Posts Tagged ‘Holman Prize’

Blind Travel Network – A Holman Prize Win for You Too

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Stacy Cervenka
In part 2 of the 2018 Holman Prize series, we meet Stacy Cervenka. Stacy’s creating the Blind Travel Network – a website specifically tailored to people who are blind or low vision. The BTN’s mission is to enable blind and low vision people to share accessibility information about all aspects of travel. From local venues to foreign destinations. This Holman Prize is the first that can benefit all blind people around the world – even you too! And since I mentioned you too, hear Stacy’s story about her encounter with U2’s Bono.

Don’t miss the rest of the 2018 Holman prize series or any other episode of the podcast…subscribe now!

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Music…

Stacy Cervenka (SC):

I actually did get kissed by Bono. It’s really exciting. He was in our office to talk about Third World debt relief and Aids in Africa and he had just gotten out of a meeting with my boss and all the staff members came in to say hello

I reached out my hand to shake his hand and he just said “Ahhh, come here and give me a kiss” and gave me a giant smooch on my ear

Somebody thankfully caught it on camera so it’s a moment that I’ll be able to show my kids. (Laughs)

TR:

Greetings to you, the fabulous listener. Allow me to welcome you back.

Music continues…

That’s Stacey Cervenka, our latest Holman prize winner. In a few moments you’ll learn more about her and her ambition.
And yes, she was talking about that Bono, the activist rock star from the group U2.

If this is your first time here, welcome!

You joined us midway through this Reid My Mind Radio presentation of the 2018 Holman prize winners. I know we’re not supposed to make assumptions but I’m going on a limb. When you finish listening to this episode not only are you going to want to go back and hear the first in this 2018 series featuring the three Holman winners, but you’re also going to want to go back and listen to the 2017 prize winners.

Really, you should just stop right now and subscribe to the podcast. I’m pretty certain you’re going to like it.

I mean, you’ve been searching through the podcast directories looking for that podcast to fill a special void and you still haven’t found what you’ve been looking for!

Audio: “Still Haven’t FoundWhat I’ve Been Looking For”, U2

While I drop this intro music, you go and hit the subscribe button

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro

TR:

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

Soon after he studied medicine and literature and then became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

In this second in a series of three 2018 Holman Prize winners, Stacy Cervenka has the ambition of creating the Blind Travel Network – hoping to make travel more accessible to blind people, by blind people.

SC:

What I would really like to develop is an online website similar to yelp or trip Advisor or Cruise Critic where people are blind or have low vision can go to post reviews of places they’ve been. Ask and answer questions of other blind people and then also have feature blogs and video blogs and advice columns from seasoned blind travels maybe blind travel agents some travel agents who have worked with many blind people. Blind cane travel instructors. So basically it could just be a website where people can learn about not only various places they can travel but also techniques they can use to navigate in airports or monitor their kids safely at a water park or navigate Disney World as a blind person.

TR:
There’s the comparison to other crowd source travel sites, but Stacy is in no way in competition with them.

SC:

I don’t want to take the place of any of those message boards and I certainly encourage people who are blind or have low vision to be active in the typical message boards because they offer so much great information.

In order to decide what cruise or what resort or what Disney hotel is right for you, you have to do a lot of research. this will only be one piece of that, that can give you information that some other places can’t about what places are most blind friendly sort of speak.

TR:
Stacy has a significant amount of travel experience, both personal and work related.

She became intrigued by politics during college after attending a NFB Seminar in Washington DC where she met with legislators to discuss blindness related issues. She went on to intern with Senator Brownback from Kansas.

SC:

When I graduated they had a job opening and I applied and ended up working there full time for 5 years.

The electricity and the atmosphere in DC is unlike any other place I lived and it’s full of people who come there to work for public officials or for the headquarters of national nonprofits or for think tanks or government agencies. So it’s filled with people who are passionate about what they do and almost everyone who comes to DC is really, you know there very knowledgeable about what they do. They’re very passionate about what they do. They really care about what they do. So it’s just a mix of people who are excited about making the world better, whatever that means to them. So it’s just a really fun place to be in your 20’s.

TR:

As part of her job with the Senator, Stacy traveled to some interesting destinations. Like North Korea.

SC:
When I was there for a Congressional staff delegation we went to the demilitarized zone which is the border of North and South Korea. Most of the border of North and South Korea is about 4 kilometers of land mines except for at the demilitarized zone where the South Korean and North Korean soldiers actually face staring at each other all day and it’s really just like a blue line on the concrete and that is the border.

There are blue UN security sheds that straddle the border. We went into the UN Security shed s so we’re technically in North Korea when we’re on that side of the building and the soldiers were right there. I actually had to give up my cane, they wouldn’t let me take my cane because the North Korean soldiers could have thought that it was a weapon and shot. They wouldn’t have asked me questions. they wouldn’t have been like excuse me Miss what is that? We weren’t allowed to point we weren’t allowed to laugh , we weren’t allowed to smile . We had all of these things because we had to make sure that the North Korean soldiers didn’t see us as any sort of threat.

It was probably the most intense experience I’d ever had. You were very aware. I mean they would tell you right there, you see that building, there’s a sniper , there’s a North Korean sniper right on it. We can’t see him but we know he’s got his gun focused on us.

TR:
See, we all just gained some insight into traveling to north Korea as a blind person.
I’m betting that the majority of her travel experience is more relatable.

After working in DC Stacy went on to become the Executive Officer of the California State Rehabilitation Council.

SC:

Currently I’m mostly staying home with my two kids, but I’m also working part time as the Grant Administrator for the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. I also am the Chair of the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind parent Group

TR:

As a blind parent, Stacy’s accumulated lots of techniques that she wants to share with others.

SC:

Traveling can be something you do for a day with your kids in some ways. You go to a local amusement park or you go to a local hiking trail or a local state park. A lot of the techniques that you would use to monitor your kids at a park or at an amusement park in your home town are the same ones that you would use at Disney World.

TR:
The tips and techniques go beyond managing children.

SC:
If you were to say I like going to Broadway shows here is how I enjoy doing it as a blind person. In a way it doesn’t even matter if I’m going to a show in New York or Chicago or San Francisco or Denver or whatever. I can still probably use some of the techniques that you used or look at some of the resources that you looked at.

TR:

Stacy is planning to produce some of these techniques in the form of both written and video blogs. However, she’s looking for input from other sources as well.

SC:

Right now when people write a review it is kind of like writing a review for Yelp. You’re submitting it just as a user to the site.
I do plan on having featured bloggers, featured video bloggers. Probably going to choose about 5 or 6. Two or three blind people who travel a lot who have Different preferences, different ideas of what they like.

TR:

That’s a recognition of the diversity among blind people when it comes to preferred types of travel.

Traveling to an all-inclusive resort to lay on a beach where some prefer visiting amusement parks, camp grounds versus those who prefer actively participating in the culture of a city or foreign destination.

SC:

There might be another blind person who says you know my family is on a budget , we don’t have a lot of income, how can I arrange a vacation for my family that is as cost effective as possible and maybe that’s their number one concern

. I want to have several bloggers to have a variety of different perspectives . Maybe some people who travel with long white canes. Others who travel with guide dogs.

I would also like to have a blog from a blind orientation and mobility instructor who can feature not so much destinations they visit but techniques they use. Such as here’s some techniques for traveling through an airport. Here’s some techniques for monitoring your kid when you’re at an amusement park or when you’re at any park at all.

TR:

One stipulation that comes with the $25,000 Holman Prize is that winners cannot pay themselves. While she believes in paying for content, she’ll be seeking volunteer contributors in the early phases of the site until funds can be generated.

Here’s Stacy with more about her project plan and budget.

SC:

We get the funding in October and that’s when we’ll begin working with the website developer and business analyst to actually develop the site.

SC:

The actual development of a high quality website that you can find on Google and allows people to create user names and passwords and has many message boards and has a lot of functionality costs about $16,000 to create.

SC:

Right now we’re kind of doing some focus groups talking to different blindness organizations. Finding out what the blind community wants and needs out of the website. Functionality and features they want it to have.

We’re hoping to have the site completed by the end of December and then starting at the beginning of next year we’ll really be doing outreach and trying to get the blind public interested in using this site because if people don’t post on the website then it won’t be anything. Like I tell people Napster wasn’t one guy’s CD collection. Yelp isn’t one person’s blog. It’s only a good resource if a lot of people post on it.

TR:

It’s important to remember that local travel, such as visiting a restaurant, museum or venue in your home town is just as important to the site as visiting a resort in the Caribbean.

SC:

If you go somewhere in New York City a concert, a restaurant, see a show or skydiving bowling whatever and you write a review then hey when I go to New York City I can say ok let me log onto the New York City board and see what blind people have done in New York City.

What did they find accessible? What did they find welcoming? How can I go enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a blind person? How can I go enjoy a Broadway show best has a blind person?

I think it will only be a good resource if everyone contributes to it.

TR:

So much of the project’s sustainability and success is relying on community adoption. It’s therefore vital to assure the site’s user interface is easily accessible. Not only for accessing the information but for contributions from the community in the form of reviews and ratings.

SC:

That’s kind of the biggest challenge. We only have $25,000.

More people will find a website but people will use an app more often. I think an app is easier to use.

I went to eat at a restaurant now I’m in the cab or the Uber on the ride home let me quickly get out my phone and open the app and leave a quick review and just let people know. There’s Braille menus but they hassled me about my guide dog or whatever. I think it’s easier for people to do that on an app. The problem is if you have a smart phone you can still use a website on Safari or another browser, but if you only have a computer you can’t necessarily use an app. And so we want it to be accessible to the greatest number of people.

If I could have my way I would love to develop an app, but they are more expensive and I don’t know that we have the funds to do that, but that is something I’d love to look into for the future..)

[TR in conversation with SC]
Well that could be phase 2 but the first part is yes a website because they would need to talk to each other and that’s the basic infrastructure for that, but let’s put that out there because you know there’s no reason someone might want to fund your app.

SC:
Exactly, if anybody wants a great idea for an app or wants to help on some app development definitely contact me I would love that. But definitely want to make the website so that it works very well with Voice Over and Safari and Android so. We’ll make the website with the understanding that a lot of people will be accessing it on their phones.

TR:

Lots of blind or low vision people can appreciate the need for such an app. It comes out of shared experiences.

When living in DC, Greg, Stacy’s husband planned a date for them.

SC:

When we were dating, so this was about 10 years ago, my husband had setup a private horseback riding lesson for us at a stable in Washington DC. We were so excited. It was a surprise it was going to be a fun romantic date and it was like all lovey dovey. Then we got there and they weren’t going to let us ride because we were blind. They didn’t let us on the horses and then they told us to come back the next day and they led our horses around like we were in pre-school.

TR:
Greg grew up horseback riding. Stacy too was more than familiar with stables and horses. Not only taking a class in college she had other experiences.

SC:

While I was growing up I also attended a horsemanship camp that focused on sort of more technique and learning to actually ride and how to saddle and bride a horse, basic dress size. Saddling and bridling a horse is easy to do non visually probably as it is visually. It’s just like getting dressed or dressing someone else or simply putting on equipment on an animal. Blind guide dog users do it all the time with a harness. It’s a bigger animal and it’s different equipment but if you can put a harness on your guide dog you can put a saddle and bridal on a horse.

I grew up riding horses for fun with family on trips and stuff that were usually just trail rides where you sat on the horse and you hold on and the horse just instinctively follows the horse in front of it and the person on the horse in front of me would just call out if there’s a tree branch or there was a need to duck. So that’s not too challenging.

Actually riding in a ring often I would use environmental queues. Like if there was a radio playing somewhere to orient myself, if the instructor was standing in a part of the ring….using the sun as a queue in outdoor arenas – the sun is on my left side right now… so I can orient myself to the ring.
In college I did it similar .

I certainly never competed or did anything like that but I have probably more experience than your average sighted person.

TR:
Following a negative experience like Stacy’s, for a person with a disability turning to mainstream sites like Yelp risks bringing out ;
trolls or antagonizers,
defenders or explainers of the offenders actions.

SC:

I probably would have gotten a bunch of people saying “Aww well, you know they were just trying to be safe and they didn’t know better.” I’m not going to bother posting this just to get all of these invalidating responses.

we wish that we could have had a place that we could have looked in advance to find a stable that was welcoming that other blind people perhaps rode at or had experiences at.

I didn’t want to be afraid every time Greg and I decided to go somewhere.

TR:
mainstream sites with little to no experience with disability can leave you open to lots of generalizations and advice.

Like the time Stacy was searching for information about accessibility of ports of call on a planned cruise.

SC:

When I would ask questions about disability stuff I would get well we went on a cruise last year with my 92 year old mother and she uses a scooter and here’s what worked for her.

My needs are totally different. Our physical abilities and disabilities are one hundred percent different than an elderly person who uses a scooter.

They might really enjoy a bus tour. That might be a great shore excursion for them. They can take a bus tour, see a lot of sights in the city and not need to walk far. Where for a blind person unless you have additional disabilities walking isn’t a challenge, but you don’t want to sit on a bus and look at stuff out the window because you’re not interacting with it. You’re not experiencing it. You’re not hearing the sounds of the city. You’re not tasting street food. Our needs were just totally different.

I wanted to find a place where blind people could go and get advice from people who understood what our access needs were.

TR:

Whether it’s a guide dog handler getting turned away at a restaurant or taxi or a cane traveler being grabbed under the guise of assistance, negative experiences while traveling are bound to happen.

Maybe if something like the Blind Travel Network were available, Stacy and Greg’s experience at the horse stable would have been different.

Stacy brought in a local chapter of the NFB to work with the horse riding stable to help them improve their policy.

SC:

we didn’t come there to educate people. It was humiliating and frustrating and just awful. That wasn’t what we wanted.

TR:
Simply put.

SC:
It sucked!

[TR in conversation with SC]
I almost see your site as becoming a real vehicle for advocacy.

SC:
Absolutely. What I would hope is that resort companies and cruise lines and tour operators such as Disney will see that ok look there is this site with hundreds or perhaps thousands of blind people on it who want to travel. Who have the money and time to travel. Who have the interest to travel. We need to market to them. We need to be accessible to them. They are a target audience. It’s not charitable to be accessible, it’s just good business sense. Here are people who would like to go somewhere on vacation and we want their money so we need to be accessible and we need to be welcoming and we need to be nondiscriminatory. I think hopefully just by having all of us in one place will hopefully help the travel industry see that we are a market.

TR:

The Blind Travel Network is not only a means to improve access but it’s also a resource for training and a potential source of motivation or encouragement for those new to vision loss.

SC:

A lot of it is just getting rid of the idea that like you can never get lost. That everyone else knows exactly where they’re going. A lot of it is just comfort, travel in public too.

TR:

To find out more or stay in touch with Stacy’s progress

SC:

You can find me on Twitter @Stacy.Cervenka. You can email me at Stacy.Ceervenka@gmail.com…

TR:

For some, aspiring towards an ambition similar to those of the Holman Prize contest can be daunting. It’s an exclusive prize awarded to those who can first dream up an idea or concept that challenges their own personal boundaries. Which I believe is one of the goals of the contest.

The ambitions are the exclusive property of the entrants and winners. Everyone else is invited to observe from afar and be inspired to channel their own inner explorer.

Stacy’, through the Blind Travel Network, is offering blind and low vision people a chance to be a part of her ambition. A chance to create a global network that is for us and by us. In fact, it’s early success is dependent on that.

Congratulations to Stacy Cervenka for winning the Holman prize. I’d say an honorable mention goes to blind and low vision people around the world for the win as well.

Stacy is prepared to do her part in developing the site and creating the content. Hopefully many in the community are prepared to roll up their sleeves and participate in the form of reviews, ratings, the sharing of tips and techniques and of course the site itself within their own network of people who are blind or low vision. After all, the community reaps the benefits. The improved access to spaces like, athletic and performance venues, restaurants and museums increases the visibility of blind and low vision people in the public. These more frequent interactions with the general public can help to eliminate the odd reactions and discrimination like that which Stacy and Greg experienced at the horse riding stable.

So I guess the question I pose to you is will the success of the Blind Travel Network happen, with or without you?

Audio: “With or Without You” U2

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

We’re just about done meeting all of the 2018 Holman Prize winners. Only one more left to go. I’m sure you’re looking forward to the next one but that being the last, I know how that makes you feel.

SC:
“It Sucked”

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio outro Music
Peace.

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2018 Holman Prize : Blind Empowerment in Mexico

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

2018 Holman Prize winner Maria Conchita Hernandez smiling at the camera

Once again, I had the pleasure of speaking with all of the three 2018 Holman Prize winners.

Beginning today, I’ll introduce you to each of the winners. You’ll get to know a bit about them and their plans for the $25K Holman Prize.

We’re then going to go back and catch up with the 2017 winners and hear about their progress and more.

First up, Maria Conchita Hernandez. Having had access to opportunity and information that helped her form a positive view of blindness and disability, she wants to pay it forward.

Remember, links mentioned in this episode are below as well as a transcript.

If you like what you hear, please subscribe to the podcast using your choice of podcast ap including Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio. Feel free to leave a review/rating if you’re an Apple Podcast listener.

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Transcript

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TR:

Audio: “More Peas”, The J.B’s

Greetings all and welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.

I’m your host, T.Reid

If you’re a regular listener, glad to have you back. You know where everything is so come on in and get comfortable. Allow me a moment to greet those who are here for the first time.

Ladies, Gentlemen.

Reid My Mind Radio is my space to bring you interviews with people with interesting stories to share more often about blindness or low vision. It’s also a place for me to share my own experiences with blindness as I move along this journey. As I continue to learn and grow I suspect you’ll see some of that reflected here both in the topics and in how they’re presented.

If you’ve been riding with me for at least the past year, you may recall that in 2017 I brought you interviews with the Holman Prize winners.

Not familiar with the Holman Prize? We’re about to get into that.
First, I encourage you to go back and listen to each of the 2017 episodes.

Today though, it’s all about the 2018 winners. I’ll bring you each of the three in a separate episode. So let’s get started with the first…right after my intro music.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro Theme

TR:

The San Francisco Lighthouse for the second year in a row, awarded a $25,000 Holman Prize to each of three individuals who in their own way demonstrate the adventurous spirit of James Holman.

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and how they would use the money.
A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and eventually selected three winners.

Born in 1786 James Holman a veteran of the British Royal Navy became blind at 25 years old after an illness.

After studying medicine and literature he became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe.

Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize recipient is Maria Conchita Hernandez.

Conchita:
When I was five years old my family decided to move to the United States. It was only supposed to be a temporary thing… go check it out.
I think my mom really saw the difference between kind of what we had available to us in terms of education but also medically wise. So we ended up staying and we became undocumented at that time when we decided to overstay our visa.

TR:
One of 5 children, both Conchita and her brother were eventually diagnosed with Optic Atrophy.

Conchita:
but I don’t think that’s actually what I have. I went to an Ophthalmologist like two years ago and he’s like yeh I don’t think that’s what you have.

I’m color blind, I do very bad with light, I don’t have depth perception so I definitely should have had a cane way before I did.

TR:

That awareness of her lack of blindness skills as a child Conchita would eventually come to understand. After not accepting large print, dealing with headaches resulting from reading standard print, she still graduated with a 3.4 GPA.

Conchita:
That’s why people were like you don’t need help You’re doing fine. The thing is I was struggling but because I was smart I could figure stuff out and I feel like that’s the same in college.

TR:

For many the time spent in college are considered formidable years shaping political views often for a lifetime.

Growing up in California, Conchita had an early start in activism.

Conchita:

So I went to public school. I grew up in California and I ended up graduating high school and going on to college.

I’ve always been into Civil Rights and advocacy. People are like oh what were you doing in high school I was organizing walk outs (laughs…) for immigration. That’s what I was doing, but I never really learned anything about disability or blindness or anything and I didn’t consider myself blind because there’s such a negative idea around it. My teachers never told me I was or anything, they were like oh you are visually impaired you can’t see very well. It was always like a focus on kind of seeing it as this deficit as opposed to something positive.

TR:
During her senior year at Saint Mary’s, a small liberal arts school in California, Conchita took a political science course.

Conchita:
My Professor was Blind. He was like oh ok so you are Blind and I was like no don’t confuse me with those people.

(Laughs along with TR)
He said you should really go to this conference and I was like no, I’m good. So one day he took me to his office and was like you’re going to go to this conference, I’m going to call them and they’re going to pay for you to go. And so he calls like the President of the NFB in California and was like there’s this young lady here and you’re going to pay for her to go. Get her everything and I was like alright I guess I have to go and I don’t even know who these people are. And so my first introduction to blindness in a positive light and to really the disability community was when in my senior year I went to a national NFB conference. And that is where I was just kind of blown away.

TR:

With such negative stereotypes around blindness, it’s common for those with residual sight to choose not to identify as blind. Often even encouraged.

Conchita:

My teachers always told me you know you’re so lucky cause at least you can see something. You know I had these very Ablest ideas what blindness was and disability and when I met all of these blind people I realized people that were totally blind were doing more stuff than what I was doing because I didn’t have the skills . I didn’t know how to travel independently. Up until that point I never went anywhere by myself. I traveled the world, I went abroad, but I was always with someone. I had this fear of going by myself because I wasn’t sure what I would do. In my mind what was wrong was that I couldn’t see not that I didn’t have the skills because I didn’t even know that was a thing.

TR:
That thing? A strong, positive view of what it means to be blind, to be disabled; not only would that become her thing, but it became the foundation for her Holman Ambition.

First, she enrolled in a blindness training program. She learned how to properly use the white cane, Braille, access technology

She knew then she wanted to give other blind children access to the information she didn’t receive.

Conchita:

I didn’t have good teachers of the blind who really should have showed me all of these things No one showed me Assistive Technology. Nobody showed me Braille because I saw too much, but yet I couldn’t function like everybody else.

I ended up going to this Master’s Program at Louisiana Tech and I got my Masters in teaching Blind students.

TR:

After working as a Rehab Counselor in Nebraska, Conchita moved to Washington DC where’s she’s been teaching blind students for over 6 years. She’s currently pursuing a doctorate in special education.

Conchita:

I also run a nonprofit on the side which is kind of where the Holman comes in. I started it three years ago with several friends who are also professionals in the blindness field.

TR:

That organization is called METAS. An acronym for Mentoring, Engaging and Teaching All Students.

The organization was formed after founding member Garrick Scott received an invitation to serve as a mentor at a school for blind children in Guadalajara. Not being a Spanish speaker, he invited his friend Conchita to join him.

Conchita:

I was like alright if we’re going we’re going to have a curriculum. We’re going to have workshops we’re going to set it up organized , we’re not just going to randomly go on a trip. So we ended up building a curriculum, building these classes.

TR:

Two other colleagues; Sachin Pavithran and Richie Flores joined Conchita and Garrick to form the organization.

Conchita:
We’re training the teachers on how to work with blind students because there is no certification for teachers. It’s mostly physical therapists, or occupational therapists or just people who were like I just wanted to help people. So they don’t really have a background in education of blind students.

Conchita:
after we went to Mexico we decided we need to be a nonprofit so that we can ask for money and we can make this something sustainable. So three years ago we did this and we’re all blind, we’re all professionals in the blindness field we’re all people of color and we’re all really passionate about what we do

Audio Conchita Holman Prize Submission

TR:

Continuing to build on that passion, Conchita submitted her proposal to create a conference in Mexico providing training and informational workshops for people impacted by blindness.

Conchita:

Anybody who is blind, parents of blind children and professionals in the field.

The goal is to bring people together and organize. . I believe organizing people together and having them advocate for their rights and advocating for what they want makes the world of difference. And that’s what changed in the United States. The reason we have the laws we have, we’re not special, we’re not more advanced than any other country even though people think we are. We’re not smarter. It just so happened that the right people were in the right places at the right time .

I think organizing the Blind in Mexico so that they can see this positive idea of blindness and having parents see this positive idea is going to really transform them being able to advocate for themselves

We’re going to be providing workshops from Orientation and Mobility, to Braille to Advocacy to parents of Blind children. Recognizing the situation is different in Mexico than it is in the United States, But power of people together in one place advocating for their rights can be a really powerful thing.

TR:
In Mexico, poverty and policy are some reasons that account for the differences in the lack of education among children who are blind. Conchita once described a blind child’s options as a choice between a beggar or living with their family for the duration of their lives.

Conchita:

60 percent of the kids who are blind or low vision have zero education. That’s not even to the 6th grade.

In the United States we have IDEA which says public school has to take you and has to provide accommodations . You have a right to a free and appropriate public education. That doesn’t exist in Mexico. A public school can tell you I’m sorry but we don’t know how to help you we don’t know how to educate you.

So you don’t have access to public education.

The only state run school for the blind is in Mexico City and the others are privately run which means they charge some type of tuition. The school we work at in Guadalajara, they go up to 6th grade. It’s kind of like a boarding school or kids can go there just for the day.

The thing is there’s nothing after 6th grade.

you can go up until free public education in 12th grade but you have to buy your books in all public schools even kindergarten, you have to buy your uniforms, you have to buy your lunch. So parents make the choice well do we have enough to pay for that or should you start working. So it ends up being are we going to pay for 6 more years of books uniforms or lunches really any school supply or are you going to go to work. Many times the kids decide on their own , I’m going to go to work because I’m going to support my family.

The good thing is there’s a lot of family support. But it ends up being the family taking care of them as opposed to them living independently. The people who live independently are few and far in between.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Wow!

I inherently believe that people should have access to information, access to resources no matter where they live.

TR:

Conchita and her METAS team have already seen examples of the success their curriculum can have.

Conchita:

We hosted this workshop in McAllen Texas which is in the Rio Grande Valley where we worked with 16 blind adults and their families who are Spanish speakers. And so they learned, many of them for the first time, how to use a cane, how to do Braille, technology and daily living skills. And then we had workshops for the families. We had an activity where we asked them what are your fears and expectations and dreams for your family member. And it was a lot of fears and kind of what are they going to do when we’re not here and how are they going to be able to do such and such. By the end of the workshop it was just amazing to see how excited they were. They were saying now we want to know how we can support them in being independent and how can we help them reach their goals. We know they’re going to be fine because we met these great blind people.

TR:
Some things to consider when planning this conference? Organizing from outside of the country’s borders is just one.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are there going to be some challenges to kind of get everyone in one room? Just financial challenges?

Conchita:

Yeh definitely. I think that’s going to be the biggest barrier.

So with Part of the money we’re offering scholarships to people so they can travel there.

We’re trying to make connections with organizations that can serve as sponsors that can also provide financing for people in their state. Different states have different policy. So for example The state is Jalisco and the city is Guadalajara, they have an Office of Disability that’s a state level position. So they have money and grants that we’re planning on applying to also help pay for this. But also having the blind people from the different places apply to those grants and in those entities and also try to get companies to sponsor in order to make that feasible. That is going to be the biggest challenge.

the goal is 200 people .

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
Are you familiar with the political structure there in Mexico?

Conchita:
There’s so many layers. Mexico just had a presidential election and the left wing government won. That can be a positive for disability. In Latin America historically the more left leaning countries have done disability laws.

TR:

While the Holman Prize is specifically to assist with bringing this project to fruition, the real goal with any sort of movement is sustainability.

Conchita:

So I see this as being the beginning of something annual and having it be whatever the people there want it to be. Having them have the buy in that they will be the ones to do most of the organizing for the next time and they will be the ones who are like this is what we need and this is how we want to do it. So definitely having it be an annual thing but being run more locally as opposed to me who is in a different country.

Even though I am Mexican, even though I understand the situation, that is not my reality and so being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do , I think that’s really important.

TR:

The conference will be held in Guadalajara Mexico tentatively scheduled for July 26 through the 29th 2019.

Conchita is also a founding member of the Coalition of Latinx’s with Disabilities. This advocacy organization consists of individuals with disabilities from throughout the Latino diaspora. They work on issues including immigration.

Conchita:

There was a guy who was Deaf who was in a detention center being held by ICE and so we did a lot of advocacy on his behalf. He didn’t have an interpreter. He knew home sign, that his family invented. He didn’t have formal sign language from the states or from the country he was coming from. So he had no way of communicating with anybody except his sister and that was denied to him while he was in detention. So we really advocated for his release and for him getting accommodations. So he was eventually released.

I think more than anything it’s just disability is a whole different world in the Latin X community. There’s a lot of stereotype and it’s just a different history. So just finding a group of individuals who kind of are proud of being disabled and who also have Latinx backgrounds who can share this and advocate for each other.

A lot of people ask me this. They say do you think Latinx’s have a more negative idea of disability? And what I say is we just don’t have access to information. So the fact that I had to go to college to find out about this is an injustice because the majority of people who are big disability rights advocates are white, wealthy, college educated.

and so there was a hash tag, I don’t know if that was a couple of years ago, that was disability too white.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]
too white, yeh, yeh!
Conchita:
If you come from a working poor background you’re not going to go to college panels about disability.

When we talk about the history of the disability rights movement in the United States we leave out all of the people of color who were there and they never get highlighted

When the disability rights movement was happening in California and they were organizing and protesting at the capital, The Black panthers were the ones providing food and there were a lot of disability rights advocates who were teaching the Black panthers how to organize. There was just so much collaboration and that really gets left out of the conversation about the ADA and how it came about and you see a lot of white faces. I think a reason why the ADA was passed under the Republican leadership was because they painted it as a white issue . The people signing were white. I mean those people are also really amazing people and I’m friends with some of them. There really amazing but we always leave out the people of color that were just as much doing as much work as anybody else, but we don’t hear about them as much.

[TR in conversation with Conchita]

Why should disability be different from the rest of society, right? (Laughs…)

Conchita:
Yeh, exactly! (Laugh)

TR:

It’s pretty clear to see that Conchita is an educator at heart. Her own experiences are guiding her desire to share the knowledge about blindness and disability that she wishes she could have gained earlier in life.

She can’t change when she received the information, but she’s doing everything possible to pass along her message.

Conchita:

blindness doesn’t have to be as detrimental as we make it out to be. What tools can you use as a blind person to do x, y and z. As a parent of a blind child what kind of expectations should you be setting for your child and it’s something as easy as make your blind child do chores, don’t let them sit back while everybody else does. There’s ways to have them do it. Have them do the same things their siblings do. Something so simple can really make a huge difference.

TR:
Congratulations to Conchita and METAS. Looking forward to hearing good things about your efforts in Mexico and other projects in the future.

If you want to follow their progress or learn more you can visit www.MetasInternational.org. The site contains a link to their Facebook page which Conchita says is more frequently updated.

You can find the National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities
www.latinxdisabilitycoalition.com/

Of course we’ll have links on Reid My Mind.com.

TR: Gatewave
This is Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio. Audio for independent living.

TR: Close

It’s probably no coincidence that James Holman’s adventures began after his education. That curiosity pushing him to seek out more real life experiences.

Our first 2018 Holman Prize winner featured today has a similar sequence. However, her mission is pretty specific. Empower other blind people who have little opportunities to improve their own lives by organizing with others who are blind.

Next time I’ll bring you the second of three 2018 Holman prize winners. Then we’re going to reach back out to our 2017 winners and Reid My Mind Radio alumni…

Penny Melville Brown of Baking Blind

Ahmet Ustenel AKA The Blind Captain

Ojok Simon, The Bee Keeper & Honey Farmer!

We’ll hear about what worked with their plans and what sort of adjustments were required. And of course lessons learned.

If there’s one lesson I want Reid My Mind Radio listeners to learn; that would be , how to subscribe to this podcast.

Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher or Tune In Radio. Of course, whatever podcast app you use, you can find it there by search for Reid My Mind Radio. Just remember, that’s R to the E I D!

Each episode lives on the blog, ReidMyMind.com where I include links to any resources and a transcript.

Conchita:

Being very careful about not telling people what to do but rather giving them the resources and information and letting them decide what they want to do.

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

TR:

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Reid My Mind Radio – Getting Back

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

I didn’t plan to take a break from the podcast, but life happens. I’ll tell you more about that in this episode plus, an update on a RMM Radio Alumni. Finally, a taste of my new podcast with my co host Doctor Dre from MTV, Hot 97 & more.

Resources:

Transcript:

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up RMMRadio?

This is a different sort of episode.

I wanted to take a little time to give an update on a few things podcast related – which includes some personal updates.

But this is an episode so let’s get it started properly.

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]

Audio from RMMR Episode featuring Penny Melville – brown
If you’ve been listening to RMM Radio for a little while you hopefully remember, Penny Melville Brown one of the three Holman Prize winners featured here on the podcast in 2017.

She’s the host of Baking Blind. As the winner, she was in the midst of her world tour where she’s cooking with different people in various countries.

Right now I want to ask you all to join me in sending support and get well wishes to Penny who was in a car accident in France. The injuries were pretty severe – enough where she was put into an induced coma for 5 weeks.

[Audio from Penny’s YouTube Channel]

The link to her YouTube video explaining the accident and her latest challenge is on Reid My Mind.com or go on over to Baking Blind in YouTube.

Please give it a watch and send her a tweet or email wishing her well.

Penny, you go ahead do what you do and get better soon! For those who heard your story here on the podcast, they know a bit about your determination and there’s no doubt in my mind at least, you have what it takes to recover from this accident.

In fact I can hear you now…
[Audio from episode – Penny saying “I can do that!”]

Take your time and get well. We need you out there doing your work… Baking Blind!

And you know what I want to hear from you right?

[Audio from episode, Penny laughing]

It’s good to be back recording this podcast.

In fact, that’s the reason I was away… my back!

For the past couple of years I’ve been dealing with a herniated disk. It was becoming more and more debilitating. I found myself spending way too much time in bed because it was too painful to sit and stand. The bed was a very limited source of relief.

I tried, but it’s really challenging to be productive in bed.

You know what I mean! I’m talking about producing audio, writing …

I was nervous yawl! I didn’t want to get surgery but I didn’t want to spend more time in pain not getting anything done.

Well, I bit the bullet and had laser surgery…

[James Brown, “I Feel Good”]]

I have some more recuperating to do but so far I think I’ll be putting on my dancing shoes sooner than even I thought.

I have more Reid My Mind Radio coming up soon.

[Audio from 2BlindMic … Intro]

In addition, I have a new weekly podcast. This time I have a partner. Doctor Dre. Dre. Dre and I met when I interviewed him last year about his experience with vision loss following complications of Diabetes.

Our podcast is called 2BlindMics.

that’s the number 2BlindMics

Check out what we call a 2Byte – a little taste of an episode…

This one is featuring Rodney Carter former NFL running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
we call the full episode first and 10.

[2BlindMIcs…]

Go ahead and subscribe to the podcast.
It’s now available on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher and Tune In.

Remember that’s the number 2 BlindMics

Now, I’ve been sitting too long and need to walk around and stretch this back and these legs… I have some dancing to do!

[RMMRadio Outro]
Peace

Hide the transcript

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

Wednesday, September 27th, 2017

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

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

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

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up RMMRadio Family…

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

Let’s get it! All aboard!
All Aboard!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

I’m also a Retinoblastoma survivor Sir.

Ahmet:
Man, yeh, wow!

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

Ahmet:

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

TR:

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

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

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

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

Ahmet:

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

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

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

But his early life exposed him to more than academics

Ahmet:

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

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

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

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

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

Ahmet:

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

[Audio from Ahmet’s Ambition]

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

[Ahmet in Video……]

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

TR:
His mission…

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with the Kayak

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

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

TR:

No surprise here the technology includes an iPhone.
Ahmet:

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

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

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

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

Is that a separate device or is that an app?

Ahmet:

It’s a separate devise.

I will also have parking sensors or security cameras sensors.

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

Ahmet:

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

I have a depth whisperer.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

D E P T H?.

Ahmet:
Yes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

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

Ahmet:
Laughs… I hope not!

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

TR:

Ahmet does have to prepare for all scenarios.

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

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

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

Marty:

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

TR:
Marty created a device that simply put:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ahmet:

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

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

Ahmet:

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

Why are you doing this man?

Ahmet:

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

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

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

[Audio in flashback Ahmet]

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

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

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

Ahmet:

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Ahmet]

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

audio for independent living!

[Audio: Grand Funk Railroad… The Captain]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marty:
Helping people…

[TR in conversation with Marty]

Yes!

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

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Reid My Mind Radio – Meet Holman Prize Winner Baking Blind

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Penny of Baking Blind in her garden.

Penny of Baking Blind, in the kitchen.
What would you do with 25 G’s?

That question was posed to all legally blind people brave enough to submit their video to YouTube explaining exactly how they would use the money. It’s a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Lighthouse called The Holman Prize.
Today in this 3 part series you will meet the winners and learn the answers to…

  • Who is Holman?
  • Who is Penny Melville-Brown? * What is Baking Blind?

I got the answers… just hit play and hear how this winner is bringing “more than buns!”

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:
What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Today I’m bringing you the first of a three part series. And you know what they say about three right…

[Reid My Mind Radio Theme]
TR:
You’ve probably heard of well-known explorers like Magellan, Columbus, Marco Polo? What about Holman; James Holman.

Born in 1786 Holman went on to join the British Royal Navy and became lieutenant in 1807. In 1810he was struck by an illness that first afflicted his joints, then finally his vision.

By 25 years old he was totally blind. He eventually decided to go on to study medicine and literature.

Holman became an adventurer, author and social observer who circumnavigated the globe. Undertaking a series of solo journeys that were unprecedented visiting all inhabited continents.

Holman eventually was forgotten.

In 2006, Jason Roberts published the award winning biography
A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.  

Today is the first in a three part series where we meet the three winners of the Holman Prize.

Brought to you by the San Francisco Lighthouse, 25,000 dollars is given to each of the three legally blind winners. Each in their own way exhibit the adventurous spirit and attitude of James Holman

All applicants had to create a 90 second video describing their ambition and describe how they would use the money.

A team of judges all of whom are blind reviewed each video and selected three winners.

Let’s begin with one winner in particular, who you will notice, has several things in common with James Holman. Plus, I was taught, ladies first!

PMB:

Well I’m Penny Mellville-Brown and I live in Hampshire in the United Kingdom. My first career was in the Royal Navy.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Why did you want to enlist in the Royal Navy in the first place?

PMB:
I needed a complete change of life.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
What were you doing prior to that?

PMB:

Well I was at university so I completed my degree. I done a postgraduate qualification. I was due to get married the following year and my fiancé was killed in a car accident so I decided that I needed a complete change.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh, I’m so sorry!

PMB:
I applied for every job that was going that looked vaguely interesting and I ended up in the Royal Navy. think in those days the women had their own service so I actually joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service WRNS) and twenty seventeen is the Centenary of their formation.

in the late ninety’s the women were integrated with the men so although I started off as a third officer which is the same as a sub left tenant, by the time I left I was wearing navy gold braid and had naval rank. I was what was in those days called the secretariat officer so I was doing NATO intelligence. I was doing home defense war planning, corporate public relations in the Ministry of Defense. Running the naval units in the universities and then I literally sat next to somebody at lunch and they said. “OH what we need is a female barrister.” I said, “I could do that.”

TR:
A barrister is a lawyer- mostly specializing in courtroom advocacy and litigation.

The US equivalent;

PMB:
Think of me as Tom Cruise…

[Audio: A Few Good Men Starring Tom Cruise & Jack Nicholson]

PMB:
Laughs, But not too much!

and then within about a year of qualifying my eyesight started deteriorating. I struggled on for about a year or two and went on to do another job. And then it all got pretty critical and I was having to lose the sight in one eye or actually I was going to die so I gave up that I. Went back to work in the Royal Navy and then the other eye started going and then I got promoted but by that stage I probably wasn’t driving. I used to be on one of those great big old tri-cycles. Do you know what those are? You know a three wheeler bike and that’s how I used to I used to cycle around the dockyard the naval base, terrifying everybody.

In the end it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to carry on a really successful career in the Navy so I was medically discharged as a war pensioner

## TR:
Penny’s vision loss was caused by Uveitis, a form of eye inflammation affecting the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall known as the uvea.

Possibly another connection to James Holman.

One similar trait that appears pretty certain

PMB:
OH! I Can do that!

TR:
That’s right! A can do attitude.

Her response to going blind?

PMB:
I think I was really lucky.

Firstly because the onset of my vision impairment took probably four or five years. That meant that I could adapt to it to some extent. I think it’s really difficult to do the adaptation. At least I had a bit more time rather than having some major injury which of course some of the naval veterans and other veterans have but I think so important was that I was able to work in the Royal Navy for probably three or more years with
very little vision and that proved to me that I could still do as good a job as anyone else. Just because I was blind was completely immaterial.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Did that take some advocacy on your part or were they just open to that?

PMB:
They were pretty supportive.

You will hear that I’m quite a determined person

[TR in conversation with PMB]
Oh yeh, I can hear that already!

TR & PMB:Laughs!

## TR:
Although Penny knew she could work and be productive and
sought assistance in planning for her future,
service organizations weren’t as helpful as expected.

PMB:
They didn’t know what to do with me. One just kept taking me out for lunch which was very charming but pretty useless.

TR:
A can do attitude means,
you find or create the solution.

Penny decided helping others with disabilities gain employment
was a worthwhile goal that she could work towards fulfilling.

PMB:so actually I took my uniform off one day and two days later I set myself up as a disability consultant and within a year I’d set up Disability Dynamics.

So I spent lots of time helping employers with employment policies around disability.

TR:
Serving on boards like the UK’s equivalent of the IRS and working with other governmental agencies was one aspect of Disability Dynamics, Penny’s disability consulting company.

Working directly with people with disabilities, Penny found real joy and success helping others gain their independence.

PMB:
One of the things I found most successful and most rewarding was helping people to start their own businesses and become self-employed. It means that they’re in control of their work where they work how they work when they work so that they can manage employment alongside a health condition. We had you know hundreds and hundreds of people contacting us for help and turned out lots and lots of businesses everything from a funeral director, people who did dog walking, somebody was training microlight pilots all sorts of things. Really inventive different ideas often built from their own hobbies that they turned into a
business that made them feel great again; independent, financially not reliant on the state and usually improve their health and it particularly improved their family relationships.

PMB:

TR:
Seeking a way to reach more people. Penny began with an idea sparked from something she enjoyed.

PMB:
I always make Christmas hampers for my friends and family.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
A hamper to me is where we put dirty clothes! Laughs!

PMB:
Here we would call that a dirty linen basket.

TR:
A hamper simply put, is a gift of food.

PMB:
I was making at least fifty little Christmas cakes to go into these hampers and I thought well why don’t we video that. And just see whether this has got any legs whatsoever. My brother had some spare time so he came up and videoed it and I’d made some little Pewter Christmas cake decorations, so we popped those on the top and that’s how Baking Blind got started.

TR:
This was late November early December 2016.
Posting the videos to YouTube, Penny’s aspirations were more than sharing recipes.
PMB:
I was looking for something to demonstrate to others that just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t do stuff.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Let me stop you…

PMB:
Sure.

Me sitting on the board well perhaps twelve other people see that. Me delivering projects well perhaps five hundred people might know that. Yes, thank you for spotting that. That is, that is what it’s about. It’s getting real traction in the much wider population.

TR:
Putting yourself in the public can risk being seen as seeking attention.

Penny is very clear to note that this isn’t about her. She’s only 1 person who is blind, 1 person with a disability.

PMB:
there are loads more of us with all those capabilities who just want to do a good job, integrate into society, have a place in their communities rather than sit at home and be lonely and miserable.

TR:
That’s one of the objectives of the Holman Prize; challenging the misperception that people who are blind are limited to four walls.

Contestants vying for the 25,000 prize had a wide range of goals including establishing businesses, providing technology for others and even becoming president of their country.

PMB:
And there was me just saying Oh I think I want to cook some buns you know.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
But it’s so much more than buns! How exactly are you going to fulfill your mission using the Holman Prize.

[Audio: Up tempo music begins…]

PMB:
I’m going out to San Francisco to have an orientation with the lighthouse team and then we’re trying to line up some cooking opportunities while I’m in
San Francisco.

I’m then going to whiz down to Costa Rica where I’m cooking in it’s called the Jungle Culinary Adventure Restaurant and we’re toying with
the idea of whether we could do dining in the dark down there. And I said well actually I think he I want him cooking in the dark.

Then I’m going back to Virginia Beach and I particularly welcome anybody in the Virginia Beach area to get in touch who might like to do some cooking with me. They don’t have to be blind it could be anybody. And I’m looking for professional chefs to.

then I’m coming quickly back to the U.K. really just to do
the washing and catch up on some sleep.
Then I’m whizzing over to Chongqing, n China where I’m going to be working with the Rotary Club there who are already running a project to help local visually impaired people.

Then I’m going down to Australia to a place called Chioma where I’m hoping to cook with a local M.P. who happens to be visually impaired. And there’s also somebody who does bush tucker; So when you’re out in the outback where do you get
food from but from the bush and then you turn that into something my fingers are crossed edible. Not too wriggly and creepy crawly.

Then I’m going down to Melbourne and I’m already linking up with another Blind Cook down there.

Then I’m going on from there to Malawi and then back to the U.K.

And then I’ve got a whole program of more activities back in the U.K. particularly exploring some of the things that James Holman and might have understood and recognized. Because of course I worked in the Naval Base, the dockyard and many of the buildings he might have known. His ship was just on the other side of the water Portsmouth here in Hampshire.

We’re going to make videos all the way through. So I’m hoping to publish a video every week for a year. And they’ll be blogs and of course all the recipes.

TR:
What would you do with 25,000 dollars?
I’m sure there are lots of ideas out there, but
ideas aren’t worth anything by themselves.

I’d imagine that , contestant’s ideas were only a part of how the winners were determined.

I think it’s more like investing in the person. You want someone who can show the ability to see things through.

[TR in conversation with PMB]

A lot of people have the idea , but then they don’t make that step. How did you make the step?

PMB:
I did say I was a bit determined didn’t I.

But I think I’m also quite a creative person so I’m always looking for that sort of added different approach

TR:
Cooking is just one of Penny’s creative outlets;

In addition to making jams and preserves, she does pottery, flower arrangements. Hammers out crafts and more using Pewter –
a metal mixture that includes mainly tin.

PMB:
I design buildings as well. I’m sitting in my conservatory which I built as a birthday present to myself. I had it very clear in my head what I wanted and I have this great architect. We designed it absolutely right down to where the power sockets would go on the walls from my head. Then he built me a little cardboard model so I could check that he done it right and now I’m sitting in it.

Just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t use your hands really
well.

TR:
Or your legs, your mind… you get the point!
Unfortunately, not everyone believes that’s true.

And too often those who lose their vision internalize these misbeliefs.

Yes, adjusting to blindness or any disability can cause depression. This could lead someone to feel their creative lives are no longer an option.

Penny offers additional insight and an approach to slowly breaking through.

PMB:

Much more of it is about the social isolation. The fact they can’t work. They’re sitting at home, they’re poorer, their health is suffering with that extra depression.

Their family and friends may be supportive but they still find it really difficult interacting across the broader community. yet underpinning all of that here is huge frustration determination motivation and if you can just tap into that and help them explore that, they’re away. And so I think people can convince themselves that they’re not creative the not. Aspirational because it’s a safe place to be. But actually once you can show them that you can achieve lots of things without risking safety too much you know we all need to know that you know life is a secure as we can make it. That all sorts of great things
are out there.
[TR in conversation with PMB]

That place to me, where I think they think they are, is a very scary place to me.

PMB:
Well status quo bias is where you believe that where the condition that you’re in at the moment is safe and secure even though that condition may be quite miserable.
And even if people demonstrate to you the benefits of making change you still resist it because you have that bias towards the status quo.

Here in the U.K. if you’re unemployed you may be in receipt of government benefits to help you live and people. feel that that safe and secure because at least they know they’ve got some income for the foreseeable future. And to break through that. Into it explain to the matter if you’ve got a job you’d be happier if family be happier your health would be better and have more money. It’s still getting across that big jump. Which is quite tricky for them and so the answer is you take in very small steps very small incremental steps so that at no stage are they having to make a huge decision to make that break from benefits into work. You help them make it gradually so that they’re not being faced with huge risk. The driving force behind I’m going to stick where I know I’m safe is very important but let’s just expand that area of safety so that it’s a bit more ambitious in the longer term.

[TR in conversation with PMB:]
Yeh, just dip the toe… dip the toe in the water!

PMB:
Yeah

TR:

That moderate approach to adjusting can allow a person to slowly realize what they once viewed as a cost of vision loss could
prove to be a real benefit. Something I had to learn myself.

PMB:
people miss that huge advantage of being slightly vulnerable relying on somebody else and the benefit you get out of it. The number of delightful people that I meet and the bonding you get supportive bonding you know it’s a joy. I travel down perhaps I’m Darbyshire and they’ll be eight people that I will meet on that journey all of the other people traveling just passed their ticket to the ticket collector and don’t speak to anyone. I’ve had all that delight in that person interaction all that way.

[TR in conversation with PMB]
For me I know for a long time I was thinking that the first way, just passing my ticket and being quiet was the best way. And I have to remind myself that no this new way actually probably is the best way.

PMB:
the benefits are huge.

TR:
Baking Blind is a winner of the Holman Prize because Penny as a history of making things happen. That’s just one reason to be a fan of Penny & Baking Blind. Plus there’s that ability to adapt, the desire to create using what she has not wanting for what was lost, going for big goals like changing how the public views disability.

And of course the laugh!

If you’re interested in cooking with Penny go ahead and drop her an email at Penny@BakingBlind.com. Which is where you can find more about Penny, follow her journey and of course grab some recipes.

I’m Thomas Reid for Gatewave Radio

[Audio:
PMB: oh I could do that.]

Audio for independent living.

RMMRadio Outro

When I learned about the Holman Prize I actually
thought about entering. the truth is I really didn’t have an independent ambition. I wanted to tell the stories of the winners.
I wanted to have real access to the winners to shadow their progress and really see the inner workings of their projects and
them as individuals.

But who knows, maybe the future has something like that in store.
For now, I have Face Time, I have Skype and if that’s what I have to do then it’s all good baby!
Isn’t that the Holman spirit!

Penny, like Holman, could have easily taken that Royal Navy Pension and sat in her chair and found some other way to entertain herself.

Like Penny, my response to that…

[Audio: Penny Laughs]

Sorry it’s just such a great hearty laugh I couldn’t resist.

Make sure you visit and subscribe to Baking Blind on YouTube.
All the links are on the blog post accompanying this episode on Reid My Mind.com.

Next time you are going to hear about
a man who is planning on Kayaking alone from Europe to Asia. And no he’s not crazy!

And then, we’re going to Uganda, well via Skype for now
to visit with a gentleman who already has the country buzzing with
how he’s directly changing the lives of others who are blind.

Make sure you subscribe to this podcast so you don’t miss these episodes.

Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitcher, Tune In Radio, Sound Cloud!

And if you like what you hear on the RMMRadio, give a brother some love by leaving a review wherever you download the show … especially Apple Podcast.

You know they say, Podcasters need love too!

Peace

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