Posts Tagged ‘Language’

Flipping the Script on Audio Description – Blind Grown & Sexy

Wednesday, September 15th, 2021

“Let’s talk about sex…” ~ Salt-n-Pepa

When we talk about describing movies and television, eventually we have to discuss sex. Whether a romantic love scene in a film or adult content including racy images to porn videos, Blind adults who want access to this content should be able to get it.

Yet, for many people who are Blind or have Low Vision, their experience with this content has been less than stimulating. In fact, leaving some downright frustrated.

In this second to last episode of the FTS series, we’re talking to my new friends over at Alt Text as Poetry, that’s Bojana Coklyat & Shannon Finnegan. These two are all about encouraging everyone to have fun with descriptions while recognizing the art. We also hear from Danielle Montour who began exploring descriptions and all that has meant for her personally.

We kick off the episode with Pratik Patel who shares his opinions about the way adult content in films are currently described. But as we know, conversations about description always lead to much larger issues like infantilization of Blind and disabled people, sex education, consent and more.

You don’t actually have to be Blind to listen to this one or even consider yourself sexy, but it is for grown folks.

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Show the transcript


Reid My Mind Radio Family!

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— Pulsating Swoosh Transition sound

Welcome, to another installment of Reid My Mind Radio. i’m your host Thomas Reid and thank you for joining me.

In this second to last installment of the Flipping the Script on Audio Description series, we’re discussing topics related to sex.
— Music begins, a slow, sentuous R&B track…

I’m not saying it’s X rated, but I am saying its for the Blind, the grown and yes, (– An orgasmic “Yes” from “When Harry Met Sally”) the sexy!

You don’t actually have to be Blind or even consider yourself sexy, but I do want you to know that in this episode, we say some words, discuss and suggest some things.

— A woman’s orgasmic moan. From “When Harry Met Sally”

Let’s get it on!
— Reid My Mind Theme Music

— A scene from Fifty Shades of Gray where a man is undressing a woman… being described

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
I think it was December of 2020. Do you remember?


I kind of generally remember the, the gist of what I was tweeting out. I remember watching a Netflix show. And there were a couple of sex scenes in it. And the narrator of the audio described content, basically used the same phrase again and again. They kiss passionately, they kiss passionately, they kiss passionately

Even though from the context you can tell that there was some other things going on. And I found that to be a bit stale.


This is Pratik Patel.


I am a 43 year old Asian cisgender Male. I have someone medium length, dark hair, brown skin. I’m five, eight. And on the thin side these days.

I own a small business that deals with digital accessibility in different products, websites, applications, as well as working with companies and in different organizations on integrating people with disabilities in their employment contexts.


Access, employment, hell yes, that’s grown and sexy!

Sex scenes in film and television have become way more prevalent especially with providers like HBO, Netflix and others who
are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable on screen.
So what does that mean for Audio Description consumers?

I found a significant gap in what should be conveyed while describing a sex scene, and what was conveyed while describing a sex scene perhaps because it was the narrator not being comfortable. Or rather, the idea that disabled people or Blind people don’t really need description, even though, that may not be stated outright, it’s an idea that can still persist in people’s minds.


Hey, come in close, I have a secret to share with you. Blind people, Disabled people are sexual.
But, let’s take our time here and explore that gap.


I was looking at a review of a movie that I had just watched basic instinct 2, it had come out in 2005 2006. It had descriptions in the UK, and that was how I first encountered it.

It has quite a bit of sexual content in it.

There’s this scene between the main female character Catherine, played by Sharon Stone. And the main male character was a psychiatrist providing her therapy.

In one of the scenes, she is speaking to her therapist, and she knows that the therapist is attracted to her.


A highly sexual being, Stone’s character that is, is dressed in a short skirt.

— Audio from scene in Basic Instinct 2:
AD Narrator:
“She glances over her shoulder with a smoldering predatory expression, then drags the chair into the middle of the room. She straddles the chair with the with the back in front of her and hoists her dress up revealing her thighs.”

Sharon Stone Character:

“When you think about fucking me and I know you do…”

TR in Conversation with Pratik: 10:12
So she’s sitting with her legs open.


She has this entire monologue with a therapist. And in the background, you hear a sound, a rhythmic sound.

— Sample from the scene plays in the background.

And at the end of the scene, the narrator says…

— From Basic Instinct 2 AD Narrator:
“Suddenly, she stops touching herself.”


In some ways, the US version is even worse, because it doesn’t even tell you that she was touching herself.

In some cases, when the scene is moving really fast, and there isn’t enough time between dialog, I can understand that you leave out some information.
But it’s not the case in this and other shows or movies that I’ve seen. There’s plenty of gap.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
no pun intended with the gap. Sorry.

(TR & Pratik share a silly laugh)


Ok, I never said I was grown!

Maybe you have experienced watching a film with a sighted person who can easily point out these gaps.
That’s the difference between what’s taking place on screen and what’s being described.


It brings up multiple points not only not having that information, but the context the artistic expression of that scene, you know, sometimes sex is sex is sex, but other times especially in movies like that sex is used for effect right? And not describing that is a bit of a travesty. I think.

— Music begins, a slow, sentuous Hip Hop groove


Let’s flip this, and explore from another angle.


I feel so often, when I’m reading alt text there isn’t much joy or delight. When there could be.

I have started to use Alt Text as Poetry as a lens to look at everything else that I’m engaging in.


That’s artis , Bojana Coklyat.
One half of Alt Text as Poetry,
who focus on getting people to think creatively when it comes to descriptions and access in general.

Fellow artist Shannon Finnegan makes up the other half of this dynamic duo.


We talk a lot about this idea of attention to language and just being aware and intentional about what the tone of the writing is, or what words are you using, jargon or slang.
Thinking about how that tone relates to the tone of the material or the image?
Trying out different things and learning from each other and not defaulting to one way of writing.

Some people have an association with poetry as super flowery language or kind of inaccessible. We don’t mean poetry in that sense. Access is at the core.
It’s more about bringing an intentional and creative mindset to it rather than writing a sonnet.


Shout out to Reid My Mind Radio alumni and family member, Cathy Kudlick who pointed me to Alt Text as Poetry.

The two each bring valuable perspective to this subject.
Bojana herself is a person living with low vision.


I am also a project manager at the museum of Art and Culture Access Consortium.
I am a white woman with short brown hair cut into a bob. I’m wearing a black cardigan. A red shirt with white polka dots behind me is a boring tan wall.
I use she her pronouns.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 01:17


I am disabled, but my disability is physical. So it mostly affects my kind of walking and movement. I’m sighted which I think is important to clarify in the context of Alt Text as Poetry that I approach this material in terms of cross disability solidarity.
I am a white person with short hair. I’m in my studio. So I’m in the middle of a big art project. So I’m dressed for comfort.
I use they them pronouns.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:
You two superheroes, Tell me about the origin story of Alt Text as Poetry?


I love it. So can we make some outfits? I want some outfits.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:

Yeh, you should. And you have to describe them! (laughs)

Oh, yes, exactly. And they have to be tactile…

I was working on my master’s focusing on disability studies and art administration. Kevin Gotkin was trying to organize something around disability nightlife. So I went to that event. Me and Shannon, chit chatted a little bit. And we connected from there.


I was a resident at a place called IBEAM, that focuses on like, artists thinking about technology, and had just started formulating this idea of Alt Text as Poetry and felt like Bojana had a lot to add to the project.

We kind of came to this idea of Alt Text as Poetry, in contrast to the compliance oriented way of thinking about access generally, and certainly alt text that feels very dry and perfunctory and kind of like minimum effort and really doesn’t feel engaging or truly welcoming.
— Music ends

We started talking about this project as a way of creating time and space for conversation about text and image description. Not coming to it with like, Oh, we know all the answers about how to write the best image description, but much more like, wow, there’s a lot of questions and a lot of interesting things that come up in this process. And it would really be great to hear from other people.

I don’t have anything as exciting as like, you know, being exposed to gamma radiation and giving us Alt Text powers.


Well, we’ll see some of that power in description. Whether alt text or AD.

For now, Bojana shares some of her experience with what she describes as a sexy , romantic period drama, Bridgerton.


They never mentioned nudity. The love scenes they never really described very sexily.

I think it was like the final movie moment where the Duke and I can’t remember his love interest name, but they’re finally together in bed. And like, we’ve been waiting for this for how many episodes …
The audio describer is like , and the Duke is thrusting, repeatedly. Staying thrusting. And it was like the most detached, non sexy description of two people who have been so intensely attracted to each other. And I will never forget it.

I find that describers aren’t always conveying the context when it comes to describing sex scenes.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy. Terrible movie by the way, and terrible set of books. The only one I saw was the first one. I saw the UK version, I didn’t compare it to the US. But mostly the describer does a fantastic job of conveying the information of the movie, the context, and the sex scenes. But I found that the narrator was a bit shy. It felt like she was cringing when describing the scenes.


I could imagine the narrators comfort level could affect some Blind consumers.

Pratik, who was involved with early advocacy for the CVAA,
recognizes the difference between the quality of the movie and that of the audio description.

But what other aspects impact a viewer?

TR in Conversation with Pratik:

Let’s say it was really good description, would it make a difference for you to get that description from a man or a woman?

That’s a good question. I don’t think so. The accent does make a difference though.

For me, I find the UK accent to be highly sexy, especially female UK accents.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:

What about the texture of the voice? You know, tone?


The tone, ? Yeah.
TR in Conversation with Pratik:

So it does make a difference. So you wouldn’t want Roseanne Barr? (Laughs…)


No. Okay. Some people might find that sexy.
TR in Conversation with Pratik:

Okay, no judgment!

When we talk about quality, I’m talking more about the content itself. Not the person delivering it. That’s highly subjective.


This is consistent with what we say, the most important piece of audio description is the writing.


What do you include in the kind of detail of two naked people that could get you the same context, that can give you the same information that’s being conveyed to the sighted people.

Shannon has some thoughts on this.


What’s wild to me is I have experienced very sexy descriptions in books. Right now I’ve been listening to the audio book, Red, White and Royal Blue, which is like a romance novel. And it’s extremely sexy.

Going back to the bridgerton example. It was a book that was adapted into a TV show and I haven’t read the books, but I was actually thinking recently it would be interesting to do that.

I’m sure there’s licensing and copyright issues around why maybe some of that language couldn’t be brought into the audio description, but how cool if that could be mixed in?


So we do have examples of language to fill the gap!


It’s just somehow that’s not when it comes to it as an access practice. There’s a different frame or something. I think for me, it also pushes up against this thing of like, a kind of infantilization of disabled people that always feels very dehumanizing to me.

Just remembering something in a book by Georgina Klieg, in “More Than Meets the Eye: What Blindness Brings to Art.” She was talking about a movie, I can’t remember what it was called.


The book is available on BARD and I’ll link to it on Bookshare on this episode’s blog post.
The movie is “The Sessions” and during a love scene, Helen Hunt’s character takes off her clothes.

I think it says she takes off her clothes, but does not describe her naked body at all, when other things have been described.

I think it’s the infantilization. And also the stigma attached that, oh, why would Blind people be interested in that. They’re not thinking about sex. That’s not something we should be talking about, maybe it could be offensive.

I think sighted people assume that human beings can only take in information through their eyes, and ears, and they forget about the other senses, and how important those are.

There’s real value in not only recognizing the ways we take in information but also all the ways we communicate.


Podcasts or books or literature or hearing from a friend about something they saw on vacation or things like that, like description is really all around us. And somehow all of that creative energy isn’t always getting there when it’s specifically around access.

— Music begins, a bass heavy, pulsating groove


When we talk about sexuality, there’s such variation in people’s preferences in terms of what they practice and in terms of what they’re attracted to, that it’s hard for us to say, this is what we should describe first. But I think the best way for us to look at and the best way for us to think about it is to look at different communities, sex positive communities, and to advocate for getting more description from individuals who posted and just different groups. For example, I know that a lot of kink communities tend to be pretty aware of disability issues. And when you point it out, they’ll start to think about how to make those spaces accessible.


Hi. I’m Danielle Montour. I am 24. I work primarily in accessibility and sex education. I’m getting into the kink education space as well.


Danielle and I share something in common.


I was born with bilateral retinoblastoma. I do not have any eyes anymore.

Let’s see, image description.

So right now I’m probably a little bit lighter than olive. So I have a warmer undertone type of skin. I am relatively petite. But I have a curvy build. I have hazel eyes, I have hair that goes almost to my waist, but it’s about to be cut by the end of the week. So it’s only going to be a little bit above my shoulders.

I am wearing a very, very bright smile. And my hazel eyes are kind of crinkled up the corners because my smiles are often big enough that my eyes do that.


Warm undertones, eyes that crinkle up on the sides,
she began exploring visual concepts through conversations with sighted friends who happened to be artist.
Learning the importance of detail.


What does my hair look like? What facial features are most noticeable? What do you see when you look at me first?

Does something I’m wearing bring out particular features.

I’ve tried to think of all the different pieces of information that sighted folks would get. And honestly, my image descriptions can be a paragraph long sometimes because I’m just trying to put all of the information that I would have possibly wanted to know about the picture. And if I want to know I’m sure somebody else might want to know, and if they don’t, they can just keep going.

Sharing these descriptions can be infectious.

So I make sure I have it in alt text and in the caption, so everybody can see the image description.

Sometimes I’ll see my friends start to right image descriptions.

Whoa, where’d you learn that?
I learned that from you.

At least people on my Instagram or my Facebook feed start to see examples of it and kind of reflect it back.


Some friends and colleagues, john Harmon and Molly Joyce did a dance and music performance and they had a director of audio description. It was Andy Slater, who’s a Blind artist and writer.

Putting someone who’s blind or low vision, in charge of that creative process makes a lot of sense in terms of setting the tone, and kind of making the plan and thinking about what the approach to it is going to be.

— Music ends – smakcs into…
— Audio from Radical Visibility Collective

Marginalized communities are producing progressive examples of audio description
weaved into performances. And even keeping it grown and sexy.

actually, I thought of a really good example. The performance by radical visibility collective. It’s put on by three people, it’s also related to queer and crip nightlife and, and the audio description is in music, and it is so fun. It really has that feeling of a dance party of the kind of ways that people are showing off on the dance floor. For me that was a kind of experience where I was like, Oh, right, okay, like this can be really fun, really sexy, very much in the same feeling of the performance in general.

Earlier in our conversation, Bojana mentioned an accessible Cabaret on a barge in Brooklyn.
I was intrigued and had to ask for more because parties and night life, that can be sexy!

— Audio from Radical Visibility Collective ends and smacks into…
— Music begins, a thumping club dance track…


I’m really glad you asked.

There was music, poetry being read, everything there was done with access. So everybody was wearing a mask.
There were non alcoholic beverages available. It was a very like relaxed environment.

It was just a way of being together in a space that would not just like, oh, it had a ramp or like a no barrier to entry. But there’s also the attitudes. So often you can go into a place that might be, quote unquote accessible as far as like the built environment, but you get there and you feel like, Oh, this person is acting a certain kind of way, because I’m disabled, and they’re not.


Our friend and colleague Kevin Gotkin has been doing a lot of research and planning around disability nightlife and also planning remote parties that happened over zoom, where there’s a DJ set, and there’s audio description available.

There’s sound description, so thinking about captioning, but also thinking about someone who’s describing the feel of the song that’s on.


So what are the implications of all this sexy access?


It kind of puts out a statement that our access matters. And it really kind of changed my perspective and thinking.

Now I’m kind of someone who is always going on and on about image descriptions and the art that can be involved in image descriptions.

I’m always asking blind people, why are you not describing your images at all, they will post images with no description.

It’s just a conversation that we have to continue having. And just recognizing that a lot of folks are where I was several years ago, in terms of audio description.


Danielle learned how she could benefit from accessing this visual information.


I started being able to kind of understand, like the facial expressions and kind of the silent things that were happening with the mood of the room

I just ended up finding that I had so much access to things. I didn’t realize that I could ask people about the colors of the decorations in the room, or how exactly somebody space looked, or how their face would pinch before they felt really ill. I didn’t know.

It kind of started setting me on equal footing with my sighted peers who had access to all these things for so long


Access to things like sexy advertisements that can let’s say arouse one’s interest.


As a person with low vision, who never has driven and never will,, I don’t think about how cars look, I don’t think about the design of cars.

I read this description of this one car, feline, like a panther about to strike. I was fascinated because the picture was right there. And they weren’t writing this description for access, they were writing this description to enhance the image or in order to draw people in.

— Sound of a Bugatti engine roaring like a feline…

I looked at the other descriptions of cars, and it wasn’t anywhere near as delicious.

I want to go to a car museum now. Like, let me touch your cars.


Imagine if online descriptions of clothes, shoes and other products were as sexy or captivating. Cha ching!

The need for access to sexual related content actually has implications that begin earlier in life.

TR in Conversation with Pratik:
What was your experience? If you care to talk about with sex education growing up? Was that something that you felt was accessible to you?

No. It wasn’t accessible.

I had a couple of good teachers in high school who were good enough to describe the content, but it still wasn’t enough.

And the book we were using for sex ed wasn’t brailled In fact, I think there are a bunch of copy pages. They played a couple of videos not accessible. You know, the typical banana video but I think the most difficult thing about that course was Male and female anatomy and what discussions that were around different anatomical parts.

I found that part to be missing in my education. It wasn’t until later in life when I started exploring that I figured things out. That’s a major problem in our current education system. blind students don’t have enough information.


I did not learn a lot in my sex education in school, I learned a lot from books. I got one when I was eight, and one when I was 10.
I was the one telling people what pelvic exams were when I was eight, because they were in a book that I read. It’s called, it’s perfectly normal and it was in Braille. I think the NBP,national Braille press, Brailed it.
The male teacher was not comfortable having that conversation. I had a female teacher who did a health and wellness course, that was somewhat different than your normal health course with sex ed attached to it. She was a student teacher, young hip teacher, she was far more comfortable talking about sex. Not only generally to students, but she actually spent some time with me. Outside the course, with the itinerant teacher, working with me to talk about some sex ed issues.

And it only happened because I was persistent enough to ask questions. Not all students are comfortable enough to do that.


I didn’t get to learn a lot about 3d example of anatomy until I was out of my own house, even then, I only knew mine, until I started my phase of getting around and experiencing other bodies. And that’s when I learned a lot about what penises and vaginas look like.

I think it’s really healthy for people to have an idea of what different vaginas and penises look like, even as children because sighted kids get to see it.

I don’t think that we have to single out blind kids by giving them really super extended image descriptions or models that the sighted kids don’t get, I think we can actually give everybody access to those models and let everybody experience them.

And that sets the stage for really important access expectations for everything else later on, too, because kids are really good at learning that stuff. It’s the adults who are shitty at it.


I don’t think we should be shy as a community using sex toys to demonstrate different things to blind students. There are some realistic models available.

TR in Conversation with Pratik: 38:57
Wow. If the male teacher was just nervous about having a conversation with you? (Laughing….)

(…Laughing) I can just imagine,.

Communities and parents have a role to play in this as well. And oftentimes, I think that’s where a lot of suppression comes in. Parents don’t see their children as having desires. Wanting sex. But I think the more we accept that disabled people are sexual beings, the better it is.

It’s called blind positive sex ed, the community group that I work in. They talk a lot about making realistic models.

Right now it’s more about genitalia. So different states of vaginas and penises, a flaccid penis, circumcised uncircumcised . Vaginally, we have some where it has been subjected to genital mutilation. All of these different things that we really have to think about.

That’s the beauty of models, just like the audio and image descriptions they can convey so many different points.


Points that go beyond the individual.

I work a lot in talking about consent, and consent in terms of sexuality and kink. All of these things I learned because I’ve had so many descriptions being thrown at me that I get to enjoy the art, but the person who described it does not belong to me and I have no ownership of them or their time.

I think conversations around sexuality and just sex and just all the raunchy things like everything, literally everything, talk about what a money shot is talk about what it looks like when somebody squirts talk about all these things because sighted people have access to that stuff, if they want it, blind folks don’t.


Of course, it’s more than access.

I think particularly in blind communities, access to this information is so new that there’s not a lot of examples of us conducting ourselves with respect in these ways. I might be the first rather sensual image description that a blind person has ever seen. Meanwhile, most sighted people I know, have seen 10s, hundreds 1000s of sensual pictures. And they’ve had a lot more practice having to try or not try to conduct themselves with some decorum whenever they see those pictures. So I think that’s all part of consent education, and what we talk about when we start opening up equal access to a lot of this information.

My intention is not to lambaste the blind community and be like, they’re all terrible for this and nobody else because like, we all know, sighted folks are just as bad with consent.

boundaries, boundaries, boundaries.

People don’t understand boundaries, they think it’s out there and it’s there, right? Or their privilege to just comment on whatever they want to comment on.
People feel more anonymous online and they can do these things.

It’s hard to say where the boundary should be for people who are commenting.

If somebody wants to write a sexy and grown description, they should have that. Absolutely.
I think like anything with the internet you kind of curate it.

Try something out you see if that works and maybe you get a response you don’t want you kind of try to peel it back and edit yourself.

I’m thinking about how I describe myself
if there’s a picture of me and maybe it has some cleavage I’m probably won’t for that very reason. I don’t want to signal something.
I don’t know

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 54:39
So you would leave it out of the description? You’re censoring blind people. (Laughing…)

Oh, no. Strike that Thomas!

I feel like I’m reinforcing the sexiness of it. Just by writing it by noting it by marking it.
This gets to such an important topic in image description, there is always this prioritization and filtering, that happens, because you’re never gonna describe every single thing.
So you’re choosing certain things. There can be a mismatch, where it’s the thing that’s most important to me about sharing the photo, there may be something that really stands out to someone else about it, but I might gloss over that.

This also comes up against some issues around consent and description.

You’re describing an image of yourself, you get to make a choice about what parts of your body and how you want to name them and what you feel comfortable doing and what you feel you don’t. Certainly if you’re describing someone else, thinking about consent and that situation. If you know them, checking in with them about how they want to be described, or researching online about language they used to describe themselves.

I think especially for marginalized people, there is a potential for harm there.
Going back to boundaries or crossing a boundary and that of course, is this like Delicate Balance with like, not withholding information or like hiding something or not naming it because of a describers discomfort or unease. But also, being aware that there can be like power imbalances like talking about someone’s cleavage may make them feel vulnerable in a way that they shouldn’t have to be. Right.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 1:00:27
Bojana when you said strike that Thomas we use, were you serious?

No. I’m just joking, joking around.

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:

I thought so. But I just want to make sure.

thanks for checking.
TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon:
Yeah, absolutely. Get your consent. Cool.
(“consent” echoes for emphasis and transition)

sex education, understanding how to fit in society,
I’m telling you, Alt text, , Audio Description is more than entertainment. That access goes deep.

I never , in my image descriptions describe myself as an indigenous white woman. I don’t know what that means.
Often my skin tone is not the same shade year round. At its widest point, it is an olive tone. At its darkest. It’s many, many, many shades darker.

Sometimes I’ll notice when my skin gets darker, how I’m treated. Sometimes it’s just like, who talks to me when I’m in public. White women in general really will approach me a lot. I noticed that they start avoiding me the darker my skin gets. When I’ve gone to other places like Florida I will have folks start speaking Spanish to me thinking I am Latina.


Body and facial features are tied to identity. The implications aren’t just how we’re viewed in society.

As a disabled person, my body was always public property for people to make remarks on. In the summer, it got so much worse, and people would make so many jokes about my skin, and what I looked like, and my body shape and everything. And I thought, for the longest time I thought it was because I was showing more skin, and that I was just genuinely ugly. I did not realize that my skin was getting darker and darker and darker, the longer I spent outside.

Because I was on my mom’s side, primarily white, my father’s side wasn’t really in the picture all that much. I am by far the darkest in my family. There were just a lot of jokes made about that, even in passing, whether it was by my family members, or just by people around me. They would always make remarks about how dark I was.

It’s a whole big thing that I’m still working through, honestly, in terms of my racial identity.

I went to this audio description workshop that was put on by a UK organization called Whiplash. And they were talking a little bit about how self description can fall a little bit heavier on marginalized people, marginalized in various ways.

I felt that a little bit around gender identity, I’ve had like a shifting understanding of my gender and it’s hard to put that into words or to kind of like process that or update that in real time. It also has been really helpful to think about what my gender presentation is versus how my gender feels.

— Music Begins, A sexy , smooth melodic Hip Hop track

Alt Text as poetry offers some great resources for those interested in stepping up their description game, including workshops.

We basically get together with small groups of people, talk to them about what alt text is and talk about this idea of Alt Text as Poetry and then practice together.

And then we’ve also created a workbook, a self guided version of the workshop. And we also now have a blog as part of the project called alt text study club, where we gather interesting examples of alt text, again, in that spirit of learning from other people and thinking about different approaches or ways of writing.


One of the things in the workshops that I love, is just when people have the chance to share.
Maybe we’re talking all about the same image. And people have so many different perspectives.
Just giving people a chance to share and learn from each other, I think is just one of the more beneficial parts of the workshop.

People sometimes get so caught up in writing text correctly and perfectly, instead of just doing the best they can and having some fun with it and adding a creative flair. I think that’s something that we also talk about and encourage.


So whether we’re talking about describing love scenes in film, subjective images that we deem sexy like
those featuring the curves of a woman’s body to those of a stylish sports car, having fun and being creative is a great place to start. Who knows where it will take you.

Thomas, if all of a sudden, all my decisions get a lot sexier. She’s talking about cleavage and… (Laughing)

TR in Conversation with Bojana/Shannon: 57:00
Just point them to this episode. (Laughing…)


That’s the Grown & Sexy episode.


Big shout out to my grown and sexy guests;
Alt Text as Poetry, that’s the dynamic duo of :
Bojana, who you can find on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

at bojana Coklyat. That’s B as in boy, O J A N AC O K L Y A T as in Tom.

at Shan S H A N and then my last name, Finnegan F I N E G A N. So that’s for both Instagram and Twitter.



I’m Danielle Montour on Facebook. I think i’s still Can’tC4Shit on Instagram
Can’t, letter C, number 4, shit…

You’re funny for that one Danielle!

And Pratik Patel is on Twitter @PPatel

Spelling it out… PPatel

I need you all to understand, you are each official members of the Reid My Mind Radio family!
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Subscribe wherever you get podcasts and join the family.
We have transcripts and more at
I’ll let you in on a family thing…
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eTitle:A Love of Language With Elizabeth Sammons

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

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

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


The Lyra and the Cross


Show the transcript


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

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

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

Audio: Reid My Mind Radio Theme Music


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

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


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


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


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

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


I didn’t hide I ran


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

[TR in conversation with ES:]

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


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


Elizabeth’s love of culture and languages began early.

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Amen to that. laughs…

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


Omar Advo


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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