Posts Tagged ‘Career’

Joe Strechay: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

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

Image Courtesy of Apple

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

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

Image Courtesy of Apple

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

But his adjustment to blindness wasn’t all glitter.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome bac to the podcast.

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

Scene from See…

TR:

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

Audio: Scene includes Audio Description Narration

TR:

yes, there’s audio description.

Here’s the synopsis from the opening scene

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

Audio: Air horn

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:.

Definitely!

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

Audio: Joe singing “Radio”

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

TR:

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

Audio: Clip from Daredevil episode.

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

JS:

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

TR:/

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

A day or two after his final day at the Bureau

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

TR:

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

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

JS:

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

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

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

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

TR:

A world, Joe points out is not of blindness.

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS

Our show battles with Ableism purposely at times.

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

That’s Joe with the cast of See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

JS:

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

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughing…

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

Yeh, I’m a relationship guy for sure!

TR:

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

Whew! Hooray for technology!

JS:

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

TR:

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

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

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

But skills are only a part of what it takes.

JS:

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

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

JS:

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

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

TR:

Did you catch that?

Audio: Rewinding Tape Deck

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

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

JS:

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

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

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

JS:

You know I could see co-directing with someone.

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

JS:

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

TR:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

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

JS:

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

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

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

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

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

JS:

Oh yeh, Alfre Woodard saw your video.

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Alfre Woodard saw me? Laughs…

JS:

It’s true, it’s true. Yup!

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Ahh, that’s cool!

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

JS:

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

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

JS:

Can I say it again?

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

JS:

My favorite podcast!

[TR in conversation with JS:]
Your what?

JS:

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

[TR in conversation with JS:]

Laughs…Yeh, there it is!

JS:

Woo!

TR:

See

Audio: available on Apple TV Plus.

was released with 3 episodes and subsequent episodes dropping weekly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

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Getting Back in the Game with Coach Nancy

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

There are specific concerns around finding employment for people with vision loss, but so much of the process is universal.

Head shot of Nancy Karas
Nancy Karas is an HR Leader and Executive Coach. She’s worked with corporate clients, private clients and group coaching to help people find their happiness.

Hear how the job search process may have changed since the last time you were in the game. Learn strategies to improve your online networking, find your dream job and increase your productivity.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
Welcome back!

My name is Thomas Reid. If this is your first time here, I’m the host and producer of Reid My Mind Radio, a podcast bringing you stories of compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

The objective is to reach those who are adjusting to vision loss or disability. I’m hopeful that the experiences of those who have travelled similar journeys will provide real information and encouragement to those new to vision loss.

For so many, acquiring vision loss or another disability can occur in the middle of a career. For others it could take place in that early phase.

There are definitely challenges and considerations that are unique to those with vision loss, but much of the process of finding employment is applicable to us all.

Today on the podcast, I’m bringing you an expert to talk a bit about the process of finding employment. So if you’ve been out of the job hunting game and suddenly find yourself back on the field, you’re going to want to hear from the coach!

Let’s play ball!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

NK:

I teach people to be the CEO of their own life and career. No matter what life throws at us.

TR:

This is Nancy Karas. She’s an HR Leader and Executive Coach experienced
in building healthy companies.

I kind of like the sports metaphor I used in the intro so let’s call her Coach Nancy!

NK:

In addition, I focus on helping people to find their own version of happiness and success.

TR:

Coach Nancy understands this personally. Spending over 25 years in HR leadership roles throughout corporate America until the relationship became adversarial.

NK:

I had to fight management to get people what they deserve.

After 9/11 I felt really discouraged. I was in the middle of New York City, had been living there for 20 years and I just decided that I really wanted to help people unencumbered. So I stepped out of corporate and I started coaching.

TR:

That included working with corporate clients, private clients and group coaching to help people find their happiness. And if you think that’s something people inherently know, think again.

NK:

There’s a very big difference between what we do well and what we love to do. Sometimes we’re confused and we think that because we do it well, because we get good pay for it, because people recognize us for it that we love it. But sometimes our currencies change as a human being and maybe money and praise and title aren’t the most important thing anymore. I help people to really figure out what is the right thing for them next. What is their next step in life. I base it around what fits you.

TR:

Next step, in life, after for example a life change. That could be the loss of a career, loved one, maybe even acquiring a disability, the specifics don’t necessarily matter. Often we’re trying to answer the same question.

NK:

What’s the best thing for me right now? What will make me happy? What will make me feel successful in whatever way I’m searching for success; money, fulfillment, to make a difference in this world, or whatever it might be. That’s what I help people to figure out.

TR:

A life change can make this question feel more urgent. Even more difficult to answer.

NK:

We feel like the power is taken away from us by other people and we give away our power.

I help people to realize they’re already wearing the ruby slippers and that you have the power within you to do whatever you want.

So I teach people how to take back their power, raise the bar for themselves and really do what’s best for them.

TR:

Whatever the decision is, Coach Nancy is all about helping people achieve their goals.

With an understanding that whatever the personal challenge is, we all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.

NK:

I help people to showcase their strengths and find a way to harbor their weaknesses so they’re seen as a positive.

I give people that confidence and that boost they need to go out there and get what they deserve.

TR:

Before we head out onto the field, we need to know how best to play the game.

NK:

traditionally the way we were taught is a very me centric approach. I’m looking for a job where I can grow. Where I can have this and that.

In today’s market you have to approach your search in a I’m here to assist you. Whomever your target is that you’re looking to work for.

TR:

the means of doing this?

NK:

Through the resume, conversations, meetings, interpersonal skills, self-esteem, emotional intelligence. All the different pieces.

## Resume Style

TR:

Let’s take a look at some of the tools we have to help craft our play book.

First mentioned was the resume. That first representation not only of a person’s work experience but the individual them self.

NK:
[
Some people’s resumes I see are four and five pages long. Nobody’s going to read that anymore. Think about technology, everything is moving so rapidly. People don’t concentrate for very long on anything that’s on their computer screen. they listen to it for a second and then they’re distracted, it’s like hey squirrel! They’re gone.
]
We have to abbreviate what we give to people now. If it’s not relevant and applicable to the particular job you’re searching for and it’s going to cloud their ability to see how you’re a fit. We really have to look at resumes now and be more functional than chronological.

TR:

For many, vision loss or an acquired disability results in the loss of a job, or reduced responsibilities.

Rather than highlighting jobs you may choose to highlight skills and experience.

NK:

In a more functional modern resume you bring whatever is relevant. it’s like a tapestry if we’re pulling the gold threads out of our tapestry because we only want the very best of the best. If we’re looking for the gold company that we want to work for we’re only going to pull our gold threads. Maybe the silver threads show that we started silver and moved up to gold. That’s great, but if we have blue, yellow pink, whatever color threads, they have nothing to do with the gold company. So we’re not going to throw them all our threads and they’re like what the heck!

It’s a new way of presenting ourselves.

TR:

But how would you account for jobs that you may have had to take that don’t necessarily highlight your real skill set or are applicable to your desired career path?

NK:

I was freelancing. I was consulting and here are the companies I worked for and you just bullet or include a couple of those companies.

TR:

Coach Nancy strongly recommends your resume doesn’t exceed two pages.

Go ahead and Google sample functional resumes.

there’s even a hybrid version that combines aspects of the traditional chronological resume with the functional.

No matter what format you choose, consider how you approach the next step.

NK:

The traditional way of job search was to look at the job postings or ads and then we would send a letter and a resume and you’d sit and wait and hope that you’d hear back. But technology has advanced our abilities to connect. We have an opportunity now to shortcut our job search.

These days you can really bridge yourself to that other party by doing a lot of homework. try to understand a little about them and the direction they’re headed.

You’ve leveled the playing field because you walk in that room and now you can talk about how you can help them. how your skills are a fit for them.

## Researching Companies

TR:

technology has made researching companies a lot easier and way more convenient. you’re already familiar with some of the tools, but are you using them effectively?

NK:

I love Google. If I want to know what does someone at Bloomberg make if they work in the Finance department at a VP level, that’s exactly what I’m going to type in.

We look at the first or second thing that pops up when we google and then go “eh didn’t find anything!” I click on everything on that page. Sometimes I go to the second google page because I’m looking for information about the company that’s going to give me a hint about their culture, about their work, about their progress.

TR:

Surprisingly, to me at least, ascertaining information about a corporate culture online is possible.

NK:

I first Google what is the culture at Bloomberg. See what comes up. I would also go to Glass Door.com.

Glass Door.com is a website . You have to be willing to anonymously take one of your former jobs and list that you were a programmer or that you were an HR Executive and you give feedback on that former company. It was good it was fair and then you could give specific comments and feedback. Once you do that you have access to Glass Door. And when you’re in Glass Door you can look up any company. There’s tons of information about salary ranges. What people are making in New York for that job, Philly, Georgia. It will also give you some feedback. people are saying it’s a great company but the leadership is never in the office and we can never get answers. If I see one person say it I think well!

TR:

You’re really looking for trends. But you can take all information into consideration during interviews.

NK:

Let’s say people are saying that the company promises bonuses and never gives them. I would make sure when I interview to ask, I’m curious about your bonus structure. Do you give bonuses? Oh, yes we do! Has there ever been a year where you weren’t able to give the bonus you promised? And then you watch them go uh, uh, or they say no we never had that. So you get to talk it out and see for yourself.

TR:

The idea here is to equip yourself with as much information as possible to make sure the company is a fit for you.

Another important part of the playbook; networking.

NK:

Networking is taking place virtually and in person. In person you should look for events where they’re specifically having an event or where it’s industry specific or job specific to you. For example, if I’m HR I want to go to HR conferences. If I can’t afford those big conferences independently of the company paying for it then you go to a one day event or you go to an evening lecture for an hour in HR where you know it’s going to draw the HR community.

##TR:

Whatever the venue, Coach Nancy says it’s not about making sure everyone has your business card.

NK:

What I teach my clients to do is rather than focus on handing out your info, collect info. Now You’re in charge of your next step. Now it’s up to you to figure out where it’s going to go. I wait two or three days after that meeting and then I send them a note on Linked In.

TR:

That’s Linked In.com, the virtual way to network.

NK:

You want to put a professional profile up on Linked In. Let’s say you have a little profile with nothing there and no photo people know that you’re not current.

[TR in conversation with NK:]

I know you’re talking to me Nancy … (laughs) Go ahead!

NK:

I’m talking to you Thomas.

TR:

I know she’s right. And even though I’m not looking for a job, Linked In still makes a lot of sense for someone like me.

NK:

Especially for your marketing and stuff for your show.

I’ve heard CEO’s say that Linked In is their Rolodex. To me it’s a treasure chest. I can find all kinds of people. I help in so many different industries. Linked In has so many capabilities also as a tool. To search, connect with people, post jobs, to apply to jobs.

TR:

That’s the beauty of online networking. The ability to find the connections while you’re in your pajamas!

NK:

It’s called direct contact.

TR:

. In theory this approach can make the job search process more accessible. It definitely puts you in control.

Here’s how it works.

NK:

Go onto Linked In. find the person who would be the hiring manager or if you’re senior enough in your career and your job function would be very senior in the company , I would write directly to the CEO.

TR:

It’s possible that the majority of those listening are on the CEO level, but No matter what level you occupy in the corporate structure, the process is the same. Sending a note directly to the person through Linked In.

NK:

you want to show them that you see why they’re special and you’ve got the goods to support the direction they’re going. So I say I recognize you and what makes you special. It’s so exciting to me or thrilling or I’m so passionate about the work you do. I believe I could be an immediate and significant contributor to your project, to your team, to your company or to your mission. Here’s specifically what I bring to the table. Bullet, bullet, bullet, bullet. Then would love to set up a meeting or take you out for a cup of coffee or set up a call. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

TR:

Coach Nancy shared an example of someone who wanted to leave their job. The right question dictated the next steps.

NK:

Why not get you your dream job? Tell me what it is. She wanted to work for Google. So we looked to see do we know anybody at Google. How did we do that? We went on Linked In, we looked in the search bar, typed in Google and then we filtered on people. All the people that work for google come up in that search and it’ll tell you if you’re a first, second or third connection.

TR:

What if you don’t have a dream job? Maybe the idea of a traditional job is more of a nightmare. For whatever reason!

NK:

We’re not happy at work. We’re not enjoying our work. We don’t want to commute anymore. We’re physically, emotionally or mentally challenged and cannot make that trip or do that grind everyday whatever it might be. And if that’s the case this is the perfect decade for that right now because more and more companies are allowing people to work from home or to work from a We Work or some other center where people can just go locally if they want to be in a shared setting. there are so many nontraditional jobs.

TR:

here’s a method for thinking and mapping out opportunities.

NK:

What I like to suggest is that people think of a food chain.

TR:

The idea here is to identify the industry connections based on the things that are of interest to you. Therefore, the beginning point is based on a certain set of questions.

NK:

Where am I right now? Where is my interest? Where is my challenge? What is my life about right now?

I’ll give you an example. You lost your sight and you found your way to developing your podcast, your show and all the stuff you do to support people who are going through the same challenges.

TR:

So in this example, this identifies the starting point of the chain. Now I need to figure out all of the opportunities or players in the industry.

NK:

You look at corporate opportunities, nontraditional associations or foundations. And you look all around and say who is in this field that I might work for that’s not the straight and direct line of what I thought I might do. It’s thinking outside of the box. And when you do sometimes you find jobs that you never even knew existed.

TR:

Maybe the jobs are based on the traditional employer employee relationship. perhaps they’re more like opportunities for freelancing or consulting that work for your lifestyle. Either way, attitude makes a difference!

NK:

I suggest first of all that people think and act all the time as if they were a consultant. Because consultants never have all the answers. That’s not our job. Our job is you tell me your problem, I’ll figure it out. I will get you the answers.

TR:

I think it’s fair to say that work is different now. The days of working for a company for 30 years are gone.

NK:

So people are forced to become more resilient, more flexible, more autonomous in their careers. You’re really your own boss, your own CEO and you’re going from company to company and you’re consulting whether you go in as a full time in house person or you actually consult for them.
But this way And the concept of finding a job one time

TR:

It may all sound tiring and hard to manage. But Coach Nancy has a method for managing it all. Just think of the ducks. You know the ones at a carnival or fair.

NK:

That booth where there’s a bunch of yellow ducks and everybody’s squirting the gun to squirt your duck and push it up to the top of the hill. The person who gets their duck up to the top first is the winner. In this game, in my head what we do is we line up the ducks.

TR:

Where each duck is a stand in for one of our tasks or responsibilities on that good old’ to do list.

That could look something like;

Edit the next podcast episode, [Audio: Quack!]
Research future guests and show ideas, [Audio: Quack!]
Finish that spreadsheet, [Audio: Quack!]
Clean the garage, [Audio: Quack!]

Now, back to the carnival and all the ducks.

NK:

Now the goal is not to race one duck to the top, we tend to do that in life sometimes. We pick one thing and we only focus on that. But then what happens is we’re at the top with one accomplishment and nothing else is moved forward.

TR:

Even worse, what about the days when you just don’t feel like pushing that stupid duck. [Audio: Quack!]
Sorry, it’s just sometimes you’re not feeling in the mood for spreadsheets, so You decide to read an article and next thing you know it’s the end of the day and you have nothing accomplished.

NK:
[
Pick another duck!

Maybe it’s the garage you’ve been meaning to clean out and it’s a beautiful afternoon. So instead of sitting inside and feeling depressed by pushing a different duck forward an easier duck that day, we still end the day feeling accomplished. Now the garage is half cleaned out! We start to create our own momentum. Momentum creates more momentum.

TR:

Who doesn’t like feeling accomplished at the end of the day?

I’m a fan of the duck approach, but you can use whatever works for you.

NK:

You have to keep in those parameters that it’s always something productive.

[TR in conversation with NK:]

Laughs… Sitting back and getting a six pack or something like that doesn’t count right?
Laughs to fade out

NK:

Uh no! No!

I think if you’re lost or stuck you really want to reach out to someone who’s walked your path before. Whether it’s professionally, personally. Just like people in AA have a mentor it’s really good for human beings to have somebody they could go talk to or get advice from. So whether it’s a therapist or coach or a support group, I think in order to move forward in life you do have to ask for help because that’s how we learn and grow.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
I might add one other thing to that is a podcast. And I’m not just promoting mine here (laughs) but in terms of you know having someone who’s walked that path, when you’re fearful about asking for help the thing that makes a podcast so cool is that you can get that information and nobody has to know that you’re getting it.

NK:

I love it! Very good advice.

And there’s so much good stuff out there. Not as good as yours…

[TR in conversation with MA:]
Thank you Nancy! Laughs…

NK:

your welcome !

There are so many resources on the internet. We really have to be our own advocate and we have to do our homework and really search.

TR:

We should be very used to that message. Being our own advocate.

I really do hope that this podcast is serving as a resource for those adjusting to vision loss.

So often it seems that the world has lowered the bar for those with disabilities. Whether it’s being falsely praised just for showing up or if it’s assuming you wouldn’t be able to do… [fill in the blank according to your own experience]

Shout out to Coach Nancy, her message is about empowering individuals not only when it comes to finding a job, but really, living your life.

[TR in conversation with NK:]

That makes you officially part of the Reid My Mind Radio Family!

NK:

Oh I love it! Thank you! Ohh!You just made my day. I love it!

[TR in conversation with NK:]

Laughs…

TR:

Can you guess how to contact Nancy?

NK:

Linked In. Nancy Karas (Then spelled out)
Instagram @Transition.Coach
I’m on Facebook, Transition Coaching and Career Management with Nancy Karas or you can just connect with me Nancy Karas. My website is www.Transition.Coach. No .com just .coach. My phone number is (661) 309-7055 and the email is HabitatForHR@gmail.com.

# Close

Big shout out to Coach Nancy! And check this out here, I am very happy to report that as of this episode, one of my [Quack, Quack!]ing ducks has finally reached the top. At least for now. I cleaned up my Linked In profile a bit. I added a pic, updated some other info and made it look current. In fact, I’d invite you all to connect with me on Linked In if you’re there. How’s that Coach!

You can also find me, well Reid My Mind Radio on Apple, Spotify, Google or where ever you get podcasts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

[Audio, Quack, Quack!]

Peace!

Audio: Quack!

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The Making of Blind Leaders

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019

Are leaders born or are they made?

The American Foundation for the Blind is seeking applicants who believe they have what it takes to learn how to become a leader.

Headshot of Megan Aragon
Megan Aragon is the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with AFB. Hear all about the Blind Leaders Development Program and how you can apply. Whether in the profit or nonprofit sector, leadership skills can help you reach your goals taking you to the next step in your career.

Megan’s own story of adjusting to vision loss exemplifies the ideas behind the Blind Leaders Development program. She provides some real insight on the adjustment process making this a must listen for anyone struggling to accept their own blindness.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
I’m Thomas Reid, host & producer of the podcast bringing you
compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss. That means from Low Vision to totally Blind.

As we’re in the midst of NDEAM or
National Disability Employment Awareness Month,
I’m happy to bring you an episode with this in mind.

Audio: Reid My Mind radio Intro Theme Music

My name is Megan Aragon. I am the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs with American Foundation for the Blind.

TR:

Before Megan began directing and advancing all of that knowledge
she had to find her own way.

At 17, while studying hard in college, Megan began experiencing eye fatigue. She initially blamed it on all of the studying but soon began seeing what she describes as lights.

MA:

Eventually those lights started to fill in to a blind spot. I’d be driving and pedestrians and street signs would just sort of pop into my peripheral vision and I didn’t realize what was going on it was just like they were appearing out of nowhere.

TR:

A few months later Megan was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Macular Dystrophy.

Even though she had a diagnosis, Megan admits she didn’t deal with the changes.

MA:

At some point you can’t just say I’m not going to deal with it. You have to deal with it.

I think it was probably over the course of four or five months I went from perfect vision to Low Vision.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So you weren’t using any aids, large print magnifiers…

MA:
No, and I had no clue of what was out there in terms of tools resources, options nothing because I was being so stubborn and really acting in denial. I didn’t even do any research. I was just like nope I’m going to do it the way I used to do it and how I’ve always done it and then eventually I couldn’t.

TR:

Megan was creative in hiding her blindness.

MA:

Before I started college had worked as a waitress. So I knew that job and I knew how it might be done without vision.

TR:

Waitressing with low vision meant maximizing her memory of;
first, the menu, including ingredients for each dish

Then there’s taking each person’s order at the table.

Plus she memorized each screen on the computer order input system.

That was all after getting passed the in store application process.

MA:

I end up sneaking a magnifier in and was like reading a question and hiding the magnifier and filling in the answer and pulling out the magnifier out and was hiding my vision loss but was able to pass a personality/math test.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

I’m sure you probably thought about it, but what do you think was the reason that you were trying to hide it or trying to pass?

MA:

I hadn’t come to terms with it so I had no idea how to tell anybody about it without seeming super awkward and feeling weird. I just wanted to have a normal life. I could potentially lose my job. It would risk what I had built.

I think it could have been a really great opportunity for me to learn and for everyone else to learn, but I still just didn’t have those tools in my toolbox.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Well eventually you did.

MA:

It was a long time after the waiting tables thing.

TR:

It was after graduating college with a degree in Sociology.

She had a plan to get some work experience and then return to school for a Master’s degree.

But she had to have a conversation with herself in order to get to the root of what was holding her back.

MA:

You need to understand your vision loss. You need to communicate about it and you need to know what tools you need in order to be successful.

TR:

What she didn’t know at the time was she needed an example.
Fortunately, her Dad knew someone who suggested their local Lighthouse for the Blind.

MA:

I look them up, it’s like a manufacturing facility. And I said, I don’t want to work at a manufacturing plant, that’s not the type of work I want to do. I don’t know where to turn to . I ended up sending my resume over and interviewing with their Vice-President of Operations. He has a visual impairment. I think we spent two or three hours during that interview .

This guy has a vision impairment adjust like I do and he has his act together. He has a big job, he’s got it going on and he has vision loss just like I do, huh! Maybe I could have it going on. So finally the lights came on.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
So the lights came on at the Lighthouse!

TR& MA laugh…

MA:

I remember I got the call that they were going to give me a job and I was in the kitchen and got off the phone and started dancing around like oh my gosh it’s possible , like I could totally do this!

In my mind I hadn’t proved it to myself yet that I could be a good employee. That I had value to bring to the table. You know that (exhales) that I could do something more than waiting tables.

TR:

No shots at all to those waitressing,
Megan just needed to know she could be successful at something else.

That seems pretty obvious to those who see the ingenuity and persistence that went into first landing the waitress job, but Megan had to realize her own value.

Once denying her vision loss, now the Director of Knowledge Advancement Programs at American Foundation for the Blind.

MA:

Knowledge Advancement programs are focused on employment and developing ways to change the system that individuals go through that effects employments. Hiring practices of employers. general inclusion practices of employers. Policies and practices that affect employment of the blind and visually impaired individual. Helping to develop blind and visually impaired individuals so they’re ready to step into roles of leadership and employment.

TR:

Part of that last initiative is the Blind Leaders Development Program

MA:

This will be our kick-off year. Essentially, the Blind Leaders development program will take a group of 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired individuals through a leadership development program for 12 months. The curriculum we’re using for this program is called the Leadership Challenge.

TR:

Based on 30 years of research, the heart of this curriculum is
the idea that leaders aren’t born. leadership can be taught.

MA:

There are 30 specific behaviors that are observable if someone demonstrates those behaviors then they’re more likely to be willingly followed by others. The theory is there are things you can do to be a better leader.

It’s a kick start. It’s meant to amplify someone’s career trajectory. We’re hoping to develop leadership capacity within individuals and see them achieve upward mobility.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

Give me an example of someone who would be right for this program. Jane Doe works, you fill in the blank, she does bla bla bla!

MA:

Sure, so Jane Doe could be working at a nonprofit agency, in the for profit sector, government sector. Is interested in developing her ability to be a better leader, engaging with her organization.

[TR in conversation with MA:]

What type of work would Jane Doe be doing. Does it matter? Could she be an Admin? Does she have to be already on the management track?

MA:

Yeah, she could be doing anything. Doesn’t have to be on the management track, but interested in doing something like that. Interested in achieving hire level of career and leadership responsibility.

TR:

Sounds like you or someone you know?

Here’s a bit more of what AFB is seeking from a candidate.

MA:

Someone that is going to take the learning the knowledge and the concepts that we discuss during the program and take that home and apply them and really engage.

TR:

Apply them at work and in community organizations by serving on committees, boards.

MA:

Someone that is willing to consider a variety of opinions and perspectives and is able to integrate those into new ways of thinking. Creative open mind set.

We also want to see someone that has the potential to be a productive participant. They are willing to make the commitments that are required to really get a lot out of this program.

TR:

Here’s how it will work.

All interested candidates will have to complete an application available online at AFB.org.

The yearlong program will kick-off with a two day leadership workshop just prior to the AFB Leadership Conference in March 2020.

MA:

Where they’ll dive really deeply into the leadership challenge text, the results of their leadership practices inventory which is a survey that measures the frequency of those 30 behaviors I mentioned before.

How often does a participant for example, follow through on commitments they make.
TR:

Such behaviors are said to be an indication of leadership ability.

In addition to setting their own goals for the program,
participants will rate their own abilities and the results will be compared
to answers provided by their peers and managers.

MA:

It’s both eye opening and affirming.

The rest of the year will be done virtually. Every other month there will be a webinar where we talk about soft skill development, interpersonal skills and those key skills that are so important for leadership development.

Communication, networking, things that a lot of times require the ability to read nonverbal cues. So how do you do that as a Blind individual. Techniques you can use to make sure you’re as effective or better as your sighted peers.

We’re also incorporating a professional coaching element to the program and a mentoring element to the program.

There will be 12 to 16 Blind and Visually Impaired established leaders that will participate in the program as well and help to mentor those participants.

TR:

On the off months where there is no webinar scheduled,
participants will meet individually with their coach and mentor.

Mentors will also need to complete an application.

Those selected will be paired with a mentee prior to them meeting
for the first time during the leadership workshop preceding the AFB Leadership Conference in March of 2020.

MA:

Pair based on interest, and goals, experiences. So that what the participant is hoping to achieve down the line will match with what’s going on with the mentors so that there’s alignment.

TR:

Megan’s own story of coming to terms with her vision loss exemplifies
the importance of mentors.

MA:

mentoring is such a powerful thing. It gives you a different perspective, a different way to look at your situation and say okay, I can approach this in another way. It also gives you hope, like I’m struggling with whatever my issue is right now but look at this other person whose either gone through something similar or has been there and done that.

TR:

Megan clearly understands the benefits and continues to have mentors in her life.

MA:

Two of which are not visually impaired individuals but all three are women. That’s been the main connecting piece there for me. Women that are successful and really wonderful role models.

[TR in conversation with MA:]
In a way you brought up diversity so I’m going to ask you in terms of the BLDP is there a plan in place? Is there consideration to make sure that the choices made are a diverse group?

MA:

Yeah absolutely! We’re collecting information from our applicants about their diversity and will take that into account as we select participants to make sure we have as diverse a group as possible. As representative a group as possible. And in the application all of this is explained. How we’ll keep all of the applicant’s information private and make sure that the selection process is as unbiased as possible. That is absolutely a commitment that AFB has made. The more perspectives we can bring to the table the better everyone will be. Especially if we’re very intentional about how we leverage that diversity and how we leverage the different perspectives. And this is one reason why that’s a criteria that we’re looking for – open mindness, the willingness to learn, the willingness to consider other perspectives because of how powerful that can be in the learning process.

TR:

Now, I know what you’re thinking.
As I mentioned in the beginning of this episode,
it’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

What about those struggling to gain employment?

Well, AFB is in the early phase of creating
pathways to competitive integrated employment.

MA:

The first phase is research and studies. The second phase will be testing our theories about how we can create those pathways and the kinds of jobs that we’re talking about. What we’re committing to is developing knowledge based work for Blind and Visually Impaired individuals. So this is probably using a computer. Probably requires a Bachelor’s Degree or some sort of specialized training and knowledge and would be work that requires creative thinking and problem solving. That’s where we’re hoping we can really move the needle as far as folks that don’t have a job who are interested in working in the knowledge based field.

TR:

I know there are real candidates right here in the Reid My Mind Radio Family both for Mentors and Mentees.

The application process closes on November 1, 2019.

Applicants will be notified of the results in mid-November.

Please let me encourage you to head on over to AFB.org and
look for that button that says Join the program or become a Mentor.

If you have additional questions about the program you can email Megan

MA:

M as in Megan.
Aragon (Spelled out)at AFB.org
MAragon@AFB.org

TR:

A big shout out to Megan Aragon.

There are a lot of people right now going through their own version of her story.

Trying to run away from the loss and convince themselves nothing has changed.

Hopefully those going through this can see Megan’s courage not only in
adjusting her perspective of vision loss but also in the way she shared it today.

She’s come a long way from hiding her magnifier.

And now that she’s no longer memorizing menus and order entry screens
but rather using access technology, she’s free to
keep on directing all of that knowledge over at AFB.

And hopefully come back on the podcast to discuss the inaugural year of the program.

I know this is the end of October and
National Disability Employment Awareness Month, but
we’re going to keep the conversation going into November.

There are many specific factors for those with disabilities to consider when seeking employment.

We have past episodes that deal with this subject specifically.

But so much of the employment process is universal.

Next time, I’m speaking with a Career Coach to hear more about how
that process has changed.

it’s no longer a passive process –
there’s methods that can really put the job seeker in control.

There’s only one way to make sure you don’t miss that…

Subscribe or follow the podcast where ever you listen;

Apple, Spotify, Google or your favorite podcast app.

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

eTitle:A Love of Language With Elizabeth Sammons

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

A headshot of Elizabeth Sammons & Cover of The Lyra & the Cross
Meet Elizabeth Sammons! Hear how her love of languages has taken her to Switzerland, Russia, the Peace Corps and helped her become a published author.

Her journey illustrates how we can find ways to include our passions in our career and throughout our lives.

Listen

###Resources
The Lyra and the Cross

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host and producer T.Reid. Just about every two weeks or so, I bring you someone who has been impacted by Blindness, low Vision or Disability in general. These are people I find compelling.
People I believe have a story to share. The goal is to reach those of you adjusting to vision loss.

There’s a real power in learning what it really does mean to live with disability as opposed to what we either indirectly or directly learned or
absorbed throughout our lives. I know this because I too have experienced vision loss and early on decided to challenge my own biases. Occasionally I bring you stories from my own experience as a man who became Blind as an adult.

Up next on today’s episode; we see an example of someone setting their own course through life.
while being sure to find ways to fulfill their passion.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

Allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Sammons. She’s retired from the Vocational Rehabilitation and
international relations fields.

Currently, she and her husband are traveling the country in an RV while she continues in her new career as a writer. She’s been an exchange student, volunteered in the Peace Corps and lived and worked in Russia. We’ll get to that but as you’ll see, her early years really set the pace for how she lives her life.

ES:

I was raised in Central Ohio, small town which is a blessing.
Went to a school for the Blind for two years, learned Braille. Went on and long story short I was mainstreamed in the public school in fifth grade.

TR:

Let’s say Elizabeth’s high school experience left much to be desired socially.

ES:

I told my parents and I told the school I was willing to do anything if I could get out in three years rather than four. And I did that and I was only 16 when I graduated

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What was it that said, go ahead I’m going to go and finish early. Now I get it that you said you weren’t having a good time, I guess some bullying or whatever the case may be, but to say I’m just going to rush through it as opposed to the way I think most stories that involved bullying, sort of like the hiding from it, you weren’t hiding you said I have to get out of this situation.

ES:

I didn’t hide I ran

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with ES:]
And that doesn’t seem like a typical response. What was that about?

ES:

Well I think it was realistic. I said What am I going to do to get away from this and hiding didn’t work for seven years. And I figured the best thing I can do, and I know I’m capable of it, is to work really hard and get out of at least a year.

I haven’t thought about that. you’re right . I actually think it was as healthy a response as I could have given at that point.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Especially because you knew you could. You had a good sense of yourself at that age.

TR:
Elizabeth credits her parents for their early advocacy and support. for example, check out their decision following her early high school graduation.

ES:

My parents rightly said, you’re too young to go to college, you’re socially too young and so I had the opportunity to do an exchange year and I went to Switzerland for a year .

Studied for a year there in a French school and lived with a host family and that was not always easy but a really neat experience. The more I look back on it the more I realize how much it influenced me really.

[TR in conversation with ES:]

So your parents said you’re too young to go to college but they sent you to Switzerland. (Laughs…)

ES:

I never thought about that. (Laughs) That is a little… (Laughs)
I think what they meant was I was already a year ahead of my peers . I would have been almost two years ahead at that point. There’s a big difference as most of our listeners are going to know between someone who is 16 and someone 18. Plus my high school years had not been happy years and I think that they wanted me to just have another year to kind of de press from that. As it ended up my Switzerland experience, I was pretty well accepted by my peers there and I had some great experiences that it proved to me that Elizabeth was ok and that I could kind of set out a new like and not have the bad experiences with negative social experiences like I had before that. So it really worked out well. And I was happy to do it. I was an adventurer of different cultures and different people and so it was a great thing.

TR:

Elizabeth’s love of culture and languages began early.

ES:
I actually remember when I was about 10 years old turning our local television stations and there was a movie in French and I literally remember sitting and crying saying this is such a beautiful language I wish I knew it. So the first chance I did have which was high school to take a language and they offered Spanish, French and Latin. I decided on French because I was interested in Europe and I decided that would be the most widely spoken language next to English. I just took to it like a duck to water.

TR:

Returning home from Switzerland, Elizabeth enrolled in college. Majoring in both French and Communications she decided to complete college in three years. She then went on to complete her Masters in Journalism.

ES:

When I was at Ohio University studying Journalism I had a few extra credits, we had to take some electives and I decided my electives would be starting to learn Russian because I’d always been interested in Russia and Russian culture but had not had the opportunity to study it. So
I began to study it . Made friends with one of the Russians who worked in our language lab and she really helped me privately just because she wanted to. She saw I was interested. I started volunteering . At that time there were a lot of refugees coming in from Russian primarily Jewish refugees but also some active Christian refugees, also Baptist and other Christian groups . Most of them came adults with kids but some of the adults with kids would also bring their parents and so you would have people 60, 70, 80 even older who would be coming in for many reasons would not be able to learn English or very little English. I volunteered to say hey if you’ll speak to me in Russian I can do things like make telephone calls for you , help you read your mail, help you correspond, maybe talk with your landlord for you with you, interpret for you as I learn better Russian and people needed that and wanted that . So I was able to give to that community and they were able to give to me as my Russian developed and it was a really great kind of exchange.

TR:
Although Elizabeth’s Master’s Degree ultimately was in Journalism, her real interest was creative writing.

ES:

I was writing stories ever since I was 4 years old. I love to read I love to write. Storytelling and also fact gathering, I love both of those things. I wanted to get my masters in creative writing and my mother who was alive then said, anyone who knows you knows you can write well but if you have on your graduate certificate Journalism, then you’re a lot more likely to get a job then you are in creative writing. And I’m so glad number one she said that and number two I listened. She was truly right about that and the creative writing sort I don’t want to say came of itself but it was something I knew I could do. Journalism so strengthened my writing .

[TR in conversation with ES:]
The fact gathering methods must have been a challenge in getting a Journalism degree. What was that like? Now we have the internet …

ES:

You’re so right on the questions you’re asking me . You’re right because I was studying in the 80’s . There was no internet. I did rely on readers . I did rely on asking the right questions. I did rely on cooperation with fellow students and I realize after having been midway in my degree year, coming closer to finishing it that I was not going to be a kind of Journalist that could get a 3 AM call on a three bell fire alarm and get there and do an adequate story most likely. so what interested me more was storytelling journalism of that type that travel magazines and other less time sensitive periodicals but none the less periodicals that need good journalism and need good fact finders and reporters would do.

ES:
I should also mention that especially my Master’s program where I needed to read so much I had a number of volunteer readers who were from other countries that I said hey if you’ll read for me I’ll help you with your pronunciation. If there are words you don’t know I’ll take time to explain those to you and when it comes down time for you to write your thesis or write papers I’ll help you edit. So again I would really encourage anybody who has abilities to find that means of exchange. Not what can you do for me but what can we do for each other.

TR:

Doing for each other or finding a way that everyone can benefit is one of the motivators prompting Elizabeth to join the Peace Corps.

Hoping to put her knowledge of Russian to work, she wanted to land an assignment in Russia or Poland.

ES:

Well they decided to send me to the one Eastern European country that spoke a totally different language, Hungary. I think they said well if she could learn French and Russian she can learn Hungarian too, which I did study it as soon as I found out that they were inviting me to go there as an English teacher.

TR:

Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s time in Hungary was cut short due to some health problems.

She did however get the opportunity to immerse herself in the Russian language and culture during her almost decade stay in the 90’s.

ES:

I had worked a bit in Russia before that with a government exhibit that traveled through Russia and I think I’d been the first person with a disability that they knew of that did that and it had been going on for about 40 years as kind of a citizens exchange. I was interested in going back to Russia , I had met a young gentlemen there so I went back and I heard from someone about a disability related kind of a program going on in that city so I contacted the American organizers and said hey guess what I’m living here I would love to serve if you have a position and they happened to have something . So it was kind of one of those right place right time situations where I jumped in as soon as I heard about it . They interviewed me . They gave me a job and also the fact of living in Russia and being bilingual and English is my native language there were so few of us that there were lots of teachers and interpreters and advertisers who really needed that skill of a native speaker so I was really able to get an American , small but albeit, American salary and American bank account at home and able to moon light and do my other things and make enough money on the economy there to live alright. And I got married too I forgot to say and I got married to this gentlemen.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
That sounds like what got you out there, the guy. Laughs…

ES:

It is, yes it is. The guy got me out there.

TR:

In 1996 Elizabeth returned to the states to give birth to her daughter. She went back to Russia about a year later and following a break up she and her daughter came back to the states in 2000.

ES:

Back to Ohio. I looked for a job. I used Vocational Rehab to help me and although it wasn’t the job I wanted. I knew a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush so I took a job with Social Security. I worked there for about 5 years as a Claims Rep and doing some PR for them.

And then I moved on in 2005 to our Ohio Vocational Rehabilitation system and Defacto I became kind of like the Public Relations person and community relations down at the state house with our legislators. Always kind of reaching out using that Journalism , using that research using the ability to gather facts and make recommendations and explain to people why we could or couldn’t do something or needed to do something. That was a lot of what I did.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
How about the languages? How were you incorporating those types of things?

ES:

It’s so funny that you ask that because in my interview for Social Security job I told them that I spoke Russian. And you know they kind of gave a token nod that’s cool. The first they I got there they said do you really speak Russian ? I said well yeh I told you I speak Russian. They said well, we’re having this Administrative law judge hearing with someone who’s Russian and doesn’t speak English today. Would you be willing to go be the interpreter. My first husband had been a doctor and I heard all kinds of medical terms and different things and I didn’t blink an eye well sure I’d be happy to save you the money for hiring an interpreter, why shouldn’t I do that. And I think they were kind of shocked and picked themselves off the floor. I had to be very careful explaining to the lawyer and the Russian speaking client that I do receive my salary from Social Security but in this hearing I am your interpreter. I am not taking any sides with Social Security. You know I’m not taking your side either . My job is to make sure you’re heard.

There were some cultural ways that this gentleman answered that didn’t make sense. I knew what he meant and I said the true sense of what he meant to the judge and after the gentleman left with his lawyer the judge said Ms. Sammons would you stay here for a moment. I thought oh boy an I in trouble. And he said I’ve been a law judge for 20 years this is one of the very few times if ever that I felt I truly spoke with the claimant. I just kind of smiled and said well you can tell Social Security that too. I don’t say that to brag I simply say it because knowing the culture as well as knowing the language is really important when you’re an interpreter. Anyone who is out there and you have a visual impairment and you know two languages your interpreting shouldn’t be effected in any way by your vision. Something you can readily do as long as you know the languages and understand what’s behind the culture so I’d encourage you to think about that.

TR:

Elizabeth had additional opportunities to interpret in the Social Security Administration, as part of Vocational Rehab and as a volunteer in the community.

Notice how Elizabeth is putting her interests into action in and out of her career.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
What about the writing?

ES:

(Sighs!)

I kind of put the writing on a back burner for a while. Not that I didn’t write at all but I certainly did lots of writing for my job, but in terms of creative writing . I started up with a group a writing group which meets twice a month and we’d go over one another’s manuscripts and give comments.

TR:

Elizabeth suggests avoiding the writers groups where author’s read their work and group members critique on the spot. Understandably, such a process isn’t going to produce quality feedback.

She began by sharing one of her already completed short stories.

ES:

They liked it, but they didn’t like it as much as I did. I really felt for 4 years that it wasn’t the best I’ve ever wrote, but it was the thing that I wrote that I loved the most and it was just sort of crying out to me, you’ve done this little bitty sketch, you need to turn this sketch into a big portrait.

TR:

At the same time, tragedy in Elizabeth’s life served as even more inspiration. This included the loss of two friends, one of which was to Cancer.

ES:
This death experience and the broken relationship experience really made me think a lot about what makes a friendship work or not work and what happens when people are so different that they can’t live together, they can’t get along.

TR:

Taking two characters from the Bible, Steven or the first Christian martyr…

ES:

and some people may know who Paul or Saul was – a Jew who then began to believe in Jesus but before he did he wrote lots of letters in the New Testament like the first and second Corrinthians and Romans and Ephesians and other writings.

He first comes into the Bible when Stephen is being stoned. It says a young man named Saul stood by and held the garments for those who stoned Stephen. Being that Paul/Saul was such a huge figure in the Bible later I thought that’s not a real positive light to come in. (Laughs) If you want to come in you might think of a different door to come in, but not that he wrote that.

The Greek tradition, and Stephen was Greek holds believe it or not that Saul and Steven were relatives. And this puts an entirely different light on Stevens martyrdom and what Western folks reading the Bible see… oh yeh, Saul was thee when Steven was martyred. So I held this together historically, respecting the tradition may or may not be true, but let’s say they were at least people who knew each other well. I portrayed Steven and Saul as best friends at the beginning of this book. Really close, grew up in childhood , helped each other and gradually through the book as Jesus Christ comes on to the scene living and later crucified and Steven makes the choice to believe in him as the Messiah and Saul very strongly holds to the traditions in the honor of those traditions and how the friendship breaks.

I describe the events of that through different points of views so there’s some chapters that witness of Steven and some are witness of Saul some are witness of other characters that I invented or other historical characters that see this change in the friendship and of course ultimately the martyrdom.

Many scholars do believe that Saul had a disability. And I did in my book give him a disability which also influenced a little bit his take on this whole situation and his feelings and his reactions because he was never quite the one . He was always a little bit of the odd man out too. And deal as well with the loss of his friendship with Steven.

TR:

Elizabeth’s first novel, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both print and E-Book on Amazon.com.

ES:

I am working on getting an audio copy ready and when that does come out I will definitely let you know that’s out.

TR:

Even before The Lyra and the Cross, Elizabeth wrote a manuscript for a book set in the 1990’s. It’s about a family who’s patriarch dies

ES:

They find out some secrets that expose them to realizing they have some very serious genetic threats in the family and they have some very serious other issues in the family that they never knew about.

And the name of that book which I hope to get published hopefully by next year is With Best Intent because all the characters except for one all are doing things believing they’re doing the right thing but unfortunately some of the consequences live on for decades and decades and mark people not in a good way.

TR:

Inspired by a story she created for a presentation, Elizabeth is finishing up a Children’s book on advocacy.

ES:
Told from the view of a family who brings in a homeless cat and this cat has to find its place in the home , make itself loved by the family when things go wrong let the family know. It’s the Advo Cat.

I’m working with a professional illustrator right now and she’s working on getting it visually pleasing to 10, 11, 12 year olds. I meaning it for pre-teens.

It’s not advocacy related to any particular disability or politics or religion it’s just good advocacy principles.

It’s called Omar Advo because in the beginning you don’t know he’s a cat.

I describe him but I don’t use the word cat at all and people are thinking he’s a human and then you see the picture and you realize he isn’t . The first lesson is sometimes someone isn’t who you think he is. That’s the first lesson of advocacy.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Isn’t that the first lesson of life! Laughs…

ES:

Amen to that. laughs…

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Say the title one more time.

ES:

Omar Advo

TR:

It’s pretty apparent, Elizabeth knows how to adapt to new environments. Always finding ways to incorporate her interests and passions throughout her career and no matter where she calls home.

ES:

My husband Jeff retired two years ago and struggled and cajoled and finally convinced me that it was ok to retire young . So I did early resign from my Vocational Rehab job last August.

We are currently for the most part living in an RV and traveling around. Right now I’m talking to you from Texas. We plan to continue a lot of our travel .

TR:

Elizabeth’s not interested in writing about her travels. She prefers to pursue her creative writing.

ES:

I feel extremely blessed even though it’s not always easy but to be able to live as an artist right now and be able to really travel and see so many great things and meet some amazing wonderful people . My life right now is sort of on the road and as much on the pen as I can be. Exploring our country and hopefully exploring our world a little bit just enjoying and trying to be there for people.

TR:

While she’s not active on social media Elizabeth says if you’re interested in reaching out with any questions she’ll be happy to answer. Therefore feel free to send questions to ReidMyMindRadio at gmail.com and I’ll forward them to her.

Once again, The Lyra and the Cross is currently available in both E-Book and hard copy from Amazon with an audio book version on the way.

You can find some additional writings from Elizabeth including posts on her international experience over on her blog WindowsOfThought.WordPress.com. She hasn’t written much in this space for a couple of years but like me I think you can find something you may enjoy.

A big shout out to Empish Thomas for recommending and introducing me to Elizabeth.

Empish is a freelance writer and one of the bloggers along with Elizabeth on Vision Aware .com.

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

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

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

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

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

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Reid My Mind Radio: Chancey Fleet Assisting with More than Technology

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

Returning from a medical leave (see the last episode and post for an update) we resume where we last left off…

We were looking at employment of people with disabilities. Continuing with the theme, today’s episode explores one person’s experience with lessons that are applicable to everyone not only people with disabilities.

Chancey Fleet is the Assistive Technology Coordinator for the Andrew Heiskel Talking Book Library in New York City. We hear all about how she landed that position and how she continues to expand her role while aiding the community.

When you’re done listening make sure you subscribe to the podcast and tell a friend to do the same!

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TR:

Today, I’m further exploring the topic of employment of people with disabilities through the experience of one young ladies career. We find out how she made her way into her current position and how she continues to expand it and grow benefiting not only herself and her employer, but the community which she serves.

As usual, I believe there are lessons that go beyond disability, but that’s really up to you the listener to decide.

Before we get into it, you know what I need to do…

[Scratch]
Drop it!
[Reid My mind Radio Theme Music]

TR:
[City Sounds]

If you walk across 20th street In New York City, between 5th and 6th Ave tucked in among the various commercial buildings is a library

TR in conversation with CF:
Andrew Haskell? Heiskel?

CF:
Andrew Haskell.
So here’s the thing . The technically correct pronunciation is Andrew Heiskel, but when you say it correctly you suddenly have a ton of people looking for the high school.

TR in conversation with CF:
[Laughs…]

CF:
So there’s just this wave of convenient wrongness where we all kind of say Andrew Haskell now, but you can avoid all of that by just remembering our web address which is talkingbooks.nypl.org, nice and easy.

We’re kind of two libraries in one. We are a full brand of the NYPL which means this is a place where all types of members of the community come to pick up their holds pick up their books and DVD’s. Use the Wi-Fi get some studying done take advantage of our computer labs and gather together.

We got story time for kids, we got programs for teens and adults. Opera concerts creative writing you name it.

The one things that you won’t find in this building that you find in most public libraries is a whole lot of print because as well as being part of the NYPL, we are a sub-regional location for the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. And what that means is that we’re also an operations that sends out tons of Braille and audio books by mail and folks could come in and pick those up as well.

TR:
Meet Chancey Fleet. She’s the Assistive Technology Coordinator at that library.

Chancey says to her knowledge she is the first Assistive Technology Coordinator for the library.

While working as an Assistive Technology Trainer in a Vocational Rehabilitation Agency she became frustrated when she was unable to assist those who weren’t eligible for services.
CF:
sometimes the consumer would have a question about Twitter or Facebook or taking pictures outside and I would be dying to answer it but I would know that that was just outside of my scope of work. and it would need to just stay that way. And at the same time folks would come up to me knowing me from activism from outside of the place where I worked and they’d need help with computers and technology and if they were undocumented or they were homemakers or retired or happily employed or had vision issues or print issues that didn’t add up to legal blindness they wouldn’t be eligible to come see me. And all of that started to feel a little limiting and a little frustrating and I guess I started to think about why we have the structures that we have. And I think the structures that we have are great a lot of the time and I would never want to see them replaced but sometimes we need more than one way to do things.

TR:
In 2010 Chancey found that other way at the library. She approached the leadership at the Andrew Heiskel library and asked if she and some friends could offer a free computer clinic on Saturdays. And by free she meant F R E E, free…

CF:
Free one on one instruction. Free of eligibility, requirements, free of paperwork and free of charge at the library.

And we started out with just three or four volunteers. I was one of them,
my friend Nihal my friend Walei and lots of other folks joined us over the years.

we got the information into the library newsletter and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

What we do is totally peer supported, informal learning. So we’ll never replace comprehensive training right. Just like you wouldn’t go to the library to take a Chemistry class, but you might come to the library to get help on some specific Chemistry problem or finding a study group or finding the right resources. We do kind of the same thing.

TR:
The assistance includes some real world challenges related to vision loss.

CF:

I think one of the scariest or daunting things about losing your vision or about being blind without access to information is people are telling you things that might be good for you or not all the time and if you have a way to write things down and if you don’t have a way to refer back to things and decide on your schedule when you can sit down and figure out what’s important for you, it can be really overwhelming.

We’re here at the library so we have the digital talking book machines that are totally free of charge and we have flash drives and if nothing else,

if someone is super new to technology and they don’t have a way to write in Braille or write in print we can just record what we do here on a flash drive and they can play it back on the free players at any time. And that’s how we can scaffold them until they can get to that point where they can use their personal technology to take notes.

TR:
What started out in 2010 as a volunteer position offering 3 hours a week grew to the library providing about 150 hours of training a month in 2014.

That volunteer position, became a full time paid position that Chancey was perfectly suited to fill.

CF:
A job posting showed up at the end of 2013 and I was happy to see it. My Saturday’s at the library had become the highlight of my week and I saw an increasing number of volunteers and patrons coming to learn gathering at the library and really getting important work done in kind of a low key informal setting.

And sometimes the conversation would stray outside the boundaries of technology. and I’d walk in and somebody would be talking about how it is they sort their mail or sort their laundry or what it was like to take the subway for the first time instead of taking Access-A-Ride. And that peer to peer informal learning that might be about technology but touches all sorts of threads of importance in our lives. I thought that was really special and I wanted to see that continue to grow

TR:

It grew into more programming for the city’s blind and visually impaired community. In addition to providing individual help with Braille the, library offers some cool progressive programming. Like a class in photography and videography.
taught by Judy Dixon, Consumer Relations Officer of the NLS.

CF:

So folks learn about composing photos and videos . We learned about perspective and glare and how lighting conditions and distance affects things. And Judy shared with us a bunch of her favorite apps and strategies. We’ve done all sorts of social networking workshops. We’ve done an introduction to coding and electronics with Arduino.

TR:
We covered the Blind Arduino Project and its founder Josh Miele on a past episode which you should really check out.

CF:

So Arduinos are really small portable affordable computers that run essentially one program at a time and you can design your own super accessible tool.

because the components are so affordable and portable and because it’s so widely popular in kind of the mainstream community of makers and enthusiasts there’s a lot of great advice and code samples , kind of like recipes if you will that are out there so that even if you’re a total novice you can find all kinds of online instructions and code to work from and you can find components to do whatever you
may need.

TR:
Chancey and the library teamed up with DIY Ability a midtown Manhattan company offering workshops geared to serving people with disabilities, like
toy hacking workshops that help families retrofit or hack toys to become more accessible for people that have fine motor impairments
workshops teaching people with all different types of disabilities how to code and use electronics.

CF:
So our introductory Arduino workshops we call them “eyes free” or non visual Arduino workshops are a place to learn about the very basics of working with Arduino and working with code in a place where non visual techniques are well respected and well understood.

So it’s a safe space for starting out. It’s a community space for gathering and exchanging ideas and we hope it gives folks a foundation they can build on.

We’ve done that with both youth and adults. And we’re launching now into a program that teaches folks how to come in and use the tactile graphics embosser and tactile graphics design software as well as a 3D printer to create non visual spatial representations of the graphics and objects they need to understand. Things in their work school and leisure lives.

TR:
Chancey’s interest in the accessibility of graphical or visual information began with a request from a library patron.

CF:
Somebody called me and asked me where they could possibly get a map
that related the 5 boroughs of New York City to one another and their water ways. He just moved to New York City and he wanted to get the lay of the land sort of speak.

TR:
For a sighted person, this is an easy task, just launch Google maps or find an old fashioned printed map.
It’s much more challenging to access this information non visually.

Receiving grant funds, the library was able to purchase the necessary equipment. With this the Dimensions Project was off and running.

CF:

our premise is that we will teach community members sighted and Blind alike about some of the fundamental best practices around creating tactile images that are meaningful useful and legible. And then we’ll provide the equipment the space and mentorship that people need to create the images and the 3D objects that they’d like to experience.

TR:

The Dimension Project includes three workshops. Two specifically focusing on working with the equipment and the other on best practices for effective tactile graphics.

CF:

Tactile Tactics, taught by Annie Lease from the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Annie is an artist with low vision who also has a ton of museum education experience and she is no stranger to crafting meaningful and well-rounded tactile experiences for people.

she goes over the basics. For one thing if you’re creating a tactile graphic the first thing that you think about is purpose. Why does the person want it? What information are they hoping to have? So what needs to be on that map?

Annie also talks about scale. She talks about using labeling effectively and kind of introducing people to the graphic once it’s been created – creating the context for it.

It’s been exciting . I kind of designed and got funding for this project and started rolling out the workshops wondering if the community would really respond because at first I would tell library patrons coming in for computer instruction about it and I’d ask them if they would like to be able to make their own images and pictures and maps and they would throw it back at me and say for what? I would throw it back at them and say well what do sighted people use images for? What do sighted people care about? And they would kind of wrap their brains and come up with things.

TR:
One of the most challenging parts of this project is convincing people who didn’t grow up in image rich environments that tactile graphics have something to offer.

Real world examples can prove helpful.

CF:
One of our volunteers has a small business and he had to design a logo for his business. He had certain kind of Values or parameters that he gave to a sighted designer to have his logo designed. And first thing that he wanted to do when he came in and used the tactile graphic software was to find out what his logo actually looked like.

He had hoped that the letters would relate to each other in a certain way and it would kind of imply motion. So that was something that he was already really ready to connect to. I think part of what made that successful is that it was a tactile graphic that was expected.

I think street maps and floor maps are another place where we can start with something that’s familiar. So I think using something that someone already knows both for context and motivation is a powerful thing.

TR:

Available maps include;
* Tactile street maps
* Floor maps of the Heiskel branch – enabling customers to locate computer labs, training and community rooms and more.

* a prototype map of the five boroughs as requested so many years ago.

CF:
I was so happy that we got our first real live request in the fall to reproduce a floor map for the NFB of New York state convention.

We enlisted a sighted volunteer who has graphic design but next to no tactile graphic experience. And we paired her up with a few blind volunteers who don’t have graphic design experience but who have lots of experience with Braille and tactile graphics.

TR:

The collaboration worked well. Chancey and the other volunteers provided valuable input and feedback making the end result a usable map that was distributed to about 30 people.

CF:

I think we are on the edge of a new golden age in tactile literacy. In the same way that two hundred years ago we were on the edge of something spectacular in terms of textual literacy.

Now although we still have trouble convincing folks that Braille’s important and sometimes affording the Brail technology that we need broadly we have better access to texts than ever before thanks to electronic conversion into Braille and even text to speech and we are in a better place with regard to textual literacy than we’ve ever been.

TR:

Chancey speaks of a benefit she has seen in her own life after beginning to think more spatially.

CF:

I’m a person that never took chemistry or physics or calculus and a person that never really engaged to actively with the arts or coding.

And it’s only now that I’m working in the community of support such awesome collaborators across the city and across the country that I feel free to explore

TR:

Creative exploration like origami. And Chancey is now bringing this paper art form to the Talking Book library patrons.

CF:

Origami is paper craft.

origami is using a single sheet of paper or maybe even building lots of different
modules together and using different folds and most to create.

Most of the Origami instructions say hey check out figure E or it’s a totally silent You Tube video that just shows somebody’s hands. And so our Origami club that we’re launching in collaboration with the Origami Therapy Association here in New York here is a chance for Blind folks and say to folks to get together and use really clear descriptive language to explain step by step what you need to do to get to a certain origami model. If you check out YouDescribe.org and search for origami you actually
see some students from San Francisco State Universities TVI Preparation program have put up quite a few Origami instructional videos that are accessible, they all have a descriptive track. So we’re lucky to have them as collaborators as well as a few blind folks around the country help us learn new models and get them into clear descriptive language.

TR:

In a sense, Chancey began preparing for her role at the library at an early age back in Mechanicsville Virginia.

CF:
I went to a mainstream school in the 80’s and my folks always made sure that I had basically equal access to information and one of the most important ways they did that is by pushing for the school system to incorporate technology into my life from an early age. I remember having a Toshiba laptop in the first grade.

I could play text adventure games and I could get my word processing done. And one of the most powerful things that I still remember is that people could write notes to me and I could read over them and I could write out my assignments and send them to a printer which meant that I could get feedback from my teacher without having to wait for the vision teacher to come around and transcribe things.

So I learned really early on that having technology at my fingertips, mainstream technology that everybody could use together was going to be a key that would let me interact directly and not wait on a third party to grant me the access that I need.

TR:
While attending William and Mary College Chancey had the opportunity to work as a peer Access Technology Trainer. Providing one on one training to other Blind and visually impaired individuals.

After graduating with degrees in Sociology and Psychology she felt more connected to Access Technology. A member of the National Federation of the Blind ever since receiving a student scholarship, Chancey began beta testing the first KNFB Reader – an early device to portably scan text to speech.

CF:
Little did I know that one of the times I was at a conference demonstrating , there was a recruiter in the audience from a place called Integration Technologies and the next thing I knew I was flying around the country training Federal employees with disabilities on how to use their tech and that’s kind of how I got my start.

It was fun to fly from office to office and see how lots of different types of people worked. I got to work with transcriptionists, IRS agents, judges, veterans and all kinds of people and it was a great first post college job.

TR:
technology isn’t just a 9 to 5 thing with Chancey.
She says it permeates her life.
Using apps to help her improve her ability to understand and speak Spanish, accessible ways of finding and cooking new recipes,
using GPS apps for travel
these are just examples of technology in her daily life.

She also thinks about the social implications of technology. Like Aira, the glasses and app that are connected to a live attendant who can serve as a blind users virtual eyes. Describing and assisting in navigation at any time. The service begins at about 90 dollars per month.

CF:

Aira is a premium product and it lets us get around a lot of accessibility problems and perhaps giving an accessibility workaround to the folks that are privileged enough to be able to pay for Aira, might not always be a good thing because if I have had my accessibility problem solved by Aira will I take the time to do the boring paper work and the advocacy follow up that’s required to make the bigger accessibility problem that I encounter go away or will I just hitch a ride with Aira and forget about it? I hope I won’t. I hope we can all have a conversation about how we can incorporate these tools into our
lives in a way that doesn’t keep us from being a good community advocates for accessibility that is for everyone.

##
Clearly, Chancey sees the bigger picture when it comes to the purpose of technology. It’s not what the tech does that makes it cool, it’s about how it can impact a person’s life.

CF:
One of my favorite stories is about a young lady that came from Syria and
when she first came to us she came because she wanted to learn to type. She didn’t really have much of a Goal beyond that. In addition to being blind and being newly new to technology she also has a speech impairment. She has a lot of trouble communicating especially with people with people that she doesn’t know or who don’t really slow down to listen to her.
So first she came in very quietly barely said anything and booked lots of time with talking typing teacher. When she finished with that she started to learn to use the Internet. She got a computer from Computers for the Blind, the refurbished computers out of Texas, and slowly she started to talk to us more because she had more specific questions about how to do different things on the internet and her personality started to emerge.

one of the first things that she wanted to do online was go on You Tube and look for makeup tutorials and we did.

Then she got an I Phone And with that I Phone we recommended that she get a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately she was able to afford to do that.

I’ll always remember the first big milestone with her. She. Typed out to me in one day hey could I take this keyboard in and type out what I want my doctor to know before I meet with my doctor? And I just like wanted
to do a fist bump like yes that’s exactly what this technology is for. She figured out for herself how it was going to help her. How it was going to empower her.

## That young lady not only continued learning Braille, but she began providing support for others new to technology and is now continuing her education in preparation for entering the workforce.

Looking back on Chancey’s career path a few notable milestones stand out.
There’s the technology experience and that early opportunity to travel and meet a wide array of people with vision loss that seemed to prepare her for her later work. Including serving as one of the first Holman Prize judges.

Chancey says her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind was also instrumental.

I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in two thousand and one and I came in the way that a lot of people do which is that they got me with
a scholarship.

So I came to a convention for a scholarship and I stayed for the philosophy.

it was Carla McCuillan that gave the first banquet speech. She is a pretty distinguished educator – I think she runs a
Montessori school. I remember the energy and I remember her addressing
the low expectations that the public often has for us and you know immediately I connected with that message that that that’s not a normal thing that we can do better for ourselves.

I think the National Federation of the blind is. Pretty unique in the amount of investment and trust that it puts in its ordinary members who become volunteers.

It is one of the greatest ways that I have
found to get work experience while I was waiting for actual work to come along beginning when I was in college.

TR:
It was an earlier volunteer experience working the phones at a women’s crisis shelter that helped Chancey realize a career in Psychology wasn’t for her.

That discovery Chancey says was just another benefit of volunteering.

CF:
It’s a way to develop skills and self-confidence meet people in the community give back but it’s also frankly
sometimes a way to find a job.

TR:

Like I said, lessons in Chancey’s experience once again go beyond disability

If you live in New York City or find yourself visiting head on down to the library and check out all they have to offer.

For more information on services and upcoming workshops visit Talking Books.NYPL.ORG

To reach out to Chancey directly you can find her at @ChanceyFleet on Twitter.

Remember to subscribe to the podcast; Apple Podcast, Google Play Stitcher, Tune In Radio and Sound Cloud.
Tell a friend!

CF:
… and quietly , slowly it started to take off.

[RMMRadio Theme Outro]

TR:
Peace!

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