Posts Tagged ‘Blind’

Young Gifted Black & Disabled: Supporting Our Sisters

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

On a brown tweed and tan background is the  text, REID MY MIND RADIO in bold capital letters. Underneath reads Young Gifted Black and Disabled: Supporting our Sisters.   Under the wording on the left is Lisa Bryant: A dark-skinned woman with shoulder length highlighted locs sitting outside on steps. She is wearing dark lipstick and her smile is closed. In a slightly tilted pose, one hand rests underneath her chin while the other is atop her crossed legs. She is wearing a blue and wine collared paisley collared shirt with beige slacks. On the right is Heather Watkins: A smiling light-skinned Black woman, hair in a bun atop her head, blue button earrings, makeup with red lipstick. She is wearing a olive-colored blazer and blue and white patterned blouse with a long necklace of various blue-colored pendants

As we close out the 2022 season of #YGBD, I’m passing the mic to my sisters!

Boston based Disability Advocate Heather Watkins and Lisa Bryant, a Philadelphia freelance journalist join me to discuss just some of the challenges affecting disabled Black women.
We’re talking career, relationships, parenting, healthcare and more.

Plus, don’t forget to check out the ACB Audio Description Awards Gala hosted by yours truly along with one of our RMM Radio sisters, Nefertiti Matos Olivares.

While this is the official last episode of 2022, be sure to subscribe or follow Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts. You never know when I might get in the mood to drop a special holiday episode.

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Transcript

Show the transcript


TR: 00:00
Greetings, family, and welcome back to the podcast. That’s right, I got candy in my mouth. Should I take it out? Or should I just do the whole podcast like this? (Mumbles unintelligibly… ) You know? I’m not recording am I?

— Tape rewinds
— Music begins: Snare hits increasing in volume into a smooth R&B instrumental…

Welcome back to the podcast featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability in general. My name is Thomas Reid, I’m your host and producer. We’ve reached the last episode of the YGBD 2022 Season, you know, that’s Young, Gifted, Black, and Disabled. Some people ask me, Thomas, why Young Gifted Black and Disabled? My first reaction? Why not? Then I’m like, Nah, that’s not polite. Am I lying.

Now, if you just caught what I threw down and responded, either in your mind or out loud, “No, you’re quite right,” you and I share something that has nothing to do with blindness. However, that thing we share could also make our experience of blindness different from others. In this particular case, my reference was to an early rap song by Doug E Fresh called “The Show”. Just one of many Hip Hop references you will find in the history of this podcast. While Hip Hop isn’t necessarily an identity, one can make a good argument for being one. I personally will always identify as being hip hop. Black is definitely an identity. That intersection between Black and disabled has its own unique experiences that need to be discussed, even for the sole purpose of centering the experience of Black disabled people in the disability conversation. That’s of real value to me.

Then there are the additional levels of identity. Last year. We closed out YGBD discussing masculinity. We went places I didn’t know we were going, but I’m glad we did.

— Music stops

So this year… (repeats in an echo effect)

— DJ scratch
— Music begins: Snare hits increasing in volume into a smooth R&B track.
R&B crooner sings, “Ladies… Beautiful Ladies!”…
– “Ladies” Lee Field and the Expressions

— Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

allow me to introduce you first to Boston based advocate, Heather Watkins…

Heather: 02:20
I self identify as a Black disabled woman, born with a form of Muscular Dystrophy, who didn’t always use mobility aids like I do now. I’ve been using them for the past 15 years including a cane and on occasion a manual wheelchair and also a ventilator to assist compromised respiratory muscles. I am a mother, blogger, author and I serve on a handful of disability related boards and projects including as a former chairperson for the Boston Mayor’s Commission, for Persons with Disabilities Advisory Board, the Disability Policy Consortium, the National Research Center for Parents with Disabilities and Open Door Arts. My pronouns are she her hers.

TR: 03:06
Also joining me today co host of the white stick Connect podcast from Philadelphia, PA, Lisa Bryant

Lisa: 03:12
I’m a Black female, dark skin with locs. And I’m currently a freelance journalist. And I’ve written for few local platforms but also looking to expand my reach, looking at some national opportunities. I was just recently appointed to the board of the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation

TR: 03:35
Two Black women with different disabilities, each bringing a unique experience of disability.

Lisa: 03:41
In terms of identifying my disability, I struggle with using the white cane but I’ve had to do that a little more of late. I went most of my life without having any difficulty. I was still driving. Then along came 2011 things took a turn and I had to stop driving and adjust to being legally blind.

— Music begins: A piano melody leads into a slow, dramatic groove.

TR: 03:59
If I asked you what does it mean to be a woman? Perhaps you have a list of things that come to mind. Maybe you even strike up with images that represent that. What does it mean to be a Black woman? What comes to mind now?

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
I want to start here with what did you learn about being a Black woman as a child? What were the lessons that you were getting, whether they be from adults in your life, even from the media, like what was sort of the things that you were learning about being a Black woman, Heather you want to start it off?

Heather: 04:30
I grew up in the city of Boston, we lived in a section called Dorchester, which is one of the predominantly Black areas. Roxbury Dorchester Mattapan.

It was definitely a matriarch. My grandmother lived on the second floor. Aunties lived on the third floor. There was always family around. I was surrounded by strong women and bringing that up from the Greenwood Mississippi. All that wisdom sort of poured into me from my grandmother having grown up in the Jim Crow south. She laughed and joked, but she did not play. We didn’t have everything afforded to us. You kind of get inventive? I learned, if it’s not there, we’ll figure it out

TR: 05:11
pretty valuable skill, especially necessary as a disabled woman

Heather: 05:15
in terms of disability an being a Black disabled woman, Across the media landscape, I didn’t see that reflected back in ways that I found meaningful. Flip through beauty magazines, I didn’t see Black disabled women openly identified that way. That message was like, Where are we? Why is that hidden? What I didn’t see in the media I saw within my family.

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
Lisa, same question.

Lisa: 05:41
My family images were very strong women. But I definitely remember as a very young girl, being more influenced by media and even classmates, when I was growing up, dark skin was not necessarily appreciated. We were teased about being dark. I didn’t like being teased. I was an only child, my imagination sometimes got very creative. I had an imaginary friend and she was exactly opposite of me. She was lighter skin, long, long hair. That was just what I did. And that was just how I imagined. I guess the way I sort of internalized that I just accepted that as No, that’s kind of the way it is. I don’t know that I remember even having meaningful conversations with my parents about that. I think I probably just kind of tuck that away. Later on. I thought, wow, how about that kind of self hate.

TR: 06:44
I really admire and appreciate Lisa for being so honest, and sharing that with us. It’s hard being vulnerable, that something only really strong people can do. That hate doesn’t start from inside us. It’s just another tool of white supremacy. A systematic approach to establishing power, by convincing Black people in others of color to feel inferior. It’s anti-Blackness at its finest.

Internalizing negative beliefs. That’s not just about race or color.

Lisa: 07:12
Fast forward to becoming legally blind, like Heather said, When did you see, on the cover of a magazine, someone very proudly, in a wheelchair, or proudly using a white cane?

I had absolutely no one else to relate to until becoming a member of the local NFB chapter. And even those that I did see some of the elderly people like in my church who vision was failing, I was so much younger, and I still had usable vision. So that was just a whole different world, the age I think, alone being like the big kind of barrier. So then it’s becoming a matter of, well, let’s see how we can fake this without making this announcement about my disability. It’s funny how much you just kind of internalize and live through things, and accepted as normal, even though it’s really not.

— Music ends.

TR: 08:13
Actually, I think these reactions are quite normal. I don’t think anyone wants to feel less than, unfortunately, what has been normalized is the idea that beauty is one thing. Disabled anything means inferior.

We can keep on with other things like age, gender…

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
I’m wondering whether your experience with disability, how did it impact the definition of Black womanhood? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Heather: 08:38
Sure. I think it definitely evolved. So when we talked about disability, what back then we would say, quote unquote, handicapped, your handicap, but your healthy. So it was spoken about like that. The exposure that I got, regarding disability at that time was through MDA camps, Muscular Dystrophy Association camps, and like clinics. But still, I wasn’t seeing all the Black disabled kids. I saw maybe one during summer camps.

TR: 09:09
Every summer for about a week, Heather, as a child would stay at these camps for children with muscular dystrophy in the New England area, a chance to get away from the city environment.

Heather: 09:18
It was just like one, or maybe another person who was of color, or certainly only like one Black kid. And the messaging there too, was like, I have to go outside of my community to see other kids with visible disabilities. It was hard to really connect and have that kind of support system where you can connect with other kids in peers, who are disabled to talk about your life experience, but also to talk about frustrations because that’s important to getting tips and resources. Those weren’t things I discovered until much later in advocacy circles, so important in terms of building your own self awareness and even sharpening your advocacy skills.

TR:10:04
As a child Heather never really had the chance to form any sort of relationships with other Black disabled children.

This reminds me of the time in 2020 when clubhouse was new, and the 15 Percent Club was rockin. We hosted an event to discuss Black disability experiences. There had to be 30 people or more predominantly Black. Read my mind radio alum and CO producer of the first YGBD episode, AJ Murray famously remarked that it was his first time being in the presence of that many Black disabled people. There were several others who acknowledged it being their first time as well.

Lisa: 10:40
I had a similar experience when I went to a national convention. So this was 2019. I knew of other Black people in the Federation who were blind, but I had never been in the same circle with them. That was the first time and it was like, wow, I went a long time without really having anyone else who got me not just being female, not just being Black, but being visually impaired female or Black, or at least two of the three. It was a long, long, long, long time.

Heather: 11:15
What if we were exposed to cultural icons in grade school, who had disabilities? How that might have shaped and impacted our awareness? I’m talking about like Fannie Lou Hamer, and Harriet Tubman, Brad Lomax Sojourner Truth, all of them had disabilities, and it also impacted their life, how they govern their lives. Imagine learning that at such a young age or even being newly disabled, how that would shape your awareness and your concept of disability.
We get so many messages that downplay or erase disability because people generally assume that it’s synonymous with negativity. It has a much wider lens, it’s actually very comprehensive.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 12:01
Heather’s describing what we mean when we talk about disability isn’t what you think it is.

Consider how disability is talked about. Often from the perspective of a diagnosis. It’s used as a metaphor, often to indicate negativity:

— Music begins, melodic, dramatic strings…
TR in a mimicking over dramatic voice
“, she was blind to what was going on around her.”
TR in a “Financial commentator” voice
“That will cripple the economy.”

Heather: 12:20
Who would I be, without having a disability and the evolutions and the twists and the turns and all of the folks that I’ve met in advocacy circles, especially diverse advocacy circles, who really has been a mirror for me, in validating that and raising that ceiling, where I was often capping my own potential.

So I often like to say I’m a woman in need of care, a caregiver and a community builder, all at once. But if you redact any part of that bio, then you reduce my community contribution, and visibility. It impacts every aspect of your lived experience in determining key quality of life areas. housing, health care, education, employment, how you live, how you shop, dine, socialize,

— Music fades out.
— Sounds of a woman walking down busy city street.

TR: 13:15
let’s get into these lived experiences, beginning with relationships.

Lisa: 13:19
I was walking down the street with my cane, and I just kind of had an image of myself. And I just had a thought, Well, I wonder what attention I don’t get now because of this cane.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 13:33
So you walking down the street looking cute. You got the white cane? I don’t know what your status is dating, married, not sure of your status. But how has it affected that part of your life?

Lisa: 13:45
I have not been actively dating. So I’m not on any kind of dating website or anything like that. There’s certain places where I’m very familiar with my surroundings, and I may not have it right out. The sort of compliments or whatever I make it. I don’t think I had the cane.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 14:05
So they try to holla when you don’t have the cane?

Lisa: 14:08
Yeah.

Sometimes I hear people say, well, blindness doesn’t define you. I know what they mean by that sentiment in terms of, they don’t want it to define you in a negative way. But at the end of the day, it is a part of you. It’s just as much a part of you as anything else about you your name your hair color. So let’s not sort of suppress that. There’s got to be a way to embrace it, put it out there, but in a way that just lets you know, people know like, this is who Lisa is, in fact, it’s an integral part of me because it does define my world. I navigate my world as a visually impaired Black woman. People probably see the ladder first.

Then there’s the cane.

TR: 14:49
The cane we know serves multiple purposes. First, an aid to orientation and mobility.

Lisa: 14:57
It’s just as much for me and my safety. but it’s also an identifier. It’s a way of saying to the world, you may think I see you, but I may not. Or I may only see you til you’re right up on me. I need to accept that it may sort of reduce some dating opportunities. But then, at the end of the day, are those really people I’d want to date anyway. Maybe one day, it’ll actually attract the right guy.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 15:25
Heather, what do you think

Heather: 15:27
I was so ambivalent, for a while to use a cane 15 years ago, because I was thinking I was quote, unquote, giving in to my disability, it’s gonna make me appear weak and old. Then it dawned on me that this is a mobility a that is quite liberating. It’s helping me get from point A to point B, giving the nod that yeah, I’m in charge of my life here. I’m not sitting idly by, I’m actually moving and grooving. Those are the kinds of epiphanies and internal dialogue that I had to have, in rooting out that internalized ableism. So much of our gaze comes from a non disabled viewpoint. You’re not even conscious of it until you are and then you’re like, oh, wow, I’m comparing myself to all the non disabled peers and counterparts. And it’s just so self injurious.

TR: 16:23
It’s not only canes and adaptive equipment we use in public.

Heather: 16:27
I especially felt that when I started using the ventilator, and it looks like scuba gear. And I’m like, how sexy is that? Because it feels like a robo breather. I’m like, what partner’s gonna see that as sexy. I had to really think about all of those kinds of things in terms of dating and being attractive to the opposite sex and what that means for me, in terms of acceptance, it goes back to not having those kinds of images across the media landscape where the storylines are informed by disability, from a comprehensive viewpoint, where the person is a love interest, maybe they’re running a business, maybe they are parents, maybe they’re out and about moving around in the world, making really critical decisions. We are starting to see more of those images now. And the first thing I think of is on Queen Sugar. It’s informed by Ava DuVernay because she has lupus. And so Aunt Vy has lupus and is a matriarch, she’s married. She’s a business owner, community builder. When you have those kinds of storylines, mirrored in that meaningful way, you can best believe those get absorbed by people. And then we have new ideas and people can conceptualize disability in a much grander way. I’m thankful for shows like that. Echoing all of those thoughts and the ideas of what beauty is. Sex, sexuality, pleasure, kink? How often do we hear that all juggled in the same sentence with disability? There are quite a few Disabled Parents, including myself. And guess what, those kids, you know, were conceived the old fashioned way.

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
(Interrupts)
Not immaculate conception!

TR, Heather & Lisa chuckle!

Heather:
So we exist.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 18:22
So let’s go there.

— Music begins: A slow vibrato synth, leads to snare hand claps and a driving confident Hip Hop beat

You said that being disabled really has informed your parenting? Talk to me about that?

Heather: 18:29
Sure. I had to leave my job due to progression of disability. And that was probably when my daughter was like around nine or 10. I was so nervous about the fact that what does this mean for me? What’s the next step? So I really had to contemplate the trajectory of my life. It was doubly scary for me because I had these little eyes watching you, right? And they absorb everything around them had to get real clear. Take that internal deep dive and figure out, what would you like to do next. And I said to myself, you know, you need to provide a blueprint, an example for how it would be for your daughter, and not that she needs to be at home, but be more empowered to make her own decisions and choices. I just moved very slowly and methodically. I started thinking about what I was passionate about. I was thinking about disability advocacy. I ended up taking a class that the State offers. It’s called the Massachusetts office on disabilities, Cam training class, Community Access Monitor. Little steps I was taking to figure out where I wanted to go next and how I wanted to impact the world. I didn’t just want to instruct her. I want to give you an example. What to do when how to be a person that contributes to your own community. Disability impacted my parenting by being more mindful and intentional about all of my life’s choices.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 20:03
How old is she today?

Heather:
She’s 28.

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
Okay, what’s the impact on her life?

Heather: 20:08
She is a very strong willed empowered out and proud member of the LGBTQ community, her seeing her mother be involved in, in advocacy circles. It made her more open to just being herself in a very big and loud, authentic way.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 20:30
There’s sort of like an “outness”, about disability.

Heather:
Yeah.

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
I dig it!

TR:
What about the impact disability has on a person’s career?

Lisa: 20:38
That is a very important question. And in my case, it’s just starting to turn around. Before my vision became more complicated. And before I even knew all of the resources, assistive technology, I was a senior development officer at a local nonprofit and doing very well in that. But it just got harder and harder to see my work got harder to see on the computer, I couldn’t drive at night. And some of these one on one donor opportunities would be in the evening outside of the city, which meant small streets, maybe dimly lit, and I just couldn’t do that. I actually ended up mutually separating from that position. And it was a long time before I could really figure out okay, what can I do?

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 21:34
I have this thing about that question. What can I do? I mean, I know a specific,

Lisa: 21:39
What can I do on a computer? What could I do where I wouldn’t have to drive and I could just get easily to places on public transportation?

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 21:45
It’s very practical. But there’s a larger question.

Lisa: 21:48
I remember the day when I thought, what do I want to do? I want to do something a little more creative. During the pandemic, I went to school for journalism. This has just birthed , well, maybe rebirth, something altogether new in me. I just think that that writing bug was there for a long time. But just dormant.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 22:10
Journalism was a real interest of leases in her college years.

Lisa: 22:14
I just kind of tabled it all those years ago. Although I really did love journalism. I didn’t like the career paths that were available then. So I just went in all kinds of different directions. Now. I can work remotely, I can do human interest stories. I don’t have to cover murders and fires and burglaries. There’s so much more out there. I can cover the nonprofit sector I can write about in justices. I absolutely love it. And I love that I can do something that’s mentally challenging. Sometimes it’s nerve wracking, but I get to talk to people the same way I did when I was in development, because that’s all about cultivating relationships, you have to know how to communicate to all different types of people. So I think I’ve found my fit. However, I have yet economically to be at that level.

— From ABC News broadcast: 23:07
Today marks the day, the average Black woman working full time must work into 2021 to catch up with what an average white non Hispanic man earned in 2020.
Let me Repeat that. Today, August 3, 214 days into the year is when an average Black woman worker will have to catch up to her white male counterparts. 2020 pay. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Black women are paid 63 cents for every dollar made by white men across industries.

— Music ends

TR:
Yet!

Lisa: 23:39
I’m much more fulfilled than I had been in a long time since 2011, when I was declared legally blind.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 23:47
I’m just curious, do you see that as an opportunity that was presented by disability?

Lisa: 23:54
I guess the disability has kind of opened that because it’s allowed me to do it on my terms. I could do it from my computer and I could use 12 time magnification if I need to. And nobody has to know you know, I could have my screen reader on nobody has to know. So yeah, yeah, I suppose it has.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 24:16
Okay, good. Good.

Heather: 24:18
How many similarities? Wow, I’m a Mass Comm major. My daughter was very young when I graduated. So I was going to go to school full time, be a mother full time, but I couldn’t, you know, add on the internship part of it. So when I left college, I started working for a health insurance company. It wasn’t until years later that I got involved in writing and blogging and doing freelance work like that. Disability definitely impacted that sort of rebirth and rebranding you were talking about being online and using the internet. Hasn’t that been such a great equalizer in that way for so many disabled persons? I’m not only talking about obviously a parent, but not a parent in chronic illness, folks who, for one reason or another may not be able to get to a brick and mortar location for being online, they have access to remote work or flexible hours and balancing work life.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 25:15
Meanwhile, there are real benefits for hiring and retaining disabled employees.

Heather: 25:20
So many of us have higher sensitivity levels. Have adaptive and analytical skills, logistical skills like nobody’s business, we know workarounds, contingency plans, so many of us are out of the box thinkers. I tell people all the time, you want disabled folks in your employ, in your planning committees, event committees, your communities, your corporations, because there’s a lens and a lived experience that you’re not tapping into that that asset to your organization.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 25:53
Do you see any sort of examples that say, okay, yeah, I see some of this taking place now?

Heather: 25:58
The pandemic, really put that into overdrive, right? So many people were saying, Oh, no, we can’t accommodate you in this way, for remote work and being able to access even entertainment and theater, then all of a sudden, voila, overnight. Everyone has access. So it wasn’t a question of why it couldn’t be done. It just couldn’t be done for y’all!

TR: 26:21
One of several things revealed during the pandemic is the inequity in health care,

Lisa: 26:26
I was thinking of an Article I just wrote on Black women in breast cancer, the death rate is much, much higher for Black women. Nationally, it’s close to 40%, which is ridiculous. So there’s that in general disparity of health care for Black women. But then you add this other layer of having a disability. Now I am in the two worlds.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 26:53
That second world, if you will, is this ability.

Heather: 26:56
It’s been 32 years, since the Americans with Disabilities Act signing, we’re still having to advocate so much for the smallest of rights, it really is daunting and exhausting. nearly 62 million in this country identify as having some form of disability, one out of four people 25% of the population, nearly 1 billion globally, it’s a sleeping giant of a demographic that needs a much better marketing plan.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 27:28
So when someone who is blind, for example, walks into a medical establishment,

Lisa: 27:32
I generally am carrying my white cane. And it’s amazing to me how they’ll see the white cane and still give me a clipboard. People just don’t get it. They only know this is what I do. I’m the receptionist, this is what I do. You come in you tell me your name, I give you a clipboard. Look, I can’t fill out your little iPad. I know it’s cute. And it’s like the way to go here. But that’s not going to work for me. And there have been times when they’ve been helpful. And there have been times when I’ve been dismissed. Some of the same challenges can be addressed if there were more sensitivity and people to help. Because it’s not only vision, it’s not only physical, their language barriers, there’s not being tech savvy,

Heather: 28:19
lack of cultural competence regarding disability, gender, and race, especially when you have providers who are not very knowledgeable about disability, but also, maybe the hospital or healthcare setting is not outfitted for receiving you in a very physical and literal way. Maybe the doorways aren’t wide enough, maybe you can’t access the bathroom because it’s inaccessible. Or if you’re someone like myself, who had difficulty getting on the exam table, because you needed a hydraulic one. And so you had to forego your GYN exam, because you couldn’t access the table that resulted in me filing a complaint with the patient advocacy department. So the next time my follow up visit, that hydraulic exam table was there because along with that complaint form, I included a copy of the part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. That said I had a right to accessible medical care.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 29:16
So you have to advocate just for you to go to the doctor and give them money.

Heather: 29:22
Had to do it more than once to a different providers office. You’re not always believed, so many stories of pain management, managing the variety of disabilities, whether they’re a parent, not a parent or include chronic illness, we should all have the right to have medically accessible care that is done with culturally competent providers.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 29:43
That’s medical providers that are not only familiar with the differences, but also value them. That’s reflected in process policy and services.

Heather: 29:52
When I was younger, I was only considering apparent disability and our families. How many of us have died At heart disease, I have died from complications of diabetes. My father, he ended up dying of kidney disease. I took care of him for the last 11 years of his life in our home, just an interdependent relationship, because he’s helping me physically. And I’m helping manage his entire health care, all while raising a daughter. And then also having my nephew come into my home through a DCF kinship placement, Department of Children Family Services placement as a older teenager who had intellectual disabilities.

So many of us live interdependent lives. And when juggling so many responsibilities, we are practicing those kinds of advocacy skills in real time. That’s the real commentary for a lot of Black disabled women.

TR: 30:47
All you have to do is follow disabled Black women on social media. And you’ll know that we’re just touching the surface of the many challenges they encounter on a daily basis. And yet, they see hope.

Lisa: 30:59
The small things can mean a lot. I have had to say that I’m visually impaired I use assistive technology. I’ve got well, how can we accommodate? Do you need us to send you things in some other file? I went through a seven month long Fellows Program for journalists, and they were absolutely wonderful. Like they just insisted that like, look, we don’t want this to stress you out. It’s not as off putting, as it used to be.

I said earlier, I had to leave my job. Because they just didn’t know what to do with me. It’s really changing for the better. I mean, you have media platforms that are exclusively devoted to people with disabilities. Are we there? Absolutely not. But there is hope.

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
Cool.

Heather: 31:45
I love it when I’m able to connect with more Black women with disabilities, whether it’s a parent non apparent or includes chronic illness, if their parents, whether they’re into the creative arts, I love being able to connect with them and just learn more about their lived experience and how that evolved over time. Because I always feel like I learned every day, that helps me, in my own self awareness, become a better advocate

— Music begins: A melodic synth piano opens to a inspiring mid temp heavy kick Hip Hop beat.

TR: 32:15
today, passing those lessons on to others.

Heather: 32:19
It wasn’t until I got heavily involved with repeat exposure that I began to deliver how vast and wide that disability is, there comes a culture of political movement, history constituency, there wasn’t an indictment. It’s an identity marker. And even the word itself, disability, the di s prefix is not only not an option, but has a Latin and Greek derivative, meaning dual into so hence another way of doing and being in the world, and so much easier to adopt that first person language and say, Black disabled woman. This is why there will be no ambiguity in that meaning, because I’m not shying away from any of those things. You know who I am is the amalgamation of all my choices. And that doesn’t mean that I’m glossing over any frustrating aspects of disability because for sure, they are there to give a full bodied expression in meaning of what it means to live with a disability to have a disability or to be disabled. It is a very comprehensive, layered experience.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 33:33
Full bodied expression. That’s what I’m talking about. Can you handle all of this greatness? Now I need you all to check out and support our sisters. That’s my fellow Libra. The new addition to the Reid My Mind Radio family from Boston. You see how I did that? New Edition, Boston.
— “Cool it Now” New Edition

Heather: 33:56
My website’s SlowWalkersSeeMore.com. So that’s like my condition and my personal mantra.

TR:
Facebook, Twitter and IG.

Heather:
at h Watkins nine to seven.

TR in Conversation with Heather & Lisa: 34:10
You can find Philly’s finest Lisa Bryant on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Lisa:
@ByLisaBryant

TR in conversation with Heather & Lisa:
Appreciate y’all for coming here and sharing your experiences. And you know, that makes you official, members of the Reid My Mind Radio family. So salute y’all, I appreciate you.

Lisa: 34:28
Thank you, Thomas. This is great.

TR: 34:31
Big shout out to all our sisters out there doing your thing. In fact, that’s how we began 2022 doing your thing with disability. We then had to flip the script on audio description. You know how we do it. And by the way, don’t forget to check out this year’s ACB Audio Description Awards Gala, hosted by yours truly. This year. I’m happy to say I have a co-host one of our Reid my Mind Radio family sisters and alumni, Nefertiti Matos Olivares, who is also providing audio description. We had some fun filming and I hope you all check it out. No spoilers. It drops on November 29 2022 On Pluto TV and of course ACBADAwardsGala.org.Check the site for times and official information.

So this is the last episode of The Year y’all but I feel like spreading some holiday cheer this year. So make sure to keep a watch out for a special episode. The best way to do that is to make sure you subscribe or follow wherever you get podcast. And we have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com.

All you got to do is remember it’s R to the E I… D!

Sample: “D and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick
NS be in a place to be
TR:
like my last name!

— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:
peace

Hide the transcript

Young Gifted Black & Disabled: Haben Girma Guides Us Through Self Description

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

A portrait of Haben Girma, a smiling, 30ish Black woman with long dark hair wearing a red dress. Behind her is a blue background

Haben Girma Portrait by Darius Bashar


The practice of providing self-description was becoming “controversial” even before the alt right types went ballistic on Vice President Harris this summer.
During a meeting with leaders in the disability community, the VP practiced a form of access that includes making everyone aware of the visual information that those who are Blind or have low vision miss.

Many have been using and advocating for this practice for years. One such person, my guest today on the podcast; a Disability Rights Lawyer and advocate for Accessible technology and more, Haben Girma.

Haben and I share an interest in seeing this practice improved and continued. We discuss its importance and the complaints some have against the practice. Like most things, self-description goes deeper than you may realize.

Whether you find yourself in support of this practice or not, you should give this episode a listen.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Haben: 00:00
Hello, good afternoon.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:03
Good afternoon. How are you?

— Music begins: A celebratory synth opens a cool energetic Hip Hop beat.

Haben: 00:07
I’m doing well. I wanted to pause and explain communication. I am not hearing you. So I have a typist typing what you’re saying. I’m reading it in Braille and then responding by voice. So if you notice a delay between when you say something, and when I respond, that’s because the typing is coming through.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:32
Okay, I wasn’t sure if you made use of the captions if they come through a Braille display. That’s good to know.

Haben: 00:46
So some podcasters, edit out the delays. Some keep them in to make it part of the experience. You can choose what works best for you.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 00:58
Excellent. I do a significant amount of editing anyway, just to make it an easy. Listen for folks. I can always include this as part of how we communicate it. I think that’s interesting.

Haben: 01:10
So are you recording right now?

TR in Conversation with Haben:
I am.

Haben:
Is it okay, if I ask you questions?

TR in Conversation with Haben:
Absolutely.

Haben:
Excellent. And then one last thing regarding accessibility. It does help if you slow down.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 01:26
Okay, very good. That would be great, because I should slow down anyway. It’s that New York thing. So let me know if you’re ready to start. We can go from there.

Haben: 01:42
Go for it!

— Repeats with a echo effect.

— Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

TR: 01:58
Joining me today on the podcast. Well, President Obama named her the White House Champion of Change. She received the Helen Keller Achievement Award, a spot on the Forbes 30 under 30 List and time 100 talks. She’s a disability rights lawyer, speaker and author honored by heads of state all around the world. Now she’s with us. Family. Haben Girma.

Haben: 02:22
I’m in my 30s. I’m a black woman of Eritrean and Ethiopian heritage, long dark hair, hazel eyes. I am deaf blind, and I’m using a Braille computer and keyboard for communication. So what you’re saying is coming up on my Braille computer, I’m reading it, and responding by voice.

TR: 02:45
If you’re listening to this podcast, I’m pretty sure you heard of Haben. Perhaps you read her memoir? If not, I highly suggest it. The book is titled Haben: The Deaf Blind Woman who Conquered Harvard Law. It was featured in The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, the today’s show,

Haben: 03:02
I read my book out loud, using braille to create the audio recording. So I narrated my own book. And I’ve heard that it can be tricky for a lot of blind people to do that, because Braille literacy is still growing. And there’s still so many struggles to gain access to Braille. That was a fun and really moving experience to be able to read my own book, and have that recorded.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 03:35
I read your book last year. I’m not a proficient Braille reader. I became blind about 19 years ago, I do audio description narration and so I use my screen reader as sort of a audio teleprompter to do narration, but know of some blind narrators who use their braille display to do narration.

Haben: 03:54
I’ve also heard of blind authors using their screen readers as prompts, so listening to their screen reader and then voicing in their own voice, when doing an audio recording of their own book. Did you listen to the audiobook or another format?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 04:14
Yeah, the audio book from Audible.

TR:
It’s also available via the National Library for the Blind

— Music Begins; a hard kick drum and piano chord drop together, leading into a driving Hip Hop beat that hints to West Coast Dr. Dre style production.

Various anonymous people on stage04:25
Clips of varying people providing self-description play over the beat.

– “:And I have wavy dreadlocks”
– “I am a Latino woman.”
– “My pronouns are she/her, I’m a White Jew”
– “Half Croatian and a half Moong”
– “. I’m Black with a capital B”
– “Hi top Vans like the pop punk princess I am.”
– “kind of Kurt Cobain meets David Byrne vibes.”
– “I am wearing a white corsets that my mom handed down to me.”
– “My name is Goldilocks. I defy gender.”
– “I am wearing a look of like fear as well.”
– “My name is Sophia Chang, as you heard, I’m the baddest bitch in the room.”

TR: 05:04
This is the topic of my conversation with Haben. Self description.

Haben: 05:09
said, Thomas, my very first question is, what’s the reasoning behind asking me to do a visual description on a podcast?

TR: 05:20
I thought I was the host of this podcast, it’s my job to ask the questions. Haben came prepared? And honestly, I’m not mad at all.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 05:26
Very good question. So as part of a podcast, we have to make podcast artwork available. That’s a part of the requirement for putting a podcast on Apple, iTunes, and whatever they call it now. So when folks do receive the podcast in the digital format, there’s artwork that accompanies that. I’m not doing anything significant about the artwork. But that is part of it. I will ask you to provide at some point, before I publish this episode, an image file. And usually that’s a headshot. That’s part of introducing folks to the self description, because sighted folks do actually get that from a podcast. The other reason is, because it’s something that I feel is relevant to a conversation is the identity of a person. Rather than me kind of noting someone’s identity, I like to ask people to share whatever identities they want to share about themselves. And that’s part of the self description.

Haben: 06:34
So there have been so many conversations about this, particularly in the last few months. And some of the questions are about which identities do we amplify? And which do we choose not to share? Because all of us are multitudes? We have so many identities? Do I share that I’m a dancer? Or do my share other characteristics? Do you give any guidance on which identity is people should be sharing?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 07:08
No, I don’t. That’s interesting that an identity for you is possibly a dancer, I’ve never heard anyone say that being a dancer is a part of their identity. I leave it up to the guests to share whatever it is that they like to share about themselves.

Haben: 07:24
All right, and because you have done so much work around audio descriptions, I want to lean into that. And I know a lot of sighted and blind people struggle to answer this question. Because there are so many judgments made in a sighted world in a visual world. And when you self describe yourself, if you are feeling uncomfortable, or awkward about some of your identities and traits, do you take the easy route and just not share it? Or should we offer people guidance and urge them to share some of those identities, even if they feel awkward and uncomfortable about it? Because it’s part of access. So like you said, there’s a difference between describing one of your identities as a dancer, versus your eye color or hair color. So I feel like as a community, it would be super helpful if we provided more guidance on how people should approach identification. So we have lots of different identities. But when it comes to visual descriptions, there’s certain visual traits that are visually accessible to sighted people. And if we’re sharing artwork that shows those traits. We should have a structure for our visual descriptions that will ensure accessibility, access to information while also preserving freedom of expression, creativity, and giving people the choice to share which identities to highlight

TR: 09:24
specifically on the podcast. I don’t usually give much guidance. I think that’s probably because most of my guests are familiar and comfortable with the process. However, I do want my guests to share their color ethnicity, along with a bit more about their visual presence. While I do believe that we should try to get people to share as much as they want with the guidance for access issues. I’ve also been in a situation where describing themselves was a trigger. I was in a meeting of about Eight people and one person was trans. They said that it was a very triggering thing for them to describe themselves. And I was the only blind person there. I immediately said, I did not want them to feel uncomfortable. So was that an access issue for me? No, there’s no way I could be comfortable with accessing that information, knowing that it made that person uncomfortable.

— Music ends: A slow reversal of the beat as if leading into the following statement.

Haben: 10:28
Safety is a huge piece of this conversation. So we need to try to create safe spaces where people feel comfortable sharing this information. And if they don’t, even a space that has been attempted to be safe. Sometimes we just need to say, okay, you don’t need to share.

TR: 10:51
Another piece of this self description conversation that also comes with a bit of controversy is pronouns. Now I get it when people have difficulty remembering which pronoun to use. I’m in my 50s. I grew up with he and she, but I also grew up getting chased out of neighborhoods, because I’m black. You get what I’m saying? There’s all sorts of discrimination.

Haben: 11:11
I feel like we should also have conversations regarding should age be part of the description. A lot of sighted people who look at a picture kind of subconsciously assume the age of the person. And a lot of our visual descriptions that are happening right now, often don’t include age. How do you feel about that one?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 11:36
That’s an interesting one. A few years ago, before my beard, became more salt and pepper, it was Microsoft seeing AI, I took a picture of myself. And it described me as a 32 year old and at the time, I think I was 49. When I took that picture.

Haben: 11:56
Were you pleased?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 11:58
I was very pleased. And I tell this story a lot.

TR:
Ain’t no shame in my game. I will eventually tell this story again. In fact, let’s see what the awesome seeing AI app says today. Open Microsoft seeing AI app.

— Sound processing along with Apple Voice Over going through the process…
Menu, quick help button recognizing English channel, adjustable…

“one face near center take 34 year old man wearing a hat and glasses looking happy”

34… laughs…

TR in Conversation with Haben: 12:27
So now, I forget the salt and pepper beard. I might say I have a beard, but to describe it as salt and pepper is not something that I’m used to because I’ve never seen myself with a salt and pepper beard. So I often end up leaving that out.

Haben: 12:46
Right? Right. So you can always make assumptions about someone’s age, based on the color of their hair. So one could go all the way and just say I Yeah, insert number years old. And then there’s the question. Is that too much information? Should you just share what is visually accessible? And someone could be older, but actually look younger? Or they might be younger, but actually look older? So do we provide facts or just visual access? And if we want to try to remove harmful assumptions, maybe providing facts and stating the exact age? How you identify would be more helpful, rather than leaving room for assumptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 13:49
Yeah, but then there are so many other things right? So especially if we think about the corporate world, revealing your age, could really impact your position,

Haben: 13:59
right! Because there’s lots of age discrimination. We could also go back to all the other crates and say, you know, there is sexism, there is racism and ableism.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 14:11
I think it should be left up to the individual to share the things that are visible, that they feel comfortable revealing. I think that’s a start to a guideline for me.

Haben: 14:25
I agree. That’s a great starting point. Over the last year or so there have been lots of discussions about visual descriptions. And one of the biggest complaints is that a lot of them are poor quality. Because people are struggling to figure out, what do they describe, and they’re feeling anxiety and stress over what do I describe? How much to describe? So telling people share what you’re comfortable with it As a starting point, but at this point, a year in, many years for others, who’ve been in this conversation for much longer, I think it’s time to have a more detailed guidance.

— Music begins, a dramatic repeating piano loop, followed by a hi hat lead into a mid temp Hip Hop groove. that

Haben continues:
How much to share what to share, how do we best model visual accessibility, while being aware of racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, and the other forms of oppression?

TR: 15:31
No one is saying this has to be a mandatory function at every gathering. Guidelines, quite honestly just helped make it a smoother process,

Haben: 15:39
so that people who are new get a sense of what to do. And people who have been in this a while can fine tune and improve their image descriptions. And guidelines would help people be more succinct in their descriptions. If we could give guidelines to limit it to one or two sentences, for example, that would help people keep it short. So many of the complaints about self descriptions are due to the fact that a lot of people are struggling and don’t know what to share and what not to share guidelines would help with that,

TR: 16:16
in my opinion, those are all constructive complaints. When I hear someone say, well, it takes too long. I infer that means it would be cool if it was quicker. But not everyone is constructive.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:23
What about the idea that, what someone looks like or what someone is wearing, has no importance? How would you respond to that?

Haben: 16:37
Then turn off the video, turn the lights off, if it really doesn’t matter.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:44
(Thomas chuckles!) I like that very succinct.

Haben: 16:47
You’re welcome. (A big smile in her voice!)

TR in Conversation with Haben: 16:49
I’ve heard folks say that it’s a performative act, it does nothing to enhance the access for blind people,

Haben: 16:56
there are different degrees of performance, if you are going on stage to do a presentation you are performing. So to an extent we have to accept that self description is a performance.
If you turn on your camera you are performing. So we need to accept that part.

— Music ends: The beat comes to an end with a DJ scratch to emphasize the next statement.

Haben:
The response as in an earlier response, give guidelines so people can do better. There are already so many blind people who have said they appreciate visual descriptions. There are people with other disabilities who are sighted and also appreciate visual descriptions. And there are people who identify as non disabled, who also appreciate self descriptions, because it helps with so many unconscious biases when people are open about self describing.

TR: 17:51
I wrote an article for the Disability Visibility Project on this subject earlier this year titled, “Making the case for Self Description: It’s Not About Eye Candy.” I’ll link to the article on this episode’s blog post.
And shout out to Alice Wong.
By the way, if you haven’t read her latest book, “Year of the Tiger”, what’s wrong with your life?

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe find a gentler way of saying that!”

TR: 18:18
Did y’all hear that? That’s my wife’s voice I hear in my head every now and then when I want to make a point. Okay, maybe that was too rough. I just want us to support her work, it’s a really good book. And the audiobook narrator is on point…

The article is framed as a response to a piece written in the NFB Braille monitor. I counted the so called argument made by the author, honestly, most of it gave me the impression that he was trying to do a bit of crude stand up. But the main point I think I always come back to on this subject…

TR in Conversation with Haben: 18:43

My problem with the folks who are calling to abandon this process is sort of tied to what you just said.
That there are a lot of people who already recognize it as access. And if it’s access for one group, why should any part of the group try to take that away? Why isn’t the conversation around improving it? And so in addition to the guidelines, how can we go about improving this process?

Haben: 19:25
We can improve it by tapping into voices, listening to voices of people from underrepresented communities, because I’m worried about people of privilege, deciding that there’s no value in self descriptions, and deciding to take it away.

TR: 19:48
At the time of my conversation with Haben. I was unaware that some members of the NFB were proposing a resolution to discourage the practice of self description.

Haben: 19:57
But thankfully, members of the NFB many members of color, I believe, advocated to remove that resolution that would have discouraged it. So I’m deeply fascinated with guidelines for visual descriptions. I haven’t found a good one online yet. And I’m hopeful that this will be led by blind individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, religion, disability, as in blind people who have other disabilities like deaf blindness, blind people of color, trans LGBTQ, blind people from underrepresented backgrounds should be leading the creation of guidelines for self descriptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 20:45
Well, that’s a fantastic point. It feels as though the negative response, the call to abandon self descriptions, that comes mainly from folks who are not of color.

Haben: 21:05
(Begins with a laugh)
I have had similar thoughts. And I feel like it’s people who have a lot of privilege and are concerned they may lose their privilege, lose keys to the normal, cool club, if they speak up about issues that certain communities find controversial, like race and other things that should not be controversial.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 21:37
Losing the keys, what does that look like in the real world? What does someone actually put at risk by having these conversations?

Haben: 21:47
So vice president Harris said…

— Audio from the now infamous meeting:

I’m Kamala Harris, my pronouns are she and her, I’m a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit.

Haben: 21:53
And a lot of people had so many ridiculous responses to that, because it felt like, it’s so obvious, don’t talk about it. But they weren’t thinking about an accessibility perspective. It was sighted people with a lot of privilege, and blind people with a lot of privilege, trying to brush that off, then we get to a situation where, let’s say, a white person says that they’re white. A lot of people who carry privilege will feel uncomfortable with that. And a blind person who is white, and at a conference, does an image description and says they’re white, they might feel like they’re putting themselves at risk of being ridiculed, and no longer being cool, or risk of losing respect. If they say something that a lot of people carrying privilege feel like, it’s so obvious, it should not be discussed, it’s not relevant.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 23:11
Okay, I get that. It’s hard for me to grasp it from the perspective of that individual who feels that way. Because all of these things are visual, right?

Haben: 23:23
They’re visual. But when you voice them, you call attention to them. So when you voice, that you’re white, you’re calling attention to whiteness, which also calls attention to white privilege. And there are still so many people who do not like talking about white privilege, or feel like it doesn’t exist, it’s not a thing. So when you bring up concepts that are adjacent to white privilege, like describing that someone is white, that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 24:03
Okay, that makes sense. We’re making people uncomfortable. And the people with the privilege are those who are uncomfortable.
TR: 24:06
Go ahead and add that to the list of Why I think self description is a good thing. And please don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone who was white and blind doesn’t have access to that privilege, and therefore may even be in fear of losing that access, or more.

Haben: 24:24
And there are blind people who are concerned that if you ask for one more accessibility feature, you’re going to lose all of the other accessibility features as if there’s a limit to how much accessibility can be called for. But I feel like we should approach it from a place of abundance and assume and desire that everything be accessible.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 24:49
Yes. I don’t understand why folks would think that you have to give up one to get the other.

Haben: 24:56
I think it’s from years and years of being excluded. It is frustrating to be excluded from so much information.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 25:05
This reminds me of some of those in the community who are so eager to accept poor quality audio description, such as that which uses synthesized speech instead of human narration. For example, I’ve read things online like…

(Thomas mimicking a very nerdy voice, says):
“These companies have bent over backwards for us, if we aren’t grateful, they’ll stop describing altogether.”

Well, that’s what they sound like in my head, when I read these types of things.

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe find a gentler way of saying that!”

TR:
You know, I should be more compassionate. It’s not really their fault. However, I would encourage these folks to just look at history. It’s not until the disenfranchised raise their collective voice and take a stand. At some point, you have to just realize, what are we really at risk of losing? Maybe that’s just bad audio description? Personally, I’m good with that.

Now, back to the guidelines.

Haben: 25:59
I don’t know of any guidelines right now for self descriptions. And I’m hopeful that you will be part of the process of creating these guidelines, and that there will be conversations with blind people from underrepresented communities to create these guidelines.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 26:21
Yeah. So how can we do that? (A knowing giggle.)

Haben: 26:24
Giggles!

Conversation. Plans.

In this podcast, we’ve been talking about what should be in those guidelines.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 26:35
Yeah, I guess I’m thinking, if it’s not one of the two large consumer organizations who get behind it. And we want it to be led by marginalized groups of blind people and others, who’s the organizing body,

Haben: 26:55
we can change the structure, we don’t necessarily need an organizing body to lead the way.
We can have individuals leading the way.

Music begins.
A bouncy bass drum drops into a driving rhythm that hints at an Afro beat style.

TR: 27:06
You know I’m in there.
But if I weren’t, she would have had me at, we can change the structure.
I believe both consumer organizations are extremely useful and important to the community. They serve a variety of purposes. However, I’m not a member of either right now.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:14

I’m a row cowboy. Lol.

Haben: 27:25
It’s not something a rogue cowboy can do on its own. But then a cowboy can collaborate with other cowboys and cowgirls.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:36
(Laughing )Let’s change it because I don’t even like the cowboy reference anymore.

Haben: 27:42
(Laughing )
Let’s try it again. What reference would you prefer?

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:46
Yeah, just people. I like the fact that you’re saying that it should be done within community. And I guess I want to find more people who are like minded, such as yourself and others, to form that community to really feel like there are a lot of other people who are speaking about it. And I think what happens in social media, sometimes it feels like, yeah, people are “liking”, therefore trying to amplify the conversation. But those who are actually in conversation seems to be far and few. And I just want to find more.

Haben: 28:19
Perfect. So let’s build up a coalition of people who believe in self descriptions value. And then once we have that collective, we can start brainstorming what should be in the guidelines.

TR: 28:35
So we started with some of the possible guidelines we identified here today.

The act of self describing should be quick, about a minute at most. This means folks unfamiliar should be given some advance notice that they’ll be asked to provide this access.
Including the notice and guidelines along with the meeting agenda, for example.
Consider what’s visible to those in attendance. Are we talking about a Zoom meeting?
Keep it to your waist up and start from the head down.
Skin Tone eye color, if that’s something you’d like to highlight, hair color, facial hair, glasses, a brief description of your shirt or blouse, you get it? What’s your background? If you’re seated by a window overlooking the city skyline, that may be a nice touch.
Plain white wall? Meh!
But remember, it’s zoom, there’s probably no need to describe those things off screen.

— Music ends: The bouncy bass drop that opened the track echoes and fades out… emphasizing the statement that follows.

Haben: 29:24
And then there’s an asterisk, however, share and describe those things that are not visible on camera, if they are highly relevant to the things that are visible on camera. Sometimes people might appear a certain way, like someone might look white, but identifies with other racial and ethnic identities, and they want to share that even if it might not be visibly obvious.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 29:57
Yes, good example.

TR: 29:50
It’s okay to be creative. Put some of your personality into the description. I mean, let the words the tone, also speak to who you are as an individual. And as we mentioned earlier, for some identity can be triggering. So safety first. It’s always optional. Although I read some posts where some opt out of the practice of self describing or providing their pronouns just to be provocative. Allow me to suggest an appropriate self description for such an individual…

Eminem Sample: 30:28
“May I have your attention please!”
“My name is…”

TR: 30:31
Asshole!

Concise, right?

Voice of Marlett, with an audio effect that simulates being heard in one’s head:
“Maybe…

TR:
(Interrupting) No!

this is a good time to remind us all that while we’re talking about access, we’re not necessarily including everyone.
There’s a difference between purposefully excluding people and unknowingly doing so. The difference is awareness. As with audio description, for example,

Haben: 30:52
I can’t access audio descriptions, because I’m deaf. I don’t hear them. So to access films, I need a descriptive transcript. And that would have the audio descriptions. And they would also have the dialogue. And because there isn’t a time constraint, that descriptions can be much longer and more detailed compared to audio descriptions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 31:20
And I know those are far and few.

Haben: 31:23
Yes, yes, they’re still quite rare. It

TR in Conversation with Haben: 31:26
feels as though it shouldn’t be that hard, because what you need exists is just not together.

Most films that come out have captions, and those that are coming out now with audio description, that text is alive somewhere. So it’s just the combining of the two, what kind of conversations are being had now to make that available?

Haben: 31:50
Not many conversations, I reached out to Netflix asking for descriptive transcripts. And they created what the first one from Netflix that I remember, is crip camp.
That came with an amazing descriptive transcript. And I read through it, it was almost like a novel so many descriptions, and all the conversations. And since then there have been more descriptive transcripts from Netflix.
TR in Conversation with Haben: 32:14
where do you get them?

Haben: 32:15
On the page for the show or film? I believe there is a more or notes section on that webpage? Under that would be a link to the transcript.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 32:37
So does one need to subscribe to Netflix in order to gain access to that?

Haben:
Yes.

TR in Conversation with Haben:
So it’s not a lot of content. So you’re paying the same price, but have access to way less content.

Haben: 32:50
That is the frustration of not having enough descriptive transcripts. And I’m hopeful there’ll be more than that other media companies will also create more.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:02
Wow. So right now it’s only Netflix who gives you access to that.

Haben: 33:06
I think Netflix is the only one out that I can think of that does it formally. There are other descriptive transcripts for other films out there. But it’s not a consistent thing.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:21
How can this podcast help to promote more access for folks who are deaf blind?

Haben: 33:29
When you talk to people who are working in media, encourage them to include descriptive transcripts.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 33:36
And a sample from crip camp would be a great place to point them in order for them to kind of take a look and see what that looks like? Correct?

Haben: 33:44
crip camp is great. And if they don’t have a Netflix subscription, they can look at some of my videos. I include descriptive transcripts in my videos, that’s

TR: 33:55
via her YouTube channel, Haben Girma on YouTube,

Haben: 33:59
Instagram, and to some extent on Facebook and Twitter as well. And my videos tend to be about deaf blindness, accessibility, human rights…
A sample from Haben’s YouTube channel:
Haben speaking. Hello. I need to tell you about CRM alee, an American child was forcibly disappeared by the Eritrean government. We are calling on US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to help her…

Haben:
and the last video was about chocolate.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 34:33
What kind of chocolate do you like?

— Sound of Haben opening a package of chocolate on her YouTube video…

Haben: 34:36
I love experiencing new flavors and trying new combinations of chocolate.

— From the video, Haben announces after trying a new chocolate:
“Thumbs up.”

Haben: 34:35

I’m deeply curious and love culinary adventures.
So something will be my favorite temporarily. And then I continue exploring and trying new things and then I discover a new favorite.
My favorite thing is adventure!
TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:02
I like that!

What else do you like to do when you’re not working in writing your books? You’re not talking to people about self description. What does Haben Girma like to do?

Haben: 35:13
I am a dancer and I love dancing.

Swing, Salsa, Merengue, I feel like it’s a beautiful way to create community, meet new people and get exercise.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:27
Do you dance competitively?

Haben: 35:28
I did briefly when I was in school. And I realized competitions kind of take the fun out of it. I don’t want to be in a zone where I’m judging people, or I feel like people are judging me. I’d rather be in an environment where people are expressing Joy building community. So I’ve long since moved away from dance competitions.

TR in Conversation with Haben: 35:55
You know what you want! Excellent.

— Music begins: A quick snare drum as if confirming what was said along with a voice that says, “Yeah”. This opens a smooth joyful but funky bass line over a melodic groove.

TR:
Well Haben, I truly appreciate you taking some time. I want to let you know that when folks come on the podcast and speak to me and share some of their story or share some information. I like to make sure that you all know that you are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!
I hope this is just a first conversation of many more to come, especially around this topic of self description. I hope we can work together. So thank you.

Haben: 36:27
You’re welcome. And thank you for having me on the podcast.

TR: 36:31
If you want to contribute some thoughts to this effort of creating self description guidelines, hit me up at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com.
Specifically, we’re seeking input from people of color who are blind or have low vision and from other marginalized communities.

If you want to share any opinion on this topic whatsoever, you can feel free to send me an email as well. If you send nonsense, well…, I’ll say less.

Big shout out to Haben Girma.

Over the years, many of y’all reached out and suggested that I get Haben on the podcast, I wasn’t at all against it. I just really like to make sure that the content coming out of this podcast is different from others. Reid My Mind Radio isn’t really about telling you all about the newest gadget book or whatever. There’s plenty of podcasts that do that and do it well. I want this podcast to add value to whatever conversation we’re in. So if we’re discussing anything description related, anything about representation, technology, or whatever, I hope we can bring a valuable voice to the discussion. And of course, make it funky!

Haben brought that. And this was the right place and time for that conversation.

On that note, let me tell you it’s always the right time for Reid My Mind Radio!

The majority of our episodes are “evergreen.” So if you know someone who hasn’t given this podcast and listen or read of the transcript, let them know they’re missing something in their life. They can easily find Reid My Mind Radio wherever they get podcast.

We have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com.

Now come on fam, say it with me…

That’s R to the E, I … D!
— Sample: (“D! And that’s me in the place to be.” Slick Rick)
Like my last name!
— Reid My Mind Radio outro
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Young Gifted Black & Disabled: Justice for All

Wednesday, October 12th, 2022

On a Light grey and blue abstract background is a picture of Justice Shorter. a smiling African American woman with dark sunglasses, wearing a black jacket with a lilac blouse and hoop earrings.  Text above her headshot reads, "Reid my mind radio" with a small logo of lady justice followed by the episode's title: "Young, Gifted, Black, and Disable Justice for All"
This final season of Reid My Mind Radio 2022 is once again focusing on #YGBD – Young Gifted Black & Disabled. Ever since producing the episode in 2020 under that same name with Ajani AJ Murray, I wanted to make it a seasonal theme.

This opening episode was inspired by my dive into the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler along with real concerns around environmental, social and political upheaval. I wondered how these things could impact the disability community specifically.

I reached out to Justice Shorter; a Disability Justice advocate and Black Disabled Lives Matter amplifier. She is a national expert on disability inclusive disaster protections, emergency management and humanitarian crises/conflicts. And she’s just pretty dope and just someone who we all should be aware of.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Music begins – A bouncy synth opens a driving Hip Hop beat.

TR:

[megaphone sound effect]

Greetings Reid My Mind Radio family. Welcome back! to the first episode in this final season of 2022. I’m talking about Young, Gifted, Black…

[in the background]

say the word

[yells]

And disabled!

If you don’t know it all began with an episode I produced in 2020 with my man, brother, Ajani AJ Murray. If you haven’t listened to that original episode, I strongly suggest that you do.

I like to begin the episode with some sort of an intro, you know, an update, a skit, a few words loosely tied to the episode or its theme. Well, today’s guest has so much greatness to share that I want to honor that and leave most of this episode to her and the topic at hand. But here, we always kick things off with the drum.

Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

A collage of different crisis from news reports: 01:07
“We have stormed the Capitol!” A rioter yells!

“To Washington and the high stakes hearings on the January 6 attack on the Capitol.” – News anchor.

“A rally organized to protest COVID restrictions, with members of the state’s militia groups openly taking part” – News Reporter.

“Longer fire seasons, stronger hurricanes, more intense heat waves and floods. Across the world climate events are getting more extreme” – News anchor

“If it feels to you like there are more weather related natural disasters. That’s not just a feeling.” – News reporter

TR:
All of these things are taking place around us today and are increasing in occurrence. And my recent dive into the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler, and it really got me thinking how prepared are we people with disabilities for major disaster? Then I recall meeting someone on Clubhouse who can really speak to this in a way that truly takes this all into account.

— Music begins, Triumphant horns blow as a symbol crescendos into a mid tempo Hip Hop beat lead by a driving kick drum.

Justice Shorter

Justice:

I am a black blind lesbian woman. I hail from the Midwest Region born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but I currently reside in Washington DC.

I am the granddaughter of Leola Daniels Carter and Fanny Jahari. I’m the daughter of Lily Mae Carter and Michael Demetrius Shorter. It’s always top of mind for me to link and give honor to the lineages in terms of the work that I do, the spaces that we occupy.

I describe myself as a curator, as a creative, a coordinator of sorts. I am a disability justice advocate a Black Disabled Lives matter amplifier, a international trainer and speaker.

I do a lot of work that heavily focuses on disaster, justice, disability justice, racial justice, gender justice work, because they are inextricably linked, you cannot have one without having the other.

A lot of my work kind of centers around those primary issues. Iadjusted and adapted as I continue learning and growing and evolving because quite frankly, there is no other way for me to move and maneuver in this world.

TR:
A part of that learning, growing, evolving is in regards to her blindness. This began with glaucoma around the age of five or six.

Justice:

That actually first started out with a retinal detachment which took all of the vision in my right eye. Then glaucoma slowly started to take the vision and my left eye. From very early ages, it has informed my life. So it would be categorized as a developmental disability for sure. Given how it has informed my developmental years, my early developing years.

My relationship to disability, though, is one that has come with the progression of time as well. I have always been deeply steeped in my blackness. But coming into a closeness and intimacy with disability has been something that has happened over time.

TR:
I’m sure there are a lot of people with intersecting identities who are adjusting to disability that can relate.

BIPOC, or a ter that better encapsulates this group, people of the global majority, who may have spent years learning how to deal with overt racism, microaggressions and all sorts of injustice, while trying to develop a strong and positive self identity. Only to have to now be faced with internal and external ableism.

Justice:
It wasn’t until I started to delve more deeply into the work of quite frankly, people of color with disabilities, that I started to see myself more clearly and I started to smile and rejoice of what that was reflected back to me.

To see yourself mirrored and the experiences of other people who have similar journeys as you do, really helps you to getting a better understanding of how you can position yourself in this community and in this space.

So it wasn’t until I started reading folks like Mia Mingus, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Patty Burns, Stacy Park Milburn folks who, again, are luminaries in the space of Disability Justice articulators and architects of what we now know as disability justice. That I was really able to grab hold to it in a way that was so deeply personal, and that encompassed such a profound sense of pride.

TR:
We’re talking about the power of people and our stories, enabling us to fully see ourselves and explore all of those things that make up who we are.

Justice:
I had already realized quite early on that standing in my truth was a means of survival. It was a means of me utilizing my own story, as opposed to having others use it for themselves. What does my story mean, not only to myself, but other young women like me, other Black lives, LGBTQIA, folks just like myself, other people of color, like myself with disabilities, it wasn’t until I started to think about that a bit more that I was far more inclined to start working on disability as an area of practice.

TR:
Part of that process can literally require finding the right location, a place that presents opportunities for justice, and then moving to Washington, DC.

Justice
I came out to DC, the doors kept opening and they were all related to disability. There were a lot of internships and practicum opportunities and all of that stuff. And all of them were like disability oriented opportunities. And I’m like, well, here we go, I’m not gonna turn down this internship I’ve been dreaming up or this post grad school job that I’ve been dreaming of, because it’s in the disability space, and I didn’t want to be held in a box. I was very scared for quite some time that disability would cage me. I say that with purpose. I say that with intention. So many of us are caged because of our disability.

TR:
Cages are more than physical, a boundary that limits our movement. Well, that can be in our thinking about our lives and possibility.

Justice:

Considering how many people of color, how many black people are imprisoned in this country, and how many of them have some sort of disability, mental health consideration, or access or functional issues.

I think about trying to do this work in the different layers of discrimination that happens when you say that you have a disability and you’re trying to find a job, I did not want to be pushed aside, I did not want to be pushed out of the different sectors that I wanted to pursue professionally. The opposite happened. The very thing that you think will cage you can sometimes be the thing that frees you. It became the thing that allowed me to see myself more clearly, allowed me to grow wings, in a sense of flying in all of these different directions and with all of these other phenomenal people who are also doing dope stuff being completely embodied in their truth, and that should just excited me to know him.

TR:
When I first began making audio even before this podcast, I thought about working in radio and reading mainstream stories. I recall thinking,

[faintly]

I’m more than just disability.

[back to normal speech]

When I hear Justice say…

Justice
The very thing that you think will cage you can sometimes be the thing that frees you.

TR:
… Learning more about disability culture and challenging my own ableism has brought me to a place where I realized the opportunity and value in telling stories from a disability lens. In no way am I settling for something less rather, I’m fully aware of his greatness and possibility.

Justice:

A lot of folks have distanced themselves from the word disability as a means of survival. That history is the interlocking ways that people have been discriminated against all of those forms of compounded discrimination has caused many folks to distance themselves, whether it be locking you out of the school systems, locking you out of the employment system, locking you out of the type of medical care that you need, locking you out of the type of housing that you need, actually locking you into nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, group homes, settings that you don’t wish to be in. People with disabilities have an acute awareness of these things. It has caused folks to quite honestly try to be very fearful about the proximity of disability, kind of getting too close to that word, or getting too close to those issues. That should not be the reality that we all live in.

TR:
You know this isn’t about the word disabled, right? Many prefer to use terms like “special needs” or “differently abled,” but that doesn’t change the impact of systemic ableism.

Justice:
And that is why it’s so deeply important that we change those structural inequities that people have to deal with on a day to day basis, so that people can, people of color with disabilities, young and old, of any age range, any type of disability can hear that word and understand that it is inseparable with freedom. It is inseparable from joy. It is inseparable from laughter, and levity and friendship and fellowship, all of the things that allows your soul to breathe. That’s kind of what I try to center my work on as much as I can.

TR:
Building bridges for us. Our wellbeing physical, emotional, spiritual. We’re talking about our safety and you know, that goes beyond natural threats.

Justice10:00
There’s also human-caused crises that we have to contend with: the Flint water crisis, things that are happening with the nuclear power plants, factories that pollute water, you think about environmental injustice, which also, of course leads you to the Environmental Justice Movement, which was founded by people of color. A lot of times that history gets pushed aside or buried, when we talk about environmental justice.

TR: 10:24
Whether man made or natural, these threats to our safety don’t always just spring up on us.

Justice10:30
Dealing with structural violence on a day to day basis. Also, it creates what people in the social work and psychology world call the sandpaper versus baseball effects. The baseball effect is when something hits you over the head, it’s kind of very hard. It’s a hard hitting issue that evokes this trauma. But then there’s also the sandpaper effect, which is trauma that things that grate on you over time, it kind of wears you down wears on you over time, things like poverty, not being fully represented, not only in terms of your politics, but also in terms of these social environments that you navigate within things like medicalized ableism. And discrimination, all of these things wear on you, over time, all of these things are structurally violent, it is the difference between your potential reality and your actual conditions.

TR:
Too often individuals are held up as an example to model “he overcame the poverty,” “she broke through the glass ceiling.” Whether we’re talking about racism, sexism, ableism, we hear it all the time, “she was able to do it, why can’t the rest of you?” But focusing on individuals does nothing to address the systemic problem.

Justice:

We as people of color with disabilities, we have the potential certainly to pursue whatever aspirations that we want to pursue in terms of professional or academic or spiritual. And yet, so many of us are kept out of those areas of those sectors for all sorts of reasons, but many of them tie back to racism, ableism, sexism, ageism, so on and so forth. All of those things are structurally violent, because it keeps you from living the life that you could live.

Toni Morrison tells us that racism itself is just a distraction. It keeps you from living the life that you truly wish to live. It keeps you from doing the things that you truly wish to do, because you are in a perpetual space of having to explain your very existence to people who quite frankly, may or may not even give a damn at the end of the day.

TR: 12:31
That’s fighting for employment that enables you to earn a living wage in order to afford housing where you don’t have to worry about your children getting lead poisoning, or access to good schools or even clean drinking water. And then there’s something we really need to consider in regards to the often suggested advice around disaster preparedness.

Justice 12:50
So many individuals who are impacted by disaster or who live in disaster prone areas are told to simply prepare, to pack up as much stuff as you can pack up, hoard as much stuff as you can hoard. Have you a to-go bag that’s filled with all of these things that you can afford to put in it. But if you cannot afford these things during times that are not embodied by crisis, then you certainly can’t afford them enough to stock up on them prior to a crisis. Are we sculpting solutions and recommendations based on the conditions that only a select few can meet? Or are we creating solutions and ideologies, remedies and practices that are going to be applicable for the people who need them the most.

TR: 13:36
As Justice simply put it, preparation comes with privilege. If you do have that privilege, by all means, consider checking out various suggestions on what to include in an emergency to go kit. Ready.gov has a number of suggestions. As people with disabilities you also want to consider your access needs like white or mobility canes, assistive technology, and other technology that may be required for you to gather information or communicate with others. However, it’s important to note that the onus shouldn’t always be placed on the individual.

Justice:
It’s kind of the wave in the finger in the face response.” Why didn’t you prepare better, we can’t always save everybody!”
People deserve to survive irrespective of what their class status is. My thinking around this has shifted. I go more towards how are we building community and connection. Whereas I may only be able to buy a flashlight, my neighbor up the street may be able to buy a couple of extra cases of water. My other neighbor down the road may have a generator. My other neighbor down the street may have a couple of more cans of food. Can we create community in this way? Disability Justice teaches us that we are each other’s survival strategy.

Music begins – a smooth slow jazzy Hip Hop groove.

TR: 14:46
This feels like the antithesis of our society’s norm contrary to the idea of independent making sure you have your own solely relying on yourself. This is interdependence. We spoken about this here before and up approach that encourages collaborative work.

Justice 15:02
coming back to center around community, how can we help each other survive? What I can’t carry, maybe you can. What you can’t do, maybe I can? How can we support each other?

TR: 15:14
Another term for this way of acting and thinking is mutual aid.

Justice 15:18
It’s looking at this in a way that says, even if you cannot contribute in these ways that kind of meet other material needs, your life is still worth saving.

How can we support in that way? That could be any of us at any time, that is also a means of planning for the future. I don’t have this disability today, I may have it in two months, or if something hits me in a certain way, I could have that mobility disability.

So us planning around how we’re going to support these folks in our community, now, it’s important for all of our collective survival.

TR:
Perhaps this goes beyond the physical.

Justice:
Cole Arthur Reilly, who has this wonderful book called This Year Flesh. In that book, Cole says, What if God did not just want to use you? What if he also wanted to be with you? I think about that, in terms of people having inherent worth and recognizing wholeness, which is one of those disability justice principles. We recognize the wholeness of people, we understand that there doesn’t have to be a utility. In order for people to survive catastrophe. We could just inherently care about the presence and the value of each other as people. And that could be enough to make us think about preparedness in a more expansive way. That recognizes that all of us deserve the opportunity to survive.

TR: 16:31
With that said, what exactly are some examples of mutual aid that exists today?

Justice 16:36
Mask Oakland, because they have done extraordinary work to help protect people with disabilities during wildfire seasons by making sure that people had masks to help themselves to breathe during the wildfires of California. These are people with disabilities helping other people with disabilities by supplying them with masks.

They also had a very targeted approach in terms of helping people who were houseless because they were the folks who were the most exposed. People who can go indoors and shut the windows and use central air units to stay cool and protect themselves from the air.

TR: 17:06
How often do we hear the narrative of people with disabilities as recipients of aid? Rarely do we hear of us as providers, especially when it goes beyond the disability community. But check out who stepped up when the pandemic hit and the rush on masks resulted in a shortage.

Justice 17:23
Oakland had masks that they were trying to distribute at the very least when supplies were running low.

Providing people with information on what types of masks to get and what type of masks did what, and making sure that people were willing to know. So that informational awareness was key.

This is also something that a lot of folks are doing online, in terms of telling people different ways to stay safe. And all of these different COVID protocols, people sharing knowledge on how to save themselves.

This is also happening in kind of non-crisis wave people with disabilities creating hashtags and creating websites around disability at home. What are some of the hacks that people are making? I think that’s actually the site’s name, “disability at home.”

TR: 18:00
Disabilityathome dot ORG, a catalog, if you will, of ideas and inexpensive hacks that enable people to create low cost solutions for mobility aids In Home Solutions for creating safe, accessible spaces in bathrooms, and for completing daily chores at home. As Justice noted, the same things that keep you safe on a daily basis are needed during disasters. So providing information is a component of disaster justice, to activism and advocacy, a real and important function that just so happens to be accessible for those with disabilities.

Justice 18:36
Sometimes when we talk about activism, we try to only act as if that can happen in ways that are very physical, being in the street, going up against police officers going out there and directly helping someone evacuate carrying them on your back out of the flaming building, right?

When we think about that, as forms of support, or activism, or things that would kind of constitute this framing around who is a responder or who is someone we can call in a crisis related event. But there is also a ton of work that’s happening in virtual spaces and online. And that’s really key, especially for many of us who can’t physically go out and beat the streets by way of protesting or going door to door to advocate for the things that people need.

TR: 19:24
We’re talking about all sorts of things here from crises like that in Flint, Michigan, or Jackson, Mississippi, that deprive people of clean drinking water, health care, access to physical and online spaces. A lot of that’s happening through hashtags, some of these online Twitter spaces and Facebook groups.

Justice 19:43
This is important because that’s how knowledge is passed. So many of us are learning through the lessons of others and through the lives of others. And when you share that information, it positions people with disabilities as experts of their own narratives, but also of their own survival. And I think that’s really important.

TR: 20:01
When talking about survival, Justice stresses that it goes beyond the high profile weather events.

Justice 20:07
What you might not consider to be a crisis, I would! The fact that there are people who might be doing construction in your building, and they don’t tell the blind folks what’s happening, it’s not a crisis for anybody else moving around that building, except if I hit that ladder.

People with disabilities have additional considerations that we’re thinking about on a day to day basis, it may not be a crisis as someone else, oh, I just have a scratch. But for me, it could take me out for days, or it could take me out for much longer than that. I think about that and I affirm those experiences for people.

TR: 20:37
Okay, now check out this example of mutual aid, Justice knows neighbors, and they know her. Even more than that, they look out for one another. So when Justice isn’t around, a neighbor will say something to a construction worker, like…

Justice 20:50

“You cannot leave that ladder here, you can, you cannot leave all of these tools in the middle of the floor because the cane may not catch it.”

TR: 20:58
Then I think it’s solely about themselves, but rather, each other, community, like a time a man with a knife tried to enter the building.

Justice21:06
The neighbors came together and supported one another and they made sure he did not get in here.

I had another neighbor who was locked outside of our building, the door knob literally came off, so we couldn’t get out. And he could not get in. What was my solution? My first solution was not to call the police because all of us were black. Two of them were black men. And there’s some additional considerations that you have to take into account in that way. The first thing that I thought of though was to go grab this neighbor of the black men, he came down, he literally undid all of the joints to get that thing undone so that we could all get out of the building. And so this guy could get in.

TR: 21:39
Together, they took action that would prevent such a crisis in the future.

Justice 21:43
We advocated that a new door be put on to the building, we advocated that the construction crew close the windows at night, so that different people didn’t have access into the building, which created another safety concern.

TR: 21:54
The lesson here, any conversation about disaster preparedness must be about advocacy.

Justice 21:59
I encourage you to start talking to the people around you making community with the people around you. I encourage you to start looking around you and assessing kind of what are the things that you can do if you are spending your time at a workplace and eight hours out of your life, every single day, Monday through Friday. And then okay, I think we need an evacuation chair, where is it because how am I going to get out and it’s not just acceptable that everybody else can leave except me. That’s not cool. I’m not okay that that is our plan, or that our plan is this only one person knows how to use the evacuation chair, and nobody else knows how to use it. So if Rob is not at work today, then it’s just too bad for me if a crisis happens on that day,

TR: 22:36
Justice recommends thinking about all of the places you spend time, community centers, public parks and malls for all sorts of crises. In 2022, the reality includes acts of insurrection homegrown terrorism, thinking about mass shootings, do you have an escape route, or no have a way to shelter in place? These are just some of the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Justice 22:58
How can we use things like vocational rehabilitation services, assistive technology organizations that say, Hey, I think I need this piece of assistive tech because it’s going to help me in a crisis. I’m going to use it for dual purposes. I’m going to use it on my day to day but it’s certainly going to be useful as something to support me during a crisis as well.

TR: 23:14
How does geography play into preparation? Specifically, I’m thinking about those living in rural environments far from their nearest neighbor.

Justice 23:22

I think sometimes that gives you the illusion that there’s no community because people aren’t close. And that’s an untruth. Many of them have way more survival techniques that any of us would even understand because they have had to live on their own. And because they haven’t had easy access to just go down the street and get to someone.

Listen, when the cold snap happened down in Mississippi, it was 2020 or 2021. All the years are running together. When the cold snap came into those areas. A lot of black folks who lived in very rural areas mentioned how “Listen, we didn’t have any running water,” “our generator started to go out,” “there was no one around us for miles, we had to figure out how we were going to get from point A to point B.”

What ended up happening, you still have people who ended up driving in, you still had people who ended up starting to bring people over to their homes so that they can have baths. You had people who were doing carpools that make sure that people had access to food and water. People showed up for one another.

TR: 24:19
Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. Justice encourages organizations to really think about this, especially when making new purchases.

Justice 24:27
If we’re getting new vans, if we’re getting new buses, are they wheelchair accessible? Those very same church buses, vans, these things are also becoming evacuation vehicles in a crisis. Are they equipped with a wheelchair lift? If they not, we have a problem. We’re not planning for everybody. You’re saying that everybody else can get on this bus that we have repurposed to be you know, an evacuation, but we’re gonna go up this road and we’re gonna get everybody who want to come. Wonderful. What if I want to come and I can’t because there’s no way for me to get on this bus with my power chair. You can’t just put me on there and then I have no means of moving around once I get to my location.

TR in Conversation with Justice: 25:03

Yeah, absolutely.

Justice 25:05

When I first started to lose my sight, and I started taking courses that were related to activities of daily living, my instructor was also a blind woman. And she said that the difference between a problem and a crisis is time.

TR: 25:14
Remember that situation where the door to Justice’s building couldn’t open. That was a problem. But when you add fire and smoke, it becomes a crisis, the tenants working together that makes that building a community. Churches, social organizations, and even chapters of consumer organizations are all opportunities for mutual aid organizing.

Justice 25:35
I would also beg the leadership of those entities to consider how they are thinking of their whole community, how they’re thinking of people with disabilities, because like I said, we will make investments in certain things. But are those things accessible from the onset? Is it something that we have to complain about or somebody gets hurt or somebody gets left out, then we start to consider it. “Oh, wow, we had to leave Miss Jenkins at home, hope she’s okay when the waters was rising, because nobody had a vehicle that could get her out.” But this is our community, we love it. But yet we didn’t plan for Miss Jenkins.

TR: 26:06
For those who may think they don’t have any access to community, that online access can prove to be helpful in various ways.

Justice 26:13
Even by listening to a podcast like this is cultivating a connection with different streams of thought from other people. That also helps to decrease isolation, and also helps you kind of just learn different patterns and different practices that might be helpful for you.

I could get on these types of platforms and talk from sunup to sundown, and I still wouldn’t be able to give you a fraction of all that goes into doing disaster justice and Disability Justice work.

What we could do is build together and create a relationship so that we can stretch out as much as we can in terms of helping people to understand what will be the most useful for them. What is necessary for me as a blind woman is not going to be the same for somebody with a different type of mobility disability, we have to individualize our responses a bit more, as opposed to just saying people with disabilities need to do a better job of packing a bag and going.

TR: 27:08
This episode began with the idea of becoming more prepared in the event of an emergency, it evolved into a broader understanding of a more holistic approach to mitigating disasters. That is disaster justice.

Justice 27:21
Thinking about all of the different ways that people are impacted by disasters across a disaster cycle. So it’s not just during response, but it’s also during the preparedness stage. It is during the mitigation phase, it is during response, during recovery. It’s long term recovery. Recovery does not end when the cameras school, when

Are we thinking about this in terms of people who are the most directly impacted, also having lines of impact in terms of decision making authorities? Or do we only ask the people who are the most impacted? What are their thoughts in kind of a town hall setting and then we go back into our private conference rooms and people who don’t live in these areas make all the decisions, or people who live in these areas, but don’t necessarily represent the priorities that the people have go forth and make those decisions. Are people of color with disabilities being disproportionately impacted by such decisions?

I encourage folks to read the work of Alessandra Jerolleman who has a wonderful text out there about disasters through the lens of justice. She has kind of these four principles around what constitutes a just recovery. But you can apply that to nearly every phase of a disaster cycle, and really gain some in depth understanding. So what it means to do this work in a way that is far more equitable, but also far more effective in terms of centering the groups on the ground, who are directly impacted by these crises on a day to day.

Music begins – a synth and sounds of nature that opens into an uplifting Hip Hop groove.

TR: 28:48
Examining disaster through a justice centered lens requires an understanding of disability justice. Unfortunately, I see it used as a broad term that disregards his origin. Disability Justice is specific to the 10 principles articulated by Patty Burns and Sins Invalid. I’ll link to these principles on this episode’s blog post at ReidMyMind.com and encourage you all to read further.

Among the various resources Justice shared with us today, I’d like to make sure you point your browser to JusticeShorter.com. Here you can access some of her past speeches, as well as getting in contact with her. These conversations about disaster preparation can be heavy. So I had to find out how justice unwinds and takes care of herself.

Justice 29:29
I’m happy that you brought up this question because I think people need to have their own resilience rituals. And listen, that word resilience has really thrown a lot of people off because people in power tend to use that as a way of not giving people the type of support and material things that they need to meet their critical needs.

Oh, you’re just so resilient. We’re resilient because we have to be it’s out of necessity. It’s because you have refused to direct funding towards this neighborhood. When I talk about resilience rituals, I mean, the things that keep me getting up and going, and don’t get me wrong, there’s some times that you need to stay down, because rest is essential.

I have learned over the years what I need to pour into me in order to get greatness out of me, and that is not something that can be predefined by anybody else except me. I had to learn that because sometimes people will look to their supervisors or look to mentors, what do I need to do? What do I need to do?

TR: 30:25
Sounds like what we’ve been talking about, an extension of the conversation around safety, who really knows more about what’s best for you than you. For Justice it’s about gospel music, walks on her treadmill, family and

Justice30:39
Just hang out with my girlfriend and have a good dinner. We travel, we do all types of dates that are fun and spunky. And you already know, I love reading, there’s always a book that’s queued up for me that I’m excited to get into. Every time I travel to do a speech or to do things that are related to my job, I try to bake in some time for living life and going and exploring that city and seeing what communities of color are doing there. What are they eating? What are they listening to? How are they having a good time? I try to at least embed myself in the city or in the culture just a little bit while I’m gone.

TR: 31:13
This was a true honor to have justice on the podcast. And you all should know there’s only one way to make that clear.

TR in Conversation with Justice:

It’s a very simple way and it’s by letting you know that you, Justice Shorter are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family. So I appreciate you.

Justice 31:27
I appreciate you. Thank you so much. It was a joy.

TR: 31:30
There’s so much in this episode. I honestly think this is one to hold on to, refer back to. It’s a resource for real. A resource that will be right here for you. Wherever you get your podcasts.
Remember transcripts and more are at ReidMyMind.com.

And now, in case of an emergency, I need to make sure you know that’s R to the E, I, D!
— Sample: “D! And that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick

TR:
Like my last name.
— Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description: We Are Worthy

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

In vintage tan and black film, the words "Flipping the script on audio Description in capital letters &  “We are worthy” underneath. Framed in center is a photo of Nefertiti wearing a red top with light makeup on her brown eyes and full lips. She has clear brown skin, brown highlighted hair, and smiles toward the camera. Underneath the photo in capital letters reads, Reid My Mind Radio.

I’m excited to shine a spotlight on Nefertiti Matos Olivaras. She’s a bilingual, Blind Voice talent specializing in Audio Description. In addition to narration, Nefertiti is a Quality Control specialist, workshop facilitator and AD advocate and writer.
Unfortunately, it’s that last role, writer, that still continues to be a bit controversial. It’s expected that those with no understanding of blindness would doubt your ability, but receiving that from those within the community is another thing altogether.
In this series, it’s our objective to explore the exciting things taking place in the world of Audio Description that are less likely to be discussed. Perhaps the conversations we have here can filter through and effect the overall discussion. With that said, it feels like a great time to remind or inform; Blind people started Audio description. Even though several people have been trying to make this fact understood, I’m still not sure it is a part of the general AD conversation.
Today, I’m less interested in proving to the mainstream society that Blind people are fully capable and possess lots of talents. It doesn’t feel right having to convince people of our own humanity. However, I do understand that because these ablest ideas are so engrained into our society, many of us who are Blind or have low vision can unknowingly internalize these ideas and project them onto each other.
In this conversation, we talk about Nefertiti’s early experience with inaccessibility, ableist thoughts and the impact it had on her own life, her decision to pursue a passion and the response from the AD community when it was announced that she was writing description for an all Blind AD production project…
Hopefully, this conversation can filter through to all of the non-believers; we are worthy!

Want to continue the conversation? Join the Audio Description Twitter Community.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/fjtp3f1mwxog5gb/Draft-Nefertiti-001.mp3?dl=0

TR:

One Two! One, Two!
Greetings, beautiful people. And welcome back to another episode of Reid My mind radio where we continue with our second season of 2022. Flipping the script on audio description.

[drum beat fades in]

If you’re new here, it’s very nice to meet you. I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer of this podcast. And I’m glad you found it. If you’ve been rocking with ReidMYMindRadio Let me say sincerely and from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. And I truly appreciate you.

Have I ever told you how much I enjoy hearing from listeners? Sometimes it’s just finding out how you learned about the podcast. Some people like to let me know they enjoy it, and why. Others tell me a bit about who they are just let me know they support what we’re doing here.

All of that is fantastic. And I truly appreciate it. If you ever want to reach out please reidmymindradio@gmail.com is the email address. Feel free to holla at your brother.

I don’t know if y’all notice. But the Reid my MindRadio family is truly around the world. We’re not just in the States. We get some love in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. That’s right. We on the motherland. Oh, yeah, and I’m definitely not forgetting my people up in Canada. I truly rock with y’all Canada.

I’d love to hear from more of my Caribbean brothers and sisters.

[shouting over a beat]

Puerto Rico! DR! Jamaica! Trinidad! Haiti! Come on. I know y’all out here. This is a podcast so we don’t deal with boundaries. We deal with energy. And there’s no border patrol for that. We don’t need no stinking passports.

Reid My Mind Radio family! Come on! Have you told friends about this podcast? What kind of friend are you just holding all this goodness to yourself? Sharing is caring. Baby girl. Tell them what time it is.

audio clip of TR’s youngest child:

Let’s start the show. One, two, three, four.
[RRMR intro]

Nefertiti

Hi, I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, I am a bilingual voice talent and professional audio description Narrator quality control specialist and writer. I also do a lot of work in museum accessibility. Everything from writing scholarly articles, to representing my Latino heritage at the first of its kind, Molina family gallery, at the National Mall, the Smithsonian Latino Center. I advocate a lot for health care, assistive technology, Braille literacy. These are our lifelines on a lot of cases.

I spent a long time teaching folks sort of helping them, even the playing field in their own lives a little bit through technology too. I keep busy,

TR [singing]:
She’s a hustler, baby, she just wants you to know. It ain’t where she’s been, it’s where she’s about to go.

[talking]

If hustler has a negative connotation for you, and swap that with entrepreneur, go getter driven, motivated, for Nefertiti it’s rooted in the quest for more access.

Nefertiti:
I live and breathe this sort of thing every day, the accessibility of a world that was not built for me, and having to constantly make my own space, just about everywhere I go. I believe in my innate worth as a human being. I know that I have a lot to offer. I claim my power and my value and I take that with me everywhere I go, and hopefully make waves so that other people behind me can trump on into the river to and get what they need to get out of this life and be their best selves. As cliche as that may sound.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
Can we talk a little bit about early life experience within accessibility, if you want to mention anything about your blindness.

Nefertiti
I was born fully sighted and everything was okay till around three and a half years old, I started exhibiting some odd behaviors. I had an astrocytoma, a brain tumor, and it was stopping the blood flow to my optic nerve. They were able to remove it ultimately, but it came at a price.

TR:
The result was blindness and no other complications. Growing up in New York City. Nefertiti attended schools for the blind through high school.

Nefertiti:
I knew there was a world outside of that. I have a sister and I have cousins and I knew there was mainstream stuff, but I kind of enjoyed being a big fish in a little pond. So I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything in the blind schools. Plus, I could be in sports in a way that I knew I was never going to be allowed to be in a mainstream school. In the schools, I was able to be a cheerleader and Run, track and be on the swim team and all these things. Then college came around. And it was a very different experience, I had to really reckon with my blindness now that I wasn’t protected anymore now that I wasn’t around everybody else being like me.

TR:
Unfortunately, this story is not unfamiliar, leaving the comfort and generally accessible environment of the School for the Blind, and answering a college, Mount St. Vincent’s about an hour and a half from home. Nefertiti first realized not everything is built for her.

Nefertiti
By the time I got to college. Braille wasn’t a thing. This was a private school, they barely had any funding for a disability office, heck Thomas, the first year I was there, there was no disability office, it came into play because me and another blind student joined. And then there was a student who identified as having a learning disability. And so they had to put something together.

TR:
She was forced to largely find her own way

Nefertiti:
To figure out what technology would scan my books for me, learning screen reading technology, more than I already had in high school, upping my typing speed, I had to do that pretty drastically because I was doing a lot of papers and even just the campus itself. It was some such Rocky, hilly terrain. And at that time, I was refusing to use my cane. I never used it in the blind school because in the blind school, I was considered somebody who had some sight. But in the real world, I’m blind. In a setting like that one. In the dark, especially, I had some really close calls, and some really kind of dangerous situations I found myself in. But because I was too proud, and too embarrassed, and too ashamed. I didn’t use my cane while I was in this school.

TR:
Living on campus, not using a cane definitely still has some valuable lessons.

Nefertiti:
That stress I put myself through just because I refuse to put that cane in my hands and how much easier it would have been for me, if I had accepted myself as a blind person back then.

TR:
Then the image of Nefertiti that I have is one of a strong, confident, proud woman

Nefertiti:
That finally did come. But I put myself through quite a bit. Before that happened. I had internalized a lot of ableism in my life, I just decided something had to give. And if this is the body, I have, and these are the things I have to put up with.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
Things like additional health challenges and relationships.

Nefertiti:
And that’s when I put myself in therapy and went back to school and got myself in better shape. I was a triathlete for a time, there’s got to be better. And if there’s going to be better than I’m the only one that can make that happen for myself. That’s really what has transformed my life and to what it is today.

TR:
Today, Nefertiti is playing a role in flipping the script on audio description. That’s both on this podcast and more so by using her voice in various ways, as far as AD goes.

Nefertiti:
And then pandemic, that’s what happened, the pandemic happened. I’m not unique in this, a lot of people had found themselves rethinking and reevaluating situations in their lives, and I was no exception. And one of the things that I found myself really thinking about was my job at the library and the fact that I was there already for seven years.

TR:

That’s the Andrew high scale, Braille and Talking Book Library, a branch of the New York Public Library over in my old stomping grounds on 23rd Street, shout out to Baruch College, City University of New York.

Nefertiti:
I was teaching blind people mostly but anybody with a disability and mainstream folks to how to use technology. In the case of blind people and people with low vision, it was teaching them how to use the accessibility features in their mainstream devices like iPhones and things like that. I would also teach screen reading technology.

TR:
She facilitated workshops on HTML code, working with Google products, like docs and calendar, iOS apps, and even more lifestyle centered workshops on getting more active. Oh, and by the way, that’s an English and Spanish tambien.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
And you did one on games because I attended it.

Nefertiti:
Ah, that was a fun one on games that you could do on iOS, like accessible gaming.

TR:
Over her seven years working at the library, I imagined she was able to really directly contribute to helping lots of people not only learn their technology, and more, but really provide a foundation for their career and personal pursuits, but she was ready for something new.

Nefertiti:
Honestly, I really believe in making room and making space. I wanted someone else to have my job. I don’t believe in scarcity. I think that there is a myth around scarcity that once you have you need to hold on for dear life, or that you need to continue accumulating. I think there’s enough for everybody that goes for everything. I just got to a point where I felt like I’ve learned everything I’m going to learn here I’ve gone as far as I’m gonna go. I want to leave this open, hopefully even better defined than when I started and with more possibilities for growth for the next person to come in.

During the pandemic, I did a lot of soul searching and a lot of therapy. Therapy has been a constant thing in my life since I started taking it seriously. Accepting the fact that I wanted to do something else, I wanted to leave a space for someone else to be employed a blind person, a person with a disability, leave an employment opportunity open for someone else to come in with their own flavor and their own view on things to continue the work because it’s very valuable, very important, crucial, beautiful work. And I decided to pursue a passion. And that passion is specifically for audio description, but more generally, voiceover work.

TR:
I know what you’re thinking, leave a good job, you’re disabled 50 to 75, maybe 80% unemployment rate, anywhere on that spectrum is bad. She admits it was scary.

Nefertiti:
Again, the pandemic happened. And I was like, let’s get real here, you’re not really happy. And I didn’t want that to affect my patrons. And I didn’t want that to continue affecting me. So I did take the jump, I did leap. And I’ve been pretty fortunate that so far it’s working out really well. But it was kind of scary to do. But I think that a lot of things in life that are worthwhile are frightening, but still worthwhile

TR:
Pursuing a passion, you won’t get any argument from me on that. Since taking the leap. Nefertiti has been doing AD work on projects like Netflix original short film, Heartshot. New York Times, op docs selection, My Disability Roadmap, and several other projects, including the Jennifer Lopez documentary, titled halftime, currently on Netflix.

Nefertiti:
AD is a bit of a gig economy, unless you’re employed at a company, staff writer or staff narrator and they can make a living with that maybe as a nine to five but audio description in my life, it’s very much a gig economy. That’s something that I think is true for any type of arts job, you have some boom times and you have some downtimes. But I thought that audio description as my passion was a little too narrow. So then I decided to explore outward and sort of make myself even more employable by trying to do more generalized voiceover work.

TR:
The gig economy, in general is a hustle. You have to constantly think about and act on generating your next assignment. It’s far different from being an employee. You’re more like a farmer. You’re cultivating the land, planting seeds and watering them. You respond to nation and do whatever you can to assure a rich harvest. Not bad for city kid, right?

Similar to farmers, I’m not talking about those corporate conglomerates. The harvest doesn’t automatically mean a set payment. That often depends on other factors, many of which are bogus, but out of their control in the freelance environment, those seeds planted generate opportunities to work, which should lead to payment. I say should because well you might be surprised how often free or extremely undervalue labor is expected. Honestly, that’s another episode yo, if you have stories about being expected to work for free, email me reidmymindradio@gmail.com. I need to hear from you. Seriously.

Nefertiti:
Can I go here? Is it too sensitive? I don’t know.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
You go wherever you want to go.

Nefertiti:
Okay, the pay in the audio description space is so unregulated, you could work for four or five different companies and they have different methods of paying some pay by the minute, some pay by the hour, some pay by the project, and some pay, not a lot. Some others pay out of other countries. And so by the time you convert, it’s not a lot of money here in this country. Hopefully the audio description viewer gets a quality product and enjoys the show, and has all sorts of access. But in the meanwhile, the folks who made that happen, are not even able to make a living.

TR:
That’s why you have to be a hustler, someone who can find multiple opportunities to make use of their talents.

Nefertiti:
I had the real privilege of going to Montclair State University to present to our lecture/workshop for Professor Maria Jose Garcia Vizcaino. She is this professor of language studies. And she’s built into her curriculum, this entire semester of audio description. It is a beautiful example of what’s possible when somebody is really dedicated and believes in something.

TR:
Hey, stay tuned to hear more about Professor Maria Jose in a future episode.

Nefertiti:
I lectured for an hour, took questions and answers from some really engaged, excited students. We broke into a hands-on workshop, I brought a movie trailer, which only really consisted of some music and some drumming. And I challenged the students to break into groups and describe the first 30 seconds of the trailer. What we had as a fun thing was somebody of the group designated to stand up and do the description, with the trailer playing in the background. And once that was all done, and we discuss what was good, what can be improved upon, we watched the trailers which had been already described in both English and Spanish to give the students an idea of how did you compare to a professional rendering, and I’m happy to say that they compared pretty well, Maria Jose, you’re doing a great job with your students. And again, it was a real privilege for me to be able to do that.

TR:
In addition to workshops for those interested in AD she’s presented to film students and more.

Nefertiti:
I participate on panels, I moderate panels, I facilitate workshops, did it in my tech job and continue to do it here. It’s one of my favorite aspects of this field that’s getting more and more recognition.

TR:
And don’t forget, that’s in English and Spanish tambien.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
In addition to us both being blind at narrators, we both come at this from intersectional space. So, ¿tú eres Latina? ¿Dominicana?

Nefertiti:
Sí! Dominicana! Me gente!

In terms of my more Latino side, I actually learned Spanish before I learned English. Some people have a hard time believing me, but it’s true. I’m first generation born American but I’m very Dominican. So I’m very lucky, not something I’m very proud of. Unfortunately, though, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of Spanish audio description, quality Spanish audio description, it’s getting better slowly but surely. But historically. And still right now, at the time of this recording. Spanish audio description is nowhere near as buttoned up as English audio description is and some people have complaints about English audio description. So imagine the condition of Spanish audio description. It is nowhere near as equitable as English audio description, this idea of more Latinos being on screen in movies and in TV shows documentaries about us. And that’s fantastic. We’re proliferating the cultural consciousness. But wow, I hear a lot of white people describing this stuff. And it’s like white people. Hey, you got enough to describe where are my Latinos at.

[In the Heights trailer begins playing in the background]

Nefertiti:
In the heights. It is by Lin Manuel Miranda, he of Hamilton fame. This was his big claim to fame before Hamilton actually. And it’s a play based in Washington Heights right here in New York City. I’ve got family living in Washington Heights. The person describing it in the American version, because there is also a UK version, I believe is a white woman. And I don’t agree with that choice.
She has a lovely voice, very clear, her diction is beautiful. She does a wonderful job. This is not a reflection on her as an artist, a narrator. You mean to tell me there wasn’t a Latina woman or even a man that could be casted to have done that job. I have a really hard time with that. That speaks to the cultural competency. Like we’re seeing more diversity on screen. The audio description should also reflect that diversity. It should match not just the script to the vision of what the director is trying to make happen trying to engender in viewers but also the narrator who is saying these things. Being part of that community and yes, the writer should also be I think of that community.
If I may give an example of the harder they fall. Excellent. I think audio description down to the point where they describe microbraids. They describe the different skin color. A really good example there of writing that clearly researched everything from what to call the different skin tones to the different hairstyles, all things that are of important to blind people of color other people to I’m sure, particularly since historically we haven’t heard about us, we haven’t heard about ourselves, having people who match the content to make a quality, audio description script and narration is, I think, crucial, and really speaks to the cultural competency that is still lacking in a lot of ways in this field.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
Personally, I like to see more people in the blind community, more people of color, talking about this issue. Do you hear the conversation?

Nefertiti:
I really don’t. And I think that’s part of this idea of, well, let’s just be grateful to even have it at all. Let’s not stir the pot, because they know that audio description is a thing. So many people aren’t aware that audio description exists? I know I live in sort of in this bubble where everybody knows what audio description is, of course, right? I’m in the field now. And I’m a consumer and all this and all my friends know about it. My family knows about it. Everyone I talked to if media comes up, I talk to them about audio description. So in my world, it seems like everybody’s aware. But in the grand scheme of things, there are many, many, many who don’t even know that this is an option for them. And those who do a lot of them don’t even question the fact that they don’t hear details such as hair texture, or skin color, or different types of clothing, etc. They just default to this all must be a white narrative. Unless we hear like an accent or something like that. We may not know.

TR:
As consumers of audio description. It’s our place to provide critical feedback. That includes those things we like and don’t.

Nefertiti:
Access access, access access to information. I want to hear about skin color. I want to hear about set design, I want to hear about lighting. I want to hear about steamy sex scenes. I want to hear about gender stuff that’s going on. If there’s space for it, I want to hear about it. It’s getting better. But historically, audio description has been very sanitized and in my opinion, almost infantilized. I don’t know if it’s because there’s this image of like, oh, protect the poor blind people. I don’t quite understand why that’s the way it’s been. People are waking up and people are listening and taking note to the fact that we are well rounded individuals, we are of this world. And so race does matter. representation matters.

TR:
Back on the professional side of AD networks, Nefertiti and I got to work together on multiple projects, including an appearance right here, where she provided the audio description in a YGBD episode featuring Latif McLeod. She was the AD narrator during the ACB Awards Gala, which I had the honor of hosting, and I had the privilege of narrating her AD script for a film by Syed Dyson titled Say His Name: Five Days for George Floyd.

Big shout out to Steven Lentinus, one of the films composers himself an AD consumer. He got the buyer from both sides to produce an AD track for the film. He contacted Roy Samuelson who curated the all blind scenes to produce the track.

Nefertiti:
This was a really fascinating opportunity. I as the writer, Serena Gilbert as the quality control specialists, the one and only Thomas Reid as the narrator, a combination, I believe, a team effort between Byron Lee and Chris Snyder, as the engineers, all blind folks, we have the opportunity to come together as an all blind team to make this documentary accessible by way of audio description. And I think we did that beautifully. It is something that I will always be honored to have been a part of, especially holding the role, the controversial role of being a writer, while blind.

TR:
It’s not the first time we talked about this here on the podcast. I think I’ve been talking about this idea before I even knew of a blind person writing AD. It’s understandable that some people, especially those who are not blind, would be curious as to how this is accomplished. I can see how other blind people would be interested to. What’s not cool is the fact that it became controversial.

Nefertiti:
Controversy came from both sides from the sighted folks who I totally expected to get some blowback from, but also my fellow blind people who couldn’t fathom how it was done. When you don’t understand something, I guess it’s human nature to question it or to maysay it or doubt it, or what have you. But through the use of technology and a sighted assistant and my skills as someone who writes, I was able to do it. And I’m very proud of the job that I did. Blind people, yes, they can write visual experiences.

TR:
I would think it would hurt when it comes from inside the community.

Nefertiti:
Yeah, when your own community, the community, you’re trying to represent the community, you’re trying to uplift the community, you are trying to model what’s possible for, says to you, you can’t do that. When your own community turns the ableism that the whole world slaps you with every day. That is very hurtful. And that is very discouraging. But for one thing I had already committed to it. And when I commit to something I see things through. I mean, there has to be a real tragedy for me to not follow through on something I committed to, like, My word is my bond. That’s true. I wasn’t going to let you and the rest of the team down. And I wasn’t going to let myself down. Yeah, it hurt. It hurt. There were Facebook posts and things on Twitter, and even people in my own life questioning and the like, and I just I decided I was gonna turn it around.

TR:
From my conversations with Nef. I don’t think she has a problem with questions. It’s more of the assumption and the insinuation or downright claim that she can’t, which by the way, you know, translates to we can’t.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
You were getting negativity before you even did it?

Nefertiti:
Yeah.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
I didn’t know that.

Nefertiti:
Yeah. Ableism is real and internalized. Ableism is real. I got a lot of positives too. But the aspect of all this, that hurts is the negative coming from your own kind, if you will. Very sad. It was a bit of a rude awakening for me. I’m glad I had it, because I’m definitely awake now. But at the time, yeah, it was bewildering. Honestly.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
Yeah, sorry, I didn’t deal with that. But at the same time, it’s one thing to deal with it when it’s done. But when you’re going in, like you going into the fight, quote, unquote, and everybody thinks you can’t do it, you can either start to believe that and it messes your whole stuff up. Or you can take that as fuel. Let’s see, I got this, I’m gonna show yall.

Nefertiti:
Belief itself I think is is a big part of it. The thing is that it was published early on to Facebook. And I was alerted to do you know, what’s going on on Facebook? And there are these comments available in. I log on, and I see this post and I see these comments. And I’m like, Okay, I’m in the fishbowl. Now, I guess I had to deal with it. I was fielding these questions and these negative comments and dealing with a lot of anger as well that I didn’t want to let show because that’s just not professional. I’m not about making enemies or what have you, a lot of keeping it to myself and venting to family. And having a quality product. At the end of it all. People out there if you have the opportunity, don’t squander it. Check this documentary out. It’s really beautiful work and a real example of what’s possible when folks come together with a shared passion and skills and a dedication. And we just happen to be blind. Big deal.

TR:
I have to tell you, I respect the way Nefertiti handled this situation. She’s classy. Word to the wise, be careful what you say on social media. Not everyone is as classy. Just saying.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
What did you take away from the experience?

Nefertiti:
Sometimes when you are trying to like maybe break a wall down or, or do away with a barrier or do something unorthodox. People who are in this field, who you would think are less encumbered by ableist thoughts and ablest ways of carrying themselves, a superiority complex. There were a couple of people who showed their real colors, I think throughout that situation of what, a blind writer That was a lesson for me to that just because you’re doing something that doesn’t mean that you are necessarily of that thing.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
You and some folks created a Twitter group for AD. What’s that all about?

Nefertiti:

It’s called the audio descriptions Twitter community. If you use the website and the Twitter app, you can participate in communities and these are spaces where people come together who are of like mind and I and my partner cofounded the audio description Twitter community and this is a pretty rapidly I’m very proud to say growing place for all things description, audio description, image description, self description, we want to know about all the panels the latest what we call #ADNews. Some companies announce oh we just did this, we just did that now on Netflix with audio description now on Amazon without a description etcetera and so we post that we post reviews of audio description that we’ve seen. We talk about the quality of audio description everything from mono audio to surround sound, all that sort of thing, jobs as well, in audio description, get posted on there, classes. It’s for all things ad and it’s on Twitter. Please join us. You just search for audio description.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
I’ll link to the group on this episode blog posts at reidmymind.com.

Nefertiti:
Whoever you may be professional consumer, it doesn’t matter we want you.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
continuing with that energy of sharing. Nefertiti offers advice for other blind AD enthusiasts interested in pursuing opportunities in the field as well as for advocates.

Nefertiti:
Be aware of what you’re getting into. It’s beautiful work. But like with anything, it does have its pitfalls, prepare yourself for those. But also really focus and celebrate your successes and improve on your craft. If you’re a voiceover artists coming into this, keep studying, keep learning. If you’re a writer coming into this, study other people’s work, and if you’re a consumer, consume as much as possible, let these companies know that you’re out here. Let them know what’s going wrong, but also let them know what’s going right. Remember, accessibility is a human right and part of accessibility is access to visual content. And audio description is one of the best ways to make that happen for us. We need to advocate for it. We need to through our collective voices amplify our cause. We are here and we are worthy.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
Where can people learn more about you follow you, find you.

Nefertiti:

You find me on LinkedIn. I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares. I’m on Twitter at Nef Mat Oli. Email me if you’d like to NefMatOli@gmail.com.

TR in Conversation with Nefertiti:
That stands for Nefertiti Matos Olivares. All right. If there’s anybody out there who doesn’t realize this, let me let you know right now. Nefertiti is an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family do not get it twisted. She is official!

Nefertiti:
And I got the t-shirt to prove it!

TR:
In addition to freelance work, Nefertiti is a part of the social audio description collective. Thats a group of diverse individuals who write QC, narrate, record and mix audio description for a variety of projects.
You can check out the episode featuring social ad from the 2021 flipping the script season, which I’ll link to on this episode’s blog post.

We’ve grown since that episode. Yeah, we. They had rule for our brother, and I’ve been wanting to hang with them for a while, a bunch of go getters. I’m just really honored to be a part of the collective.

I hope you all really felt the vibe of this episode. I’m sure many of you are contemplating breaking out on your own moving forward with your passion. Of course, be smart about it, but also be brave. That doesn’t mean you won’t have fear. It just means that you’ll do it anyway. On that note, I want to send a big shout out and thanks to my guy, Tony Swartz. For the audio editing assist with this episode.

I’ve been a bit nervous about finding a team to help with some production but Tony honestly made the process fun and easy. What the heck was I scared about. You know, it’s nothing to be scared about subscribing to read my mind radio. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. In fact, we’re even available where you may not get your podcast. I’m talking about YouTube. For those who like to consume content on that platform with no visuals just the podcast artwork and the audio.

We’re available via your smart speaker too just ask it to play Reid my mind radio by t Reid on your favorite podcast app transcripts and more over on reidmymind.com. Well actually this could be the scary part you have to make sure you spell it correctly that’s R to the E… I… D.
Audio sample: (D! And that’s me in the place to be. Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

[outro music]

Peace.

Hide the transcript

Doing Your Thing With Disability: Question Living Blind & Famous

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Question, a light skin black man with long locs, wearing a red shirt with white sunglasses and holding a white cane while leaning against a red brick wall.
We reached the final episode of the season where we salute and recognize individuals who are pursuing their interests and goals not in spite of their disability but rather with it. The difference may seem minor to some, but if you’re someone who wants to see disability normalized in society then you probably recognize this vast gap.

On a black background clouded in white smoke is the heading titled “Doing your thing with Disability”. Underneath are multiple images positioned in a circular clock face. the words Blind & Famous in Graffiti lettering in the center.  On top at 11, 12 and 1 o’clock are A traffic light with musical note draping the lights representing Migo Traffic,  followed by a picture of Question and Damasta respectively. At the 9 and 3 o’clock positions are Label and Matt Mac At the bottom positioned at 7, 6 and 5 o’clock are; J Mouse, GoldFingas and PDex in the lab respectively.
Question, a young Producer & Rapper from Atlanta, Blind from birth is one such example. He’s been into music ever since he can remember. Like the early Hip Hop producers he admires, Question started making music with the tools he had available to him.

A student of Hip Hop, he recognized the power of a squad, a team and along with his friends and fellow artists Damasta and Migo Traffic began curating the collective of fellow Blind rappers and producers known as Blind & Famous!

What a perfect way to conclude this inaugural season of 2022; Doing Your Thing With Disability.

Plus, the winner of the Reid My Mind Radio Twitter Giveaway… @SandraManwiller… Congratulations!!!

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
–at low volume
It’s time to get hype
–Clip from Yao from Mulan: I’m gonna hit you so hard, it’ll make your ancestors dizzy.
–Rhythmic electronic music fades in and becomes louder.

We’re back on the scene, crispy and clean and if you’re Hip Hop and from my generation especially, then you know what I mean!

My name is Thomas Reid and I’m the host and producer of this here podcast.

–“Reid My Mind Radio” echoes

I’m feeling good. Feeling accomplished as we wrap up this season: Doing Your Thing With Disability.

If you’ve been rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio, you’re very familiar with our commitment to those adjusting to blindness.

We often talk about the power of people in that adjustment.
The value of their stories and experiences which include the direct lessons as well as how it expands our own beliefs of what is possible.

Today, I hope you all will recognize the additional value and power in individuals who have a shared identity, experience, goals, working together in support of one another.
Not letting you rest on your strengths alone, but encouraging you to go beyond with all that you have.

Today, I’m in my Hip Hop mode so we’re gonna call it what it is, your crew, your squad!

Family, let’s get ’em!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Question:
Yo, this is Question man! Artist and producer coming out of East Point, primarily a hip hop, r&b EDM.

I am a biracial kid with dreadlocks wearing a long sleeve blue shirt and some sweatpants right now. Chillin in my home studio just vibing out.

Question:
I’ve been blind all my life. I was born with optic nerve hypoplasia. I don’t have any vision in my right eye. And I have like, a little bit of vision in my left eye so I read Braille. And I use a lot of accessible and adaptive technology.

TR in Conversation with Question:
Did you go to mainstream school?

Question:
I did both. I went to mainstream school really up until eighth grade. And then I went to Georgia Academy for the Blind until I graduated.
I feel like if you go to a blind school, your whole life or a school for the blind, you’re gonna be a little bit sheltered to certain cultural aspects.

TR:
The concern that I’m sure many people have in enrolling a Blind child in a mainstream school is what Question found helpful.

Question:
It’s a little bit easier to kind of duck off, find your own crowd. It’d be a whole lot going on, you know, games and homecoming, and like different organizations, different things where you’d be staying after school clubs and all type of that. They had that on a minimal scale at a Blind school because they want everybody to be included.
But it’s just different so you know you do be a little bit sheltered if you don’t make a point to step outside of that school for the blind.

TR:
Inclusion is great, but we also need a chance to find out who we are as an individual. Becoming our true selves. Music was a part of that discovery for Question. In fact, it’s his interest in different genres that inspired his name.

–Sample: So you’re a philosopher?

TR in conversation with Question:
Question. What’s the name about?

Question:
I study a lot of different things. I just really look at myself as a student and as a fan of a lot of different genres.
Hip Hop people like Logic, people like The Roots, De La, Tribe, even Kanye, to a degree have just like a certain aura to the music and to what’s going on. So that’s definitely one of the aesthetics that I have as a part of my material.

TR in Conversation with Question:
I think I read you kind of referred to yourself as a hippie.

Question:
Yeah, for sure

TR:
Less 1960 or early 70’s hippie, and more like a Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul style!

TR in Conversation with Question:
Tell me a little bit about your introduction to music and then specifically rap. I don’t know if rap was first.

Question:
Yeah, I think rap was first. So to break it all the way down, my mom is white, my dad is black. I was with my mom a lot of the time. You know, she a single parent. I know my dad, everything cool.
My mom is a crazy Hip Hop head. She really the one that put me on a lot of the first music I was listening to.
So she raised me up going to concerts. She went to see Goodie Ma, when she was pregnant.
She was listening to like The Roots and Biggie, and just people in that era. Jay Z, Bahamadia, Helter Skelter.
She was just like, around a lot of artists that was in ciphers. She was just like, connected to that culture. She wasn’t in music herself but she just always knew that was a vibe. So it low key like curated that energy in me, like right from jump.

TR in Conversation with Question:
Helter Skelter? Okay. That’s a name I don’t hear being dropped that often.

Question:
She definitely deep into it. She my manager.
Because of that she’s now grown in her understanding of the industry. Five years ago, it was nothing but just like being a fan, being just appreciative of everything. But now, because of just the way things move, it’s become like a professional thing.
TR:
It began however with a natural interest and love for the music.
At three years old he was copying melodies and beats heard on the radio using toy keyboards. Always asking those he was with to turn on the radio, play a CD, he wanted music.
He learned drums and percussions, taught himself keyboard.
After hearing a song by Ludacris and Trina that featured a violin, he wanted to join the orchestra but was dissuaded from pursuing the instrument.

Question:
“Nah you can’t do it because the string part is too hard for people to read. And if you try to read the Braille, like, you can’t read it and play it at the same time.”

And then they was like, “you could do the drums.”

And it was like, I already do the drums. Like, I had been playing drums from young to I have like, Jim Bayes and congas. I got a drum set in my house.
I was kind of like, nah, I wanted to do strings. I wanted to do violin. So they didn’t let me do it. It’s kind of weird.

TR:
Fortunately, that didn’t stop Question from pursuing music. He continued to be inspired from those things within his reach.

Question:
I used to remember, like, listening to CDs in a stereo of Rick Ross, Wayne, Jay Z, whatever. And then I could like, burn my beats to a CD and just go play it in that same stereo. And it’s like, I’m on a CD. It didn’t really matter how good it was because it was me. And I had done this and I had brought something that was in my head into a form that everybody else could interact with, whether they liked it or they don’t. It’s like, now it’s here. And it wasn’t before. And that’s like a crazy thing. To me to this day.

TR:

Whether you’re a kid or not, sometimes, the things we think about or aspire to seem mysterious or out of reach. Remove the veil, and we begin to realize that it is attainable.
That can definitely provide the fuel needed to work on the craft.

–Soft Rock&Roll starts to play

TR in Conversation with Question:
Talk to me about some of that work. You’re spending a lot of time in your room, you got some equipment you’re producing, talk to me about some of your early stuff, and how you’ve seen that change over the years.

Question:
I was in about middle school when I started really producing and getting into recording myself and exploring effects and making beats and all that type of thing.
That’s when I really got my first computer and really just got competent using a screen reader just navigating the internet and doing things independently.

TR:
You see how this young brother just dropped that on y’all?

That’s the work I refer to. I don’t care what work, art or hobby you’re trying to do, if you’re someone who is Blind or Low Vision and you haven’t adapted to your technology, you’re limiting yourself.

Question:
I made my first beats on a sound recorder program. In Windows, I just took my iPod and hooked it up to my computer and then I play songs that had some drums at the beginning and I take like the hi hat from one of them to clap from another one, take the kick, and then like make a pattern.
I take Beethoven sample out in a folder on our own XP computer and just make a beat, paste the sample in a different way. Take little parts of it, chop it over the drums, and then I record over it. But I was just making little freestyles and the quality was crazy bad because it was just sound recorder.

TR:
Hearing that difference didn’t discourage him. Rather, it drove him to improve his sound.

Question:
I started hearing a difference between what I was making and what my inspirations was making. Like, at that time I was a kid. Soulja boy was out going crazy. So I had like his albums. His was one of the ones that I was like taking the drums from. So I would listen to what I made and be like “why it dont sound like the same thing? I just got the drums from right here so what’s going on?”
You know what I’m saying? So like I started figuring out like, Okay, if I get a better program, if I learn what different things mean, I started learning about like compression, and just like being around people.
I would get around my friends. And they might say something, say a term like, oh, did you use a compressor on this? And I might be like “yeah,” knowing damn well I don’t know nothing about no compressor.
Then I go look, and I see what the compressor is, in the program I’m using and I started messing with it, figuring out the difference. What does it do? What does it change? Then I figure out how to incorporate it.

TR in Conversation with Question:
What were you using in the beginning? I know that’s not in sound recorder.

–both laugh

Question:
I went from Sound Recorder up to Sony Sound Forge eight.

TR:
Ok, not everyone geeks out on audio production, like me!
What you need to know is that there were, let’s say better tools for the job. But, those tools weren’t accessible to Question.
It’s as though he was making a smoothie by hand while others had their sophisticated electric blender.

Question:
If you want to do something bad enough, you’re gonna find a way to do it. It’s not the clippers, It’s the barber.
You can always find a way to make it happen.

TR:
When you’re passionate about something, you don’t think about time.

Question:
I got lost in it.
I started making music, whole music out of one sound. Like take a sine wave, which is just like a tone. It’s like the tone that they use to bleep somebody out on TV. I take like a long version of that, and figure out how to make drums out of it and make a base out of it and make melodies out of it and chords and everything just in Sound Forge. Not even like a keyboard.
Learning how to basically match my peers and people who are making beats with just Sound Forge. And eventually, what I figured out is that process that I was using in Sound Forge just took too long to beat build. So I switched to Reaper.

TR:
Upping his game to Reaper, a multi track digital audio workstation, improves the time it takes to produce, increases his access to plugins and effects, but his studio is far from optimal.

Question:
I’m gonna be so real bro. We’re not selling beats like that yet. All of that is coming, you know what I’m saying. I’m gonna get to that. But right now, we just doing what we got to do.

TR in Conversation with Question:
Yo, I love that you said that. Because, you know there’s a lot of people who are like, “when I get”, fill in the blank, “when I get my technology,” “when I get that piece of software,” you know, some people would have been like, “oh, I can’t mess with this whole Sound Recorder” but nah you starting and you work on what you have. What’s that all about?

Question:
I do believe in saying when, but only in certain circumstances, like I believe in when over if, you know what I’m saying. It definitely is when instead of if. You’re going to get there, but you have to work to make yourself get there.

I believe in a lot of manifestation and I believe a lot in practicing what you need to do to get to where you’re trying to go. So you have to kind of learn what you want, you have to figure out where it is that you want to end up what you’re trying to head for. And then just make sure that you take the steps that you can take and reason every day to put your life on that path and move in that direction.

When I was young, I didn’t even really know that. But I just wanted it so bad. Like I just knew, because it was something that I was good at. It was something that I naturally was winning in. And so I just knew I wanted to push further. Because like, why would I give up on that? It made me feel good.

TR:
Question’s art includes beat making, production, and rapping. He began freestyling at 5 years old.
For the uninformed, freestyling is the rapper form of improvisation. Making up rhymes off the top of your dome. (Your head).

–Question’s rhymes play on the background

Question:
I see a whole lot of divisiveness amongst us, but I have to address obvious problems and address inequality.

I identify as a black man. There’s still a lot of work that we have to do on a lot of fronts. But right now, there‘s a lot of people paying attention. So I do appreciate that.

TR in Conversation with Question:
Do you talk about anything like that in your music?

Question:
Yeah, I’m honestly getting into that more.
I’m a young kid still. You could be 25. And you can be like, stressed, and then there tired of the world. And, like, know so much from your life experience, that you feel like you’re 40. Or you can be 25 and you can just be like, having the best time like, party and every day, just like enjoying them having fun feeling like you 18. I feel like I’m both depending on the day. I’m trying to put more of that in my music. And as I evolve, you know, the music evolves too.
I’m a very energy based person. So I like to be in the energy of whatever I’m making. And so for me, like stepping away from something is like tough.
If it’s good enough I feel like that energy will be there waiting for you.

— Question’s music fades back in then fades back to the background

TR in Conversation with Question:
Performances? Do you perform on stage?

Question:
I love performing. I recently just got to perform with a live band up in New York. The homies June and the Pushas. We did like and hour set freestyling and with some original jams in mind, and it was just sick to see a band like reinterpret my jams and like real professional musicians, drummer going dumb, you know the guitar, it’s like shredding.
Crazy on the joint. It’s like an out of body experience. I’m just able to go nuts.

TR:
That opportunity to make music and then share that creation with an appreciative audience, giving you immediate feedback, must be exhilarating. But like anything in life, there’s real pros and cons.

Question:
Honestly, a lot of times, there are many cons to get to many more pros.
There’s a lot of rejection, there’s a lot of people who tell you yes, and they play the waiting game with you.
It’s a lot of like, going through situations, and waiting on certain outcomes and having to just like, adapt and adjust on the fly.
There is a lot of like paperwork.

As a producer, you do a lot of cataloging, you get things in order. If you have your beats organized in a certain folder by like what tempo they at, you know, how fast they are, what key they are, what VOD they are, what artists they’re for, you can literally like, send your catalogue to certain labels and to certain artists while you sleep and make money residually.

TR:
Of course , there’s all sorts of pros and cons no matter the career. Question offers some words that apply to us all.

Question:
You have to be very grounded in a sense that you got to take time for yourself, and remember who you are, you got to remember what you love, who has helped you.
For me, it’s a lot about just spending time in nostalgia. If you know your history, then you remember like, why you’re doing it.

TR:
Question understands the value of having a team. That includes his mom, also known as manager during business hours.

Question:
The artist’s job is to focus a lot on creation and creativity, and figuring out the next moves and how to steer the ship.
But at the same time, I think it is important for artists and all creatives to know the business and to be involved in the business and to be fluent in what’s happening because that is a major part of what you’re doing. And that controls a lot of what you’re able to do or not able to do.
That can get real deep and that can play a big role in anxiety.
If you’re trying to create, if you are trying to focus on sending a message and an album, celebration or you know, whatever it is that you’re focused on, but you have like, the possibility of not being able to release this music looming over your head, and you’re dealing with, like, numbers and figures and different things, it can make you question what you’re doing.
Stress too much. But it’s a necessary part of what you go through.
So you got to find a way to compartmentalize it or balance it. If you go through that, that’s forward motion. Nobody who is nobody has these problems.

TR:
The concept of having a team goes beyond managing his own career. For Question, it’s about…

TR in conversation with Question:
Blind and Famous! What’s that all about?

Question:
Yo gang gang! Man, that’s the movement. That’s the mob, that’s the team. That’s my family.

Honestly, I always knew that that was something I had to do something I wanted to do something that for me, was important to what was going on. The greats that I study, everybody, they reach back, and they help out and they show love.
BIG, he got Junior mafia, if you look at Pac, he got the outlaws. TI, he got Grand Hustle. If you look at Ye, he got Good Music.

All of these people, they start with family, people that they came up with recording with and then obviously it branches out and are able to find talent from around the world and to curate people that they haven’t known, which is the same way that it started with Blind and Famous.

–rhythmic pop music begins

TR:
Are you socially ReidSponsible

–sample: “I don’t even know what that means.” “No one knows what it means!”

It’s true, no one knows what it means. Not even me. I just think it sounds cool.

That’s right, it’s time to announce the winner of the March Twitter Giveaway.

–mouths drumroll

@SandraManwille, you, are socially ReidSponsible and will be receiving your very own Reid My Mind Radio coffee/tea, man or any beverage you want to put in it, mug!

Thanks to all those who participated. And a big shoutout and thanks to Annie who by the way is ok!

Now back to the episode…

–Music ends with a bouncing base…

TR:
There’s a point in any conversation when you realize what is really meaningful to a person. You can hear the excitement in their voice, you can feel their energy shift. Raising the topic of Blind and Famous with Question, it was definitely time for him to turn up!

Question:
Me and my boy, DaMasta and my boy Migo Traffic.

We all went to school down here at GaB in Georgia. And we used to just freestyle.
We will be just like in a dorms, recording on laptops. Literally on laptop mic. You can hear a fan in the background. But all the kids, they’ll be playing the music around school and we’ll perform and people knew us and we knew we was going up from that minute.

It wasn’t even Blind and Famous back then.

TR:
They each continued working on their art. Even after graduation they remained close.

One day, Question and DaMasta were serving as engineers on a song for Migo Traffic, who used the phrase Blind and famous.

Question:
And I said, bro, we need to take that, like that’s the title. That’s it. And we just turned it into a movement, started putting out mixtapes. We had a lot of blind supporters and fans and they started letting people know what it was and it was like, Yo, what’s this movement? What’s going on?

–sample of a song: “What goes on? Well…”
TR:
Allow me to present Blind & Famous.
Of course, you already met my man, Question…

Question:
Coming out of Atlanta, the hippie, kid, man, artist and producer, curator of Blind and Famous, but one equal participant of this collective. I’m gonna pass it to my brother, my slime, DaMasta.

–rap song from B&F plays in the background

Da Masta:
I’m originally from Washington County, a little country town in Georgia. I’m the second curator of B&F.

Question:
And he is an artist. He’s hella melodic. He really on his own wave. He’s unique, I always credit him with saying that he has his own sound that’s not like anybody else I really know.

Da Masta:
I’m also an upcoming producer as well.

TR:
Next up!

–rap song begins and fades to the background

MattMac:
Yo, what’s happening? My name is Matt Mac.
I am a music producer and recording artist based out of Garden Hill First Nation up in Canada.
I’m First Nation born. I make music full time for sure.

Question:
You can go stream all his projects right now on Spotify. He’s going nuts.

— “Play the Hero Remix” MattMac Featuring Question & Label “Blind & Famous Volume 5

Label:
Label, born and raised in Jersey, I am a radio show host, podcaster. I also sing, rap. And I’m getting back into the producing side of things.

Question:
J Mouse, out of Arizona but he travels internationally. With a couple bands actually.

J Mouse:
Been a part of this collective for like two years. I do a lot of stuff in the music industry.

Question
He is a producer, primarily R&B, drill, hip hop, trap. He’s a musician.

J Mouse:
I play guitar, piano, bass, I’m a drummer, harmonica. I used to play saxophone too. I’m an engineer so I master, I do a lot of mixing. Pretty much everything, mostly within the music industry.

Question:
J mouse is like a genius, he crazy.

TR:
Let’s jump across the pond to the latest member of the crew.

P Dex:
I’m P Dex in the lab, aka the laziest producer in the world, all the way in the UK from Liverpool. Learning to do engineering and all that stuff. Mainly just doing a lot of producing.

Question:
The drill genre has been taken a lot of places by storm over the past few years. UK drill, New York drill, Australian drill. And the UK, really is who kind of innovated and advanced it.
And Dex brings us a lot of knowledge and know how, and just like, really being in that scene and connect. Shows us what’s really going on.

— Gold Fingers Sample

GoldFingas:
What’s going on? This is GF, GoldFingas.
I’m a producer. I’m also a musician. I play keys, drums. I’m a mix engineer as well. I do mixing and mastering and all that stuff. So between all of us we got everything pretty much we need in house.
I’m down here in Virginia. I’m on that Missy, Timberland type vibe. You know that boom bap stuff.
I’m the oldest member of the group. I’m in my 40s.
I’ve known question, man, since he was like 14?

Question:
No cap.

GoldFingas:
Something like that.
Me and him used to mess around in Sound Board and he showed me a few things. Ever since then I knew that this kid was gonna do something.

TR in Conversation with BNF:
And this is the whole squad, right? Is anybody missing?

Question:
Yeah, Migo traffic is missing.

TR:
I love that name! I assume he has a friendly flow or perhaps his style makes other rappers slow down or stay in their lane.
Unfortunately, the brother who first dropped Blind and Famous in a verse couldn’t join the cipher.
Alright, it wasn’t really a cipher, there was no exchange of bars or raps, but honestly, if this were in person, it would have been on. And I’m telling you right now I keep a hot 16 ready to go, just in case!
Exchanging beats, rhymes, hooks, song concepts, that’s what they do! Together, making music, remotely.

Question:
We use something like this, like a conferencing app, but the one we use is called TeamTalk. It’s real common in the blind community. We basically just go in there, and we’ll send the audio from our computer through so that if we make a beat, if we playing beats, everybody that’s using that program can hear what we’re doing.
So we’ll just bounce ideas back and forth.
We got a group text too! It’s real family oriented.
We talk a lot, through the day, people just put beats in there, put songs in there.
And then it’s like, okay, I want to get a feature on this, I want to collab on this.
TR:
The magic of collaborating is that each person brings their own creativity and idea to the track.
Label explains more about the process.

Label:
If a beat is sent, it’s open to anybody. Kind of a first come first serve type of deal. And then we all kind of come together and say “alright I think these people will sound good on it.”
It’s a thing of pushing each other. And then we use an online platform like Dropbox, and we just drop sessions back and forth to each other.
The use of technology has been absolutely beautiful to be able to get a lot of these things done.

GoldFingas:
Because we know each other so well, we know what type of tracks each other likes. As far as like if he you know, if I wanted Question to feature on something, I know, what type of stuff you know that he’s into.
And then we also kind of branch out like, we’ll try something, he’ll try something different. The creative process is organized, but it’s all over the place at the same time. So many moving parts going at once, but it’s organized chaos. I love it, though.

–laughs

Question:
We all have like hella projects going at one time. We’ll have like a few different ideas. We start making songs. And then like, we might have, Matt got a project that’s ‘bout to come out under his management. So it’s like, alright, everybody, let’s sit down, let’s write for Matt. Let’s produce for Matt, let’s make sure Matt got everything that he need. Let’s make sure that he feels good about where he’s at.
Because the thing that we always want to do is make sure that each person is getting their fair shake and getting, you know, the love from everybody as far as like, collaboration, promotion, appreciation, it’s that real reciprocal type of thing.

TR in Conversation with BNF:
That’s fire, man.

— Continues talking underneath Voice Over…

TR:
I had to ask the squad to take me through an example of the process using an actual production.

Question:
Matt, what about Run It?

–drill/rap song begins

MattMac:
That beat was produced by P Dex and the J Mouse over here.

P Dex:
Originally, me and Johnny were having a session. We were just chillin. And then I had an idea, which is the main melody that runs through the whole track. And then I said, “this is a real nice drill beat.” So I started it off and then I sent it to Johnny.

J Mouse:
When I heard PDex’s idea, I sat down, started coming up with some ideas and just kind of happened. This particular beat I do like so much and it just came out so smoothly.

P Dex:
And then he did his magic on it and as we were doing it, Matt Mac came and he heard it. And we were like “you should do something with it.” But he was, you know, hesitant because he’s never done anything in that genre.

Question:
He passed it to me.

P Dex:
Yup

Matt Mac:
Question.

Question:
Matt and I work closely on a lot of verses and on a lot of songs. So me having done a lot of drill jams in the past, he just got with me in a session and kind of let me know how he wanted to attack and where he was coming from.
I think he had the idea for the hook already. And then we just filled it in, you know, with some words and he kind of let me know what he wanted to say, where he wanted to come from.
Every time I work with any artists on the song, as a songwriter or a producer, I always want to embody their energy and their complete message. So you always getting a lot of MattMac.

Label:
Now the song is playing on Canada radio. I mean it just blows my mind how one simple thing where an artist in this collective was hesitant to do it, ends up being a song on terrestrial radio.

Matt Mac:
It’s also been played on Sirius XM too, which is fire.

P Dex:
It’s funny because it originally started all the way over here in Liverpool. Then went to Johnny in Phoenix, and then went to Question in Atlanta, and then went to Matt Mac in Canada.

Matt Mac
I reached out to my management and I was like, “we have this fire song, bro, and it only has one verse.”
And “Okay, this is pretty fire. I think I might have someone in mind.”
He got me connected to K Jones. He’s not a part of the collective. He’s actually someone who’s doing his thing here in his city, specifically, Winnipeg. It’s where most of my music videos are shot right now. Big shout out to Winnipeg. He got on the second verse and he’s been doing some fire numbers.

Label:
40 thousand views on YouTube.

Question:
You can go listen to it on Spotify too. It’s doing the same type of crazy joint on Spotify too!

Matt Mac:
That particular song was a whole team effort. This is so fire, being able to work with these guys.

TR in Conversation with Question:
When it comes to the collective thing, B&F…

Question:
Gang.

TR in Conversation with Question:
Talk to me about some of the pros and cons of working with a collective.

Question:
Yeah, man. Working with a collective helps in a lot of ways,
I believe that when you have a project, it’s always a good idea to get more than a couple perspectives on it, because the more people that you allow in that have a bit of an accomplished ear, they can let you know things that a listener is going to let you know.
If you can work on a project with a team, it allows you to really focus on your strengths, and people can highlight things that you might not know. You can point out things, and you get a lot of versatility because people bring ideas from all sides of the world.

TR:
There’s the added bonus of learning from one another. That could be new genres, styles, process and more. DaMasta mentioned he decided to begin doing more production.

DaMasta:
Man it is phenomenal. I feel like I’ve been listening to these guys a lot. It helps like with different sound selection and stuff. I get influenced in the producing side and also the audio engineering.

Question:
He picks it up quick. People go through this trash phase, like I talked about a lot, when you first start out making beats or doing anything, you’re trash. But he kind of was able to get the ear for the sound selection a lot faster than a lot of people.

GoldFingas:
It set him up for success.

Question:
Personally knowing Q the longest, I’ve always wanted to see him make beats because he always had dope suggestions. When I was making beats, he’d be like ay put this in there, add this. And it’s like, bro, like.

GoldFingas:
He be doing the most. He over here back seat driving.

TR in Conversation with BNF:
Take the wheel, take the wheel.

DaMasta:
It’s truly a blessing, man. I really enjoy it. It helps with a lot like stress or anything. Like I could just make a beat or make a song, and I just feel better.

TR:
Team, family with any sort of group, you’re going to have disagreements.
While, there’s no hierarchical structure to B & F, I asked GoldFingas as the the person with the most life experience in the squad, if he had a specific approach to problem solving.

GoldFingas:
You really got to exercise a lot of diplomacy. Instead of putting somebody down for what they can’t do, take what they can do and try to strengthen that.

TR:
Bars!

Question:
The cons, really like, it can be hard to organize sometimes. Being virtual, we don’t really have the time to get in the studio and just like chill or have a meal or just chop it up the way that I like to build with a lot of artists.

TR:
Spending time with one another in person helps build the relationships. This increases trust which can help that creativity flow.
Question is hoping there will be opportunities for the squad to build and create under one roof. He’s made music in person with DaMasta and Migo Traffic of course. Prior to Matt Mac traveling out to Atlanta, the two used the NFB national conference as a way of connecting to make music.
The technology for making music now so portable, a hotel room can be a decent substitute for the studio.
GF, AKA GoldFingas, not only uses his knowledge and experience as a producer and musician to create, he’s teaching as well.

GoldFingas:
I actually am an instructor for a company called IC music, based out of Chicago.
Shout out to Byron Harden and the crew over at IC music making things happen.
We educate blind individuals. And I think we’re actually about to start taking everybody sighted, blind, it doesn’t matter. We train them on music technology.
We teach you everything from how to use your Mac computer, all the way up to mixing and mastering, we teach you about the business.

TR:
Today there are so many more options for working with audio. both on the Mac and PC side. In fact, you even have some pretty good options on your iPhone or Ipad.
My personal choice continues to be Reaper on the PC.

Label:
It’s Label. I also want to give credit to a lot of people in the blind community from all over the world, who take time out to create accessible scripts, and add ons for screen readers that do specific things, and read screens that we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to read.
To be able to make these little scripts and add ons for us to use stuff like Reaper and get the full functionality. As if we were in a real studio working off of desks with Pro Tools, I mean, it’s just beautiful and amazing.

GoldFingas:
ProTools is also accessible.

TR:

And yes of course, today Pro Tools is accessible on the Mac, so that’s an option for many.

Even just within the past five years or so, more companies specializing in music hardware and software like virtual instruments and plugins are getting on board with accessibility. Here’s GF.

GoldFingas:
So we have people like
Native Instruments, Arturia, Ableton, these companies are approaching us and actually listening to us, listening to our needs.
And working through it and making these things accessible.
You’re absolutely right, five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even touch Machine and make beats and stuff.
Nowadays I could, that’s primarily what I use to make beats is Machine from Native Instruments.

Question:
Very slowly, the standard is becoming accessibility out of the box. Seamless accessibility. VoiceOver on the iPhone is a great example.
I think in another decade, people are going to be taking disability culture that much more seriously.

TR:
Often the conversation of access is about our consumption. But we’re makers too!
Access to the tools gives more of us the chance to creatively tell our stories, share our experiences and contribute to culture.
Culture can resonate through society. Influencing things like policy which can enable even more inclusion and affect more change.
Question joined up with another Reid My Mind Radio Alumni, Lachi, to even further expand his influence and that of all musicians with disabilities. The organization is called RAMPD, that’s R A M P D or
Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities

–TR voice fades into Question saying the organization’s name.

Question:
Recording artists and music professionals with disabilities.
I’m one of the founding members.
We basically trying to make sure that everybody is paying attention and taking heed to what people with disabilities need.
And we’re also trying to be a resource for people with disabilities so that they have somewhere that they can feel appreciated, accepted and find ways to tap in with the industry and get professional opportunities and places to work.

It’s a lot of professionals down with us. People that are already down with the Grammys and with the Recording Academy.
Accomplished musicians they got music out. It’s nothing to sneeze at. Make sure y’all pay attention to RAMPD and follow us @RAMPDUP_
Show love. We showing love back.

TR:
That love extends out in the form of advice to even younger artists developing their craft right now, in middle and high school.

Question:
The best thing I can say is like, have fun and try to really go to your limits. Push your limits a little bit.
Influence each other, big each other up, support each other.
Make sure everybody eating. Make sure everybody got a way to express what it is they’re doing. Because even if somebody is not an artist, they might know how to promote, they might know how to be a camera man.
Some people have low vision. Like Migo Traffic he’s one of the best that we know at promoting and just on social media because he’s real good with the graphics. He’s real good at knowing what people want to see , knowing how things are gonna come across. So there can be a different spot for all the homies.
If somebody’s gonna be there doing something, make sure they’re doing some don’t let people be around just like not contributing to nothing.
We are all influenced by the people we keep around us.

TR in Conversation with Question:
That’s dope..
You might have some aspiring rappers/musicians who are blind listening, like, damn, yo, I want to be down! How do you curate people into B & F?

Question:
We look for people that’s real hungry.
It’s just a matter of like, having some music that we can hear or having a way for us to hear your talent.
If we feel like you got a dope energy and something that’s really, really raw, you know what I’m saying, really ill, then we definitely gonna rock with you. Even if it’s not a thing where we can rock with you all the time in the collective, we collaborate with a lot of different people.
Everybody doesn’t fit the aesthetic of the collective. Or they might not want to be down with the collective, they may have their own movement. I ain’t trying to force nobody in or nothing.
Right now, people don’t have no paper sign, we might do a deal at some point for an album just to make sure everybody get the right type of income. I never wanted to feel like nobody can’t go off and get their own money. I always respect people’s own hustle.

TR:

The squad has been putting out EP’s every December and is currently up to BNF 5.

Question:
On our YouTube channel, Blind and Famous.

You can check the whole playlist, listen to the jams.

TR:
In addition to working on more music collectively as well as on their own, they’re hopeful for the day they can get out on the road for live performances.

Question:
We are a collective, We aren’t really a music group or a band.
We got a lot of jams together. But like, there’s room for everybody to shine individually. But that collective and that that full body is still very important. I would love to do you know, a whole showcase or a tour or something, you know, where everybody has a set and where we can feature each other and kind of everybody gets to direct what’s going on within their own space.

TR:
For those in my generation, the collective concept probably brings to mind Native Tongue. You know, Tribe Called Quest, De La, the JB’s. For younger listeners perhaps Internet Money.

MattMac:

They have like, a whole bunch of like producers on their team and they have like whole bunch of like artists on their team. And that’s like what we are. And I could definitely, like see a lot of similarities to us because Internet Money, like works with each other a lot. And they go back and forth with like loops, and beat collabs. And like with us, they’re an internet collective meaning. They were doing all that online.

TR:
Look I can’t lie y’all, I really enjoyed the energy of talking to the B&F squad.
This was one of those times where, I’m telling you, I wish the interviews were taking place in person.
I’m thinking it would have been a full blown cipher. Just freestylin over some beats… hmm!
— Beat starts…

TR in rap mode:
Yeah, gotta do it.

If you’ve been here before maybe it’s your first time
A little something special from Reid My Mind
Contact information, mic 1 2 check
Shout out Blind and Famous, ‘nuff Respect!
if the people want to find you, where do they go
Tell ‘em DaMasta

DaMasta:
I got you bro.

Y’all can find me on YouTube @Damasta1901 That’s D A M A S T A 1901
Twitter is @Q_DaMasta1000 And Instagram is @QDaMasta all together.

TR in rap mode:
First Nation born, my man is reppin that
Up next?

MattMac:
My name is MattMac

You can find me on youtube Matt Mac M A T T M A C. You can follow me on Instagram at MattMac online

TR in rap mode:

Producer and a rapper with much more to share
Ayo Label where you at?

Label:
@RomeroOnAir

TR in Conversation with BNF: 58:05
Where are you on the air bro?

Label:

I do two morning shows. I do a morning show for a online classic hit station. It’s actually a big powerhouse for the live 365 platform. It’s called eagle online radio and then I also do a top 40 Morning Show for a station out in Gainesville Florida. 105.7 Play FM.

So follow me @RomeroOnAir on all social media platforms Twitter, Tik Tok, Instagram @RomeroOnAIr. r o m e r o on air.

TR in rap mode:

GF from V A, with the gangsta lean
— Sample: “Gold Finger”
Nahmean!

GoldFingas:
I’m working on opening up a commercial studio here in the area.
It’s a studio and a rehearsal space. As well as a multipurpose venue.
When everybody gets big BNF has a place to record so we good.

TR in rap mode:
Here’s how you spell it, no need to guess.

GoldFingas:
G O L D…

TR in rap mode:

F I N G A S

GoldFingas:

On Instagram it’s the same thing @GoldFIngas1976

TR in Rap Mode:
Now, one had to leave , before we were done
J Mouse, my man’s always on the run
he’s a touring musician travels near and far
On twitter, @JCSteelGuitar
Across the pond, where the connection failed
He’s in Liverpool so he got to prevail
They call elevators, lifts. The vacs a jab
What’s your name, bruv?

P Dex:
Im PDex in the Lab

TR in rap mode:
The vibe is chill, no fret no fuss
Find them on Twitter @BlindFamous
The squad’s real, never artificial
–Young Hippie…
Sample from Scarface: “Who put this thing together?”

Question:
On YouTube @QuestionOfficial.
I got three EPS coming.
The first one on a hip hop vibe. The second one on the Drill vibe. The third one on like that melodic rage vibe. So y’all stay tuned, tap in with the kid.

I’m on Twitter, Instagram @QuestionATL

TR:
Question, Damasta, Migo Traffic, Matt Mac, Label, GoldFingas, J Mouse, and PDex in the Lab AKA
Blind and Famous.
You are all official, members of the Reid My Mind Radio family!
— Airhorn
What a perfect way to close out this season, Doing Your Thing With Disability!
Like adjusting to blindness, disability in general, it’s not something we actually do on our own.
When you have a squad, a team a family that you can call on to lift you up when necessary.
Doesn’t that sound like a better experience?
I’m inspired by these young cats doing their thing. It doesn’t appear to be dictated by anyone but them, together. I can’t wait to hear more from all of them as they continue on their journey.
So look, this is family now y’all, join me in sending positive energy their way.
As mentioned, this is the last episode of the Doing Your Thing with Disability season.
We will be back in June with the next season.
In the meantime, if you’re not subscribed, you should really ask yourself what you’re doing with your life.
All you have to do is hit the button that says subscribe or follow in your favorite podcast app.
Tell a friend and tell them to tell another friend to do the same!
We have transcripts and more on ReidMyMind.com.

Alright, now if you’re family, I need you to stop what you’re doing right now. I’m dead serious.
If you family, I need you to stop what you’re doing right now and say it with me…
That’s R to the E I D…
— Sample: (“D!” And that’s me in the place to be!)
Like my last name.
— Reid My Mind Outro
Peace!

Question:
Gang, Gang!

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