Posts Tagged ‘Holman Prize’

Taking A Ride with Planes Trains and Canes

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020

A logo features a square with  a black plane flying over it and a black train coming out of the globe. In white lettering at the top reads Planes Trains and Canes.

2019 Holman Prize winner, Dr. Mona Minkara along with her production team from Planes Trains & Canes. join me to talk about the documentary series. The show which is available on YouTube follows Mona as she travels alone to five different cities around the world using only public transportation.

The series highlights many of the challenges those with vision loss experience on a daily basis. If you pay close attention you even learn some useful skills for managing these experiences. For Mona the trip was about independence, freedom and more.

The captain has turned on the fasten seatbelts sign so hit play and get ready for take off!

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Transcript

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TR:
Hey Y’all.

I try to produce this podcast several weeks in advance of the release. I don’t always have as much lead time as I’d like.
In this particular case, I did.

With the latest police murder of George Floyd and the world wide protest that followed, I don’t feel comfortable releasing an episode without acknowledging this senseless and shameful killing.

I love producing this podcast and I truly think what you’re about to hear is a great episode,
but as a Black man I can’t help but feel like my focus should be on fighting for change. Truth is though, it’s not just Black people who should be fighting.
It’s all of our responsibility and if I’m being honest, I think the burden should be less on the Black community.
If you have the urge to inform me that there are white people fighting, please don’t. I know that. I’d ask you to consider your own role as I’m trying to figure out mine.

Not acknowledging the pain just felt like it would add even more.

Rest in Peace & Power to Mr. George Floyd and the rest of those murdered by the Police.

Thank you Reid My Mind Radio Family and I hope you understand why that was necessary.

Now, let’s shift gears and get into what I think is a goodie!

Audio: Sounds of airport fades into the inside of a plane.

From the planes PA System…
Flight Attendant:

Good day passengers.
Welcome aboard flight 99 to a better place!

Inflight service will be coming around soon with snacks!
In the meantime, please sit back, relax and enjoy your trip.
We now have a message from the captain.

From the planes PA System:

Music begins…

TR:

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio Family!

Welcome aboard the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of vision loss from low vision to total blindness.

Every now and then, when inspired, I bring you stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult.

My name is Thomas Reid and I’m not only your pilot, but I’m traveling on this journey with you.

Now if you are new to blindness and have some reservations about this flight I can tell you the ground control has approved us for takeoff. the forecasts a mix of clear skies with some possible thunderstorms. We are expected to hit a bit of turbulence along the way, but don’t worry, I got you!

Wheels up baby, let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Intro

TR:

In 2017 & 18 , this podcast featured profiles of each of the Holman Prize winners. If you haven’t checked out those episodes I definitely want to encourage you to go back and give them a listen.

While I decided not to produce Holman prize episodes in 2019, early this year, I came across one of the 2019 winners, Dr. Mona Minkara. She’s a Bio Engineering professor at North Eastern University and the host and producer of Planes, Trains and Canes.

MM:

Which is a documentary series on YouTube showing me traveling to five different cities around the world and using only public transportation on my own.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So the first show that I started to watch, that was your first one when you were headed out of Boston to and going to South Africa. I’m trying to figure out, what is this feeling that I have. I said wow, I think this is a little anxiety. I’m like wow, this is good though, this is really good.

My podcast, I really like to reach out to those who are adjusting to being Blind. That’s my target audience. And so I’m thinking they’re going to feel what I feel but for different reasons. I travel independently, not necessarily like you’re doing. I’m watching because I thought about doing some of the things you’re doing where you’re walking through an airport and not getting the guide and I’m like wow this is exactly how I thought I would do it but I wasn’t sure if there was a different way. People who are new to blindness need to see it because I think some of the stuff like the constant questioning that you’re doing, the constant asking and figuring it out, people need to know that that is ok. And I love that!
So that’s why I contacted you.

MM:

That so awesome to hear you say that, so awesome because I’m going to be honest with you, I feel like this project actually even pushed me even more than I normally push myself. I would have never risked on my own a two hour layover in Atlanta going by myself to the gate. I would have never risked that on my own. But I did for the sake of this project. Like uh, we’ll see what happens.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Oh my god, I’m so glad you said that because people need to know that. people definitely need to know that

MM:

I completely agree. And then what’s the worst thing that could happen. I think what’s really important to discuss with something like this is being flexible. I was willing and ok and at peace with getting lost. I told myself Mona it’s ok if I get lost, it’s ok if it takes me like three hours … it’s ok!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

The other thing that I like about what you’re doing and we’re going to get in to the questions in just a second but…

TR:

Ok, fine, I was excited! I don’t usually include me geeking out over my guests but it definitely happens.
I knew this would be a comfortable conversation from the start.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

How are you doing Mona?

MM:

Good, how are you Thomas?

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Good, I’m good. Do you prefer Dr. Minkara? My bad.

MM:

No, no not at all. I’ve been told I probably should but no!

TR:

I’m not really into formalities, but I realize she earned that PHD and. When she’s on that campus, at those conferences put some respect on her name! Especially considering the early advice given to her mother when learning Mona would be Blind.

MM:

I had a doctor tell my mom that it wasn’t going to be worth spending a penny on my education. The bright future that I had was over with that sentence. But it wasn’t. (laughs) My life is great! (Laughs)

TR:

From an early age, Mona was interested in pursuing science and knew she wanted to be a professor.

Audio: Magic School Bus/Bill Nye

MM:

even though a lot of times I got people discouraging me because it wasn’t very practical for a Blind person to be a scientist.
I’m probably a scientist because of Magic School Bus and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Shout out to Bill Nye!

MM:

Yes! I am a PBS Kid!

Audio: PBS Kid

I think a part of who I am is I truly just follow my passion and I really value freedom and independence. That kind of carried over to Planes Trains & Canes because it was the ultimate test of my independence to allow me to have my freedom.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What came first, was it the Holman prize or was this a dream to kind of do this?

MM:

That’s as good question a very good question. I was a judge for the first year of Holman Prize. I remember going out there and helping to judge the applicant pool and being taken by this concept. Even the story of James Holman and why these people were applying.

TR:

James Holman AKA, the Blind traveler, completed a series of solo journeys taking him to all inhabited continents.
The competition is 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

Following that first year, Mona had a thought.

MM:

I’d like to apply one day. What is it that I like to do? I realized, I really love public transportation.

Public transportation is a tool that is under appreciated by a lot of people but it’s a tool for me that really gives me freedom.

TR:

Currently living in Boston, the third city where she’s lived on her own as an adult. Each of these cities having a completely different public transportation system.

MM:

And then it just clicked, the concept for Planes Trains and Canes. Traveling on my own using public transportation.

TR:

In addition, she sought out cities on different continents which meant diverse cultures.

MM:

I didn’t have a deeply scientific method other than I also wanted to go to cities that I didn’t speak the language. It’s another barrier right. You feel like you might be more lost in an non English speaking place.
It was fascinating, you can see in my upcoming episode for Istanbul, you don’t really need the language. It was mind blowing for me to realize how easy it was to still navigate in a city like Istanbul or Tokyo.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Laughs… It’s funny to hear the Scientist say that there was no scientific method about… (Laughing)

MM:

Laughs… I mean I knew London
[TR in conversation with MM:]

From the videos, it doesn’t seem like you spend that much time there. How much time do you spend in each place?

MM:

It was like four days.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

To go all the way to South Africa for 4 days is like damn!

MM:

I know, I had to squeeze them with my new job it was insane. I just started being a professor.

TR:

In addition to Istanbul & Tokyo that’s four days in Johannesburg, South Africa, London and Singapore.
While Planes Trains & Canes is all about independent travel, making the videos requires a team.

MM:

I remember thinking like 3 years ago that whoever I did this with I have to have a Videographer that was somebody I could easily travel with , a solid person. And somebody who’s really not going to break character.

NG:
Hello

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Hello Natalie?

NG:

Hi, Thomas, how are you?

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Good, how are you doing?

NG:

Good!

TR:

During my initial conversation with Mona, she suggested I speak to her entire team. And I did. First up Natalie Guzi.

NG:

I’m a Camera Woman for Planes Trains & Canes. I’m 23 and this was my first time doing anything camera work related.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That was one of my first questions. (Laughs)

NG:

(Laughs)
Cool, ok!

[TR in conversation with NG:]

From my understanding you were a friend or a co-worker of Mona’s?

NG:

Co-worker turned really good friend

So, I went to school to be a technical writing major and I saw an open position. One of those pull tabs job posts with a number and email. Mona had put up signs for that. the interview went well I guess. Laughs…

TR:
In a way, working as an Access Assistant for Mona, helped Natalie develop one of the most important skills for the videographer role in Planes Trains & Canes.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

You ask any Blind person and they’re pretty much going to have a similar experience about being with someone who is sighted going somewhere and then having the person who is sighted being talked to as if the Blind person wasn’t there. When did you first experience that ?

NG:

The first time I experienced that was at a Chemistry conference, like an international conference where I was Mona’s access assistant. it must have been like just checking into a hotel. it’s under Mona’s name, Mona’s the PhD Scientist, I’m the 23 year old, but the person checking her in was looking at me.

TR:
This experience isn’t exclusive to those who are Blind. I hear the same from others with different disabilities too. There’s two components; first, directing the conversation away from the person with a disability and then there’s the gaze. Focusing the eye contact towards the non-disabled person.
Now, check the technique!

Audio: Musical intro…

NG:

How we work together with that kind of an issue is that I would just make eye contact with Mona so if you’re trying to look at me my gaze, then that’s going to get redirected to her. So they know where I’m looking and they should be looking. Sometimes people would pick up that and make that adjustment. Sometimes not. Or if we were talking and there was no counter between us then I would almost step over to their side so I was also facing Mona.

TR:

As the videographer, Natalie has to make sure it remains about Mona.

NG:

I tried to be as fly on the wall as possible. (Laughs) Which is a little bit hard. It wasn’t like an undercover operation. (Laughs) It was like someone following a blind woman with a camera. There were a lot of like stares and or questions about why the camera. people addressing me that I shouldn’t film even though Mona was the subject.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

They didn’t know that she was a part of it they thought you were just following her or something?

NG:

Yeh. They would like wave their hand in front of the camera.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And then you would have to explain things?

NG:

It depended on the situation. That’s a great question too. I’m remembering a time when at a train station in Johannesburg. I was trying to capture footage of Mona buying her train ticket. One of the staff there came up and told me I couldn’t be filming although all I really wanted to do was film the interaction of Mona buying a ticket. No, no, like here’s the business card we’re filming a documentary. We’re not mapping out your train system for any weird purpose.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

That seems stressful to me. Can you talk about that.

NG:

Sure. By nature I lean towards wanting to make people happy and feel comfortable and welcomed. And when you’re walking around with a camera and people don’t know why that’s not really a possibility.
It’s difficult having those eyes and feeling those emotions from other people coming your way and having to remind yourself of the situation and the mission in that moment.

[TR in conversation with NG:]

Did that get easier?

NG:

We had the opportunity to go to lots of different countries and experience different cultures so it shifted every place that we went. Like people would in Istanbul, being like welcome and we love it and come to our store as we were walking by trying to get video.
In comparison, the experience in the London tube wasn’t as welcoming.

TR:

These are the things making Natalie the right person for the job.

NG:

A thick skin. You got to have that self-confidence and confidence in the mission and in the team too.
I think Mona and I’s relationship we just always have each other’s back. So I think that trust and that collaboration really was like the heart of the whole project that kept us going.

TR:

That trust could even mean stepping in and putting yourself at risk.

NG:

In Johannesburg, Mona was crossing the street and this car was taking a corner really fast. I had to jump into the street and like put my arms out. I just thought that car was going way too fast. I wanted them to see two people in the street at least like saying stop.

TR:

Mona and Natalie have the foundation making up a real team.

NG:

We kind of work together. She gave me the feedback on what worked in different situations. It was nice to have a collaborator with that too and just follow Mona’s lead.

TR:

After watching Planes Trains & Canes and then having the chance to speak with Mona, it’s apparent, what you see is what you get.

MM:

I’m pretty assertive I would say as a person, but I understand not everybody has that personality. When I’m tired and exhausted and getting off a 16 hour flight I’m not the sharpest. I’m just like excuse me (said lethargically) my energy’s low. I could be ignored more easily in that situation verses when I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed , I’m like hello!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

You’re quick not to give off any pity vibe or anything like that.

MM:

Yeh, cause I don’t want your pity. I want you to treat me like any other human being. I just happened to be Blind. Sighted people ask for directions all the time. All the time! Just adjust yourself , just a little bit by verbalizing your directions. I appreciate it, thank you!

Audio Bumper for editors

TR:

In order to win the prize enabling Mona to start her adventure she would have to first accumulate enough likes on her Holman prize entry video.

Contestant’s seeking the 25 G’s must first posts their videos to YouTube. The videos need to explain their ambition and cannot exceed 90 seconds. Mona and Natalie paired up to shoot the video with Natalie taking her first shot at editing. The video foreshadowed some of the reactions they’d eventually receive while traveling.
Audio: Clip Planes Trains & Canes Ambition Video

TR:

Winning the prize enabled them to purchase a camera and wireless
microphone.

Natalie and Mona learned more than expected from editing that first 90 second ambition video;

MM:

How much work editing would be.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Chuckles…

TR:

Mona recruited Anxhela (Angela) Becolli
, her current Access Assistant at Northeastern.

MM:

She actually was the one who edited Johannesburg. She’s actually with me right now and…. Ok, I’m bringing her in…

AB:

I wasn’t expecting to be on the call…

[TR in conversation with AB:]

So that was your first shot at editing?

AB:

I had done editing a little bit before. In college I studied Photography in China and there I had done a few projects in videography but mainly photography. This was my first full paid project.

TR:

The thing about creating a documentary series such as Planes Trains & Canes is that you don’t know what your story is until it happens.

MM:

We recorded with no story line in mind. Recording as life unfolds in front of you and then extracting the story. So there’s an element of being able to story tell what you lived as opposed to the other way around – you are building the story and then you record the story.

You don’t know what life is going to give you.

As I was living it I remember taking mental notes like oh my God this would be really interesting to share with the audience.

TR:

Construction takes place in the editing room.

AB:

The main part is the story part. When Mona and Natalie give me the videos they also gave me this list of what they wanted the story to look like. What there idea was and what they wanted to portray to the viewers. What the most important parts were. What parts were light hearted. What parts were very specific to being Blind, to traveling and what needed to be kept in no matter what quality the video or audio was.

TR:

Mona is clearly directing all aspects of this project.

MM:

This part needs to be sped up and it’s kind of boring. I think we should add more of this part. I would say ok, let’s find music that represents the fact that I was feeling fearful or excited. I only used music connected to whatever city I was in. So all the music in the Johannesburg episode in part two, is from musicians from Johannesburg.

I personally have a certain vision for the vive and what was happening and Angela would work with me and hear what I have to say and implement it.

TR:

Creating content like this means investing real time.

AB:

If you have 40 hours of video you’re taking about 60 hours to watch the videos because you’re going to make notes, you’re going to cut things and you’ll re-watch those.

TR:

Angela was already committed to other projects so Mona had to find another editor.

Ted:

I’m Ted Jimenez, I’m the second editor put on the team to work on the new episodes; London, Istanbul, Singapore and Tokyo.

I am a self-taught editor. I worked with small independent studios before back in my home the Philippines I worked for States Sessions. It was a company that put on productions for Indy musicians in the Philippines. I did music videos for them. Promotional videos for them. Now I’m in Boston.

TR:

Where he too works at Northeastern making psychological self-help videos.

Mona decided early on that Planes Trains & Canes would not be a narrated style documentary.

Ted:

This is where Mona and I have conflicting views. I was going in with like my script saying oh Mona could you narrate this portion for us. And she is more of a fan of in the moment. I’m not going to pre-record a script that tells a story I’d rather the audience live through the story because it tells the Blind experience more naturally than if it was just said by her.

TR:

Show, not tell!

Mona’s voice over narrations that you hear in the series are sort of a means of accentuating specific moments.

Ted:

And it’s also to make it lighthearted.

MM:

I wanted comedy to be a main element. I want people to laugh while watching this because I want my message to really be heard and it’s going to be heard more through a comedic tone than through a lecturing serious tone.

TR:

Lighthearted may be the goal, but come on traveling Blind just like living Blind, you will have some encounters.

Audio: London…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So you know where I’m going now. We’re going to London! You know the episode. (Laugh fades out) you were told that you had to register.

MM:

Yeh, yeh, yeh! I had no choice.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

So my anxiety woo, went through the roof! Mona, I’m going to tell you, I’m not that good at that situation. I’m from the Bronx Mona, I get a little aggressive. Ok! (Laugh fades out)

MM:

Laughing…

Dude, I’m going to tell you honestly, I held myself together because I didn’t even know if Natalie was videotaping me or not. But just in case she was I was like I need to make this point clear.

TR:

That point is at the core of this project; independence and freedom.

Ted:

I really like London as an example about how we kind of tell that story.

First, Mona getting off the plane into the subway. We foreshadow that Mona likes the choice of being able to ask for assistance or not ask for assistance.

In the second section of London where she’s coming from the airport to the Metro, that’s when we see that whole belief that she has of accepting or not accepting assistance.

TR:

You’re going to have to head on over to YouTube and check out the series to find out more.

Audio: Next time on Planes Trains & Canes…

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes is all about perspective.

It’s filmed from the perspective of a woman who is Blind and enjoys traveling independently and values her choice.

Along the way she interacts with people who may view the world differently.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Wait up. You said he was nice?

MM:

I’m saying he was nice yes. (Laughing)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Did you feel that way in the beginning? From the video, I took this guy like he was being condescending.

MM:

Oh, he was totally being condescending. I think it’s just the norm there to kind of treat people with disabilities like we are a bunch of 5 year olds. An underlying patronizing vibe!

TR:

As we each bring our individual perspective to the series, chances are there will be opposing points of view.

MM:

Did you see some of the comments that were on YouTube. Let me tell you. There was this one person who goes by SocietySister she wrote that I was selfish for not accepting help.

TR:

probably the same type of person to find the inclusion of Audio Description as a default in the series videos to be selfish.

MM:

I really wanted to make every video we create accessible to both Blind and Deaf individuals.

TR:

That’s a pretty inclusive approach giving a variety of viewers a chance to benefit from Mona’s experiences.

What did the production team take away from this experience? First, Natalie.

NG:

People are people wherever you go. They’re curious, they’ll probably want to know what’s going on if you walk into a new situation. maybe concerned if they see something new if they see something different. No matter where you go people do want to understand and to and connect. Also, trust and partnership with Mona . Just a profound sense of gratitude for working together for collaborating for trusting me to capture her experience and to be an observer.

TR:

Angela, who edited the first two episodes from Johannesburg, had hours of video to review. This gave her the chance to really see what Mona experiences.

AB:

I had a lot of moments where I went what I can’t, what why I can’t believe someone would do that. I can’t believe someone would say that. Why would someone treat you like that. Mona mentioned that Natalie was able to keep her calm, I’m the kind of person that would be like no what are you doing, you can’t do that. You can’t treat someone like that. Yeh, I’m not someone that would be able to keep her cool. (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with AB:]

Laughs.

TR:

I could see Angela and I teaming up in some bar fights together.

Ted, the editor of the remaining episodes, it should be noted is not only editing, but he’s doing all the Audio description and captioning. As someone making a career as an editor I had to ask him if he’d become a proponent for Audio Description.

[TR in conversation with Ted:]

You’re working with, I don’t know Steven Spielberg. You’re like Steven we got to put some Audio Description on this man… (Laughs)

Ted:

Laughing… Hey Steven! (Said in a serious tone)

Oh yes of course. Right now it’s normalized for me to kind of like say well what are the options for everybody if I’m viewing piece of media. Mona has made it specifically clear that the deadlines are the deadlines for everything. The captioning, the Audio Description. The video, It needs to be accessible to everyone.

TR:

Planes Trains & Canes was Mona’s way to not only highlight the benefits that public transportation affords her, but also show the ingenuity and abilities of those who are Blind.

Mona’s travels reveal lots of valuable lessons for those adjusting to blindness.

MM:

Even though I am 32 years old, I feel like I am more at peace with it then I have ever been. I don’t know if I want to share this with the world but yeh (laughing…)

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Well, let me just say something to you right now Again, it’s totally, totally fine if you don’t want to share.

MM:

Yeh!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

But that right there, again, think about it from the person who’s adjusting.

MM:

Yeh! No, I think it’s good I’ll explain why I say this.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

yeh!

MM:

I thought I was at peace. I used to take comments of you look sighted as compliments. I realize the detriment of that, only until like last year. Why should that be a compliment, you know? And I realized that I had built up all these techniques to almost compensate for blindness as opposed to work with it.

I had internalized this concept of blindness as weakness. I think it’s really important for Blind people to realize, we are inherently better problem solvers because we have to work around a lot of things. Blindness is not weakness. And to truly believe that I don’t know if I’m a hundred percent there.

TR:

I so respect and appreciate that honesty. It’s what I personally believe, adjusting to blindness is a continuous process. And if that’s ok for this Bio Engineer professor, well, I’m just saying, she’s doing something right.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

What have you taken away from this whole experience?

MM:

I think I pushed myself more than I would have for the sake of the videos. I learned that there’s a lot of good out there and there’s a lot of like negatives that we need to fix and that’s ok.

I don’t know how to explain this feeling. it’s almost an internal shift where I want to go to Mongolia, I can go to Mongolia. Where maybe before I’d be like well I really don’t know how I would go to Mongolia. I need to find somebody to go with me or whatever. And now it’s like this state of mind. If I want to go I can go!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

It sounds like, like you’re free.

MM:

Exactly! Exactly I obtained more freedom than I ever thought I could. And I think I have more freedom than the average person gets to mentally experience and what a privilege.

[TR in conversation with MM:]

And it’s attainable. You did it one specific way but that’s not the only way to attain that level of freedom and access.

MM:

Yeh. It’s like I learned it from my travels but I feel like it’s not about the travels, right. You can learn it in your own backyard. it’s about the mindset… you want it, go for it!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

Mona, this was better than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be great, but this was even better. (Laughs…)

MM:

Laughs…

[TR in conversation with MM:]

One hundred percent!

Congratulations! I’m going to keep watching. I want to make sure other people watch. So you got a fan over here ok, I just want you to know that.
MM:

Thank you very much, I’m a fan of yours too!

TR:

Please welcome the latest members of the Reid My Mind Radio Family. Planes Trains & Canes, that’s Natalie Guzi, Angela Becolli , Benjamin Ted Jimenez and leading the way with her white cane in hand;

Audio: Put some respect on my name!

Dr. Mona Minkara!

[TR in conversation with MM:]

where can people check out Planes Trains & Canes and also where can they learn more about you Mona?

MM:

They can go to PlanesTrainsAndCanes.com or go to YouTube and type Planes Trains & Canes or you can go to MonaMinkara.com to learn more about me. If you want to learn about my research check out MinkaraCombineLab.com.

If you’re on Twitter follow @PlaneTrainCane (singular) and @Mona_Minkara

You can subscribe to Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get podcasts.
Transcripts, resources and more are over at ReidMyMind.com. And yes, that’s R to the E I D (Audio: “D, and that’s me in the place to be!” Slick Rick)

Like my last name

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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Hive Uganda – A Sweet Success

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Picture of Ojok standing outside in front of trees under a blue sky.
For our final update from the 2017 Holman Prize winners, we hear from Ojok Simon. The founder of Hive Uganda. This social entrepreneur established the organization to train fellow blind and low vision people of Uganda to create self-sustaining businesses through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

We hear about the relationships made during the year, the impact Hive Uganda is having on the community and the challenges that come with his success.

Listen, subscribe to the podcast and then holla back! Rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcast. Send your feedback to me directly at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. I’d love a voice recorded message that I could include on a future show!

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Honey Bee, Lucinda Williams – Heavy guitar intro

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio.
It’s the final episode of the 2017 Holman Prize Update.

That means there’s only one way to get this started.

Audio: Vocals come in… “Oh my little honey bee!” Lucinda Williams.

TR:
We’re kicking this one off with some real energy.

My name is T.Reid. I’m your host and producer of this here podcast.
First time here? I hope my energy doesn’t scare you.
I’m just feeling good because that’s my choice.

Like producing this podcast is my choice to focus on presenting people and topics I find compelling. Every now and then I drop some of my own experiences from my personal adjustment to blindness.

For some my energy right now may not fit what you think about being blind, having a disability.

Well that’s cool. Give me a bit of your time and just maybe something here can expand your mind.

You see, right now we are in the final episode of our look at the Holman Prize winners.

These are the 6 blind women and men to date who have received the $25,000 prize awarded by the San Francisco Lighthouse to implement their ambition.

It’s awarded in the memory of James Holman. A blind explorer in the 1800’s who travelled independently to all 6 inhabited continents.

If you haven’t yet checked those out I strongly suggest you go back and take a listen.

So let’s get this started!

Audio: Heavy guitar and drum backing track moves into lyrics, “Oh my little honey bee”
Audio: Reid My Mind Intro Music

Ojok:

First, thank you to the Lighthouse. Congratulations for the new winners of the 2018 Holman Prize winners.
And I’m ready to give my updates to the listeners.

TR:

That’s Ojok Simon. The third of the 2017 Holman Prize winners.

Before we get into his update let’s go back to the beginning of his story.

First, it starts in Uganda.
Ojok:

I am from the Northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot of friends.

TR:
His beginnings as it relates to blindness, well that’s a much more complicated story.

Here’s a summary from the 2017 episode.

TR in narration from 2017 episode

during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention.

TR:

Sometime later Ojok left his home and went to study at a school for the blind.
Returning home for the holidays, Ojok explained in 2017, is what lead to him being stung with a prize worthy idea.

Ojok in 2017:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do.

TR:
Create opportunities for himself and other blind people in his community through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

As we’ll hear from Ojok, these opportunities are more than life sustaining entrepreneurial ventures.

Since we last spoke in 2017, Ojok traveled to San Francisco to claim his prize.

Ojok:
It was my first time in San Francisco.

I stayed there for one week.

TR:

A week full of activities which included meeting the other two prize winners.

The trip gave Ojok a chance to share how blind people live in Uganda.

His presentation of bee keeping was not only to show how this can be performed by a blind person but also to prove its viability as a vocation.

On top of all that, he says he had the chance to learn.

Ojok:

… About how people keep the environment clean.
The connectedness with different human creatures – create friends, you meet with friends.

TR:

These informal networking opportunities Ojok explains inspire new ideas and thoughts. Meeting the people was just a part of what he found appealing.

Ojok:

I love the environment. The surrounding waters. I love how considerate and how they take care of different citizens from different part of the world. It’s so so amazing. I love San Francisco so much.

TR:

Following the week of activities in San Francisco, Ojok return to Uganda where he began implementing his ambition.
Training blind men and women to own and operate agriculture businesses through bee keeping.

Ojok:

Through the Holman prize, it has been amazing!

We were able to strengthen our foundation base by training 6 master trainers who help a lot to enlighten about self-employment of blind people through bee keeping.

TR:

From our initial conversation with Ojok in 2017, the trainings include much more than bee keeping. Orientation and mobility along with leadership training are a major component.

Ojok from 2017:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

TR:

Ojok initially anticipated training about 16 people this year.

Ojok:

These master trainers were trained by Hive Uganda where they will be able to run more training whether Hive Uganda exists or not.

We were also able to reach right now 36. Imagine 36. Which is a big impact and this is not the end of the project we ar4 still moving forward.

TR:

At the time of this recording, Ojok had an additional 10 people to receive training. Bringing the total trained to 46.

That’s 46 individuals. Multiple families and communities directly impacted.

Ojok:

For instance, one person is called Okot Thomas who started bee keeping after the training. And through his effort of bee keeping he managed to change the life of a young person who is not disabled to come and work in the area of environmental conservation of bee keeping with the blind people.

TR:

The implications are social. Impacting the entire community.

Ojok:

The neighbors accept him as a blind person And then the neighbors understand how important to involve blind people in agriculture especially in bee keeping. And how sweet it is to work in the same environment with different abilities.

TR:

That positive effect has even reached the government – which Ojok says traditionally hasn’t done much for those who are blind.

Ojok:

They were monitoring our training. They were so amazed how we are promoting bee keeping for people with disabilities especially blind people. How we are promoting inclusion to the families. And how we are trained to promote extra abilities of blind people into agriculture and self-employment.

TR:
This development is quite significant.
It’s more than recognition, the government has provided assistance in the form of specific support including;

Ojok:

Inspecting the bee hive, pest control. They’re not giving money to Hive Uganda, but they start including visually impaired persons in their program when they return to the community.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

It’s making them official business where at some point it was a “charity”, but it’s moving from that and now they are even more officially entrepreneurs in the eyes of the government. They’re seeing them as entrepreneurs.

Ojok:

Exactly, exactly, exactly!

TR:

That shift in how the government views the bee keepers is not just symbolic, Hive Uganda has been tasked with registering their graduates as businesses with the local government.

Ojok:

So that they can easily ask the local government directly minus Hive Uganda.

TR:

You may have noticed that was the second time Ojok mentioned Hive Uganda in the past tense. As in a time when he is no longer training or supporting other bee keepers.
I’m happy to report, he has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon, rather it’s just a sign of a strong leader with good planning.

Ojok:

I am still 24/7 working with Hive Uganda. Actually, I’m looking at the sustainability at this age of mine. So that when I reach my retirement or when I say ok, let me sit down Hive Uganda should continue.

TR:
In case you’re not familiar with the terminology…

Ojok:

24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Do you ever get any people with other disabilities who want to participate outside of blindness?

Ojok:

Through the last training that we had, that was in July, we had to force people to go back because our target was to train 16. But people were demanding the services. They are people with disabilities. They look at that as an opportunity. Just waiting for the opportunity so they can also jump in.

TR:

While Hive Uganda’s focus continues to be supporting those who are blind and low vision , future increased resources
could enable their expansion.

Hive Uganda has already developed cross disability partnerships.
As Ojok explains, the value goes beyond economics.

Ojok:
To build strong advocacy system we need to also bring other people so that when we are talking to the government , when we are going to speak to other development partners we will say yes, this is the need for people with disabilities.

TR:

Expanding Hive Uganda’s reach also means geographic.

Ojok

Remember we are in Gulu. Uganda is a big country. Where we are is less than ten percent of the population. It’s not even more than five percent of the population, but the need is still too much. We want to reach other parts of the country.

TR:

Extending the reach of Hive Uganda is now more possible with the training and deployment of the six master trainers.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
This all started [from] a tragic situation. In terms of how you lost your sight and then how you almost literally stumbled upon the idea. How does that feel when you look at where you come from brother? How does that feel for you?

Ojok:
When I look at where I came from and where we are sometimes I have mixed feelings. Yes I’m helping . I’m trying to show to the whole world that yes, out of sight is not out of mind. Should I be the victim of my own success? When I say the victim of my own success, yes I’m doing great what is that reality that will make you self-sustaining If the project of Holman ends, which is coming to September, what will happen next? You . You have raised a lot of expectation, you have proved that you are able to do it, are you going to continue? So that makes me do so much concentrated fundraising , trying networking with others so that we can all together come and say yes.

TR:
Yes to the future of Hive Uganda.

That future right now could be summarized based on their 5 years strategic plan.

Ojok:
One, continue training of blind people around Uganda as well as if possible East Africa.

Also, continue doing value addition to honey and wax products supplied by blind people because we already have a production unit. And then continue advocating for inclusion and participation for people with visual impairment into agriculture livelihood especially in the rural setting. And continued mobilization of resources because all of this to be done, Hive Uganda is in a developing country where everything is not the same. You have to fundraise, look for possible partners, share your ideas so that you’re able to be self-sustaining.

TR:
Strategic plans look forward. Sometimes there’s value in looking back.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

At some point along this whole journey of yours, you have to reflect on the lives you touched. Hive Uganda is already a success.

Ojok:
Laughs, yes that is true!

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
You changed people’s lives. You have and so I salute you for that You know, you are the man to do this 24 7and I’m happy to see that’s what you are doing.

yeh man, don’t put too much pressure on yourself Laughs… because that’s what it sounds like.

Ojok:
Laughing, yes thank you, thank you… thank you for encouraging me.

TR:
He’s the one doing the encouraging.

Whether it’s the students of Hive Uganda or those who are exposed to his story. Ojok’s passion for creating opportunities for people with disabilities through bee keeping is infectious.

During an interview with New Vision a local newspaper in Uganda, Hive Uganda Master Trainer Francis Okello Oloya describes the programs beneficiaries as
“change agents in their communities.”

It’s as if the new entrepreneurs are out spreading the message that blindness alone is no real barrier for participation in any aspect of life. Sort of pollenating the community with the hopes of reaping a sweeter life for themselves and others.

While back in San Francisco reporting on their progress during what is the conclusion of their Holman term, Ojok plans to visit bee keeping friends in San Diego. This is just one of the relationships established as a result of the prize.

Ojok:

We congratulate Lighthouse for coming up with such amazing idea.

Whether with the Holman Project or not we will remain in collaboration with the Lighthouse.

I have to remain.

TR:

To stay up to date or find out how you can support their mission visit HiveUganda.org.

Once again, salute to Mr. Ojok Simon and yes, may you remain!

Audio: “Honey, Honey” Fiest

By the time this podcast is published December 4th, I believe the 2017 Holman Prize trio would have met for their final reports in San Francisco.

I really did consider trying to make my way out there to meet them all in person. Unfortunately, personal obligations and finances in that order didn’t permit that from happening.

First of all, it would have been nice to just give them a hug or shake their hand. Ah, forget that, everybody would get a hug!

Of course I would bring you the listener along. I think it would make for a great episode and I have the feeling you all grew almost as fond as I have of these three.

That’s Penny Melville Brown, Ahmet Ustenel and Ojok Simon.

Shout out to the San Francisco Lighthouse and everyone responsible for the Holman Prize including the judges,
Jason Roberts, author of the biography A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.    

Shout out to Lucinda Williams on the opening track Honey Bee and Feist for Honey Honey riding underneath us right now.

Shout out to you the listeners. I truly hope you enjoy these episode because I have a good time producing them.

I hope to have another episode to finish out the year. I’m not sure if my daughters are taking over the podcast this year for the last episode. My oldest is 21 and the other 15. If not I think I have a good way to wrap up the year.

You know what’s a good way to wrap up this episode…
Subscribing to the podcast! You can use Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or your favorite podcast app.
You can always slide on over to ReidMyMind.com and sign up for the email notifications

You know, I would love your feedback. Either

Rate the podcast on iTunes if you like it of course. If you don’t like it I’m not sure why you are still listening. I have no plans on doing anything differently at this stage in the game.

You can even leave a review there.

Send me direct feedback at Reid My Mind Radio @ gmail.com.
If you feel up to it, you could even record a message on your voice recorder and send that over. That would make my day!

Plus my daughter doesn’t believe anyone listens so it will help me convince her! Yawl think I’m joking’?
She says like all the time. I’m talking’ 24/7
Ojok:
24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

TR:
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Beyond the Sea with the Blind Captain

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Ahmet Ustenel paddling his kayak with scenic mountains off to the side.
Continuing our check in with the 2017 Holman Prize winners I speak with Ahmet Ustenel. When we last spoke with him he was preparing to kayak the Bosphorus Strait.

Take a listen to hear all about the technology developed to help him independently navigate his kayak from Turkey to Asia. We’ll learn about the pressures, lessons learned and hear from his team.

As you’ll hear in this episode, this trip represents much more than a kayak adventure… it goes beyond the sea!

When you’re done… Subscribe:
Apple Podcast, Google Podcast Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or wherever you get podcasts.
Follow @tsreid on Twitter

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:

What’s up everyone?
I hope you all are doing well.

Hmm, I think I see a few new faces out there today?

Ok, this is pre-recorded radio so I can’t see faces.
Oh wait , I’m blind so I can’t see faces!

If you are new to the podcast, welcome.

Reid My Mind Radio is not only my space to demonstrate my corny humor, but it’s also a place to highlight topics and people I find compelling.
Occasionally, I share stories from my experience adjusting to blindness as an adult.

This is a welcoming space where I hope every episode provides a bit of thought, empowerment and a hint of entertainment.

Today, we’re continuing with our updates from the 2017 Holman Prize winners.
For the newbies, this is the point where I usually find some way to bring in my intro music…

Rather than doing that this week I thought I’d share a poem.
Now, I used to write rhymes as a teenage but these were raps for the lunch room.

But after a bit of inspiration, I figured, this is a safe space so I’ll share.

Ahem! (Clears throat)

Some states are red
Others are blue
Let’s all unite
over my theme music Boo!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

Audio: Siri: “Facetime Audio”
Face time phone ringing…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Hey, Ahmet!

Ahmet:
Hey Thomas!

TR:
Ahmet Ustenel, the Blind captain is back!
Here’s how he introduced himself in the original 2017 episode.

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:

While we share the same childhood eye cancer, our experiences were different. Ahmet lost his eyes around 3 years old. I lost one as a child and the other as an adult due to a second cancer.
When I brought you his story last year, he was in the early stages of preparing to Kayak the Bosphorous Straits.
He explains

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.

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 is 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:

One piece of off the shelf technology or downloadable app wouldn’t do the full job for Ahmet’s project.

It requires customized devices.

Ahmet had to be more than head navigator of his kayak and provide the leadership enabling his team to accomplish the goal.

Ahmet:
You plan everything.

The physical part – I have to go train and find people to train with and then I need to figure out my logistics. Like even simple things like how to carry my kayak. I have the technology part and I have to find people to work on those technologies.

TR:

In addition to all of that, this is an international project so there are additional logistics to coordinate.

But lots of things can force a change to any plan. Especially technology.

Ahmet:
Something works great in a nice dry environment, but when you put it on a kayak (laughs) it gets Corroded and you need to eliminate maybe external batteries or external cables.

We needed to redesign. there was a lot of trial and errors until pretty much a couple of weeks before the crossing.

TR:

While managing all of the moving parts and people associated with this project, Ahmet continued working full time as a Special Education Teacher.

One of those people heavily invested in the project is Marty Stone.

An AT&T project manager who was creating a device to help Ahmet navigate his course.
Marty:
I’m just one of those people who likes tinkering with things.

TR:

I caught up with Marty to hear his thoughts on the project.
Marty:
Well you know things of course always go slowly. We nearly ran out of time but we got some really nice help from AT&T. What’s known as the Internet of Things Foundry. There’s several of them. This one was in Houston Texas.

Ahmet:
Marty was actually in Turkey.

TR:
Now that’s a true indication of what this project means to Marty. After working throughout the year, traveling to Turkey to further show his support for Ahmet and the project.
Marty:

I got to meet Ahmet for the first time. Quite an emotional experience!

Audio: Turkish Drum instrumental music

TR:

Let’s go back to this past July 2018 to
Ahmet along with his family and team in Turkey, preparing to set off on his journey across the Bosphorous.

Ahmet steers us through the big day.

Ahmet:
First of all, my idea was crossing on the 22nd without telling the Coast Guard, without telling the Traffic Control.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughing… Editor’s note — in full support of this idea!

Ahmet:
Like a pirate crossing.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughing… Yeah!

Ahmet:
Quietly with just one support kayak in case something goes wrong my coach will be following me. But then the word got out and a lot of people heard about it . The Coast Guard heard, the traffic Control heard about it and then they said oh, no no no no you cannot do that.

TR:

The Coast Guard now aware of our blind pirate Ahmet’s intentions decided to slow traffic and give him a window of time to make the crossing – 90 minutes to be exact plus they changed the launch date to the 21st.

Ahmet:

I said ok, you know we’re going to do it officially. That’s cool!

Then in the morning of crossing I was at the Marina just you know getting ready to prepare. We were having tea. We were not even close to our kayaks yet and I get a radio message.

“You have an hour to get ready and cross”
Audio: As if over walkie talkie radio

I was like woh! I was expecting an 11 o’clock start and I got the message at 9.

TR:

Not only rushing through the process of assembling the kayak, Ahmet had to speed up his mental preparation. And then there’s all of the technology.

Marty:
Nothing ever happens as you expect or as you planned.

TR:
Marty should know, he’s a project manager after all.

Marty:
Unfortunately, at the last minute we had a hardware failure. on the system.

It was the keypad . So he was no longer able to enter any commands.

We had recorded a trip the day before and we were getting ready for him to play that trip back and basically follow the course but we couldn’t get the system to take a command because the keyboard had shorted out.

Thankfully there was a backup system. Not what we worked so hard to have him use but it was a backup system that worked nonetheless. So very grateful for that.

TR:
We return to Ahmet in his kayak ready to set sail and cross over to Asia.

Ahmet:

When I was on the water
I got another message
saying

Note: Sounds like coming from Walkie talkie
“you only have an half hour to cross”

My original route was going to the other side, go under the bridge and make a U-turn and come back to the other side. So it would be like 90 minutes crossing both sides with some you know nice view and stuff, but when I heard I have only a half an hour I said ok you know can I even make it to the other side in half an hour. (Laughs)

Audio: Under Pressure, Queen

TR:

“Can I make it to the other side?”

Sounds like a simple question, but for Ahmet it symbolized the pressure that accumulated throughout the process.

Ahmet:

I felt so much pressure.

People were focusing so much on the crossing, but actually it was a lot more than that. The background of the project was a yearlong even longer than that. All people see is can you do it or not.

So many people actually worked on this. It was a team effort a team project. So many layers and so many people and so many organizations were involved. And I felt like I really don’t want to disappoint people. People traveled from US. they came to Turkey to support. I had a lot of people in Turkey as well. If I fail was going to try it again anyway but I felt like if I failed all these people will be so disappointed or they will feel like they failed.

TR:

After a year of planning, now sitting in the kayak with all of the people there to support.

Even reporters and others from the media are there to find out whether he can make it to the other side.

Now, the extra pressure of only having a half hour to complete what he estimates is a 90 minute trip.

Ahmet:
I start paddling…

Audio: sounds of oar and kayak increasing in speed…

I think that was the fastest I paddled in my life.

When I heard cheering on the other side …
Audio: Sound of crowd cheering

I was like woh that’s it. It was only like 20 minutes.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

Laughs!

Ahmet:
Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
You were moving then,huh!

Ahmet:
Yeh, I was moving man. Adrenaline rush.

TR:

He just about doubled his average kayaking speed from 4 or 5 miles an hour to about 7 or 8.

On top of that, he was dealing with boats getting too close taking pictures along with spying drones hovering above.

Ahmet:

It was not a quiet and relaxing paddle. Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

Laughs…

TR:

the Holman Prize is after all, all about adventure.
How much adventure is in everything going according to plan.

Yes, he completed the trip across the Bosphorous, but there are other measures of success. Like, the level of enthusiasm and commitment from his team. Like Marty Stone.

Marty:

What an amazing person. (Sniffles ) Sorry, it’s hard not to be emotional

[TR in conversation with Marty:]
Nah, I get it.
When he (Ahmet )was going through the story of what happened throughout the year one of the things that stuck out to me was once it started he realized ok, wow, there’s other people involved. He was worried about you all his team. He didn’t want to let you all down. And I’m like Dude?… (Laughs)

Marty:
Laughs…

[TR in conversation with Marty:]
He had a lot of pressure, just talking to him.

Marty:
Oh! Oh no kidding!

He’s a super hero man he really is. And I’ve talked to him I said yes, crossing the Bosphorous going from Asia to Europe, wow, that was the main deal. But everything you’ve done to get to that point . You know you’re an amazing project manager I told him, you’re an amazing inspiration.

TR:
I know that word inspiration, for those in the disability community can be a sort of trigger.

Often misused towards a person with a disability.
As in exclaiming a blind person is amazing for completing the most trivial task.

These sort of praises are often more indicative of the other persons low expectations.

However , Marty and Ahmet have been working together for over a year. Marty’s compliments appear to be based on Ahmet’s actual work.

No shots fired!

Marty:
Think of all the things you had to do in order to pull this off and then you pulled it off. I said you got some real important knowledge here that no one else has.

TR:

Along with improving his physical and technical kayaking skills, the most important success metrics are probably those things that Ahmet himself gained from the experience.

Ahmet:
I learned about technology. I learned about myself.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
What did you learn about yourself.?

Ahmet:
When I have a goal, a big goal, I work better, I work hard. But if I just have some idea in my mind with no clear goals and objectives then I go off track.

I’m 38 years old I had a lot of ideas a lot of projects but sometimes I didn’t have enough motivation to start. But now I realize if I started then like 10 15 years ago most of them would be done by now and I felt like man you know I lost time but it’s not too late. I can still do stuff.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Yeah man, you’re young. I’m turning 50 so…
Editor’s note – birthday wishes welcomed as I already turned 50. 😉

Laughs…

Ahmet:
Laughs. Yeah, we have time man!

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Yeah, absolutely.

Ahmet:

When you have something in your mind, don’t lose time. That’s my new approach. Just start somewhere and it’s going to happen.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Your skill set from this has probably greatly improved. Project management, you’re leading teams . Do you see any relationship to your career and then also I have a feeling you’re going to be a little rougher on your students. Laughs!

Ahmet:
Laughs…

I always seen myself as a team member. Whenever I worked on a project I was a good team member, but I haven’t seen myself usually as a leader in the team. But after this project actually I was coordinating a lot of stuff. I was managing a lot of stuff and now I realize actually I might have some leadership skills as well. That’s a very important thing to know about yourself. I feel like I can take more responsibilities in the school district now or do some other projects with different organizations.

In terms of career, I think I will be teaching for a long time. I like teaching But in addition to teaching I might take some different roles in the district or in some different organizations in the Bay area.

Maybe I might do some recreational stuff with some blindness organizations.

In terms of being rough on the students I was always rough on students

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs…

Ahmet:
Expectations are high. There’s no slacking for students.

TR:

After managing all of the moving parts of the project, the pressure and last minute changes I wondered if Ahmet had plans for more adventures.

Ahmet:

It was a life changing event for me this year. I got the bug now.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs…

Ahmet:
I cannot stop now. I cannot stop. I have to think about my next project.

TR:

That bug apparently, is contagious. Ahmet says Marty too was bit!

Ahmet:

He was excited as I was about everything. When we finished crossing he was like wait a minute, this is not the end . You know we will start new projects, we will keep working on this. So right after he came back to US he started working on a new device. laughs…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
Laughs… Alright!

TR:

In fact, when I reached out to Marty he was working on hardware changes improving on the original design.

In my first conversation with Ahmet, prior to him taking on this adventure, I asked him why.

Ahmet:

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.

He had a network of people, all in different locations, exchanging information with a shared goal.

Like teammate Marty Stone.

Audio: Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye

Marty:

Complete strangers can get together and do something amazing together. Volunteers, nobody got paid fr this. We put our heart and soul into this to help out another human being.

If human beings can do stuff like that, why is it that we still have people being separated at the border and we’re not able to treat our neighbors with respect?

Audio: Wind blowing…
The following audio clips taken from news items fade in from left and right.

a. The Caravan of South Americans seeking Asylum in the US
b. The over 13 pipe bombs sent to critics of 45
c. The 2 African Americans killed by a White Nationalist Terrorist in Kentucky
d. The 11 Jewish worshipers killed by a Nazi White Nationalist Terrorist in Pittsburgh.
– Wind blows

Marty:

From a species standpoint, we’re capable of so much wonderful greatness and yet we’re also just able to be just really horrible nasty creatures.
I still marvel in the fact that a whole group of people who didn’t know each other pulled together and made something really beautiful happen for another person. And if we can do that, hell we should be able to straighten out our problems.

Audio: Makes me wanna holla, throw up both my hands”, Marvin Gaye
TR:

Ahmet’s journey offers a chance to represent more than its face value for anyone interested enough to see it.

It’s more than kayaking.

He created a proof of concept. providing the power for a self-navigating water vessel. Expanding on methods for blind and low vision people to independently participate in activities like kayaking, rowing, canoeing.

Now Ahmet wants to share all of his accumulated kayaking knowledge here in the states and Turkey.

Ahmet:
Just introduce kayaking to blind people. Independent kayaking using the devices we made.
Just empowering people.

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]

That sounds awesome!
Man, I salute you the Blind Captain…

Ahmet:
Warmly laughing…

[TR in conversation with Ahmet:]
The Blind Captain, baby! Yeah, alright!
Laughing…
My man! Laughing…
I’m so happy for you!

TR:

How could you not be happy for someone who becomes empowered and wants to share that with others.

I’m reminded of our first conversation in 2017 when Ahmet described his relationship with the water.

Ahmet:

I always loved the water, it’s my happy place. It’s the place I feel good about myself I feel free.

Audio: A very calm kayak moving through the water.
Fades into sounds of 45 at a rally, news commentators recapping the deaths and current events.

Fades back to the peaceful sounds of the kayak on the water.
TR:

Free! That does sound good!

Ahmet’s planning to take a month and camp and kayak the coast of Turkey’s Black Sea.

He’s not sailing off into the sunset just yet.
He and his journey are part of a documentary currently in production. And he knows he has to come back to the family – the Reid My Mind Radio family and let us know more when the time is right.

You know the time is always right to subscribe to this podcast. You can do that on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or your favorite podcast app. All you have to do is search for Reid My Mind Radio. That’s R to the E I D!

Don’t miss the next episode where we catch up with our favorite Social Entrepreneur, Bee Keeper and honey farmer Mr. Ojok Simon.

Until next time where I once again strive to answer the question that started this podcast in 2014.

Ahmet:
Can you do it or not!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Higher with Red Szell – 2018 Holman Prize Winner

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

This episode concludes our look at the 2018 Holman Prize recipients. In order to do so we travel across the Atlantic to London. Well virtually via Skype.

Red Szell sitting on steps
We meet Red Szell, the host of RNIB’s Read ON. Red is an Extreme Sport athlete and Holman Prize winner. We hear about his ambition, his journey through vision loss and more.

Subscribe to the podcast and make sure you don’t miss our upcoming three part series featuring the 2017 Holman Prize winners. The podcast!

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Resources

Transcript

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Audio: Vocal crescendo from opening of “White Lines” Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five

TR:

Greetings and welcome back to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio! Let’s go!

Audio: Stevie Wonder Higher Ground
If you’re here for the first time, allow me to get you up to speed.

My name is T.Reid and thanks for stopping by. This podcast is my space to share stories and profiles around blindness & disability. Occasionally I produce stories around my own vision loss experience as an adult.

You joined the podcast in time to catch the third and final episode featuring all three 2018 Holman Prize winners.

I strongly encourage you to not only go back and listen to the other two episodes from 2018, but you should really go back and listen to the 2017 winners as well.

If you’re not familiar with the Holman Prize, no problem! Get comfortable and allow me to introduce you. But first we have one rule here. I don’t start without my intro music!

Audio: Reid My Mind Intro Music

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 final 2018 Holman prize winner is Red Szell.

RS:
I work for the Royal National Institute for the Blind, in the UK. I present a radio show called “Read On” which is all about books and reading.

TR:
Careful now. If you’re imagining the stereotypical book worm, try again.

RS:

I’d become a really keen rock climber in my teens. And I was good at it. Rode a bicycle around everywhere, did a lot of sports, cross country running, a bit of Cricket. I was a keen outdoorsy kind of person.

TR:

Red, a published author, is an accomplished extreme sports athlete.

If you’re not sure as to what makes one an extreme sport athlete well, you’re not the only one. There’s some question about what makes a sport considered extreme.

Wikipedia defines extreme sports as;
“a competitive (comparison or self-evaluative) activity within which the participant is subjected to natural or unusual physical and mental challenges such as speed, height, depth or natural forces and where fast and accurate cognitive perceptual processing may be required for a successful outcome”

Since 19 years old, “fast and accurate cognitive perceptual processing presents a challenge for Red.

RS:

I was told, “You’ll be blind by the age of 30.” Just like that.

I’ve got Retinitis Pigmentosa which is a degenerative disease of the retinas.

I basically went into a sulk to be honest I was at University so the beer was cheap (laughs) I just went into a bit of a sulk. It was shock. And it took quite a long time to get over it.

TR:
About 20 years according to Red.

But it wasn’t as though he was sitting around.

RS:
I was working as a journalist for a bit. I gave up work to look after my two daughters as soon as the elder one was born, so I was a house husband for 16 years.

I wrote a couple of books. A detective book and I always kept fit but it was kind of like solitary activities like swimming up and down the disabled lane in British swimming pools or going to the gym or doing Pilates or Yoga

I really missed the kind of camaraderie that you get from either being part of a team or doing an activity where you’re working closely with a partner like climbing.

TR:

Isolation

That sense of isolation can be quite common among people who are blind.

RS:

but then my elder daughter had her 9th birthday party at a local indoor climbing wall and whilst all the other parents were ogling the buff bodied instructors I was just checking out the bumps and curves on these beautiful molded climbing walls going I want to get my hands on that and I want to start climbing again. And that itch that I’d been wanting to scratch for two decades just suddenly seemed possible again. I thought well I can get back out and climb again safely.

TR:

When Red was first diagnosed with RP climbing walls weren’t an option. You had to do it the old fashion way, find a big rock and start climbing.

Early indoor rock climbing facilities weren’t of interest to Red as they weren’t very challenging.

RS:

The climbing wall that I went to for my daughter’s 9th birthday party had these 18 meter high walls and they were over hanging and challenging. It was just like being back outdoors again and I just… it just immediately hit my adrenaline button.

TR:

When that adrenaline gets going, you don’t want to keep it bottled up.

RS:
For a long time I was very good in being the happy blind person … well doesn’t Red take this well. Concealing inside that I was really pissed off. I don’t know if I can say that on your show…

[TR in conversation with RS]
You can say anything man!

RS:
Laughs… ok!

And actually like anything that you bottle up, it tends to go off. It tends to go sour. Actually what I learned though getting active in group activities again is a lot of it because you have to externalize it, you actually let off a lot of steam as well. It’s part of the process.

TR:

With the combination of adrenaline and access all Red required was action.

RS:

After my daughter’s 9th birthday at the local rock climbing center I turned up a little bit sheepishly with my white cane in my hand and said look I used to be a pretty decent rock climber. I know I’m blind but would you give me lessons and my instructor Trevor said yeh, why wouldn’t I. And I went what really and … I’m not going to discriminate against you just because your blind you said that you used to love climbing so do I.

TR:

Right there! that’s where Red and his climbing instructor Trevor found common ground. As we’ll see that’s an important message Red hopes to share with others. Proving inclusion and access is of benefit to all.

RS:

It was great. He gave me a great accolade after the third lesson that we had. Actually instructing me made him a better teacher because he had to think outside the sighted box. And that was great.

As soon as I got my strength back , my climbing strength back, I was actually making pretty good progress and it felt really good to improve doing something physical rather than having a degenerative physical disability and feeling that things were getting worse day by day. I was getting stronger and better at something day by day and it felt like taking one back for the good guys to be honest.

TR:
Feeling robbed by vision loss can lead to self-doubt.

RS:
I’d given up originally because if I couldn’t trust my eye sight how could I expect other people to trust my judgement, but actually through indoor climbing I re-discovered that passion but also that ability to control risk, be in charge of my own destiny and communicate. And I think that’s the thing that I get from rock climbing. And also from tandem bike riding and swimming. If you’re doing one of those activities with a buddy then it’s about communication. If your buddy is willing to help you then it’s actually down to you to give them the correct type of communication so that the two of you can achieve as well as you can. And I think that was something. It took me a lot of time. it took me two decades to realize that.

TR:
Armed with this new perspective, Red unknowingly or maybe subconsciously, began the process of ascending towards his goals.
Following a climbing workout with his trainer, Red mentioned one of his pre vision loss climbing goals.

RS:
And then one fateful day, whilst Trevor, my instructor was waxing lyrical about his favorite mountain side, I laid gasping on the ground having just overcome a tricky hanging problem, I let slip this dream that I had since I was about 12 years old of climbing something called the Old Man of Hoy.

TR:

The Old Man of Hoy is a sea stack off the coast of Scotland.

Sea Stacks also referred to as just a stack is a geological landform consisting of a steep and often vertical column or columns of rock in the sea near a coast, formed over time from erosion due to wind and water.

The Old Man of Hoy is considered one of the 10 most amazing stacks. it’s about 449 feet tall and only several hundred years old. Experts believe it may collapse soon.

Red became interested in climbing the stack after watching a documentary about Chris Bonington a mountaineer who climbed Everest.

RS:
He climbed everything . He is a Rock God.
that was the rock pinnacle that I kind of had emblazoned on my heart that I always wanted to climb. I said that to Trevor and Trevor went ok, I’ve climbed that. Well you know, with a bit of work you could probably do it. You know, you’re a good climber, you could probably do it. And that was it, it started itching … I started to go I got to do this. By then I got a climbing partner and I mentioned it to him and this dream kind of became a target because my climbing partner is quite pushy and so is Trevor.

TR:

Audio: From 2012 Olympics Opening
“Welcome to London”

Encouraged by the athletes competing in the 2012 London Paralympics taking, Red began taking steps to accomplish his long time goal.

RS:

That summer of London 2012 was the time that I started thinking this is possible. Then at a slightly drunken Christmas party at the end of 2012 my climbing partner was just ribbing me going ” When are you going to do this , when are you going to do this?” I just said Let’s do it next summer.

[TR in conversation with RS]
Who says alcohol isn’t good for something, huh?

Laughs with RS

RS:
Alcohol makes the plans.

TR:
Maybe, but executing them can be sobering.

Red dropped a bit of extra weight and in 2013 became the first blind man to climb the old man of hoy.

RS:
They made a film of it which was broadcast on the BBC over here.

and talk about taking one back for the good guys. That was one in the eye for Retinitis Pigmentosa, screw you, I can still do this.

TR:
After successfully climbing the Old Man of Hoy, in 2014 Red reached the pinnacle of another, the Old man of Storr.

His latest quest or in this case his Holman Ambition once again includes a sea stack.

Am Buachaille  , the rock that I’m going to go and climb is the third of the big Scottish sea stacks.

This is the most extreme. It’s miles away from anywhere. You have to cross Bog land. You have to abseil down cliffs you have to swim out to the base of it and then you got 90 minutes to climb it before the sea cuts you off and strands you over night. Not many sighted people take it on.

TR:
Yet Red along with his climbing partner Mathew will take it on. In a nutshell, here’s what they have to do.

Audio: Let There Be Rock, ACDC

RS:

Everything is against the clock.

Audio: Clock ticking…>

We have to setoff at the right time. Building in the fact that the land we are crossing is boggy. We will probably fall off a few times.

Audio: Bike fall and wheel spin

We’ll probably have to pull this heavyweight Cannondale tandem out of the bog, clean it up and move on. We’ll get punches, it’s a tough climb.

Then we’ve got to abseil down.

TR:
That’s a descent down the face of the cliff to reach their entry point into the water.

RS:

wait for the tide to get slack to go out to minimize the amount of swimming that we have to do and to be able to get on the platform at the bottom. Not a manmade platform but the bit that you can actually stand on to start the climb at the bottom of the sea stack.

We’ve got to get dressed again, get our equipment out. We’ve got to climb it and do that and get back down within 90 minutes otherwise the tide will cut us off.

TR:

You would think that when their finished climbing the sea stack that’s it, right? Wrong! They have to turn around and do the whole thing in reverse.

RS:
You got to swim it , bring your equipment there and back and then you got to be up the cliff and then cycling back before it gets dark. Not too much of a problem for me but it might be for my sighted climbing partner.

TR:

If you’re a sighted listener, feel free to join the blind and low vision listeners who are giggling at that last comment.

He may sound calm and make light of the situation but he takes it all quite seriously.
RS:

I don’t like to have a challenge that I can’t work out how to do but I came up with this plan about two years ago having sort of scoped it out beforehand. I just thought that’s impossible. A, that needs a lot of resources. B, it needs a lot of planning and C I’m not getting any younger. It’s a tough challenge.

TR:

Indeed. Just think about all of the variables at play. Communication, equipment

***Start Here***
RS:
We are talking about the United Kingdom that has a habit of pissing down rain just when you don’t need it to. Or high winds, We can’t climb in that. There’s a lot of planning.

There is a lot of stuff to go wrong and one of the things that you learn as a climber is that you minimize all the potential for things going wrong. So you draw up lists of what can go wrong and how you can stop it from going wrong. What you might break, equipment wise. What you can afford to bring with you as a spare.

We’ll do it. It’s a scary challenge even here 9months out it’s probably the toughest climbing challenge I’ll have ever done.

TR:

At first, I thought Red’s motivation was vengeance. as in revenging vision loss itself. Specifically, Retinitis Pigmentosa.
RS:

Includes audio reverb effect as in flashback…

it felt like taking one back for the good guys to be honest.
talk about taking one back for the good guys. That was one in the eye for Retinitis Pigmentosa

TR:

And so we’re clear, I’m not judging.

Maybe that is a motivator for some. Whatever gets you moving, right?
And you need momentum to reach your peak.

And along the way, motivations can change from personal to those that have a broader impact.

RS:

I think my diagnosis of blindness made me a little scared to go out of the door at times. It made me need to have a reason to go outdoors.
Other people’s
perception of blindness is that we are mobility impaired and maybe there’s a lot of activities that we shouldn’t do . My view of the world is that you go and kick the ass out of it and if you can find a way of doing that that gives you pleasure and has you playing with other people playing along with other people and doing stuff that you can they enjoy, blindness should be no barrier to that. Go out and find the thing that makes you tick and kick the ass out of it. Life is too short to sit there looking at what you lost rather than what you can still achieve.

I kind of wish that I’ve done a bit more in those years before I rediscovered climbing.

I don’t like what if’s and I don’t want other people to have what if’s. I want to spread the word that whether it’s Yoga, Pilates, climbing kayaking or just walking to your corner store and back every day, getting out and doing some physical activity makes you feel much better.

That’s what it’s all about for me.

TR:

Writing his own account of his 2013 climb of the Old man of Hoy in his book, The Blind Man of Hoy has given Red the chance to spread his message.

The Holman Prize will give him a chance to increase his visibility and reach a wider audience. Yes, he hopes to inspire other blind people, but it’s what he hopes the sighted family and friends can learn that I find intriguing.

RS:

I got a blind friend , maybe I should ask him if he wants to go swimming. Maybe I should see if we could rent a tandem and we could get outdoors
if just one person’s life is changed by showing what we still have as blind people in potential then my job is done. I’ know that I’ve made some difference already. I want to build on that success .

TR:

Changing perceptions isn’t easy. Red knows. Based on his own estimate it took him about 20 years to re-focus how he views his vision loss.

RS:

when I got to the full summit of the Old Man of Hoy and there’s this huge crack in the top of the sea stack as if a giant has taken a cleaver to it and split it down about 50 meters. I could feel the wind coming off the Atlantic and could sense the sun all over my face and I thought I’ve got there this is brilliant and then my climbing partner just went not yet mate , I went but this is still pretty cool, I’m just going to bask in this .

I thought my blindness has got me here. Without my blindness I would never have been climbing that rock. I would have been sitting in front of some computer somewhere doing some boring ass job earning money for the man and thinking I wish I carried on climbing. My blindness got me there. Without it I wouldn’t have achieved those pages in my story.

when I got this job working for the radio station my Dad actually turned around to me and he went you always wanted to be a radio journalist didn’t you . And I went yeh that’s what I wanted to do when I was in my teens. And he went and you’re doing it. You’re doing it about books. People are paying you to listen to audio books and interview authors. What’s not to like about that.

And I thought it’s a really funny round about world where it took 30 years and going blind for me to actually achieve two of my most dearly held dreams.

Whilst I’ll never feel truly grateful to Retinitis Pigmentosa I guess I’ve got to thank it for some of the opportunities it’s given me.

TR:
In fact, Red says it was his boss Yvonne at RNIB, the Royal National Institute for the Blind, who suggested he pursue the Holman Prize.
RS:

Royal National Institute for Blind people is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. It supports people with sight loss. It gives help, advice and equipment to people with sight loss to help us lead as constructive a life as possible.

We have the most amazing talking books library which also has Braille and giant print copies of hundreds of thousands of books.

TR:
If you want to stay in touch with his progress, send congratulations or listen to his show…

RS:

You can find me at my website RedSzell.com where you’ll find all of my latest news. You can drop me an email if you want to and you can find Read On by looking up RNIBConnectRadio/ReadOn.

TR:
So there’s no confusion, he spells that R E A D. I know weird, right?

TR:

Red and I have a lot in common.

We’re both around the same age, actually I’m one year older than the young man.

Both losing our sight later in life.
Dad’s to two daughters.
We’re both interested in audio journalism.

But I guess there could only be one …

Audio: King of Rock, RunDMC.

Salute to Red Szell, Stacy Cervenka & Conchita Hernandez the 2018 Holman Prize winners. I’m sure the Reid My Mind Radio family joins me in congratulating you all and agree that we’re looking forward to hearing more about your journey and success.

Shot out to the San Francisco Lighthouse for their leadership and sponsorship of the Holman Prize.

I think it’s worth recognizing the amount of time and thought put into this project.

It’s something that could easily be done wrong.

The diversity of the winners and their ambitions indicates to me at least that it’s really about encouragement, visibility and the promotion of positive examples of what is possible for people who are blind and low vision and in general people with disabilities.

Three things that I hope are also associated with this podcast.

Next time, we’re going back to catch up with 2017 Holman Prize 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 searching 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.

You know, I may not have been crowned King of Rock, but you know what they say…

RS:
He’s a Rock God!

Peace!

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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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