing. One person sitting in a wheel chair and one person standing. I make political choices If one person’s race or ethnicity or nationality becomes relevant to the story, I am going to make a point to name everybody’s so that I’m not singling one person out as the other or the weirdo or the outsider.

There is no way that someone is ethnic and some other person is not ethnic. I just cannot even wrap my head around … I don’t even know what ethnic food means, what on earth, what? (Said with a lot of annoyance!)

What food doesn’t come from a culture? What? (Said exasperatingly)

No, I will name them all or I will name nobody. And it really depends on the content creator, what they’re going for, how much time there is and yes is it relevant. Is it going to make a difference to the story for me to know something about the ethnicities of the people involved and is there time to get that in there. And if I can’t describe them all then I can’t describe any. or sometimes I will tell somebody, you need to stretch out that first scene because I have got to get that description in there. I have to!

TR:

Movies, television are often a reflection of society. It’s not surprising that the politics of the world impacts the way we think about and create access to content.

There are many who believe the best approach is to ignore race or ethnicity all together. As Cheryl points out, the results don’t lead to equality.

CG:

I think when Audio Describers are shy, oh I don’t’ want to say those words, as an Audio Describer your comfort and discomfort are not supposed to be part of this. You’re censoring it for the viewers.

You know I was really moved by your episodes around Black panther. There’s the access piece, but also one of the ways we white wash is to pretend like white people are neutral and just people. And so whatever we think is important is what’s important. And yeh, they had some cool costumes in Black panther, but ok, cool costumes whatever. That’s not fair. It’s so beyond not fair, it really is a show of white supremacy.

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Mm Hmm! (In agreement)

CG:

To neutralize overt displays of culture that are not white, you erase them, you ignore them. That is white supremacy. And it’s not ok.

If the film maker did not erase culture then the Audio Describer or Captioner really should not erase culture as well.

[TR in conversation with CG:]
Absolutely!

CG:

Some people feel like it’s just the detail, no. We’re talking about humanity and we’re talking about dehumanizing people. Willfully dehumanizing people when we leave stuff out

TR:

Cheryl says the same occurs in captions.

Not only is she creating films, accessible content through subtitles, captions and audio description, Cheryl produces the podcast Pigeonhole.

As described on Apple Podcast:

Pigeonhole challenges the stereotypes that disabled people are all white, straight, middle class people in search of a cure for their bodies and minds
the way mainstream media would make it seem. Made by from disability community, and centering disabled people as audience, Pigeonhole interrogates the
assumptions and biases we hold about disability and embraces all parts of people’s identities. We uplift disability culture, celebrate identity, and break
out of the narrow pigeonholes people attempt to stuff us in.

She’s a fellow recipient of the New Voice Scholarship warded by Association of Independence in Radio.

Receiving that scholarship puts us both in a very exclusive group of some of the best audio makers currently making radio and podcasts.

Audio: Microphone and other equipment collapsing during my conversation with Cheryl.

[TR in conversation with CG:]

We are having operating difficulties, please stand by

TR:

Well, maybe not all of us!

You can find Cheryl online at WhoAmIToStopIt.com She tweets under that same name, which again is her latest production.

Her films are available through New Day Film.com.

Checkout Cheryl’s podcast Pigeonhole – that’s P I G E O N H O L E. I especially like the episode titled “A nap and a bird.” It’s a short well told story that says a lot.

# Close

Audio: “As we proceed”

We’re continuing to advance our ongoing conversation around Audio Description and content access in general.

Considering captions & AD as art? Why shouldn’t it be. It’s the written word that has some pretty strict requirements including the time constraints and a need to quickly convey a message. We’re talking about talented writers and voice actors/narrators.

Let’s spread this way of thinking about accessible content.

Let’s push for content creators like Cheryl whether independent or in the major studios to see it as a tool to improve their storytelling. Then maybe we’ll see it become a part of the pre-production and be more of a reflection of the film’s conceived vision.

Looking at content access through a social justice lens feels like it leads closer to inclusion.

A big shout out to Cheryl Green! I enjoy speaking with her and appreciate her perspective. I guess I’ll go ahead and put this right here… I hope you will hear more from her right here on the podcast in the future.

You know, I still hope to hear more from you the listener. I’m not looking for you to write me long messages about how much you love the show or how funny you think I am or how much you like the production, or how much you think this podcast should be the top podcast on the charts or how it makes your day when a new episode publishes… no who would want to hear any of that!

I just want to know if it made you smile, gave you an idea or maybe encouraged you to do something.

I send myself fake messages about all the other stuff so I have that covered!

Seriously, holla back!

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

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

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

So make sure you Subscribe!
Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast Sound Cloud
Audio: Bring the audio to a screech!

## TR:

if you mainly listen to the podcast via Sound Cloud I’m hoping you will continue to listen but I am moving away from that platform. I’ve been tolerating their interface in order to avoid the move to another service.

I may decide to keep one or two episodes available, but the best method for staying caught up is to subscribe via Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Tune In Radio and wherever you get podcasts.

You can always visit www.ReidMyMind.com

So there’s no confusion, that’s R to the E I D like my last name!

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!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace

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