Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description: We Are Worthy

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

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

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

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

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Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

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

TR:

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

[drum beat fades in]

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

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

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

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

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

[shouting over a beat]

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

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

audio clip of TR’s youngest child:

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

Nefertiti

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

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

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

[talking]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:
She was forced to largely find her own way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:
Sí! Dominicana! Me gente!

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

[In the Heights trailer begins playing in the background]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio sample: (D! And that’s me in the place to be. Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

[outro music]

Peace.

Hide the transcript

Young Gifted Black & Disabled – Right On Time with Toni Hickman

Wednesday, December 15th, 2021

Toni Hickman is standing with an Emmy in her hand. She is a tall, slim black woman with a peach dress on and long black locs

I first learned of Artist, Rapper, EMMY Award Winning Toni Hickman a few years ago when I did an episode on Krip Hop. I wanted to reach out and invite her onto the podcast back then, but things sometimes slip off my radar. When I learned she was a part of the song Rising Phoenix for the documentary of the same name I knew I wanted to speak with her. While in conversation with Reid My Mind Radio Alumni & Family member Cheryl Green, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the two of them were connected. Cheryl put us in touch and then, well, a lot of stuff in between, but we finally ended up in conversation

In this episode we talk about;
Toni’s history in the rap game. from her days at Suave House as Slim Goodie, her encounter with Suge Knight to her current collaboration with longtime friend Big Yo in their new group Thakur (pronounced The Cure).

We discuss her experience with disability as a Black woman, the impact on her career, winning an EMMY and so much more. Of course, we pay special attention to the valuable lessons that are applicable to anyone adjusting to disability.

This conversation took a while to actually make happen, but it’s right on time!

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Transcript

Show the transcript

— Music begins, a piano chord with a vibes roll leads into a upbeat groove.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Hey, Toni, can you hear me?

Toni:

Yes!

TR in Conversation with Toni:

How you doing?

Toni:

I’m good how are you?

TR in Conversation with Toni:

I’m good

Toni:

we finally got to do the interview.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

yeah yeah I’m scared to say that, I’m gonna wait till it’s done (Laughs)

Toni:

I was just I had something else that came…

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Uh oh!I’m losing your connection I don’t know if you can hear me but I can’t hear you Can hear me but I can’t hear you.
Okay it says you’re unmuted, it says your video is on, try turning off your video and let’s see if that saves some bandwidth

Toni:
Thomas

TR in Conversation with Toni:

There you go.

TR:

Things happen when there supposed to

For example, maybe this is your first time listening to the podcast.
I don’t know what brought you here, but I’m glad you made it.

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

We’re in the midst of the Young Gifted Black & Disabled series.
This was inspired by an episode of the same name I produced last year with my brother AJ Murray.
I really encourage y’all to check that out.

While that episode along with close to 150 others are in the past, they’re not old or stale.
We add a bit of seasoning for flavor, but there’s no preservatives.
The dishes we serve up here are always fresh and good for your mind and body.

So you see, you’re right on time!

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Let’s get it!

Toni:

My name is Tony Hickman. I am a tall slim, melanin dominant black girl with long dreadlocks and yeah I am excited about this interview.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

So now I usually don’t start with this question, but where were you born Tony?

Toni:

I was born in New York City.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Can you be specific?

Toni:

I was born in the Bronx,

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Yeh! say that one more time for me…

Toni:

I was born in the Boogie Down Bronx. Morisanna Hospital. I was raised in New Orleans Louisiana.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

No doubt you can’t hide that.

TR:

Over the year’s, Toni’s been known under some other names.

Toni:

when I was on Suave House, which is a record label where I have done gold and platinum musical performances, my rap name used to be Slim Goodie.

Everybody in the industry that knows me they still call me Slim like everybody call me Slim so it’s crazy if I would have got fat right they’ll still call me Slim.

TR:

That really does sort of make you think about the importance of a name. It can be really about who you are at one particular moment in time.
Yet, it can also be about who you are meant to be.

Toni:

A lot of people like in the conscious community call me Alika. Some people in the conscious community come up with other names for themselves and I think that’s okay too because sometimes we have to define who we want to be in this world and When we’re given our government names it’s not always where we are you know, so I get it but yeah, Alika is actually my real middle name.

My dad gave me Tony and my mom gave me Alika.

Alika means beautiful warrior.

TR:

On social she’s known as the Real Ms. Toni Hickman. Perhaps there is an impostor out there, but I’m thinking it’s more like representing her ability to share her truth. Keeping it real! Namean!

An early sign of that is in her poetry which she began at 9 years old.

Toni:

I had went through a lot of things with my mom and my father’s splitting up and so I would write this poetry to help me. It was philosophy, even at a young age.

It was like, I wish I was a bird so that I could fly away, but I am just a child, so therefore, I have to stay.

TR:

When her school put on a talent show, Toni teamed up with some friends and started rapping.

Toni:

We was the Bally Trooper Adidas group, and we had a beatboxer and my home girl and me. And we won the talent show. And from there, I was just like, Oh, yeah, this is what I’m supposed to be doing right here.

TR:

That first performance was not really indicative of how Toni wanted to rap.

Her partner wrote the rhyme. Which was about Now & Laters.

Toni:

I was just like, Okay, I need to be doing this all the time. But I can write my own raps. And from there, I always wrote my own lyrics.

MC Lyte, Salt N Peppa. That was like my big influences at that time as far as female hip hop. But honestly, my reality was a little bit different.

I grew up kind of, like, always looking out for myself. I’ve been on my own since I was 15. I’ve been doing music professionally since 16.

TR:

Writers of any sort are encouraged to write about what they know. Toni wrote about her environment.

Toni:
My environment was watching people die, like right in front of my face, people getting shot and killed.

And so I started rapping on the negative side of that, like, I was T Capone, I was Al Capone’s daughter.
I was the gangsta hip hop. And I gradually started going into stories of like, why this wasn’t a good choice, or why even being in that environment can get you stuck.

TR:

With a rap name like T Capone, well you’d assume not all of the stories were positive.

Toni:

It wasn’t just about killing. I can only remember one song I did that and they went platinum, but it was about killing. And that didn’t sit well with me. Like, during the process, it was dope, the song was called armed robbery. But then afterwards, when I listened to it, like my soul was just like, no, Toni , this is not your path, you have to correct and that’s something that happens in life, like, you know, we don’t come in this world knowing exactly what we need to do or what direction we need to go. And it’s only from these harsh lessons, that we get to learn our true purpose.

TR:

Telling stories with messages, was her thing.

Toni:

Like Scarface or Tupac. They used to actually call me a female Tupac because that’s really kind of how I related to the world.

And then even after that, I started going into Slim Goody.

Slim Goodie had messages in her music and that was very important for me Even then, even though I didn’t even know my whole way. I just knew that it had to have something that somebody could learn from.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Being compared to like a Tupac and Scarface, where do you think you got that? Were you reading as well as writing at a young age?

Toni:

My mother raised me as a reader. She was putting books in my face, like, As a Man Thinketh”, “Back to Eden”.

My mother was like this person who everybody would come to if they were sick or had an issue, and my mother would be the one to give them a solution. Like, she was known as the medicine woman in the church.

Now I do that as well.

TR:

During the time she was rapping under the name Slim Goodie,
Suave House moved Toni from New Orleans to Atlanta.
The record label however was experiencing their own change as their premiere artists 8 Ball and MJG were leaving the label.

Toni:

When you put your project in somebody else’s hands, and it’s no fault of anyone, but if you put your project in somebody else’s hands, you have to wait on their hand and move right. So if something happens with their hand, their hand get cut off or something like that thing, you’re stuck because you’ve put your dreams in somebody else’s hands. That situation happened to me. And so I eventually got out of the label legally, and started doing my own thing and started working with big artists like Jagged Edge, Petey Pablo

TR:

That got the attention of the infamous Suge Knight.

— Audio from the 1995 Source Awards…
“Any artist out there want to be an artist, want to stay a star, don’t want to have to worry about the Executive Producer trying to be all in the videos, all on a record, dancing, come to Death Row.” Suge Knight

TR:

Yes, that Suge Knight, from Death Row Records.
He liked what he heard and reached out to Toni.
Of course she was aware of his reputation which includes
allegedly hanging rapper Vanilla Ice off a balcony during let’s say contract negotiations.

Toni:

He called my phone personally right That was still huge for me that I was on the phone with him.
He was like yeah, I want to fly you out to Cali and you know we’re gonna do this because I love this song. This is a dope song.

Then three days later, I had my first brain aneurysm.

When I look back at it now its like, you definitely was not supposed to go out there.

TR:

Toni recovered from that aneurysm and moved on with her career.
About a year later, while celebrating the release of a new project back home in New Orleans, she felt ill.
It was another aneurysm.

Toni:

But this one actually burst in my head. Most people die when that happens. But they rushed me to the hospital. I had to wait for my mother to come from Atlanta and give them permission to operate on me. They told her I had a 5050 chance of living or dying.

When she gave them permission, they went in my head and started operating. But while they were in my head, I had a stroke on the table because my body went into shock, and it pushed my pressure up.

When I came to, which was a minute, I think I was out for a couple of days. But when I came to I couldn’t speak. And I couldn’t spell water. I couldn’t say water. But I noticed what I wanted.

TR:

She wanted to live! Even if she didn’t realize it at that time.

Eventually she was moved to a rehab facility in Louisiana.

Toni:

I had this song playing in my head, (Toni sings …)feels like I’m hopeless.

And every time I was thinking in my head, I just burst out crying because that’s what I felt. I just felt hopeless. Like, I had no hope. And I have been doing music all my life. And so I was like, What am I doing now?
Okay, now, the industry definitely is not focused on people with disabilities. And so, like, What am I supposed to do?

— Music begins, an eerie menacing slow Hip Hopbeat

One of my nurses came in and she said, Well, what you need to ask is, how did you have two brain aneurysms and a stroke and you’re still alive?
So that’s the real question you need to ask yourself. That stuck with me for the rest of my life.

TR:

Toni describes herself as very stubborn during this period.

Toni:

I had this energy on me that was like, I’ll be damned, that’s the only way I can describe it.
I just never gave up on myself. I had to either be hopeless, or I’ll be damned. And I chose the I’ll be damned.

I just had this energy where I was like, this cannot be my reality, I have so much more in me, this can’t be it.

I have so much more in me, like, just can’t be it.

TR:

She made her own rules.
Like refusing to remain in bed even when she couldn’t walk.
Eventually she began walking with a cane and was transferred to the Shepperd Center in Atlanta.
A rehabilitation facility that helps young people with brain injury.

Toni:

There were people in there and they were just like giver uppers, and I hate that that can happen. But some people when they fall or something has happened seemed to defeat them, they travel in that energy, they choose to stay in that energy of just being defeated, instead of fighting. And for me, I just didn’t see the being defeated, being my option, I wanted to fight for my life.

TR:

The physical, that was just part of her fight.

Toni:

I had to deal with the outside world and walking differently and not being able to wear heels or being self conscious about what I look like, and being judged by what I look like.

Before I was this six foot model type looking girl.

— Music Begins, a bouncy up-tempo, high energy Hip Hop beat!

“I got a little a, a little something I want to lay on y’all.” !”

TR:

Hey did you know; Reid My Mind Radio, is on Facebook and Insta Gram. We’re going to do some things on these platforms so stay tuned. You can find us on both FB and IG @ReidMyMindRadio.

On Twitter I’m at tsreid

Don’t forget you can also ask your smart device to play Reid My MindRadio by T.Reid on your preferred podcast provider.

Make sure you say that full statement including, T.Reid.

— A hint of “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway

The holidays are among us. If you’re looking for a way to give yourself a present while supporting what I’m hoping is your favorite podcast… one of your favorites? A podcast you’re kinda diggin’?

Anyway, go on over to ReidMyMind.com and hit that link that says Shop.

Purchase a shirt, hoodie or any item to show your rockin’ with Reid My Mind Radio! Or maybe you want to show your support for Flipping the Script on Audio Description. or of course, Young Gifted Black & Disabled.

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You can find Reid My Mind Radio wherever you get your podcasts. That’s the perfect place to follow or subscribe so you don’t miss an episode.

Tell a friend to do the same. Let them also know that we have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com. Just make sure you tell them; That’s R to the E I D

“D” and that’s me in the place to be. Slick Rick) Like my last name.

Now back to the episode. ———-

— DJ Scratch leads into
— Crippled Pretty, by Toni Hickman

Lyrics:

I was kind of wishing I was dead
They shaved off all my hair to do surgery on my head
And then my eyes turned dark and my world got black
I never thought my life would take a turn like that

My world is Cripple Pretty

I’ve seen the sun and…
I’ve seen the rain and…
Life is beautiful
I can’t complain, man
… song continues under the conversation.

TR:

Toni didn’t want to be seen in public

Toni:

A friend of mine, he was just like you done lost your confidence What happened? And then I was like, I didn’t lose anything. I’m telling him that but he was right. I hated that he was able to identify that with me that pissed me off. I’m supposed to hide it.

— Music begins, a melancholy ambient piano melody

I had to get all my hair shaved off during this process.

I went and got braids in my hair so I can just feel beautiful.

One day I was in the mirror and I was taking the braids out. And I had this energy that came over me, and it was just like, I love you. And so I’m looking in the mirror, and I’m crying to myself. And I’m just I love you, I love you just how you are like, I love you. And even to think about it. Now it’s bringing tears to my eyes, because that was the moment when I decided that I had to love myself internally. Before I can really reflect that in the world. You know?

TR:

Yeh, I do.

In fact, I think a lot of us do.
What I think could be helpful is figuring out how to access that energy.

Toni:

I think it’s in all of us, but we have to tap into it.

When I was in the mirror, and I was crying to myself, and I had to tell myself, I love myself. That was definitely God energy. And that was definitely learning what self love really means. Because everybody talks about you got to do the self care and the self love, but self love really comes in when you are down at your bottom. And you can’t even figure your way out and you have to find your way of understanding what self love means. That was my turning point.

TR:

She took the braids out.

Toni:

I put my two palm palms in my head naturally. And I was like, Look, this is me, you gonna have to accept me as is. I started going to the gym, the local YMCA in Atlanta. And I was working on myself so hard that they put me on the wall is like just being so determined to grow and succeed.

I don’t care what your issue is. You feeling like you need to go Get your nails and your toes done, whatever makes you feel beautiful. It’s okay to, to go in that energy because that inspires the same energy that makes you feel that self care and this self love.

I do it because it makes me feel better not for anybody else. I do it for me.

TR:

While she says her gate is off, Toni became strong enough where she no longer needed a cane and was able to return to the studio.

Unrelated to disability, today she chooses to record from home.

Yet we know, disability can introduce some change into our lives.

Toni:

Oh everything changes. As a melanin dominant person, or black person in our world, there have been so many ways to see how, as black people, we have been discriminated against, but disability takes it to a whole other level.

I’m not saying that it takes away from discrimination as black because if you’re black and disabled, like that’s a double whammy.

What I realized is this community of people with disabilities First off, is so strong, like there’s so many strong spirits , disabled activists.

I was kind of just trying to figure out my way, and Krip Hop came to me.

TR:

The Krip Hop Nation was started by Leroy Moore and Keith Jones in 2007.
It’s a worldwide association of artists with disabilities campaigning for equality through concerts, tours, workshops and much more.
Leroy reached out to Toni on the early social media app, My Space.

Toni:

When Leroy came to me, I was just like, yes. I have spoken at different events with Leroy. We’ve just done a lot of great things.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

There are many people within the world of hip hop who have a disability, but they don’t all identify it as such. So I’m sure Leroy has approached some people. And their reaction was probably not like yours, right? Like, no, I’m not disabled, you know what I’m saying? So what is it? How did you come to identify as disabled?

Toni:

I’m not gonna hide it. That was one of the things of like, self love. I can’t hide what has happened. I didn’t feel like I needed to, like, I felt like I needed to speak for this community versus hide.

I know rappers in the industry right now. They’ve never shine light on it, because they know how the industry looks at that. And it’s unfortunate, because this is something that needs the light. The disability community needs inclusion.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

Do you think that can change within hip hop, specifically?

Toni:’

I’m not sure.

At first, my goal was to be a part of the industry without being like, an activist.

I just wanted to be that slim girl that was rapping. But now my goal is not to be a part of them, my goal is to be a part of change. And even if my voice can redirect, to change them in some kind of way, then I’ve still fulfilled my purpose. Because at the end of the day, all Hip Hop artists have some form of duty.

I told you, I started with the poetry. And it’s always been philosophical. So we’re channeled,

Nipsey Hussle talks about this too. We get this energy that comes through us, we don’t know where these lyrics come from. They come through us and that is how we express. Those that channeling for negative, that is not helping our environment, but if we choose to channel and help our environment, then we are really being what we’re supposed to be on this earth.

TR:

There’s real purpose in sharing stories about disability and our experiences through
lyrics, musicianship, dance, art!
So it’s really great to se Toni and fellow Krip Hop artists
George Tragic and co-founder Keith Jones, receive recognition for their work
in the Netflix documentary Rising Phoenix.

Toni:

The documentary is about the Paralympics, and all of these amazing people who have stories.

it is a story of just pure, I’ll be damned. I’m gonna do this.
TR:

Daniel Pemberton, the music director for the film wanted to make sure the project included disabled musicians.
That first just meant hiring disabled orchestral instrumentalist.

Toni:

Then he decided that he wants to have like, a hip hop song attached. And so they got in touch with Leroy, who is the founder of crip, hop, and Leroy got in touch with us. And they kind of wanted me to add the energy of the singing into it, because they had listened to our projects.

I speak from the heart always, and I work on people always being able to feel that emotion that I have and so they wanted me to add the energy of the song.

I had more than what was there. And then the director came back, he’s like, Well, you know, maybe we take this off and just use this. And that’s how we ended up with the hook.

I’m a Rising Phoenix, I’ll rise above you.

— Song mixes in with the lyrics…

Toni:

And that is pretty much the story of what you have to do when you have a disability, you have to gain this, I’ll be damned attitude, and fight for your equality.

TR:

Not only is Toni singing the hook, but she drops a verse as well.

Toni:

I was just happy to be a part of the movie because just that alone was so powerful.

We had no idea that it was gonna win an EMMY.

I was just floored.

— News footage…
“A lot of people online are criticizing the award show with the hash tag #EMMYsSoWhite, trending on Twitter. No Black actors won big awards despite a record number being nominated. 49 by the way.”

Toni:

This goes back to that inclusion thing. This song was so amazing that it won an EMMY.
That’s the statement that I want to make because, I’m Black.

TR in conversation with Toni:

Mm! Yeh!

Toni:

We won because of this song so don’t say that we were not include it you need to think about us you need to understand that we are included

TR in conversation with Toni:

Yeh, that’s that “well they’re not Black they’re disabled.”

Toni:

That’s what i’m talking about!

TR:

Sometimes y’all, when you’re Black and disabled, It feels like well, am I not Black enough for ya!

— Sample from Billy Paul “Am I Black Enough”

TR:

Despite all that, Toni has an EMMY. And naturally, it’s in her studio.

Toni:

it’s beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.

TR:

Toni’s working on a new project right now!

Thakur>

Toni:
Thakur is definitely a project that I must confess is confrontational. But it is focused on I guess, bringing in the deep thinkers and, and also helping people understand that, like, in the process of us looking outside of ourselves, for someone to save us, we also have to look internally and tap into our God’s self and work on saving ourselves.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

What’s the controversy though?

Toni:

Well, the controversy, I mean, even in Christianity, we’ve been taught to pray to a white God, and look for white gods to save us.

And so in that process, we have given away all of our power. For us to access who we truly need to be, we have to redirect how we look at God.
God is everywhere. God is in the trees, the grass. God is energy. But we also manifest that energy. And so we have to also just see how looking at a white God, who has also been the same image as our slave master has damaged our psyche.

TR:

The Cure , spelled T H A K U R is Toni’s new group.

Toni:

It’s just me and my homeboy.

I was doing a lot of big things before I went in the hospital. And he was one of the people that just kind of came in and was there before and after. He’s a really dope artist, he’s a dope producer. But also a person that has just been influencing me to just keep going regardless of the standards that the music industry tries to put on artists, like age, disability or whatever. He was one of those people that just was always in my corner and encouraging me to you know, live my greatest life.

He’s Big Yo!

TR in Conversation with Toni:

When we’re talking about disability. I love to hear about the friends in the family who really were holding people down, before and after. I always feel like they deserve a real special shout out. So shout out Big Yo, for real!

Toni:

Yes, shout out to Big Yo!

TR:

You can check out Thakur’s first release titled Telepathy right now on YouTube.
By the time this episode is released, their second single Daylight should be available and an album soon to follow.

Toni:

it’s just really to enlighten and that’s what my whole journey has been about. Understanding my own truth while I can relay My message to others.

TR:

Krip Hop and rap in general is just one vehicle Toni uses to improve her environment through positive change.

Toni:

I started speaking for the American Heart Association, and this other organization called young stroke. And young stroke focuses on people with brain injury, aneurisms, that happen at a young age.

TR:

She writes books.

Toni:

The doctors told me to keep chemicals out of my hair for at least two years. And so when I researched why I found that you know, a lot of these chemicals can lead to cancer, aneurysms, all kinds of things and we don’t even think about it because as melanin dominant people, for so long we have just tried to fit into the status quo of what America or the world in society portrays as beauty and so we’ve been putting these perms and stuff on our hair and that understanding that our roots are definitely supposed to be out and that’s what we’re supposed to wear. I wrote a book called Chemical Suicide.

TR:

She has another titled ” A Man’s Cry for Health”.
It’s a response to a lack of information and attention placed on men’s health.

Toni:

It’s hard for them to focus or even bring attention to their health issues because society makes it look like they are less than a man if you have issues or you’re weaker or something and that shouldn’t be the case we need to pay attention to our men as well.

It doesn’t just help men because it talks about all ailments that us humans have but we’ve even raised our boys to think like you never cry you’re never supposed to cry you’re never supposed to shed tears and the reality is yeah you know one of my spiritual teachers he’s like you know if we weren’t supposed to cry we wouldn’t have tear ducts.

You don’t dwell in that energy but it’s okay for men to cry. It’s okay for you to let out that emotion.

TR:

She’s even working on the story of her journey. Toni:

I started on it. And then I stopped and I started again.
It’s my book. Just everything that I have been through and going through the changes of loving myself

My goal is to eventually get it turned into a movie or a series.

TR:

I’ll spare you all my audio description lecture and my selfless pitch to narrate.

Music, poetry, writing, Toni’s about creating.

Toni:

I paint, I’m constantly working on stuff just trying to see where I’m supposed to be. You know my purpose.

TR:

It’s why she shares the lessons she continues to learn throughout her journey. What she calls Alika Lessons.

Toni:

The Alika lessons can vary.

I don’t really think about direction. I just get on there with lessons that I constantly learn to help me grow. And I understand that whatever can help me grow is probably going to help somebody else.

TR:

The content she shares on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube isn’t tailored to any specific identity.
However, I think it does center the experiences of women.
And fellas, you may want to listen to learn a thing or two.

Toni:

The importance of loving yourself, but also the importance of understanding that it is okay for you to be properly pleasured.

This is not a disabled thing. Women have a tendency to kind of Like fake an orgasm because they are not truly being pleased because their spiritual connection is not there with their partner.

They’ve just bypassed that to please their partner instead of focusing on pleasing themselves.

TR:

Pleas ing oneself begins with seeing that inner beauty.
Being comfortable and loving that person in the mirror.

That first poem she wrote as a child;
choosing to be true to herself and write meaningful honest lyrics;
healing on her terms;
embracing her disability;

All of these things, on her time.

You should take some of your time to check out Toni’s music, purchase her books and art; Visit
ToniHickman.com

Toni:

that’s T O N I H I C K M A N.com

My social media is the real Tony Hickman except for Twitter on Twitter, I’m just Tony Hickman

TR:

Oh, no, she’s never [emphasis on just ]just Toni Hickman!

She is the real Toni Hickman, which happens to be the name of her YouTube channel.

TR in Conversation with Toni:

So since I got the real Tony Hickman online not that fake imposter running around out there you know say we got no time for that fake one so since I got the real one on that I just want to let you know that because you were so open and you shared everything and when folks do that right here with the family, with the Reid My Mind Radio family we let you know that you miss real Tony Hickman are now an official member of the Reid My MindRadio family

— Airhorn!

Toni:

Happy to be a member

TR in Conversation with Toni:

I really do appreciate you and you know I’ve been looking forward to this for a while and I’m glad we finally did it Tony we got this done Congratulations, to us!

TR:

Yes, congratulations to us as we celebrate… Young Gifted Black & Disabled

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description

Wednesday, September 16th, 2020

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

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

Listen

Resources

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

Transcript

Show the transcript


Sound of Vocal booth closing.

TR:

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

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

Sound of Dream Harp!

The Great Kazoo:

(Yawning!) You called?

TR in dream sequence:

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

The Great Kazoo:

When? Of course not I’ve been sleeping.

TR:

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

The Great Kazoo:

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

TR:

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

The Great Kazoo:

Why don’t you try counting on yourself.

TR:

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

Drop the beat!

Music begins with a Hip Hop Kick drum & bass.

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

The Great Kazoo:

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

Sound of reversing Dream Harp…

TR:

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

The Great Kazoo:

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR:

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

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

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

Now let me introduce you to my guests.

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

TR:

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

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

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

TR:

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

Alejandra:

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

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

TR:

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

Alejandra:

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

TR:

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

So that really got me hooked!

Chanelle:

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

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

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

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

[TR in conversation with Chanelle:]

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

Chanelle:

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

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

(Music ends!)

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

It’s about writing and saying what you saw.

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

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

TR:

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

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

Alejandra:

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

Hmm , hmmm! I like that. (Laughs)

Alejandra:

Laughs…

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

TR:

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

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

Alejandra:

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

TR:

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

Alejandra:

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

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

(Music slowly fades to silence.)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

have you always identified as disabled?

Liz:

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

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

How do those identities impact how you write description.

Liz:

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

TR:

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

Liz:

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

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

TR:

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

I would offer that it’s always important.

TR:

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

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

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

Liz:

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

Chanelle:

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

(DJ Scratch… Music begins)

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

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

TR:

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

Alejandra brings up an interesting point around identity.

Alejandra:

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

TR:

And yet…

Alejandra:

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

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

TR:

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

(Music ends)

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

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

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

Liz:

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

TR:

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

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

Chanelle:

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

TR:

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

(Music begins)

Alejandra:

Here’s the thing.

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

Liz Thomson and Chanelle Carson.

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

Sound of News Breaking Segment…

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

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

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

Like my last name.

Audio from The Flintstones:

Barney Rubble:

Do you think he’ll be back?

Fred Flintstone:

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Flintstones continues…
Barney Rubble:

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

Fred Flintstone:

Ah, looks that way. Goodnight, Barn.

Barney Rubble:

Goodnight Fred.

Hide the transcript

eTitle:A Love of Language With Elizabeth Sammons

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

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

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

Listen

###Resources
The Lyra and the Cross

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

TR:

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

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

ES:

I didn’t hide I ran

Laughs…

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

ES:

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

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

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

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

ES:

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

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

[TR in conversation with ES:]

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

ES:

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

TR:

Elizabeth’s love of culture and languages began early.

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

ES:

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

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

ES:

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

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

TR:

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

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

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

ES:

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

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

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

ES:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

ES:

(Sighs!)

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

TR:

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

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ES:

Amen to that. laughs…

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

ES:

Omar Advo

TR:

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

ES:

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

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

TR:

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

ES:

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

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Walking the Walk with Day Al-Mohamed

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Day Al-Mohamed and guide dog Gamma
Today is the right day to shine the spotlight on Day Al-mohamed. We’re focusing on her creative endeavors such as writing books, short stories, comic books and scripts. now she adds Film director and Producer to her list of credits. Hear how she began writing, learned to produce a documentary on the virtually unknown disabled Civil War soldiers known as the “Invalid Corps” and provided yours truly with some early inspiration in my adjustment to Blindness process.

Plus, she shares a story and piece of American and disability history that I guarantee you haven’t heard.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

Audio: Radio turning through different FM stations.

TR:
Rise and shine beautiful people.

Audio: Lovely Day, Bill Withers

You’re listening to WRMM better known as Reid My Mind Radio. I’m your host T.Reid.

If you just stumbled across this station while turning the dial on your virtual radio, welcome!
This is the place where you’ll find stories and profiles of compelling people impacted by blindness and disability. When I’m in the mood or have something of interest to share about my own experience I’ll serve that up to you with a bit of my sofrito if you will. My combination of spices!

Today’s episode is long overdue and that’s my bad.

But, as it turns out, it’s just the right Day to tell you a story!

Let’s go!

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music

Day:

“I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.”

TR:

That’s Day Al Mohamed. She encompasses all of those things and more. An Advocate, someone pursuing her interests and a person with a disability.

Specifically on that last point, she’s a visually impaired guide dog user.

We’ll discuss her advocacy work of course, but there’s just something I find so cool about people pursuing their passion. for Day, that’s writing.

And just as she said, disability comes up!

Some of you may be familiar with Day from her time at the American Council of the Blind. But here’s something you may not know.

Day:

I think most people don’t realize even with a last name like Al-Mohamed they assume I’m American. I don’t have an accent when I speak English or anything like that. However, I was born and raised overseas in the Middle East in Bahrain. A small island just off the coast of Saudi Arabia. It’s like 15 miles across, it’s that small. I didn’t come to the US until I was 17.
[

It’s one of those things that people are like wow you’re actually a foreigner. Then I have to reveal the small cheat that my mother is American so … And then they go wow that must have been really rough for her because she’s an American and she went to this whole conservative like Middle Eastern country. And I’m like my mom was from Missouri so she went from conservative Mid West to conservative Mid-East. It was not that big of a change.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs… So did you go back to Missouri when you came back to the states?

Day:
I actually went to college there at the University of Missouri and stayed on there for law school as well. I think that’s kind of where I got my start with legislative issues and policy issues were actually there in the state.

TR:

Day was presented with An opportunity.

Following a discussion about sponsoring a bill around disability employment, a Missouri State Legislator decided:

Day:

“I should put my money where my mouth is, I should get a disabled intern. You know that’s what I should do just get a disabled intern.”

And so he just put out this call for a random disabled intern and I kind of randomly got it. When I showed up at his office he was like can you answer the phone can you talk to people. So he had no idea about the capacity of people with disabilities at all.

I think that’s kind of always stuck with me and I look for other people who kind of have that same walk the walk.

TR:

That sort of attitude can really pay off; for all involved.

Day:

And by the time I’m done he’s like “Hey I need you to write this up as an amendment for the floor Go, go, go

TR:

Ever since then, Day’s been moving.

Day:

you know when you get a job it kind of starts you down a path.
I ended up actually doing an internship at the US Senate in Ron Wyden’s office and so I ended up doing more policy work there.

Next I did law school and then I actually did some stuff with the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court
before there ever was an ICC over at the Haig in Europe. They were trying to design an build it over at the UN up in New York and so I got a chance to spend a good part of summer there working with folks who were on the commission and it was amazing .

TR:

Then Day learned that the American Council of the Blind was looking for a Director of Advocacy and Legislative Affairs. This gabe her the chance to go to D.C and work on national policy.

Throughout her career, she’s worked on a wide range of topics.

Day:

social welfare, employment, technology, education.

I actually worked on Missouri’s conceal carry.

I kind of ended up falling into doing more disability but in general I’m a big advocate for doing whatever interests you because to be honest if you have a disability , disability is going to come into it whether you want it to or not.

I was with the American Psychological Association and for them I did do disability policy but I also did racial and ethnic minorities indigenous populations, some of there international development work. It was a nice mix in broad areas and I wanted to help them get started on creating an immigration portfolio because we were seeing a lot more activities in that rhelm and I think we had something to say.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Do you have a special area that is very close to your heart?

Day:

It’s hard to say because I tend to fall in love with all sorts of different things. Which I guess in many ways means I’m a Lobbyist at heart. That word gets such a bad rap but honestly all it is is an advocate who gets paid.

You learn how Congress works and then you find people who are the experts or you find people with stories to tell and then basically you are connecting those pieces

TR:

Yes, the pieces are connecting! This advocate, is a storyteller.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You can definiely talk that policy butI do want to get into the creative side.

I was looking on your website, DayAlMohamed.com, and you have a page that has different versions of your bio. What I thought was interesting was the policy stuff doesn’t come until the very end. The last two versions, the long version, but the other versions are really focused in on the creative endeavors, your writing. Am I reading into that too much? Is that your focus, do you really like to focus in that area?

Day:

I think part of it is (ahem!) I need to redo my website. Laughs!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs!

Day:

For anybody looking at DayAlMohamed.com I’m trying to get it to split. One is Day in Washinton which is where I cover all of my policy work and that’s where you’ll find some policy analysis and disability related stuff.
One of the things I’ve been doing , it’s almost 10 years now is writing fiction and in the last couple of years I’ve been doing more and more writing . I write fantasy and science fiction so we have books, short stories, a couple of comic book scripts, although it’s not fantasy and science fiction I recently put out a 30 minute film and I have 4 or 5 other short films as well. And so there’s been a lot more of the creative stuff.

It started out as something to do when I first came to Washington DC. My wife actually stayed back in Missouri to finish her degree and so if you’re away from your spouse for along period of time it gets kind of boring but it also gets kind of lonely so I signed up for a writing group. and started meeting with them.

I cannot laud enough the benefit of joining a group. You have other people who are striving for the same thing you’re doing. You have people who can kind of act as a sounding board for ideas, folks to critique. Having that kind of ability to have people to do that it only makes your writing better. I would say no good writing ever came out of a cave.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So let me anticipate a question that someone would have when they hear that. Someone new adjusting to blindness would say well what about the fact that I’m blind and I’m assuming that wasn’t a blind writing group

Day:

It was not.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

How did that play. And you know, obviously this is something you’ve been doing for a long time but did that play into it in anyway?

Day:

Not as much as I thought it would. Really,..

[TR in conversation with Day:]
How did you think it would . And I’m sorry to cut you off but I want to get that…

Day:

No, no I think it’s a good one.

I think I worried that I wouldn’t be seen as a serious writer, which never happened. Or that they would question my capacity which also never happend. The group always made a point of meeting somehwere that was metro accessible. And we’re in the DC area so they were like well yeh not everybody drives and although at that time everybody else did drive they continued to make a point to only choose metro accessible areas. Even though I know that for a couple of metings it got very tough trying to find a location.

TR:

The benefits go beyond access.

Day:

There was one member who was a copy editing guru and oh my god the number of times she yelled at me about misplaced commas which you know with a screen reader is not necessarily the easiest thing to find when you put them in wrong and to go back and read to figure out where you got it. She was nice about it but she certainly still expected me to make sure I followed through on that .

That I had a strong story arc, character development. All the same kind of things. So realistically it end up with there not being any real difference blind or sighted.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice, nice!

TR:

It was a nice experience for Day.

Unfortunately, she did mention how some people with disabilities reported negative experiences in other writing groups. That however, shouldn’t deter you.

Day:

I would encourage anybody, if you want to write go find a group and do it. Make a point of talking to other people about their ideas or ask them about their ideas. You can also find out about how other people have built things.

Find a group that meets regularly and a lot of things are like anything else they tel you. What you put into it is what you get out of it.

TR:

Ocasionally you may find the support going beyond notes on character development or punctuation. Llike the time day was feeling less than confident about her work.

Day:

“Oh my God I’m the biggest hack on the planet. I never want to write another word again.”
And she’s like we’re going to go out and drink some wine.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s cool. That’s a nice supportive group.

I think for folks who are adjusting and new to it, it’s refreshing in a sense to know that it’s ok to have that doubt in the beginning. So you still were concerned about it but you went through with it. That’s a really important thing I think for people to grasp.

Day:

I think even if it’s a recent loss and it’s kind of tough and you’re struggling it’s a good excuse to get out . It’s a good excuse to start thinking of things you can do. What does it requirewell one is reading books so you can get an idea of what is out there and the second is trying to put your own thoughts down and whether that is personal journaling that you share with no one. Essays about your own transition or putting together fiction it’s all that same process.

I find it therapeutic but at the same time I look at it more professionally.

The more you do it the more you start finding other people like you.

TR:

Specifically other people like author of The Duff, Kody Keplinger, who’s book was made into a movie. She by the way is Blind.

Day:

Recently I had an essay that was published with one of the big Science Fiction magazines and the editor is Deaf Blind. I was like hey there’s more of us out there than you know once you start looking

TR:

Yet, it’s still a pretty big challenge to find us in the pages of books, screen plays and scripts.

Day:

I think one of the reasons I like science fiction is because it tends to be more future looking. A lot of it is very political. Things people don’t want to deal with today they’ll look at in Science Fiction.

One of the biggest problems with science fiction in general though is it
does not usually portray disability. If it does it portrays it very poorly. So basically, we don’t exist in the future. I have a huge pet peeve with that.

TR:

What would you expect then from a self described Lobbyist at heart – who uses stories to help advocate for those things that she’s passionate about.

Day:

So part of me is like I want to write it. You know we’re there. Not everything gets cured. That’s not how it works, that’s not how people work.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Talk to me about any Sci-Fi films or books that reflect a positive image of disability. Are there any?

Day:

Ooh

There’s one book it’s actually book 2 in a series.

I think the first book is called The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. The second book is called The Broken Kingdom. It’s by N.K. Jemisin. The protagonist is actually blind.

It’s a fantasy setting. Most of the time when you think fantasy people think like Game of Thrones. They think swords and wizards, it’s very Eurocentric

what Jemesen did is she does this in a lot of her things
she actually builds fantasy that is not. Culturally a lot of it is more African than anything else. And I love that. I love it. I’m seeing parts of the world reflected and cultures you don’t normally see reflected, that you don’t normally think of as fantasy.

I think this last year Jemesen won the Hugo Award think about it as Science Fiction’s Oscars. She won it for the third year in a row. Nobody has ever won it three times.

TR:

Day’s love of writing goes beyond genre and form.

Day:

When I started writing I actually didn’t want to write novels I wanted to do film scripts. It requires a team so I wasn’t sure I could do that as a Blind person so I kind of slid in to doing the novels and the other writing.

I had built up enough cache that I felt secure in my writing and so I actually went to a couple of local film groups. DC Film Makers and I also visited Womens Film and Video. They meet every month and they do … we’re gonna doa movie. Who wants to do different roles. It was a chance to try and experiment a little bit.

I originally came out going I’m just going to be the writer. Guess what I can do writing, no big deal. So I started meeting some other folks doing that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, so now, when you started that you said something so I think it revealed a little bit more…

(laughs)

Day:

Laughs…

]

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I’m peeling back some stuff here.

Day:

Here wwe go!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

You said that originally the intention there was to go for film.

Day:

Yes.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, so when you were younger was that the thing you kind of wanted to do?

Day:

As a kid, nah, I think it was still novels that were my thing. But when I first started writing in DC and I found that writing group the first stuff I submitted to them were scripts.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Ok, I gotcha!

So when did the interest in film come into play?

Day:

I don’t know! I may have to think about that because I don’t know!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

And probably the reason that I’m asking, well number one, I’m interested.

I’m in this process now of kind of going back into events from my past sort of thing right, and then seeing where these interestsstarted and its just been interesting to me. So i ask everybody right now (laughing) I’m like do you know where your thing started from. (Fading out)

(Fading in) It’s a really cool thing because it’s like oh wait, I’m supposed to be doing this because I’ve always been interested in it. And that’s what that process kind of unveiled for me. I think it’s probably the same for a lot of people. I’m just letting you know, there’s something there. Which is great. Which means you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

Day:

I tend to like a lot of the writing so film, I like the short stories I really like doing the novella length work and I had a good time working on the two comics that I did. It was a lot of fun.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Visual, it’s comics, but you wrote it.

[
Day:

I wrote it. I was partnered with some really good artists and the nice thing is generally in comics the decisions of what the art images are supposed to be is usually left to the artist.

TR:
Quick recap.

Day decided to pursue her interest; writing. Ultimately she was interested in writing for film, but she was uncertain how she could go about that being Blind.

Then she found her “in”. It’s specific to her, but the idea is universal.

She found a bridge or a means of getting her to her destination. In this case, writing films.

There can be multiple ways to create such a bridge. Sometimes it’s having someone close to you to share in the experience.

Day:

As the fun couple thing, my wife and I usually take turns a couple of times a year. We pick out something we want to do. She picked ballroom dancing one fall so a few years ago I said I want to do a film class and I want you to do it with me because I don’t think I can do it. There’s that as a Blind person I don’t know how it would work. I’m totally secure in writing one and I’ve been meeting with these other film groups so I have an idea how it works but I don’t know if I can actually do it. Getting cameras and all these other thingngs working well , so she said sure.

We signed up for a film classwith Adel Schmidt, who’s with Docs in progress – which is a documentary organization in Silver Springs. I’m just going to call her out by name because she was awesome. She’s like yeh, I’m not sure if you can either but let’s just go with it and see if we can figure it out.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Nice!

Day:

She says you always start with the story.

It was like a 6 to 8 week class. You should have a one or two minute either short film or clip or trailer.

So you write out the narrative about what you want to say. You need to make sure it has a good narrative arc , it has rising tension and a climax. All the things you want in good writing. Then you record the whole thing.

Audibly reading the script. That helps give you the timing.

Then figuring out what images you want to slotin at what time.

So I know at 1 minute and 10 seconds where I say this I probably want an image of this. And being able to kind of almost wriggle this grid of what the film would look like.

And then you can go to either finding a way to record the film or finding images that already match that.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
So is that storyboarding?

Day:

Right, I guess you could say it kind of was storyboarding out the whole thing.

We figured out that would be a way that I could control what was happening when making the film. It’s not somebody else making it and then me going here are the images that I think and then if we did or didn’t get those what would be the next alternative. Let me see if that works Maybe I need to change the language and then slot in the images. We talked about would there be good transitions and how to do those. I’ll admit the transitions I had to rely on somebody else to figure out whether it looked really great or not. And then adding a layer of sound effects and then a layer of music on top of that. When I got done that’s what the trailer to The Invalid Corps is. And I used that for my Kickstarter video to fund making the 30 minute documentary.

At least now I know I have a way to make videos that this will work where I can say I control it. It’s mine because there was always that little bit of doubt that if I did it with somebody else oh yeh the the person who is sighted really made the film. With this one there was no question who made it.

Audio: Civil War Marching Drums…

TR:

The Civil War, is the setting for The story of the Invalid Corps.

Day:

My wife is the Archivist at the University of Maryland , University College she does all sorts of historical research and she often heard about them because there was this song and it ended up being real popular in the 1880’s but it really made fun of them. I’m like what is this Invalid Corps. So I started playing around on the internet and finding out more and a little bit more and then I’m like wait a minute, there’s a lot more to this.

Audio: The Invalid Corps (Song)

Day:

We hhear about how many amputations there were and how many injuries and how many deaths, but nobody ever stopped to ask what happened to those guys after they were injured or after they lost a limb.

TR:

Low on man power, rather than discharging injured soldiers, an all disabled regiment was created.

They did things like;

guard supply stations, trains and other property
Work in hospitals and prisons

Day:

They created 24 separate regiments.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Confederate?

Day:

Union.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Ok, good! Laughs.

Day:

They did a lot more than people give them credit
for.

It’s a pretty awesome story.

Audio: Snare drum: colonial marching…
So the year is 1684. The war has been going on for three years now. General Grant’s making his final push through Petersberg and on to Richmond to take them down at the end.

He pulls every soldier, every able bodied soldier out of the North and basically their all marching on to Richmond.

So he’s putting a lot of pressure on Robert E Lee. They can’t get out they can’t get supplies. In this kind of desperate attempt to break that siege Robert E Lee sends General Jubal Early, this Confederate General, he sends him North…”Cause as much trouble as you can”

Here’s the issue, because Grant had pulled everybody out there wasn’t really anybody to stop Early . So Early heads North through Virginia and rather than crossing at Harpers Fall he goes up and around through Maryland and then he comes down South towards DC — think of a reverse question mark.

Because there’s nobody there to stop him, he makes it all the way to Fort Stevens which is about 4 miles North of the Capital.

There’s nobody there except some clerks, some government officials, and this Invalid Corps.

You got these Invalid soldiers on the wallsof Fort Stevens and in front of the fort basically having to hold out against like 15,000 Confederate soldiers.

Until Grant suddenly realizes “Oh my God we’re about to lose the Capital! puts the entire Civs Corps on boats and sends them up river going as fast as they can to get to Washington before Early does.

These guys hold out for 24 hours until reinforcements arrive.

The thing is Abraham Lincoln was on the Ramparts of the Fort that day and they even took pot shots at him. They ended up shooting a soldier who was a few feet away from him. They could have taken down the Union or at least taken out the Presidency.

[TR in conversation with ES:]
Wow! That’s an awesome story!

Day:

I know!

History that’s kind of gotten lost and there’s some amazing things. One of the soldiers, he was assigned to the Provost Marshall’s Office, so people knew of him as a Provost Marshall soldier but He’d actually had a disability and was with the Invalid Corps and they just decided to put him there. He was one of the guys doing the detective work to figure out who assassinated Lincoln. So he helped with the hunt for John Wilkes Booth. So he’s like I know where he is. He was doing the tracking, but he was called back to Washington so if was a different unit that got the prestige of saying they caught him. Well, basically he died!

The soldiers who were supposed to guard the conspirators, all of them were Invalid Corps.

The only soldiers who were allowed to carry Lincoln’s caufinalso was that unit.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow!

Day:

I know!

This piece of history, basically disability history that nobody has really researched or talked about.

TR:

A significant amount of research time went into creating this documentary. It’s not as though there are books available on the topic.

According to Day, there are a couple of people currently working on writing them now.

In the meantime, the documentary is done and ready for the festival circuit.

Day:

I want to give it a year where I’m sending to festivals and trying to look for places to screen it and after that I’ll look at finding ways that people purchase it.

It has both captioning and audio description.

The film was crowd funded Shout out to all of the amazing people who helped fund that.

As a part of supporting disability creativity sort of thing, I think there are maybe one or 2 exceptions and this is out of a couple of dozen.

Every single person who has worked on that film either has a disability or is a veteran.

It’s not like I asked flat out going do you have a disability because the 2 I don’t know about I didn’t really ask.

I wanted to make that a part of the way the film was made.

TR:

I get the sense that “walking that walk” and pursuing one’s intrests, aren’t just personal practices for Day. It appears to be a message she spreads.

I want a talk about your bucket list.

Number 1 that is so cool and scary at the same time. I said Oh my gosh. I don’t know if I would want to put out my bucket list because it kind of keeps you accountable because people are going to be watching it.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Which is a great idea. And then I saw that you challenge people to put their own bucket list . I started reading that and I was like awh damn!

Day:
It’s accountability but it also gives a picture of who you are to other people and it encourages other people to go yeh, what do I want and where do I want to go.

You’re doing this thinking where you going back and looking where you started. I think a natural out growth of that is a bucket list looking forward.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I never really considered doing one. I never really did, that’s something I’m going to take away and start thinking about.

Two things from your bucket list I found kind of interesting.

How are you doing with the guitar? You have an electric and an acoustic now?

Day:
Yeah, I do. I still only know like 6 chords.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That’s not bad

Day:

It’s not bad but I still need to work a little bit more on it.It’s actually one of the very few things I do that I can say is just for me and only me. And one of the only things I find relaxing. I have a hard time whinding down.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

The reason I ask you that is I got me a guitar a couple of years ago also an electric. My daughter has an acoustic and I kind of took that and started playing and now I like the acoustic better. It’s more forgiving than the electric.
Similarly I find it very relaxing. I have to get back into it because I had a little carpel tunnel…

I do want to someday be able to play with some other folks. I think that would be cool.

Day:

Right!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
That might be on my bucket list.

Day:

You know when the best time to have and use a guitar, Christmas. If I could do 5 Christmas songs. they aren’t usually that complicated. Everybody knows a Christmas song. I have a whole year to come up with 5 songs. That means I need to learn one every other month.
I could do that that’s not terrible.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

I’m gonna have to checkup see how you’re doing. Laughs

Day:

Laughs I’m gonna be in so much trouble come Christmas.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Now you have one on there number 5 and it says something about being a mentor /inspiration. I don’t think I told you that in 2006, that was my first PCB Conference.

Day:

Was it really?

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Pennsylvania Council of the Blind . That was the first time you were there.

Day:

I do not believe that man, when you rolled in with so much swagger. Come one. Seriously.

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Yeah, That’s just that New York thing!

Basically two years after losing my sight.We were a new chapter and I was one of the folks who started the chapter out here in this county. I just learned so much that week. You were a big , big part of that learning. You did a keynote at that banquet and it was all about whose in your audience.

Day:

Yeah!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
I know, I remember this. And so I really took a lot away from that.

Then later on in 2007, was my first time going to the ACB Legislative Seminar and once again there you were. You were talking about Eugenics and disability. And againI’m very new to disability at that point. So you truly opened my mind and inspired me to kind of dig deeper into what disability means and what it doesn’t mean. I think you should reconsider number 5

I think that this interview has been long overdue. You know I get a little nervous too. I look at certain people as inspiration and I usually don’t like to use the word but in this case it does apply.

Day:

Well thank you . That totally makes my night. Actually it totally makes my year. That’s kind of awesome!

[TR in conversation with Day:]
Laughs.

That’s along overdue thing I should have told you.

TR:

I truly mean that. It’s not only long over do that I share that story with her, but to also share Day’s story with the RMM Radio Family.

Thinking about it, this actually is the perfect time. This episode is a great follow up to the last; Disability Representation in Media

Day is telling stories including disability whether in the subject matter like the Invalid Corps, the inclusion of characters and of course making it all accessible.

And she’s continuing to inspire yours truly, this time not as much from a far.

Day:

So I got to ask, what are you thinking about writing?

[TR in conversation with Day]

(Breathes in deeply!) Laughs!

Day:

You hinted at it, you hinted at it! I’m not letting it go.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Wow! You know what I always wanted to do. And this would be something that’s on my bucket list. That’s why I was interested in the documentary. I love documentaries. Like I love that.

I’m really just trying to figure out what that specific topic is what that story is that I want to tell. I do love stories, period.

Day:

Well awesome. You should totally do it.

TR:

Big shout out to Day Al-Mohamed.

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Day, I truly, truly appreciate this. Thank you so much it was a pleasure speaking with you.

Day:

Well, I am so glad you invited me to be on your show. I kind of love listening to it so I’m like look, look I’m on the podcast!

[TR in conversation with Day:]

Laughs!

TR:

How cool is that?

Does that make you want to pursue that thing you always wanted to do?

You too can find a way to take you from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. It may not be a direct connection, but remember, it’s not necessarily about the destination it’s all in the journey.

I hope this podcast can serve as a bridge for those adjusting to blindness and disability. Connecting this group of people with cool blind and disabled people. Exposing them to new ways of thinking about disability.

Since this conversation I’ve already been doing a lot more thinking about creating a documentary. I believe it’s something I could really do!

I’ll have to add that to my bucket list.

You can check out Day’s bucket list with over 150 items. Plus so much more about policy, writing and more.

Day:

My websites:
DayInWashington or DayAlMohamed.com
If you ran a search on Amazon you can find all my books and writings.
I still have a lot of fun on Twitter That’s my name @DayAlMohamed

TR:

Remember, if there’s a guest or a topic that you want to hear from or about let me know. Chances are if you’re interested so are others. Here’s how you can get in touch, but first, stay in the know, don’t miss a show.

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Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Outro

Peace!

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