Posts Tagged ‘Advocacy’

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

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

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

Haben Girma Portrait by Darius Bashar


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

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript


Haben: 00:00
Hello, good afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR in Conversation with Haben:
I am.

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

TR in Conversation with Haben:
Absolutely.

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

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

Haben: 01:42
Go for it!

— Repeats with a echo effect.

— Reid My Mind Radio Intro Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haben: 11:56
Were you pleased?

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

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

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

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

34… laughs…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR in Conversation with Haben: 18:43

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haben: 21:47
So vice president Harris said…

— Audio from the now infamous meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, back to the guidelines.

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

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

Haben: 26:24
Giggles!

Conversation. Plans.

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

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

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

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

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

TR in Conversation with Haben: 27:14

I’m a row cowboy. Lol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR: 30:31
Asshole!

Concise, right?

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

TR:
(Interrupting) No!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haben:
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haben:
and the last video was about chocolate.

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

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

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

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

Haben: 34:35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big shout out to Haben Girma.

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

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

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

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

We have transcripts and more at ReidMyMind.com.

Now come on fam, say it with me…

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

Hide the transcript

Flipping the Script on Audio Description: We Are Worthy

Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

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

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

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

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

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

TR:

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

[drum beat fades in]

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

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

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

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

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

[shouting over a beat]

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

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

audio clip of TR’s youngest child:

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

Nefertiti

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

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

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

[talking]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:
She was forced to largely find her own way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:
Sí! Dominicana! Me gente!

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

[In the Heights trailer begins playing in the background]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nefertiti:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like my last name.

[outro music]

Peace.

Hide the transcript

Doing Your Thing With Disability: Adriana Mallozzi – Not Impossible

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Adriana Mallozzi, seated in a power wheelchair wearing a head band and a black shirt with the words "Not Impossible" in white across the chest. Her head is tilted to the right as she smiles at the camera.

Ever since her first experience with Technology, Adriana Mallozzi knew it was the key to her independence.

Empathy along with advocacy and leadership skills are the right components qualifying her to start Puffin Innovations. An Assistive Technology company – creating hands free access to consumer electronics for individuals with limited mobility in their upper extremities.

Literally, Adriana is creating the technology enabling more people to do their thing with their disability!

Plus hear who won the February Reid My Mind Radio Instagram Giveaway!

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Listen to this podcasts via your smart speaker

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Resources

Puffin Innovations
The 15 Percent Club on Club House

Transcript

Show the transcript


TR:
Greetings Family! Welcome back to the second episode of the first season of 2022, Doing Your Thing with Disability.

— Music begins – A drum solo that loops, stops DJ scratch into a cymbal crash.

My name is Thomas Reid, host and producer of Reid My Mind Radio, the podcast bringing you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

I’m excited to bring you today’s episode so I’m not going to say much in this introduction.
However, I know you’re going to dig what we’re about to get into so I’d like to encourage you right now to just go ahead and follow or subscribe to the podcast.
Seriously, what are you waiting for! Whatever app you’re using to listen right now, there’s something that says, follow or perhaps subscribe.
Hit that to make sure you don’t miss an episode.

I’ll take it from there!
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

Adriana:
Hi, I’m Adriana Mallozzi, founder and CEO of Puffin Innovations, we are creating hands free access to consumer electronics for individuals with limited mobility in their upper extremities. My pronouns are she and her. I am a Caucasian woman with a round face, ear length dark hair, and wearing a black T shirt with the words not impossible written across the chest in white and I am in a power wheelchair

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
Why did you wear that shirt today?

Adriana:
It really represents I think my attitude with regards to what I want to do in life.

I’ve never been the type of person to take no for an answer. I’m realistic. I’m not a surgeon because I can’t use my hands.

It just really resonates with me and my attitude. And what it means to be a proud, disabled person showing that nothing can really stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do.

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
Can you just summarize your experience with disability?

Adriana:
Sure. During the birthing process, I stopped breathing. So the lack of oxygen caused brain damage, hence, I have cerebral palsy. I’m a spastic quad and I use a power wheelchair.

CP varies so much. It manifests in so many different ways that you would never know from one person to another, that they have the same diagnosis.

TR:

The diagnosis is what it is, but the person is who they were in their past, who they are in the moment and who they become in the future.
In each of those periods of time, there are things that impact a persons way of thinking.
Two things stand out about Adriana’s past that influence her belief of what is possible.

Adriana:

I am a child of immigrants. So I grew up going to Italy, to visit family, I still have first cousins there. Growing up, we would go spend the summers to see my grandparents. So travel was a big part of my life.

TR:

Adriana’s mom worked as a real estate agent and travel agent.

Adriana:

Just because it gave her the flexibility, she needed having a young family, especially for me as a child with a disability. She’d always be running around, having to take me to PT or OT or whatever.

She would win a trip for to, and then she would add my sister and I and we get to travel.

We went on cruises, and we got to go to Bermuda.

— Sound of an airplane taking off.
— Music begins – melodic horns slowly blow as a woman vocalist sings “higher” leading into a kick dram and a mid-tempo hip hop beat.

So I think it was just very inherent, it was in our blood. Traveling is just something that we love. My sister has made it into a job where she gets to travel around the world and experience a different culture

TR:

That’s her little sister, Mikaela. Professional dancer and four time EMMY Award winning host of her own travel show, Bare feet with Mickela Mallozzi.

I guess traveling without shoes is dangerous. (I don’t think that’s what’s she’s doing.)

Traveling as a power wheel chair user comes with some specific challenges.

Adriana:

When I travel, especially overseas, I don’t bring my power chair, just because it’s not as accessible in other countries. And it’s just easier to have a manual chair, when most of the countries are not wheelchair accessible, especially my own family’s home, my grandparents, its hundreds of years old, it belonged to my great, great grandparents and you know, it’s just not accessible. So I would travel with my manual chair, and when I’m in my chair, I literally can’t do anything myself.

TR:

Contrast this with her first experience taking her power chair overseas.

Adriana:

Also, the first time I flew overseas without a family member, I brought my PCA and I had to figure out all the logistics on my own.

That was the first time that I had ever done that in my life and it was amazing.

They really put a lot of thought into design with accessibility in mind.

You know how here, the elevator buttons are all literally at the door. If you use a wheelchair, you really can’t reach those buttons by the door because your foot rests are in the way and you can’t get close enough. Well, in Germany, all the buttons are on the side, on the wall. So you can easily reach them.
They also have not only a button to call the elevator at the door itself, but they also have free standing posts. So you can angle your chair in any direction and hit it however you can hit it. They did the same thing with automatic door openers, as well. And so I was so independent in there that I literally dreamt about being back there when I got back home.

TR:

Aware of the problems that power chair travelers experience, Adriana had a plan.

Adriana:

We bring a big roll of that wrap. How they wrap pallets? you know that plastic.

As soon as I get out of my chair, we put anything that are external to the seat of my chair, we put it in the seat of my chair, and then literally wrap my chair.

And so that has worked.

TR:

On the way to Germany at least.

On the return trip, as soon as they finished wrapping the chair,
Adriana and her PCA were told to unwrap because the chair needed to be tested.

It was taken but no one would speak with Adriana or her PCA.
Nervous about missing their flight and subsequent connection, they finally learned of the problem.

Adriana:

They’re like, Yeah, your chair tested positive for explosive.

We had to wait for the police to come. And then they were like, You need to take the battery. I was like, you can’t take the battery out, you don’t take the battery out.

They literally tried to tear out the battery. Like Luckily, they couldn’t figure out how to open anything. But they had snapped pieces. So there were broken pieces in the seat of my chair because it was like they were clawing to get to the internal electronics of my chair. I think it would have been worse if it wasn’t wrapped.

TR:

The dream of independence for people with disabilities often includes some nightmares.

Adriana:

They put my chair on the lift from the gait of the plane to load it down below.

and a person who was loading bags, he was literally throwing in like chucking things on top of my chair. And I was having a heart attack. I could see it through the window and I’m like, oh my god. We definitely took pictures and videos and my chair was a little broke like it wasn’t working properly and you know these chairs are 500 pounds so it’s not like it’s easy to push it.

TR:
joy and pain of traveling as a disabled person!

— Music Ends

The second influential component effecting Adriana’s belief of what is possible? Early exposure to technology.

Technology>
Adriana:

I began, PT and OT, or physical therapy and occupational therapy for those that don’t know what PT and OT stands for. at a really young age, I was diagnosed shortly after I turned a year old around 12 months or so. And soon after, we were sent to Easter Seals.

It was my OT who introduced me to a piece of technology that allowed me to use the computer, for the first time to do anything for the first time independently.

This was back in about83 or 84. I was about maybe seven, eight years old.

All I did was type, I type my name, and maybe some numbers. But just being able to do that, and be able to do something by myself for the very first time ever in my life.
It really hit me at that moment. I was like, wow, technology is going to be the key to my independence. Technology will be the way I will be able to do everything I ever wanted to be able to do.

TR:

And then there’s the DIY, Do it yourself attitude.
Adriana:

my father was in construction, he was a carpenter. I would always see him build. I think I got that problem solving. sort of mentality. Most people with disabilities, we have to adapt on the fly all the time. We have to figure out ways of doing things that the average person does not. And we always have to be at least two to three steps ahead. There has to be a Plan B, C, D, in case, X Y and Z goes wrong.

TR:

And when they go wrong, understanding the need to advocate for yourself.

Adriana:

My parents really had to struggle financially to get me what I needed, like the basic things that insurance considered luxuries like a bathing chair.

I can’t sit up by myself. So until I got that chair, I had to lay at the bottom of the tub. And I would be really creative and like, Yeah, I’m cool. toys like, I left pillows or floaties, or whatever, just to make me comfortable. So I wasn’t banging against the sides of the tub or hurting myself on the tub?

Of course, insurance? To be able to bathe safely and comfortably was a luxury.

My power chair I got when I was about eight years old. Me being able to be independent and move on my own was a luxury, according to the insurance company. So luckily, I think part of it was covered.

They just had to find ways to provide to get what I needed. And I’m really grateful that I had parents that did that.

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
Is that still, the situation with insurance with they treat those things like, luxury?

Adriana:
there are places still in the United States where people have to still fight for it. And yes, they still consider a luxury. But I’m lucky to be in the state of Massachusetts, and have the benefits and have not had to struggle as much as an adult in a different state to get the equipment that I need, but there are people in this country that that still have to fight, but still get subpar equipment, simply because insurance won’t cover the actual equipment that would be more suitable for that person.

I just don’t understand how people can be okay with that. I don’t understand how people that work in the insurance companies can have policies that allow that to happen. These are human beings and to treat human beings in that way, I just don’t understand.

— Music begins, a funky electronic dance track with lots of digital processing sounds and a funky groove.

TR:

The more you know how much it benefit’s a person, the more difficult it is to accept that it happens.

Adriana:

when I was older, let’s say my mid 20s was the first time that I had technology that I was able to turn on the lights to change channel on the TV, to open my door to my apartment. That was huge.

For the average person, it just sounds so basic. And these things excited me and I was so lucky. And I was in my mid-20s. And that was the first time I was able to do any of that by myself.

TR:

It doesn’t sound basic to me.
Adriana and I met as a result of inaccessibility.
It was December 2020 and I was trying to make sense of the social audio app Club House.
I accidentally hit a button that started up a room.
Honestly I freaked out, I had no idea who was going to join.
While searching how to quickly close the room someone popped in.
Shout out to Daniel from Singapore. We got to talking and then Adriana came into the room.

Adriana:
I joined clubhouse December of 2020, when everyone was locked down.

Initially, I was just checking out all the tech rooms and getting a feel for what was on there.
TR:

December 2020 was still considered early in Club House time.
There were a fair number of people using the app even though officially it was in Beta.
There was a lot of everything, good conversations to scammers, and definitely inaccessibility.

While in a room with some discussion taking place about disability Adriana didn’t like what she was hearing.

Adriana:

Special needs, and differently abled and Handi capable and all those god awful euphemisms instead of the actual word disability. And we’re like, Okay, this has to stop. Let’s do a room about disability and about language. And that’s how it started.

TR:

That room led to the creation of a club.

Adriana:
I was trying to come up with something clever, for a club name.

I read, 15% of the world’s population has a disability. And I was like, Oh, my God, we’re going to call it the 15. Then it sounds really exclusive. And cool, it’s Wow. And people will be like, Oh, what is this 15%, right, like, I want to be part of the 15.

TR:

There were some really great conversations throughout the rooms, from those hosted by the club to those from other members.

We as a club along with some cool allies (shout out to Glenn with two n’s) played a big role in advocating for improved access to that app,
making certain to voice concerns from the perspective of all users with disabilities.
Literally, all we wanted was to be included in the conversation.

Music ends.
TR:

Hey y’all, I’m cutting into the flow of the episode.
It’s time to announce the winner of the
February Socially ReidSponsible Instagram Giveaway.

Last time,
I told y’all about Annie.
A friend of the family who wanted to come on board and
help manage the Reid My Mind Radio Facebook and Instagram pages.
Last time Annie was under the weather…
while I knew the sun would come out…
I was hoping to get her on the podcast and ask…
Annie are you ok? Are you ok. Are you ok Annie!

Ok, I’ll stop before Annie decides to get her gun…

The winner of the February Reid My Mind Radio Instagram giveaway is…

Congratulations @Malic_acid,
Enjoy your very own Reid My Mind Radio
coffee or tea mug.

Now back to the episode…

Music ends with a bouncing base…

TR in Conversation with Adriana :

What was your first experience with having to advocate for yourself?

Adriana:
I liked pushing boundaries. But I was also very shy. Growing up, my teachers didn’t even know I could speak because I was so shy.

I started opening up more when I was in middle school and high school.

It was freshman English, and I had to write a paper. I decided to write about how, as someone with a disability, who took all honors classes, I had a one to one aid to help me turn pages or write notes for me who didn’t understand English.

TR:

Adriana literally would have to spell out things she wanted the assistant to write.
Meanwhile, the teacher is moving on with the rest of the class.
Could you imagine how frustrating that would be for a 14 year old?

She decided to write about it.

Adriana:

I knew once the essay was handed in, and I would go down the halls, I knew all the teachers knew, I knew the administrators. did and they were all talking about and I think that was my first like, official. My self-advocating for myself.

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
What lessons did you take away from that?

Adriana:
It felt good, actually, to cause a ruckus.

It was really obvious that they underestimated me. Even though I was in honors courses. I think it was really clear that because I was shy, because I never really spoke loudly or did anything like that all of a sudden, I wrote this paper. They had an insight to what was really going on inside my mind and how I was really feeling about the situation.

TR:

After being assigned a new aide, she knew her words could make a difference.

In her senior year in high school, Adriana wanted to work on the year book.
She knew she could, everything was computerized at this point.
But she was told she couldn’t.

Adriana:

Because it’s on the third floor and the elevator doesn’t go there. After four years of being in high school, I had no idea that there was even another floor that I had no access to.

Someone that I knew that was on the school paper, decided to interview me about it. A year or so later, they fix that.

TR:
Years later, Adriana found herself working as the editor of a newsletter at the Massachusetts rehabilitation commission.

Adriana:
it was called the consumers voice. Up until when I took it over, it was mostly just a regurgitation of what was on the DOJ website and not really the voice of the people.

I said, we’re changing that.

Music begins –
They allowed me to assemble a group of individuals who were involved or who were consumers of Voc Rehab. And people were also allowed to submit their own stories if they wanted to share an experience, both negative or positive.

TR:
At least that was what she thought.
It wasn’t until one consumer sent in a not so nice letter about their experience that tested the policy.
It landed her on a call with the Executive Office of Health and Human Services defending the consumer.

Adriana:

I said, Excuse me, but this is called the consumers voice. It is a factual story. No one is being called out by name in this story.

We went back and forth a little bit, and it got published.

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
Why was the idea of having the voice of the consumer being heard? Why was that so important to you?

Adriana:
It would be an injustice, if it was called the consumers voice and not having no voice of those people in that publication. It was wrong. It was so wrong on so many levels when you didn’t actually broadcast those voices and those stories and so it was really important to me to be true to what the name stood for.

TR:

In her job at a Day Rehab Center in charge of coordinating wheel chair evaluations, She found herself often advocating on behalf of others.
Sometimes that just means informing people of the process and their rights.

Adriana:
So most people don’t know this. But when you’re wheelchair shopping, it is your right, to test drive multiple chairs, it’s just like buying a car.
You spend most of your time in this thing. And it needs to be right for you.

TR:

Advocating on behalf of another person can be tricky.
Especially when you sometimes share medical professionals.
Like the time an OT didn’t provide a consumer with the chance to test multiple chairs.

Adriana:

So I knew this person, both professionally as well as someone who had helped me in the past to get equipment. And so I called her and said, hey, you know, I really think that he should buy this other kind of chair. I think he would benefit from it.

And she says,

— Music ends.

Well, you know, I didn’t think He needed to try anything, because he has a cognitive disability. And I was thinking at that moment, God, you are so lucky that his mother did not just hear you say that. And you’re also so lucky that I could not reach through this phone and rattle you.

TR:

I’m a big fan of this part of Adriana’s personality!
But fortunately for all involved, she has a really good head on her shoulders.

Adriana:

We spoke for a while and convinced her that we should have another wheel chair eval. We did it at the clinic not on site.

TR:

Mind you, this wasn’t in an official capacity. She took off to attend the eval in order to make sure this person received the appropriate service.

Adriana:

Prior to using this chair, he would crash into things all the time.

In this chair, he drove like a pro. It was also a standing chair. So he was able to stand and read, his mom was in tears. And it was just the most amazing and I was so happy that he was able to get what he actually needed and what best suited him. And then the OT came over after and apologized to me afterwards.

— A bit of silence…

“I’ve always been that type of person where I want to try to figure out how to make things better. How to make things easier for other people, not just myself.” – Adriana

TR in Conversation with Adriana :
Let’s go to another form of your advocacy. It’s what I think is sort of your natural interest in technology, combined with your empathy for others. I see all of that combined to make the beginning of Puffin innovations.

Adriana:

I’ve always been the type of person to have ideas and want to improve upon existing tech. And right after I graduated college I was sending out two different kinds of resumes. One was the typical resume that you would send to a company. And then I had a resume called assistive tech resume. And I would list all the things that I was experienced in using and New England. And I would apply to all these companies that I had used their equipment and I looked up to and it was a dream of mine, to work for a company.

TR:

Adriana had no entrepreneurial ambitions.
She just wanted to work for an Assistive Technology company that was serving people with disabilities.
That was until she receive word about an event.
]

Adriana:

MIT was looking for people living with disabilities, who had an idea, a solution to a problem that they themselves are experiencing. I was like, oh my god, this is like a dream come true. I get to go to a hackathon. At that point, I had never been.

I was just on cloud nine because I was like, oh my god, I have this opportunity to go to MIT, hang out with all these geeky people and geek out together and just be around all day. So I submitted my solution, it didn’t have a name, but it was the Puffin.

TR:

She along with about 15 other applicants were selected to participate in the hackathon.

Prior to the event, a dinner was held to give the co designers, that is the MIT coders and those with the ideas a chance to meet and connect with one another.

Adriana:

It’s kind of like speed dating.

The students will go around and meet each of the designers, and find more out about what it is that you want to do. This group of students came to me and they never left.

Literally, they had laptops, we were looking at parts, like we were already figuring out what we needed to make this happen.

TR:

Each team had an opportunity to request parts and technology prior to the hackathon.

Adriana:

Luckily, there was this person who he is now a puffin advisor, he had this big chest of parts. And if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have been able to build it at all. because we didn’t get any of the parts that we had ordered.

The students were amazing, because they really listened to what I had to say. I think that’s what made our team so successful. We were willing, and able to take each other things, and put that together, and put it in a way that works. We never dismissed anyone’s idea or anything.

We ended up making a working version, I think that’s why we won first place.

We got so much press. We were even in the New York Times, which was amazing.

TR:

Already motivated to get this product out to others who wanted more independence,
Adriana began receiving emails from people around the world asking that very question.
She was thinking about patents and funding while the student’s went on to complete their course work.

Adriana:

A good friend of mine who happened to be writing her thesis. She was getting an MBA back in 2016. And she was writing a thesis on hackathons.

She said, you had a successful hackathon, so I want to interview you.
When we were done, she was like, Well, what’s stopping you from doing that from making it into a real thing.

That was really her and I taking the time to just look up applications, learn what was out there and then apply to all these funding opportunities.

TR:

The idea that began after receiving an email in 2015 started to look more like it was turning into a real business.

Adriana:

It just all fell into place in 2017. And we got a $200,000 grant from the VA. It was April Fool’s Day. I kept looking at the email. I’m just like, This is real, right?
It was just surreal, like the most surreal experience, because we’ve never done anything like this before.

It really worked out because then we got into mass challenge. And that really propelled us forward because we didn’t have space, we didn’t have anywhere to go to work on this.

TR:
The Mass Challenge is a business accelerator program in Massachusetts.
In addition to funding and networking opportunities, they provide access to production space and other resources including equipment and people.

Adriana:

The people that would walk in and out of there were just people in the high tech industry that you would never otherwise ever meet in your life. And it was just an amazing experience. We also, as a result, something that happens here in Boston called inbound, that HubSpot runs. And we happen to have been part of that challenge. We got free tickets to HubSpot, HubSpot, or to endow and that year Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker. We got to go and it was just the most amazing thing ever.

TR:

Just when things are going really well, (Pandemic! )Covid 19.
Unlike other tech companies that were able to thrive during the pandemic, Puffin is a little different.

Adriana:
It’s a physical product.

* testing this here *
Our device is actually a mouth operated wireless input device. It’s just a fancy way of saying it acts as a mouse. So for people like myself, who can’t use their hands, they could pair our device with any Bluetooth enabled devices, so like your computer, or your cell phone, or your tablet, and then have full access to that device.

I know several people who don’t even have mobile devices, especially back when I started. That’s because they physically can’t interact with the touchscreen. That is why this was so important.

We also have an app that goes with the product, but it interacts with the device.

It’s really a hard thing to get parts that are not from overseas. And that’s where a lot of our components are coming from. We were down for a good supply chain. But now we’re ramping back up again.

TR:

Helping to build up some of that momentum is winning the ServiceNow digital workforce challenge along with acceptance into the Verizon for good Accelerator program.
Adriana:

Which is super exciting, because you get to work with these tech experts, from Verizon.

A big part of our device is the portability, the connectivity of it, wireless. And so having this opportunity to work with a communication giant, like Verizon, and leader in wireless technology, which then we will be able to incorporate in our device is going to be pretty amazing and really bring it to the next level.

TR:

Adriana says Similar products on the market haven’t seem much in the way of innovation because there’s little competition.

Adriana:

they have no reason to actually change it. So we’re changing it!

TR:

By incorporating artificial intelligence or machine learning.

Adriana:

I wanted this device to recognize, hey, this person is having a little more difficulty in doing this or that, or is struggling with moving in certain ways. So let me adjust the sensitivity, or let me adjust the pressure that is needed to go in this direction, but not in this direction.

TR:

By the end of the program with Verizon,
Adriana would like Puffin to have a product ready for sale in a beta phase in order to generate user feedback.

By the way, the name Puffin is like a shout out to the bird of the same name.
The devices mouth piece resembled the bird’s beak.
That beak you can say, is a form of assistive technology.
It enables them to carry food to their baby back at the nest.

Doing her thing with disability, is what separates Puffin from other solutions.
Adriana not only understands the value for herself, but seems just as excited for what that access brings to others.

Adriana:

I don’t know what I do Without accessing my cell phone. I can control everything with my phone, now. I can control the TV, I can control the lights with my phone, I can do my banking, I can do my shopping, I can read a book, right? I can, whatever, make phone calls, etc. You can literally do everything with a mobile device. So for people with disabilities, if you have access to your mobile device, you literally have access to the world. And that’s what’s really important to us. It’s giving people that opportunity to have access to things that they otherwise would not have access to.

TR in Conversation with Adriana:
Ok, How do I say this? Because of all the things that you do, your willingness to share, and help others the way you do your thing with disability. You Adriana Mallozzi are an official member of the Reid my Mind Radio family welcome to the family, Adriana.

Adriana:
Thank you! I’m honored to be a member.
TR in Conversation with Adriana:

So how can people learn more about the Puffin, about you? All of that.

Adriana:
So you can find more about Puffin at Puffininno.com So that’s Puffin like the bird and inno.com. Or @Puffininno on all social media platform. That is our handle. If you are on Club House come and join the 15% Club.

For me it’s just AdrianaMallozzi is my handle on on all social media platforms.

TR:
I started to give credit to the lack of access within the early version of the Club House app for my chance to meet and get to know Adriana.

It’s like giving credit to inaccessibility, poor treatment and service for the strong advocacy,
problem solving or management skills you’ll find among people with disabilities.

No! I’m not crediting the negative.

The energy we each give off works to bring people in and out of our lives.

Adriana and I were both on the Club House app, simultaneously trying to figure some of the same things out.
In fact, some of the same access issues that impact her were impacting me as a Voice Over user.
It wasn’t disability specific.
Perhaps that’s something I needed to hear.
I may have been seeking that without even knowing.

Maybe you listening here today needed to hear the words on Adriana’s shirt; “Not Impossible”. That’s really an energy that I personally want for anyone listening, the energy I want for myself.

Yes, we can dream big.
I just want to hear more from those achieving without having to compromise any part of themselves.

I’m tired of conversations about overcoming CP, blindness or disability in general.
I’m here when you want to talk about society overcoming it’s need to put up barriers,
it’s inaccessible websites and technology or
unwillingness to hire, give opportunities to or in any way include the disabled community.

I’m here for conversation with people like Adriana who want to talk about pursuing goals, making dope enabling technology.

I’m here when you want to talk about Doing Your Thing With Disability!

And you know where to find me right?
That’s wherever you get podcasts. If you’re on Facebook and Instagram, that’s @ReidMyMindRadio on Twitter @tsreid.
Or slide on over to ReidMyMind.com and you can find transcripts for our episodes.
Just make sure you remember, that’s R to the E I D!

— Sample (“D!”) And that’s me in the place too be! Slick Rick

Adriana:

Like his last name!

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro
Peace!

Hide the transcript

Doing Your Thing With Disability: Marguerite Woods – Here I Am

Wednesday, March 9th, 2022

A full body shot of marguerite Woods smiling brightly while waiting for a fresh protein drink order.  She is seated sideways on a black & Silver upholstered chaise lounge with her right elbow slightly leaning towards the rolled back of the lounge. Marguerite is dressed in white slacks and a black blouse with white panels along the yolk and sleeves, black sunshades, beaded mecklace, large  silver hoop earrings & bangle accessorizing her outfit and bald head.  Behind & off to her right side is, a small blonde wood bookcase with a painting of Bob Marley on the wall above.
Can I kick it? (Yes you can!)

Welcome to the kick off episode for the first season of 2022; Doing Your Thing with Disability!

In this series, we’re not talking about overcoming blindness, getting passed our disability, no, we’re going to hear from some awesome people who do the things they love to do and they’re doing it with their disability. That’s a whole different energy.

We begin with a Reid My Mind Radio alumni, Marguerite Woods, who’s all about energy. She was last on the podcast during the 2021 Flipping the Script on Audio Description season.

I just knew during that first conversation, I had to have her back on to discuss more of her experiences as an advocate, philosophy as it pertains to blindness and disability. Plus I wanted to hear more about her trip to India and all that meant to her.

In this episode we get into self-reflection, a kinder gentler advocacy, love of self and skin bleaching? You’re going to have to listen in…

Listen

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

— Theme from Welcome back Kotter
— A hip hop drum loop…

Greetings, Reid My Mind Radio Family.

— from song, “Welcome Back!”

I feel like I’m home. Well, I am.

You know what I mean right?

That familiar place where you’re comfortable, your needs are being met and you feel loved and appreciated. That’s what I want you to feel when you rock with Reid My Mind Radio!

Let’s start this off right!
Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

Can I kick it?

— “Yes you can”

I’m excited to kick off this first season. If you caught the Black History Month bonus episode, you already know, this season is called Doing Your Thing with Disability. Now I know some of y’all may say that a bit differently as in Doing’ Your Thang with Disability! You should know, that indeed is the feeling behind the season. I chose not to formally name it that way because not everyone gets that energy right when saying it. If you do appreciate and respect that vibe, by all means feel free. If you do not or if you question whether you’re qualified to do so, well, don’t it’s cool, say it phonetically. Doing your thing with disability.

What I hope to deliver during this season are 4 episodes with varying examples of people pursuing different goals in their lives for a variety of reasons. We’re touching on Accessibility, entrepreneurship, music expression, self-discovery and more.

I encourage you to listen between the words.
(Filtered Voice:) Is that a thing?
Sort of like reading between the lines?

Throughout each episode, the energy is not about getting passed or overcoming, nah, that’s what they talk about over there…

The way we get down, right here, we’re doing it with disability – and to me that’s something to celebrate.

— Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This first season of Reid My Mind Radio in 2022 is all about doing your thing with disability. And I want to know, what does that mean to you?

Marguerite:
Wow. It to me, it means being my authentic self. And disability is just a part of my shell. And it’s a part of the filter that I’m experiencing this physical life through. And so I can’t escape that. So it’s a part of who I am. It’s just not all of who I am.

— Music begins, a mid tempo smooth jazzy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

Who she is? Well, this is Marguerite Woods.

Marguerite:

I am a woman, a black woman with many interests, and mainly, I am having an experience as a spiritual being in my humanity, and so the roles that come up for me are absolutely a mom, family member friend, a community person.

She, her are my pronouns. And I have on a suit jacket, I think it’s black and white, I have one little flower under it with little fringe around the top yoke.

I normally wear earrings, because I like them, I’m a little artsy, and they usually feel really creative to me. And I have on, dark shades.

I am black. I am bald. I am beautiful. And I am bold.

TR:

It’s been a while now that I’ve been incorporating image descriptions as part of the podcast.
I know there are some who may wonder why, it is a podcast after all.
A big part of that is identity for me. I want you to know as much about the people I’m presenting here on the podcast.
Truth is, sighted folks still get the opportunity to access this information via a nonvisual medium, because podcasts require an image to accompany the audio file.

But there’s more than identity in what we hear in an image description.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Your outfit today, is there any particular reason that you wore what you wore?

Marguerite:
I decided deliberately to wear what I’m wearing. It feels comfortable. I think it looks good. And we talked about possibly video at the end. I wanted to project a certain image. I wanted to feel a certain way while doing the video. I feel very feminine. My outfit helps me to feel like that.

And the earrings are just an added touch that I really like, because I’m bald, I think that it highlights my frame.

TR:

Being intentional, goes beyond her wardrobe choices. Marguerite is thoughtful with her words. It’s one of the things that really stands out when first meeting her. It’s evident in the way she approaches each of the questions posed to her. Like…

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

How do you identify with disability?

Marguerite 04:

Wow Thomas, that’s a loaded question, how do I identify with disabilities?
It’s been a progression of things and when where I am today is because of that progression.

So I don’t want this to sound flat or linear. I arrived here.
I’ve been toying with how do I talk about what we’ve been calling disabilities. And as I think about them my blindness and and others with a variety of different things. What I keep coming up with is this whole idea of diversity. We have diverse abilities.

my relationship is that whatever I’m dealing with, and in my case, it’s blindness, it’s given me an opportunity to explore the life that I’m living from a very different perspective, than I started out exploring life. living life, because I think of each of us as an explorer, or pioneer in our particular part of life.

TR:

That exploration can take her to foreign places, but much of it is within herself. In fact, she sees it as selfish.

Marguerite:

Everything that I experience, think about relate to is totally through my filters. And that in itself is selfish. But not in the way that I grew up thinking about the word selfish.

There’s no way to relate to life and be neutral, because I’m relating to it through my filters. And every other person is as well. And the best I can do with that is expand my filters, and expand the understanding, from having experiences with other folks.
TR:

If you prefer your ideas presented in a more concrete form, Marguerite offers a bit of a disability toolkit.

Marguerite:

in a practical way, the way I relate to disabilities is understanding that each one of us has to have an ideal of what we’d like to be able to do, where we find ourselves how we’d like to be able to manage whatever it is we’re trying to move through. And so, philosophy, some skills, some technology and some techniques, and absolutely some guidance in any way that you can find it to help you better do what it is you’re trying to do.

TR:

One of those skills that Marguerite has built over the years is advocacy. It goes back to her childhood growing up in Baltimore City, the area Marguerite describes as being designated for African Americans.

Marguerite:
There was a lot of feelings of just being done wrong, not being treated well. There was an energy of distrust, anger. But in the middle of all of that, I enjoyed the connection with family members and community members. And this sense of looking out for each other, a desire to move forward in a positive way, enjoying whatever life had to offer. And I felt that the elders in my community, were very interested in assuring that their children, and the younger people in the community were able to enjoy the things they felt they had not been able to.

— Music ends

And so the whole advocacy around that felt noble and it felt right to me.

TR:

That relationship with the community equipped Marguerite with a strong solid foundation.

Marguerite:

I grew up through the elementary and high school years, with all black teachers in the black community. And I could feel the desire for them to give us their best. And they wanted us to be sent into a world with our best doing our best.

I ended up in senior high school going to a predominantly white school on the other side of town. I deliberately chose that because I wanted to know what it felt like to have that experience. I was curious and interested,

When I did get to that senior high school, I felt like I was very well equipped, even though I began to hear stories that said we were marginalized, and that we were lacking.

TR:

Stories meant to weaken that foundation or penetrate her spirit.

Advocacy became more than a way to impact her community, it helped her realize things about herself.

Marguerite:

For me advocacy was about fighting for the underdog. And so it felt aggressive. And I thought it was very necessary and that there was a certain way that you had to go about it in order to gain the results that you were asking for.

It didn’t feel good in my spirit.

That anger and their venom and using it to ask for what you wanted. While it seemed to be effective, it was not a good space for me.

TR:

Over time, Marguerite came to realize that in the way she and
so many of us view advocacy, trained her to only consider what
was not working.

Marguerite:

it started to make sense to me that if that’s what you’re pointing out all the time, that’s all you’re setting yourself up to see. And so when things are coming, that are, what you do want, how will you recognize if all you’re focused on are the things that don’t work?

Sometimes the things that I’m wanting to experience, they reveal themselves in small ways.

The more that I’m open to understanding and realizing those smaller things, the momentum can pick up, but if I don’t recognize it, then how will I be able to enjoy it becoming larger in my space, in my experience for myself and for my community.

TR:

Yet only focusing on the things you want or those things that feel good can prove to be quite unfulfilling.

Marguerite:

I’ve got to own how I feel, and accept that as where I am. And recognize that I want to be in a space, that feels a lot better. But that causes me to have to identify, what is it that I’m asking for? And I’m telling you that that’s not been the easiest thing to do. Because even when I’m talking to people that I asked, What do you want, we even talk about what we want in the negative. I know most people can easily tell you what we don’t want, but ask them what they do want. It’s a very different conversation. And so that was not just a conversation for others. That was a conversation for myself, as well.

— Music begins, piano keys leading into a mid tempo smooth bouncy Hip Hop beat.

TR:

This really seems about knowing yourself. And there’s some real value in that.

Marguerite:

I’m getting to the space in the place where I have an opinion, I have a thought and it’s authentic.

You have a thought and an opinion and it is yours, no matter what I think about it, it is yours.

I do have the right to my opinions and my thoughts. And I want to be respected. So if I’m going to respect myself, I’ve got to respect you. Even if I don’t agree with you. I’ve got to respect that you have it. But that does not stop me from asking for what I want. That’s how you see it. And you can be very right. And I’m not telling you that you’re wrong. But I’m asking for what I want and what I need, which is a very different space.

I need to articulate and be really clear about what I’m asking for. So I have to keep asking, and keep defining and keep gaining the clarity.

I’m not recommending this as a way for anybody to go, I’m just merely trying to tell you what’s happening with me.

TR:

She really is on an exploration.

Her advocacy continues to have practical applications.
As the president of the At Large Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Maryland, she’s ready when necessary to respond to issues of particular concern to her community.

Marguerite:
We discovered that the state of Maryland was planning to discontinue bus transportation from Baltimore City. To the surrounding counties, for the most part, and they quietly were holding community meetings.

I was thinking about my community that I actually live in not just the blind community, but the community of Baltimore City, which is being affected. And I knew about a group that I been in connection with for many years, I would go there and talk to them.

TR:

The organization is called BDS healthy aging networks. Marguerite built a relationship with them over the years where she along with a group of members from her chapter would speak to the organization as a way to allow people to see into the community.

Marguerite:

I knew that they had gone virtual, I got in touch with the woman who runs it, Betsy Simon, and told her what I’d like to do. So she invited me to the call to share with the partners that met with her and the partners were different community agencies, city and state agencies, as well as community organizations and community leaders. And ask them to participate in the testimonies as well.

Well, I’m not exactly sure what happened. But that idea of dropping the bus service was discontinued.

TR:

There’s real power in organizing with those who share a mutual interest.

Marguerite continued attending the meetings of the network – which extends out to many different agencies and organizations. Their main mandate is advocating for older adults in the city.
They recently showed their ability to organize and get things done after the city made a failed attempt to help vaccinate older adults for Covid 19.

Marguerite:

One of the ladies in our group had been writing directly to the CVS is in the Walgreens saying, Look, we in Baltimore City want vaccinations and our officials are not helping us. Can you help us get vaccinated? So they were ignoring her letters and Walgreens somehow had these extra vaccinations, like 850 of them. They went to the Baltimore City Health Department and said, Listen, we’ve got these vaccinations. We can show up on Saturday with the pharmacists. You get the people.

This was on a Tuesday, the Health Department told them no, there’s no way we can do that. It’s not enough time.

They remembered the woman in our group who had been writing to them. They did shout it out to her. And she got in touch with Betsy Simon. And she sent a call out to everybody on her list. Can we do this? And so we said, yes.

TR:

With Some quick planning and putting people into action, they got it done.

Marguerite:

Advocacy, asking for what you want. And that’s what that woman did. She kept asking for what she wanted, in the midst of them saying, No, we can’t. And the health department did not help us, they said that they couldn’t do it. And after we did it, it showed that we could.

TR:

She continues showing up to Zoom calls. Reminding organizations to make sure their materials and information is getting to the low vision and blind community. She’s actually seeing progress in this area.

Again, the advocacy work teaches her things about herself and how that can benefit others.

Marguerite:

I think that the key for me is to take what I’ve been able to get in terms of training, philosophy and skills and so forth. And just come right back into my community and be a person in the community teaching from my example.

— Music Ends

If it helps the blind community, it’s helping the rest of the community as well. Those things are created and envisioned by the blind. And so we are contributors to what the society is and what it can become.

Music begins, a bouncy upbeat Hip Hop track.

TR:

Are you socially Reidsponsible?

— Sample from Blades of Glory:
“I don’t even know what that means.
No one knows what it means. But it’s provocative.”

TR:

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

Cool, like the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway happening right now on Twitter.

We started in January on Facebook. Then moved to Instagram and during the month of March we’re focusing on the final platform, Twitter.
All you have to do to be entered into the drawing is like and retweet any of the posts I tweet out related to the Reid My Mind Radio Giveaway during the month of March.
So go on over and follow @tsreid and again, like and retweet any of the posts related to the giveaway.

Our social media manager, Annie, will gather all the names at the end of the month and we will draw a winner, which we’ll announce in April.

During the next episode in March, we’ll announce the winner of the Instagram contest.

Make sure you follow ReidMyMindRadio on Facebook and Instagram

Oh, wait, that’s being socially Reidsponsible!

Now, let’s get back to the episode!

— Music ends with a bouncing base drum echoing into silence.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
So during your first time on the podcast, you suddenly and quite nonchalantly dropped this thing about spending some time in India?

Can you share the story of how that came about? And what you actually did in India?

Marguerite:
I went to something in Baltimore called Blind industries and services in Maryland, which is a training facility for adults and older adults who want to gain skills and be able to manage blindness.

When I finished there, the director at the time sent me an email and in the subject, it said, only two days left.

TR:
She actually discovered and read the email the next day.

That’s when she found out she had one day left to apply to the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs. It’s in Trivandrum, which is in the southernmost part of India.

Marguerite:

I got these thrill bumps all over me when I was reading it. It just filled me up.

You had to have it in, I think that day. I’m amazed at myself that I was able to do all that and I was able to submit it. And you know, they sent back and asked for some more information, I sent it to them.

And later on, they sent me a letter and told me that I was accepted and I was going to get a full scholarship to come there.

— Music begins, a dramatic introduction that feels like an eastern vibe that opens to a rhythmic electronic dance track.

TR:

Marguerite didn’t tell anyone about applying to the program.
That is until she received her acceptance letter.
p
Coincidentally, that good news arrived near her birthday. So when her family asked what she wanted to do, she was prepared.

Marguerite:

I want to go to an Indian restaurant.

When we sat down, we were talking and eating. And When they got to wishing me a happy birthday, I told them that I wanted to share something with them and told them that I would be going to India, and they were all shocked. They were like, Who are you going with? Who are these people? Bla bla bla.

Mind you, I’m totally blind at that point. I’m going alone , I don’t know the people, whether they met them online. And so they were like, oh, no, this, this, you’re not doing that. And they had all these what ifs, and no, they were really afraid for me. But something that I learned a while back and was able to practice is when you get an idea about something that you want to do, and, and you’re trusting that it feels good inside of you. That is not the time to share it. Because you’ve heard of dream killers. And they don’t even mean to be they were very good intentioned, but they will kill your dream before it gets off the ground.

TR:

Many of us have fallen victim to or have been a Dream Killer.

Perhaps one or two bodies.

Maybe you know some real serial killers. You know, those who just throw daggers at anyone with an idea or a plan to step out and try something new.

Chances are, they don’t mean to discourage. It’s more about a fear or lack of information on they’re part.

The point is, we need to protect our dreams, like they’re our babies.

Marguerite:

You can’t share it when it’s in it’s infancy, you got to let it mature. And so that’s what I did. And when it felt solid in me, and I’d worked out my own kinks about it and realize I had no fear and no reservations. So when they came with all that they had, it didn’t sway me because I had already worked it through, and I was solid and how I felt and so I let them go through what they needed to, as I continue to get myself prepared to go.

TR:

She received the news in July and left for India in January.

Marguerite:

I stayed there for a year came back in December. It was quite an experience.

I got to work with NGO’s, Non-Government Organizations. They’re sort of like our charitable organizations.

We worked with gay and lesbian organization.

In India, as you might imagine being a, quote unquote, third world country.
homosexuality is not something that is readily accepted.

With all of the challenges that we have here in the United States, the magnitude of it there is beyond the scope of what we can expect. It’s so dangerous. But these people are so adamant about being able to live their lives out loud, that they’re risking their lives for even just saying that they belong to an organization like that.

TR:

Wherever you go in the world, marginalized groups exist. The language and faces may appear to be different but underneath it all things look familiar.

Marguerite:
In India, lots of people wanted to bleach their skin.
— Music ends with a crescendo cymbal crash

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
For the folks who haven’t seen, they may not necessarily know that the complexion of Indians are black.
I mean, some of them might not. Right?

Marguerite:
Yes. Yes, yes. Yes. And some of them are very dark in their complexion, and they want to be they want to be white. They want to be fair skin, it’s important to them, and so they do bleaching creams. I’ve heard of people who families would make these potions, so when the woman was pregnant, she would drink these potions that would help to ensure that her child would be fair when it was born.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Oh, my goodness. Drinking it? Man, woof!

TR:

To get a sense of how much of an issue this is, Marguerite shares some description of a commercial on Indian television.

Marguerite:

It was a woman in a park, she’s walking with her boyfriend. She was darker complexion. And he was fair. And he sees a, another girl in the park. And she’s fair skinned. And so he drops the arm of his darker skin girlfriend. And he dances off with this fair skinned girlfriend. The darker girl is hurt and upset.
So she gets this cream, and she uses it for a prescribed period of time. And he sees her again, and she’s fair skinned now.
So he drops the other person, and now they’re happily ever after.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
This was a commercial?

Marguerite:
Yeah.
TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

On regular TV?

Marguerite 46:21

Yeah, yeah.

The idea was to go and fight against the companies that were making creams. And my thing was, well, before you can fight against the company that’s making the creams. I think we need to educate the people, let’s start with the children, because they were doing it with kids as well. And they were doing it with the boys as well as the girls. And so we went into the schools, and we were talking to them about melanin and for the schools that we went to none of them knew about melanin.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Do you want to break that down a little bit? It’s well, just power of melanin.

Marguerite 47:21
Melanin is such a protective coating and that a lot of things can’t even happen without a melanin protection.

I remember, way back when I was much younger, hearing and reading about first the spaceships using the idea of melanin as a protective coating on some of their vessels.

Even here in this United States, even though we have it, there’s not a whole lot of talk about melanin and how powerful it is, and how wonderful it is.

TR:

You can tell people about Melanin, about a rich history where people who look like them weren’t colonized, robbed of their resources, but ultimately, it’s about self-love.

Marguerite:

My idea. And the group that I worked with, we felt like, it was just as important for individuals to decide that they wanted to embrace who they are, right where they are, and fall in love with that before, you can start telling a company not to sell bleaching creams.
Until people are educated and can find a way to feel good about themselves. It to me is a moot point. I don’t think you can do one without the other.

TR:

This problem isn’t at all unique to India. It was a bigger thing here in the states, several islands in the Caribbean including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.

( FILTERED VOICE:) White supremacy is a hell of a drug!

— Music begins, an inspiring ambient track that grows as it progresses.

Marguerite:
We’re not supposed to be the same. And because one group is one way and another group is a different way, does not at all indicate that you are better than or less than the next group, although we use that as our vehicle to control and manipulate and because it has worked so well. It continues to happen that way. But we can’t just throw our hands up, we have to I think, continue to help people understand that it’s okay to embrace yourself where you are.

TR:

Embracing yourself as in the color of your skin whether you’re in India, Africa, the Caribbean or here in the states. The texture of your hair, your sexuality and yes your disability.

It’s what makes adjusting to disability so challenging for many. You may not even realize how you felt about disability and that can then impact how you feel about yourself.

Marguerite:

When I became blind, I realized that I had some very negative thoughts and feelings about blind individuals that I did not realize I had. I realized that when I saw a blind person, I felt something that I didn’t bother to identify. But what I did recognize was that I was glad it was not me. And that was with any disability, or anything that wasn’t held up as a beautiful thing, by the society norms, and that even meant, the color of my skin, the texture of my hair, all of that was a part of it. And those were feelings that were held inside in secret, depending on what company I was in. And so blindness exposed me not just to the blindness, but to the other beliefs that I was holding. And what I also discovered was that I could not really know what I was holding on to, unless I had an experience that brought it out. Because I tended to think that I was who I wanted to be not able to see who I actually was being.

As an adult, I had to find my way to that. I remember having to make a decision, a literal decision, that I wanted to live as a person with blindness. It was very different from living as a person with low vision. Total blindness was a totally different experience for me! And so I had to make a decision for me!

TR:

You know this isn’t about which level of visual acuity is more challenging, right?
it’s not a competition between disabilities, in fact, it has less to do with any external factor at all.

Not confronting the question was the source of anxiety.

Marguerite:

I just remember saying to myself, I have got to make a decision about how I want to be because
the anxiety was because I did not want to be blind. But I’m blind.

I really did know that the question for me to answer was, do you want to live as a blind person, and I realized I had not made up my mind, which also contributed to the panic attacks that I was having. I was scared to know what I really thought.

that was a very traumatic time for me. And I went through that solo, because I couldn’t talk to anybody about it. And I had tried to find a counselor at one point, but I couldn’t find counselors that knew blindness from the experience. And so I didn’t trust them enough to share that.

I had done enough spiritual practices during my life, that I use the tools that I gained. And I made a decision that I did want to live. So here I am.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

Here you are! (Chuckles)

Marguerite:

Here I am… Yes…. (chuckles)

— Music ends into momentary silence

— Music begins, a lively up beat R & B drum opening to a happy groove.

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:

That’s right, that’s right!

Marguerite:

Yeh! (Reflectively says) Here I am!

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite, because of all the things you do, to advocate, coming on a podcast to share and help others, doing your thing with disability. You Ms. Marguerite are an official member of the Reid My Mind Radio family.

You was already official but I don’t know, should I make more levels of officiality?
The two share in a silly laugh.

TR:

I truly respect and appreciate Marguerite for her honesty and sharing her wisdom and insight that I just know, will be of real value to many.

In fact, check out how generous she wanted to be when I asked her to share contact information.

Marguerite:

So you can call me you can call my mobile number which is 443-271-1668

TR in Conversation with Marguerite:
Marguerite! This is on the internet. Are you sure you want to put your number out there? Laughing…

Marguerite:
Oh no, no, I guess I don’t, I guess I don’t…

They can go to the NFB page NFBMD.org.

TR:
Orr go ahead and email her and tell her how much you appreciate her valuable perspective!
Marguerite:

MWoods719 at Gmail.

TR:

I don’t think there’s anyone I’d rather have kicked off this season with more than Ms. Marguerite Woods.

Did you listen between the words?

(Filtered Voice:) Dude, I really don’t think that’s a term.

She shared valuable ideas. Some were very practical like;
suggesting we create our toolkit to manage aspects of our lives.

And others were more philosophical like;
– exploring life through blindness and other identities…
– Choosing to think about and speak in terms of what we want.

That to me is so Powerful and honestly feels important for me where I am in my life right now.
You know, let me put that into practice right now.
I want you to share this episode with at least one other person. And let them know they can follow or subscribe to the podcast, just as you did, to make sure they don’t miss any episodes.
I want you to tell them, they can do that wherever they get podcasts.
Let them know they can find transcripts and more over at ReidMyMind.com.
And of course, make sure they know , that’s R to the E I D…
— (D! And that’s me in the place to be!, Slick Rick)

Marguerite:

Like his last name!

TR in conversation with Marguerite:
Ouu! I like that!
(The two laugh)

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

Hide the transcript

Audio Description with IDC: Good Enough is Not Good Enough!

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

IDC LogoWhen it comes to Audio Description, “Good enough, isn’t good enough”, says Eric Wickstrom, Director of Audio Description at International Digital center or IDC. As AD Advocates, this has to be our message.

In this episode we feature Eric & IDC’s Head Audio Description Writer Liz Gutman. We learn about their process, the industry and more all through the lens of consumers advocating for #AudioDescription. Plus if you believe Blind people should be involved in the creation of AD, you’ll want to hear what IDC is doing about this.

Listen

Resources

Transcript

Show the transcript

TR:

Welcome to another episode of Reid My Mind Radio.
This podcast brings you compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability.

I’m Thomas Reid, your host and producer. Occasionally, I feature stories from my own experience as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. Today, we’re continuing with our ongoing look at Audio Description.

Reid My Mind Radio has several episodes exploring the topic. They range from consumer perspective discussions and opinions to profiles of those in the field. In fact, you can go back to when ReidMyMind was solely a blog; I’ve been writing & thinking about the topic for a minute y’all.

Today we’re bringing you a conversation with some Audio Description professionals, through the lends of consumers as advocates. What can we learn from their process and experience about AD that can help improve our advocacy efforts?

The answers and more are up next.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

Eric:

My name is Eric Wickstrom. I am the Director of Audio Description for International Digital Center otherwise known as IDC, based out of New York City.

I run everything from the initial order through the delivery of AD projects.

TR:

Eric got his start in AD about 10 years ago while working at the USA Network. this was shortly after President Obama signed the 21st Century Telecommunications Accessibility Act now known as the CVAA. This mandates that major broadcast companies including some cable stations like USA, are required to provide a minimum number of hours of described programming each quarter. Over time, this number increases with a goal of 100 percent.

Eric:

I stepped up at that point and kind of offered to help spearhead the charge. Working with the heads of my department we were able to figure it out pretty quickly and get started building a library, got in compliance with the FCC. I did that for about 4 to 5 years. By the time I left we had the biggest library on broadcast television in North America.

TR:

About four years ago, Eric left USA and began working for IDC.

Eric:

We do everything from editorial stuff, color correction, quality control, media processing conversions audio mixing sub titling and all sorts of localizations. We have a full service dubbing department now that will do English to foreign language dubbing or the reverse. Pretty much A to Z anything you need we do

TR:

I wanted to speak with Eric to learn a bit more about their process specifically as it relates to us as consumers who are advocates.

We start with identifying some barriers to Audio Description which fall into two categories; quantity & quality.

First, budgets.

Audio: Music…

Eric:
It’s a very, very small part. Depending on the size of the production I mean there are cable networks that spend 12 to 15 million dollars an episode on productions and I can tell you in those cases your AD budget would be a percentage of one percent. The cost of producing a good , I’m talking about a good AD track; hiring the right people and getting it done the right way, your average AD track’s going to cost you less than like the Kraft’s service table does for a production of a T.V show.

Audio: Sound of a Adding Machine

TR:

We’re talking about a few thousand dollars.

Definitely not an amount to consider as a burden on the production of a television or film project.

So let’s not even call budget a challenge to AD.

Eric:

I just generally believe a lot of people don’t know what it is. My father and step mother were asking me three weeks ago about what AD is and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. If they don’t know by now…

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Well, that’s just parents! Laughs…

Eric:

You know!

TR:

Truth is its much more than parents. I’m sure we’ve all encounter someone who has no idea about Audio Description. And like the good advocates we are, we explain it and probably encourage them to give it a try. The more awareness the better. But really, we need those in positions of power to be aware.

[TR in conversation with Eric:]

How is it that, production companies aren’t that aware of Audio Description at this time in 2020?

Eric:

A lot of production companies are aware of it now, the bigger production companies. They work with the bigger networks, the ones that would be mandated based on rating. Smaller production companies that traditionally work for like an HGTV or History Channel it wouldn’t surprise me that a year and a half ago when they were finally mandated to provide it, people looked at each other and said what is this. It wouldn’t shock me. If you haven’t been exposed to it you wouldn’t know about it.

TR:

It’s true, most major films are released with Audio Description. However, what about the older content that seems to remain undescribed?

Eric:

Well that’s changing. I know that like Paramount I believe did a big push two years back for AD to get it included on all the DVD releases. That back filled a lot of content that hadn’t been previously described.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

TR:

Who watches on DVD anymore? We’re streaming.

Eric:

The problem with the streaming services is not all of them require AD. At least not for everything they air.

TR:

The issue is licensing. Streaming companies pay movie studios and television networks fees for the right to run these films and shows.

Eric:

They only have the rights for a year or two and then it goes away.

TR:

So if streaming network X pays to add AD, when it moves to streaming network Y…

Eric:

That service would have to commission their own AD track.

I think the answer there would be if every streaming service required AD, across the board then these companies that are selling the rights for these things would have to commission a track and then the track would follow that piece of material from service to service.

TR:

There’s different reasons for content not beings described. As advocates, an understanding of these can help direct our energy. In general when we find content has no description at all.

Eric:

You’d want to reach out directly to the studio itself. As far as television programming goes that would be a conversation for the network. If it became an issue about quality, it might be a conversation with the network, but then that conversation would have to happen with the production company that provided the show in the first place.

TR:

The push for quantity doesn’t automatically lead to improve quality.

Eric:

A lot of AD is mandated by the Federal government and a lot of networks look upon it as they have to do as opposed to something they want to do. That’s unfortunate because I think that’s where you lose a lot of opportunity for quality or conversations about the best way to do it.

TR:

As consumers, we want both; quality and quantity.

Eric:

It’s like anything. If I give you a gig bowl of frost bitten ice cream, yeah, it’s a bowl of ice cream but… a giant bowl of Ben & Jerry’s or Haggen Daaz that’s the difference. As more and more networks are pressured into providing the service, I’m hoping that they take a moment and say hey let’s give them ben & Jerry’s.

TR:

Shout out to Ben & Jerry’s!

Doing it right consists of three components;
The script (Audio: “Word”)
Narration (Audio: “Aw Yeh”)
And the mix (Audio: “In the Mix”) or making sure you can comfortably hear both the film’s dialog and AD narration.

Eric:

It’s all about the writing in my opinion. Without a great script you’re never going to create a great track of Audio Description. I don’t care if you get a James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman to come in and read the thing.

If I were going to make a pie chart, the scripting would be about 80 to 85 percent. That’s how important the script is.

Audio: Music

TR:

Breaking it down further, here are the ingredients for a good Audio Description script.

Audio: Sounds of typing. ” What are you doing? “I’m writing.” – From Finding Forrester

Eric:

It has to identify the right things, it has to keep the character names right, not over explain things. You don’t need to write he shoots the guy, you hear a gunshot you know what happened. That’s a big failure with Audio Description is the overwriting of scripts and the over explaining of things.

TR:

Developing a staff of writers for Eric comes down to deciding whether to recruit or train?

Eric:

I have found over the years and this is just my experience, this goes back to my years coaching youth basketball 20 years ago, I coached young kids, 4th and 5th graders who never picked up a basketball in their lives and I so much prefer coaching those kids because it’s so much easier to teach somebody from the ground up than to break them out of bad habits they already developed.

TR:

Eric has seen a lot of bad habits from writers with years of experience.

Eric:

There’s too much good enough is good enough. For us and our standards at IDC, no we’re not striving for good we’re striving for great!

TR:

I agree the script is that important. So I spoke with head Audio Description Writer at IDC, Liz Gutman.

She first heard about Audio Description from a podcast. No, it wasn’t this one that would have made for a fantastic segue. The podcast is called 20,000 Hertz.

Audio: Music ends in reverse.

Liz:

It’s a great podcast. There was an interview with a woman named Colleen Connor who runs a training retreat in North Carolina. She is blind. She has theater training; she’s a performer and a creative person herself. She and this other woman Jan Vulgaropulos, who’s been a describer for a number of years, run this training retreat. I had never heard of Audio Description before, I didn’t know what it was and hearing Colleen talk about it, explain what it was and the purpose it served and what’s good Audio Description and what’s not good Audio Description. My mind was completely blown.

TR:

It wasn’t just Audio Description that blew her mind open.

Liz:

I’m a non-disabled sighted white lady and I have never really had to examine my own biases, my own assumptions, the way I move through the world. The way I perceive others to move through the world. I’d never really had to challenge that from a nondisabled point of view before that weekend. It was a profound experience.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

That really does fall right in line with what we do at Reid My Mind Radio. I mean it’s all about adjusting and examining our misperceptions. Can you tell me what that was like?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. At the risk of sounding like a total jerk I was terrified. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what was okay to say or ask… Should I offer to help or not. Is it okay to say Blind? All this stuff that now seems very 101 to me, I was lucky to be amongst a group of very kind open people who encouraged me to ask questions and were very open about answering them

TR:

Ready for more, Liz completed the AD Retreat and attended ACB’s Audio description project training. There she was paired with a Blind Mentor.

Liz:

Her name is Myra. She’s great! I’ve gotten to go on described museum tours with her. She took me to see a described performance of Waiting for Gadot. That was excellent. She’s also taught me a lot about experiencing culture in different ways and that helps me become a better describer. Understanding what goes in to theater description and what goes into museums and art description. All of those things inform each other, I think in real important ways.

TR:

Soon after attending her trainings, Liz began freelancing with an Audio Description provider.

Liz:

Not too long after that I really lucked out and was referred by a guy who’s now a friend who I met at ACB who worked at this company IDC who was hiring a full time writer. I went in and chatted with them and as they say the rest was history. I’ve been at IDC since August of 2018.

Audio: Music

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

So you’ve only been doing Audio Description for two years?

Liz:

Yeh… (Laughs)

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs… Oh boy! Wow! Aw man.

Liz:

I know, it’s wild. I have a lot of impostor syndrome to get over.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Laughs…, Yeh, Well, you’re definitely not an impostor, c’mon!

Liz:

Laughing… Oh, thank you!

At the risk of sounding big headed I do think I’m good at my job. I would not consider myself an expert by any means, but I am very curious and I do love, I love, love love this work. I sort of intensively been reading and talking to people, watching stuff with Audio Description and kind of immersing myself as much as possible. Which has just been so rewarding. Not just because I love the work, but this community is just unbelievable. Describers and consumers of Audio Description alike. I’m just like floored and grateful always to be doing this.

TR:

It’s said it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given field. But what about the related skills that comes from prior experience? That has to account for something, right?

Liz:

My first job out of college was watching T.v. and writing trivia questions about it that would then be linked to product placement. So basically gathering marketing information to sell to advertisers.

(Laughs…) I’ll just put it this way; I couldn’t watch any T.V. or movies without noticing products. (Laughs along with TR)

That brands of cars, that brand of soda (laughs) Oh he’s wearing that brand of that t-shirt. I couldn’t unsee it.

TR:

That attention to detail serves a purpose today. Add a minor in creative writing in college, publishing a cook book, writing for a well-known food blog and running her own business for 10 years, Liz has a wealth of experience and knowledge to draw from. She wrote about chocolate for goodness sake!

I’m not sure how many ways you can describe mm delicious!

Audio: Music ends

That’s quality AD – language that succinctly evokes an image.

At IDC, writers are selected for a project based on their specialties or specific interest.

Liz:

One guy just sort of tends to usually do a lot of the fantasy actiony stuff. Someone else does a lot of reality stuff.

Our department head will kind of weigh all of those things between scheduling and who might be best suited to write it and assign it to the writer.

TR:

Just because there are specializations, doesn’t mean you’re working alone.

Liz:

What I love about working at IDC is that it’s really collaborative and we all ask each other questions. We get the best of everybody. If you get stuck on a phrase or can’t decide how to deal with a certain thing and you want to describe all of the stuff but you only have time for one thing or help prioritize.
A lot of what we’ll do is take a poll. Do you guys know what this word means? If more than half of us do then we’ll use it!

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

I’m wondering when instances of cultural competence come into play, how that works through in the writer’s room. So what does your writer’s room look like and how does that play? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Liz:

Yeh, absolutely. And that’s a really important question and one that we’re constantly considering and making sure we take into account. We’ve had conversations about the finer points of a person in a wheel chair, person using a wheel chair, and why the phrase wheel chair bound is not okay. All the finer points of describing someone who is different from you in any way.

TR:

Differences like race or skin tone. Yet, the AD guidelines specifically call for excluding race or color.

Liz:

Unless it’s crucial to understanding the plot. And if so, everyone’s race, ethnicity needs to be called out and mentioned specifically.

I do think representation is super important and I do think it’s important to mention it just so that a Blind Asian kid or a Blind Black kid so they can know oh cool, just in all the ways that representation matters right?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Yeh, 100 percent. I think it’s important for a Blind white kid to know that too. To say hey these people are in this movie.

Liz:

Right, and to not make the assumption.

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

Absolutely.

Liz:

If you say like oh, a tall woman and a short woman and a Black woman then you’re making the assumption that everyone else is white and white becomes the default.

TR:

As advocates believing in inclusion for one group, I’d hope that means inclusion for all.

If so, we should absolutely promote diverse writer’s rooms. That diversity should include the widest range of identities; race, ethnicity, gender, disability and LGBTQ plus representation.

Audio Description is all about providing access to information that isn’t conveyed audibly. Sighted people have this access and process it individually. Some may choose to question the casting choices and others may find them empowering. No matter how one chooses to use that information, Blind people deserve that same level of access.

Liz:

We also struggle with as describers, having enough time to include any of this stuff. Sometimes you don’t get to add any description to somebody before they’re named or even after they’re named if it’s something really dialogue heavy.

TR:

This lack of time is extremely important. This has to be a part of our awareness conversation. It’s not enough that networks and studios have to provide AD. We need them to understand the value and make it an equitable experience. Creating the space for AD in their projects makes that possible.

I’ve been ranting for years about making use of pre-show AD.

Liz, who in addition to writing also narrates and directs AD sessions at IDC, agrees, it just makes sense. Especially in the fantasy genre where the imagery is unlike anything people would be familiar with.

Liz:

When a creator builds this entire world from scratch for the audience and I only have the spaces between the dialogue to describe it, I do my best, but there’s no way I can do justice to the scope of that. So I’d love to have an extra 15 to 20 minutes to just talk about the world; each village, each type of character and all of that stuff because it’s so integral to really enjoying the series.

Eric:

That’s the writing and from there you talk about voicing.

TR:

Eric’s referring to narration – the second of three components required in Audio Description.

Eric:

When I say the writing is 85 percent of it, that’s not to imply that the voicing is not important. The voicing is extremely important. You can certainly ruin a great AD track with a bad voice. We’ve seen it happen.

Audio: “Do you hear the words coming out of my mouth?” Chris Tucker in Rush hour

Eric:

Finding the right voice for the track itself to try to match the story to the VO (Voice Over) as much as possible. But also just you want to make sure you get the right tone. Some places use a one size fits all approach to voicing where the same voice person will do a wide array of projects. Nothing wrong with that it’s a creative decision, a creative approach. We try to really fine tune every choice of voice with the script. That’s usually a conversation between me and the writers as they get into a project, maybe half way through I’ll have a conversation with that writer and say hey who do you think. That’s a benefit of having a team that’s been together for years. They sometimes have an idea before I even do about who’s going to voice something.

The last part of the process which again, very important and generally overlooked is the mix.

Audio: “As you hear it, pump up the volume!” Eric B & Rakim, I Know You Got Soul.

Eric:

A lot of times you hear AD tracks and you hear a really jarring shift in volume? That’s because the company’s feeding through an automated program. It’s a cost cutting move. It doesn’t save that much money. It really hurts the quality. I don’t like it. We won’t use it. Period!

Eric:

The last part of our process is a full QC pass.

TR:

QC or Quality Control. Checking the final production for all sorts of inaccuracies.

Eric:

If we’re misidentifying a character and this happens often. You’re writing thousands of words, it’s easy to type Bob instead of Mark. Bob enters the room. Bob leaves. Well maybe that was Mark.

TR:

Additionally there’s checking the levels of the mix, listening for mouth clicks and pronunciations.

Eric:

When that track leaves our facility it’s gone through quite a production line of work.
[TR in conversation with Eric:]

Would you employ Blind folks for the quality control part of it?

Eric:

You know that’s something we definitely discussed. We would. As far as the quality of the mix, the overall experience of the AD, yes!

TR:

IDC already holds regular focus groups bringing their writers together with AD consumers.

Eric:

That’s a very important part of what we do. We’re not making unilateral decisions about what the Blind community likes. All of our decisions are informed by the Blind community.

TR:

Audio Description advocacy needs to include creating opportunities for Blind people in as many possible paid positions throughout the production process.

By possible, I don’t mean based on the current process. There are many ways to get something done.

Eric:

Covid especially added another level of stress because everybody was scattered. We were used to writing as a team in a room together. Like a regular writer’s room in any television show we’d sit there and bounce ideas off each other. That’s taken on the form of daily Zoom.

As far as the Voice Over people goes, a lot of our VO people work in New York City. We use a very diverse roster of people. I had to figure out how dozens of people were going to be able to record VO. Some of them are already actors and Voice actors that have their own setup, but many of them didn’t

TR:

The pandemic demanded job accommodations and a new workflow which can be beneficial to the disabled community.

Eric:

One of the things we said this year at IDC we wanted to do, we wanted to get some Blind people involved directly with the narration of Audio Description tracks. The challenge of that was that we didn’t do a lot of remote recording. We weren’t setup for it.

TR:

. Since this interview IDC has made some progress on that goal. I reached out to Eric for an update on his progress.

Eric:

I can tell you it’s going very well. You could speak from personal experience. You were nice enough to be the first person to jump in with us and help develop some workflows. I was very happy with how the quality of the track turned out. The feedback we received through social media and through the clients at Netflix., they were very happy as well. We’ve already launched our second project on Netflix with a Blind Narrator. The third one’s in the works. We’ve onboarded two other Blind Narrators and I have three more on deck.

TR:

I’m excited for the opportunities this presents for all Blind and disabled people intrested in AD Narration.

Eric:

Kelly McDonald who we used on the second project that just launched, Sam Jay’s Three in the Morning on Netflix. He’s a radio host up in Canada. In fact, his co-host Romnea was onboarded as well. They have a unique ability because they’ve done radio for so long and I think Thomas you said you have this ability as well from podcasting all these years to be able to actually hear a track in their ear and repeat it in real time. At the same pace, same inflection. Originally we thought using Blind Narrators is going to be something that’s gonna be easy to do with reality shows like the one you worked on SkinDecision. Stand up specials like the one Kelly worked on.

TR:

It’s a matter of being vocal about our abilities.

Eric:

We’re not the first studio using Blind Narrators. That’s not accurate if people are thinking that. There’s plenty of narrators out there that have been working for years doing narration and podcasting, radio broadcasting. So the talent is out there.

TR:

With that said, if you’re interested and have the ability to record professional sounding audio, stay tuned and I’ll let you know how to contact Eric.

Eric:

We’re putting our best foot forward as a company in trying to be inclusive and accessible using as many talented people as we can.

There’s no excuse based on what we’ve discovered over the last few months, every studio creating Audio Description should be using Blind Narrators to voice the material they’re putting out. And in addition to that we’ve onboarded some Blind people from the community to work in our QC process as well.

TR:

These conversations with Eric & Liz helped shed light on the challenges to AD right now and the future.

Company’s cutting costs by automating the mix and employing synthetic speech are underbidding for jobs. Multiple people in the business have said how this has directly impacted the fees other AD production companies are able to charge. How soon before other companies are forced to cut corners in order to stay afloat?

It’s imperative that as consumers and advocates we demand quality – not that cheap sort of accessibility that gets slapped on at the end in order to comply with a federal mandate.

Eric:

That has to be the push of the community to develop universal standards. There’s no approved vendor list per se like universally, everybody’s kind of left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

AD unfortunately, is viewed as an expense and not one that generates revenue.

Eric:

And that’s wrong. There’s 6 to 8 million visually impaired people in America at the last estimate. Every year as people live longer that number goes up. Those 6 to 8 million people are part of families. Families are using Audio Description so everybody in the household can enjoy watching television together. Especially now in this time.

That track is made for 6 to 8 million people but its impacting tens of millions of more people.

TR:

Remember, the AD budget is a few thousand dollars. Your annual streaming network subscription will set a family back over $150.

Eric:

. If that encourages a family of four to subscribe to your streaming service or pay extra for cable it’s more than paying for itself. You really don’t have to draw that many families to break even and then to turn a profit it’s just a few more.
just left on their own. It doesn’t take much more effort to do it right.

TR:

Making sure AD is done right inevitably comes down to the Blind community.

Eric:

If you hear a track either on a streaming service and you like what we did or you didn’t like what we did, reach out and let us know. I’m always open to feedback.

Audio: Music

TR:

Feedback should be a gift, so make it constructive.

Eric:

Don’t just say hey you suck!

Well, thanks, that doesn’t really help!

We’re trying to provide a service. We love this we want to make sure we’re doing it right. I always say if I want positive I would just ask my mother what she thinks.

TR:

Do you have a project that would be a lot better with Audio Description?

Are you interested in getting involved with AD as a narrator and have the ability to produce a high quality recording?
Do you have some comments on a specific project with IDC produced AD?

Reach out…

Eric:

I’m always happy to talk about AD. It’s a passion for us. It doesn’t have to just be business inquiries. Anything you have to say feedback otherwise … you can find us at IDCDigital.com. You can search for Audio Description, fill out the form and it will get to me.

TR:

You can also get to both Eric and Liz on Twitter:
@IDC_Eric
@ Liz_IDC

TR:

I hope this episode contributes to moving the conversation around Audio Description advocacy to be more about good & bad Audio Description, the ways it could be improved and the inclusion of more Blind people at every point in the workflow.

We know why AD is important to us as consumers. It goes beyond watching movies, television and theater. It’s relationships that come from these shared experiences. It’s opportunities for conversation, education, entertainment, imagination building and more.

What about the perspective of those producing AD?

[TR in conversation with Liz:]

When you speak about it you’re very passionate about Audio Description. Why?

Liz:

That’s a really good question. (Long Pause) Selfishly, it plays to my skill sets really well. It requires a large vocabulary, I’ve been a bookworm my entire life, but it also has really strict parameters. Audio Description provides that framework I find challenging in a really stimulating way. And on top of that it provides a service. That creates meaning for me.I go to work every day and I get to write, think hard about the best way, the most vivid and concise way to convey something that’s on screen. So that someone’s who’s listening to it will get the same feeling that I have watching it. And to help bring us all in to the same level. Especially since I have become more familiar with the Disabled and Blind and Low vision community. I have friends in that community now. I care about their experience.

Audio: Stay Golden

TR:

Eric expressed a very similar sentiment and noted that he really appreciates the feedback from the community. He shares his wish about AD in the future.

Eric:

I look forward to the day where I don’t get as much appreciation. Because it just becomes the norm. I look forward to the day where Blind consumers become pretty complacent about it. Oh yeh it’s got AD, great! It shouldn’t be something special and quality shouldn’t be something that’s special.

TR:

A big Shout out to Eric Wickstrom, Liz Gutman and the entire Audio Description team over at IDC. It’s official; you all are now part of the Reid My Mind Radio family!

Eric was a really kind coach. After submitting my first draft he shared his comments which were incredibly helpful and I think go beyond AD narration.

Eric:

You suck!

TR:

That really isn’t helpful!

You know this isn’t the last you will hear on this topic. In fact, I have some more coming up soon so stay tuned. In order to do that may I suggest you subscribe wherever you get podcasts!
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(Audio: “D and that’s me in the place to be” Slick Rick)

Like my last name.

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Peace!

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