Posts Tagged ‘Self Description’

Blind Centered Audio Description Chat: Describing Yourself

Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Self-description continues to be a controversial subject, especially among those who are Blind or have low vision. We invited the community to come share their opinions; pro and con.

Join Us Live

The BCAD Live Chats can take place on a variety of platforms including Twitter and Linked In.

To stay up to date with the latest information and join us live follow:
* Nefertiti Matos Olivares
* [Cheryl Green]*(
* Thomas Reid](


Transcript – Created By Cheryl Green

Show the transcript

Music begins
THOMAS: Welcome to the Blind-Centered Audio Description Chats. These are the edited recordings of the Blind-Centered Audio Description Live Chats!
CHERYL: The live is the most fun part! We get together, we start with a question, and then we invite up anybody from the audience who wants to come and chat with us, agree, disagree, shed light on something that we hadn’t thought about before, which is Nefertiti’s favorite. [electric whoosh]
NEFERTITI: I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I’m a bilingual professional voiceover artist who specializes in audio description narration! I’m also a fervent cultural access advocate and a community organizer.
CHERYL: I’m Cheryl Green, an access artist, audio describer and captioner.
THOMAS: And I’m Thomas Reid, host and producer Reid My Mind Radio, voice artist, audio description narrator, consultant, and advocate.
SCOTT B: Hi, I’m Scott Blanks. I’m a passionate advocate for the highest quality audio description in all of the arts. I’m the co-founder of the LinkedIn Audio Description Group and the Twitter AD community.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I’m an audio description consumer and advocate, hoping to be an audio description narrator very, very soon. [electronic whoosh]
THOMAS: Hey, Nef, why don’t you tell people how they could join the live recording?
NEFERTITI: That’s really simple. Just follow us on social media to keep up with important details, such as dates, times, and what platform will be using. On Twitter, I’m @NefMatOli. Cheryl?
CHERYL: I’m @WhoAmIToStopIt.
THOMAS: I’m @TSRied, you know, R to the E I D.
NEFERTITI: How about you, Scott?
SCOTT B: I’m @BlindConfucius. That’s Blind Confucius.
SCOTT N: And you can catch me on my social media, Twitter only. That’s @MisterBrokenEyes, Capital M r Capital Broken Capital E y e s.
[smartphone selection beeps]
CHERYL: Recording now!

SCOTT B: Hey. Good afternoon, evening, morning, I guess in some cases, as you’ll hear from Scott Nixon in a moment. This is Scott Blanks. I am co-founder of the Audio Description Twitter Community as well as a audio description LinkedIn group recently formed. Happy to see people coming together around all manner of issues in audio description. Excited to talk today about self-description. We’ll get into that after we go through our intros. Scott Nixon, over to you.
SCOTT N: Good morning from Australia, everybody. It’s Scott Nixon here. I am co-moderator of the Audio Description Twitter Community, now featuring 501 members. Congratulations to everybody involved, especially Nefertiti and Scott B., who have done an absolutely magnificent job in getting this community off the ground and creating such a welcome and warm and caring community of like-minded people who want to forward the cause of audio description around the world, really. So, yeah. Thank you very much, everybody, and welcome. And I’m looking forward to a really great chat today.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. And thank you, Scott N. for being up so early and joining us.
SCOTT N: Yeah, it is 6 AM here. And yeah, the things I do for love.
NEFERTITI: [laughs] There you go. Excellent.
Folks, welcome, welcome to this latest Twitter Space. For those who can’t be with us live, thank you for catching it on the replay. Today should be, will be all about image description, the controversy of it, sort of the hi, why people like it, what we think is useful about it, why we think it should be a thing that sticks around. But also, those who are detractors, who don’t really care for it, who don’t think it’s important, it’s a waste of time, it’s extra sort of sensory overload, we wanna hear about all of it.
CHERYL: Actually, I’ll do a self-description to just get us started.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. Thank you, Cheryl.
CHERYL: You bet. So, yes, I am Cheryl. I am a non-blind audio describer. I am for no particular reason wearing a bright orange, safety orange, down vest, even though I think it’s like 75 here. But it’s my comfort vest. It makes me happy. And let’s see. I am a white Ashkenazi Jewish woman with olive complexion and a froth, a frothy, fizzy, dark brown, curly, fuzzy hair that I’m so glad is not on camera! I love audio only.
SCOTT N: I’m Scott once again, a, let’s say, heavyset white gentleman with short brown hair with streaks of gray through it and a neatly trimmed salt and pepper beard, gray eyes, and I’m currently the wearing track pants and a red t-shirt.
SCOTT B: Hi. I am Scott. I’m a tall white man wearing a short-sleeved button down shirt with some…with some toucans on it. And I have green eyes…and a beard. And you can tell that I don’t actually do this so often. But that’s me! So, thanks for the chance for me to describe myself. And I think we have Thomas Reid in the house.
THOMAS: I got a really quick and simple one. I’m Thomas Reid. I’m a brown skin black man with a smooth-shaven bald head, a full, neat beard. And actually, I should say that it has a little bit of salt and pepper. [chuckles]
SCOTT N: [chuckles]
THOMAS: And yeah, and I’m wearing dark shades, and I am seated in my vocal booth. Let’s put it right there. I’ll end it right there. There you go.
SCOTT N: Very nice. I’ve always thought it’s a bit of an Isaac Hayes vibe going on there, Thomas. [chuckles]
THOMAS: [laughs]
NEFERTITI: Alrighty. So, in the spirit of doing a self-description, I like to keep it even quicker than Thomas. I am a Latina woman with brown skin, hair, and eyes. Boom.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
THOMAS: Does that mean you have brown skin, brown hair, brown eyes, or is it that you have brown skin with hair and eyes? [laughs]
CHERYL: [laughing] Stop!
NEFERTITI: I mean, yeah! All of it. [laughs] I have all those things. But no. Yeah, light brown skin, golden brown eyes, and dark brown hair.
THOMAS: Okay. All right. There you go.
NEFERTITI: So, a little more detail there, which is interesting. That’s one of the things we wanna talk about today: What makes for good image description, right? What’s too much? What’s not enough? So, Thomas, as our fearless host, you wanna get us started?
THOMAS: Sure. So, I guess why don’t we start off with a little bit about, I mean, we just went through the idea that these are self-description. So, that is a little bit of a definition, right? So, really, the opp-, a self-description is providing some information for folks who are blind or visually impaired or low vision, whatever the terminology is, and to provide access to some of that visual content—again, it is visual—and some visual information during meetings and conferences and things like that. Aight? Anybody wanna add to that sort of a quote-unquote definition about what a self-description is, so we’re all working with it, and we know when we’re using these, when they come into play? You think about Zoom conferences and live conferences when there’s a meeting, a person speaking, this is an opportunity for that person to sort of describe the information themselves, their own information. So, even if there was an audio description person present in such an event, I would say that it’s probably better to have a person describe themselves as opposed to having someone describe that person. So, I don’t know if anybody wants to add on to that or subtract. Subtract.
NEFERTITI: This is Nefertiti. I just wanna say that I absolutely agree with that. Better that it come from the person themselves than someone else. We could get vital details wrong, right?
NEFERTITI: Based on, let’s say, a person’s skin color, you know, there’s tons of hues of brown, but there’s tons of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds and things of that sort, too, so you might mislabel someone. So, better to get it from the person themselves whenever possible, for sure.
THOMAS: But this topic has been a little bit controversial, so maybe we should take folks who are, why don’t we do a pro and con, right, almost meeting style where we allow folks to kind of take the floor for two minutes to talk a little bit about why you are pro or why you are con.
SCOTT N: Scott Nixon here. I am for, I am personally 100% for it. But I can also see some negative connotations, not necessarily connotations, negative aspects to it. Some people simply aren’t comfortable describing themselves or don’t feel confident in describing themselves. I have quite a few friends who are vision impaired who are also on the autism spectrum who have great difficulty expressing themselves, and doing something like describing themselves can be a source of great anxiety to them. So, in cases like that, I think we all need to be a little bit sensitive and aware that not everyone is going to be 100% comfortable and support them in whatever choice they decide to make. If they decide that they’re not comfortable describing themselves, we should let them just do whatever they’re comfortable with. So, really, at the end of the day, it really does come down to a personal choice as to whether someone does do the description or not. And if you don’t think they’ve done a good enough description, well, that’s your deal type thing. You don’t ask for more or less or whatever. You just let them to do what they’re most comfortable with.
THOMAS: That’s a fantastic point there, Scott. And I think for most folks, you know, we’re gonna talk a little bit about it, but we’re in the process of, some folks are in the process of writing up some guidelines, because that’s one of the things that we don’t have. And one of the guidelines— And I don’t think any, I don’t think I ever heard anyone ever say that it is absolutely mandatory. It is a suggested practice. It’s a practice about providing that, providing information. And so, I agree 100%. If it’s something that makes someone uncomfortable, by all means, I don’t think anyone would want you to make yourself uncomfortable at the, you know, in order to get some information. So, great point.
NEFERTITI: This is Nefertiti, and I 100%. It’s never, and never has it been, never should it ever be about making someone uncomfortable, right? We don’t want to prioritize access needs. If, for example, in Scott’s example, friends with, friends on the spectrum and it makes them anxious and all that, I do not think that my access needs should preclude or usurp those of someone with an anxiety disorder or on the spectrum, discomfort, etc., whatever it is. Where I have a problem—and maybe this is part of the con, I’m not sure, even though I’m very, very much pro. Don’t get it twisted, y’all. I think this is a very good practice that needs to stick around—other folks who say, “It’s useless, it’s pointless, it just wastes time. I’m here for X, Y, Z, topic, or meeting or whatever it is. And I don’t care what your skin color is. I don’t care that you’re wearing a blue blazer, you know? I don’t care that your whatever,” you know. So, yes. These folks that, these folks that want, their…their sort of dislike for the practice to do away with someone like me who thinks it adds great value to whatever setting I’m in. How was it that you put it, Thomas? Like, why should your…. I don’t wanna butcher it. But do you remember what I’m talking about, where you asked somebody point blank?
NEFERTITI: Can you say that, please?
THOMAS: Yeah. It may not be verbatim, but I know I wrote it. But, you know, basically it’s like, why should…. Oh, damn. Now you got me all messed up.
NEFERTITI: [laughs] Oh no!
THOMAS: Why should—
THOMAS: No, but. But my access, right, shouldn’t be limited by your, the fact that you don’t like it, right?
THOMAS: Why ruin my access, is what I was saying.
SCOTT N: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: Yes! Don’t curtail my access because it’s something that you don’t appreciate, or you can go through life without. That’s great. I’m glad. But I wanna go through life with it. So, you know, yeah. Thank you, Thomas. That’s what I was talking about.
CHERYL: This is Cheryl. Can I jump in for a second?
CHERYL: Because, Thomas, the way I remember it, you didn’t even mention access. ‘Cause I think a lotta people get on the access conversation. They don’t go a step deeper. You went a step deeper, and I think you said something like, “Why are you trying to withhold information from me?”
THOMAS: That’s right.
CHERYL: Or “why are you trying to exclude me from this conversation?” So, I really appreciated that because it does go to the heart of it. And that’s, I also agree with what Scott Nixon said. If it is an access conflict, if you can’t or are not comfortable or not, for any reason, it doesn’t meet your access needs to self-describe, that’s a different, that’s different. That’s fine. But if it’s just like, “I don’t like this. I don’t see why people have to say they’re white,” then you are excluding somebody who could benefit from that description. Audio 5000.
THOMAS: Audio 5000. [chuckles]
SCOTT N: Exactly right, Cheryl. Scott Nixon here again, folks. It’s exactly right. The exclusionary side of it and wanting to know. I understand that there are people out there who’ve been totally blind from birth and who don’t have a necessary concept of color, tone, that sort of thing. And once again, that’s perfectly understandable. And for them, they may not need to or want to understand that someone’s wearing a blue jacket or a red shirt or whatever like that. And when it comes to skin tone, it can sometimes be the same thing. Some people, who, for lack of a better term don’t see or need to see color. But for me personally—I can only speak from my experience—I find it incredibly valuable to recognize someone’s ethnicity, background, culture, or that sort of thing, and that all comes into that. And yeah, so, I think it’s a really, really important thing.
And sometimes I can be quite surprised by what I learn. I was speaking to someone in the audio description field some time ago, and I had always assumed that he was African American. And then I find out that the guy has what we call a “computer tan,” which means whiter than white. And my mind just completely changed over what my, you know, I have like a mental picture of him, and I just instantly changed it over. And it’s not that my attitude changed or the way I talk to him changed or anything like that. It was just that my mental Rolodex instantly changed the skin tone, and I had a better example of who they were like. And Batmobile.
NEFERTITI: Thank you, Scott N. I think that’s a really good point too. I’ve thought people were white before, and they haven’t been, because of how they speak. I get that a lot sometimes too. People think I’m white. It’s like, no. Do we wanna hear from Scott B. before we open it up to folks who want to come up and speak?
SCOTT B: I don’t know. Do you? [laughs]
NEFERTITI: I mean, I always do, Scott B., but do you wanna speak?
SCOTT B: Yes! I’ll jump in, and so then we can make some room for people up here, too. I’m definitely a pro self-description from a personal perspective. As a congenitally blind person, no light perception since birth, yes, I’m in that space of someone who has not seen those colors and who only has sort of a conceptual understanding of what different colors are. For me, self-description is, in many cases, it’s less about things like the red jacket, the blue kerchief. It is, I’m really interested in understanding who I’m interacting with. I wanna know if someone describes himself. I am very interested in gender, in race, in things like that, because I think from, again, my personal perspective is that we are in a society where those things are really important. And I can’t put myself in that position of saying race doesn’t matter because I feel like it does. It always has, and it probably always will one way or another. And as a blind person, if I don’t have that information, then I am at a disadvantage. And so, wherever I can have that playing field leveled it feels like I can be more a complete part of the conversation. And if I get information about what people are sporting, hairdos, things like that, that’s just, that’s frosting on the cake.
And then the last thing I’ll say is my only sort of concern about it is, and I think this is where things like guidelines can help, is that when someone schedules a meeting, there’s ten people in the meeting, and it’s a 15-minute meeting, and everyone’s gonna go around and give a description, you’ve lost much of your time. And I think there is like a balance, right? How do we balance between access and actually getting something done? So, that is the kind of thing that the guidelines can address and people doing this more and just getting into the habit of it, becoming more smooth. I mean, the way that folks like Thomas and Nefertiti rattled off their descriptions, I aspire to this. I need to work on mine. But, you know, that’s, I think, where you see some people pushing back against description ‘cause they’re in a meeting, and they sit through 10 minutes of description, and there’s five minutes left in the meeting. So, there’s a need for balance. And I think that’s an easy thing for us to achieve. And especially for the value of the access that’s provided by self-description when it can be shared by people far outweighs the little bumps in the road like this. That’s it for me.
THOMAS: I wanna go to meetings where Scott is because they’re only 15 minutes. [laughs]
SCOTT B: [chuckles] You don’t. You don’t, actually. [laughs]
THOMAS: Probably not. You’re right. But they’re fast, though, 15-minute meetings. But no, you have a fantastic point, and it’s a very true point. And I think that would, even for those who favor audio description, you’re quite right. The fact that—I’m sorry favor self-description—the fact that yes, they can take up a lot of time is a problem. But it’s not a problem to throw it away, right?
SCOTT B: Absolutely.
THOMAS: It’s a problem to get fixed. Right.
SCOTT B: Right. You don’t say, “Oh, it’s not working, so we’re just gonna stop.”
SCOTT B: That’s not how we approach this or many other things.
THOMAS: Absolutely.
SCOTT B: But a lot of people like to do that.
THOMAS: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, right? So, part of those guidelines should, are going to include, and they do, most people will tell you keep it less than a minute. I personally say that your whole introduction shouldn’t exceed a minute. And so, if you’re going around a table and introducing yourself, this is something that I think we all need to sort of take a look at and improve, the same way you tell business owners to have an elevator pitch, right? Even just not business owners. I mean, we say that. We hear that from career counselors. This could be sort of looked at the same way. This should be part of your elevator pitch in meetings that are online meetings and things like that where this is going to be done. And just think about it in advance.
The thing that I find really interesting about this argument is that it’s forcing people to think about things that either they never had to or they don’t want to that often come, you know, are aligned with the idea of white privilege. And to me, quite honestly, the most that I hear in terms of the negative feedback, like “we shouldn’t do this” are actually from mainly white folks who don’t have to describe themselves, who are not used to describing themselves. They didn’t have to. They don’t look at their color. Their color has never been a part of the conversation. Where you ask any person of color, whether they’re light, whether they’re dark, their lightness or their darkness is part of a conversation. Whether it be internal in their own community or externally in public, it comes up. And so, we are quite used to describing the color of our skin, right? We are quite used to that. For some of us, it can definitely save your life. So, this is the thing that we have to be very cognizant about. But the idea that it’s forcing people to sort of think about their own privilege and come to realize that it exists, wow. That, I guess, is kinda tough. That can be really rough for people. But, hey, it’s something that we should be doing.
So, again, whether it be audio description or whether it be self-descriptions, right, it goes beyond what you think it’s all about. And to me, if we’re really going to look at this thing called white supremacy, if we’re really gonna be talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and all of this stuff, and we want people to include disability, and we want access and all that, well, you know, we’re gonna have to look at the whole thing. We can’t just look at the blindness. We’re gonna have to look at all of those intersections, and we’re gonna have to challenge all of these things. And freaking description is a beautiful way to start doing that. So, maybe you’re not comfortable with it, but that’s okay. We all have to do a little bit if we want to make this world a little better place. So, description is actually a part of that, so. Thomas out.
NEFERTITI: Yes, we all— Thomas Reid, everybody! [chuckles]
SCOTT N: Absolutely. But I just wanted to thank Thomas for the mention there of white privilege. The greatest example of that in recent times is what happened with Vice President Kamala Harris when she was at an event, and there were several vision impaired people around. So, she gave a self-description of herself, which I thought was absolutely fantastic. It was clear, concise, gave us a little bit more information, gave us a nice little extra card for our visual Rolodexes. And my God, did the fragile white boys lose their little minds online about how unnecessary it was, how stupid it was. All of this ableist language was flying around. And I’m trying to explain to them that this is valuable information and things like that. But in time, I eventually ended up giving up because once you start arguing with someone who identifies himself as #FloridaMan, you know you’ve already lost the fight. So, just trying to get past that sense of entitlement that so many people have.
And look, I, at the risk of sounding mildly controversial, I’ll put it out there that a lot of people of all different races have this similar issue that, “Oh, I don’t see race. I don’t recognize race,” dah dah dah dah dah, all that sorta stuff. But for some people, it’s critically important, as Thomas said. So, yeah, I believe that it is important. And us trying to educate people on how important it is for us, for those of us who are into it—I know there are some detractors out there—but I think it’s really, really important to show them and help them understand that this is something that is as important to us as them being able to go up to someone and say, “Yo, what kind of car do you drive?” Scott out.
NEFERTITI: Beautiful. Thank you, both Thomas and Scott and the other Scott, [giggles] both Scotts. I think the takeaway from what I just heard is that we need to keep getting comfortable with our discomfort, and that blindness is not where it stops, right? It’s just where it begins. It’s a systemic situation we’re trying to battle here, and description is a really great way to do that. So, we have Robert Kingett with us. Robert, would you like to speak?
ROBERT: Yay! Cool beans. Okay. So, I am gonna repeat most of what others have said here. But to give a little self-description of myself, I’m a pale white male with one blue eye and one green eye, and I have a short nose, and that goes along with my short stature. So, there you go. As for the self-description debate, I’m very, very pro self-description. If you have an access need that makes, that you have social anxiety or something, it’s totally okay if you want to opt out of self-description. But what I have a problem with is fellow blind people trying to take away my right to information. You, as a blind person, don’t have any right whatsoever to take away my access, period. If sighted people don’t have the right, what makes you think you have the right?
Lastly, I mean, self-descriptions could help in multiple ways. For example, it can help you craft elevator pitches. Most importantly, it can teach you to be a better listener. When I listen to self-descriptions, I’m listening for the words that people use and how they use those words to describe themselves ‘cause it tells me a lot about a person depending on what words you choose to use to describe yourself. And that’s it. I’m all done. [chuckles]
CHERYL: This is Cheryl here. Thank you, Robert. I’m wondering if now would be a good moment to listen to another really cool example of a self-description that I believe Thomas might have cued up. Is now a good time for that? Or we can move to Gretchen, who just became a speaker, while we wait for Thomas or Nefertiti. Gretchen, do you wanna have a moment to speak?
GRETCHEN: Very excited about these two minutes. So, thank you. My name is Gretchen Maune. I am a pale 40-year-old white woman with chin length, brown hair in a bob, wearing dark denim overalls, and a Sailor Moon t-shirt ‘cause I’m really channeling the ‘90s today, so. [laughs] I am blind. And just to give you a little perspective, I went blind in my mid-20s, about 15 years ago. And I also, just to call back to what some people were saying, I am autistic, and I live with anxiety. So, I am definitely pro self-description, and my perspective is that I want access to all the information that my sighted peers have and all the information I used to be able to have access to when I was sighted. For me, it’s about inclusion, first and foremost, and that’s really important to me. Also, I, this is probably controversial based on what some folks have said, but I say if a meeting is rather short and the audio, self-descriptions rather, would take up a lot of time, allot more time in the meeting for it and plan for that.
The three ways that I find it useful, well, first, I mentioned the inclusion. It makes me feel more a part of things because most of the people I spend time around are sighted. And so, I’m getting access to what they have access to. Second is that, well, I guess going back to what one of the Scotts—sorry, can’t remember which one—mentioned is that being able to have that perspective. I know amongst many of my friends and folks that gender and race are very important, and the way they present themselves is important. And so, being able to have my mental image of that is important in my Rolodex, if you will. But also, if I’m in an in-person meeting, it’s been very helpful before when people have described themselves to then later on, after the speaker’s done, the presentation’s over, to talk to a sighted friend and be like, “Hey, I can’t remember the person’s name, but they said they were white and wearing a red jacket. Can you help me find that person so I can go talk to them for a minute?” when you’re in a big group or something so I can go have a conversation with them. That can be very helpful, and I have taken advantage of that information before so I can locate a person.
Another thing is that one time I found out that someone was wearing some awesome white cane earrings, and I didn’t even know such a thing existed. And later on, found some for myself on Etsy. So, that was another thing I liked about getting a description is finding out about, oh, their hair sounds really cool, or their earrings sound cool. But those are all different reasons for me. Thank you so much.
NEFERTITI: Thank you, Gretchen! I want those earrings, too! Oh, my God.
NEFERTITI: They sound amazing! Wow. And thank you for being with us in this space and making such great points. Yeah, I love that idea of, “Hey, help me find that person with the red jacket.” If you’re in a room with however many people remembering a name, I don’t know about y’all, but that’s really difficult for me. But having something like, oh, okay, cane earrings, let’s go find that person, that’s really useful. Thank you. That’s a great example. Thomas, are you with us?
THOMAS: I am with you. And I know who that person is, too, with the cane earrings. [chuckles]
THOMAS: That’s her thing. Yeah! That’s Cathy, Cathy Kudlick. Yeah. [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: That is so, I love that. Wow. Love it.
THOMAS: So, let’s see. I think I have what we’re looking for. Let’s see if it works. I set it up real quick. Let’s see if this works. I’ll give this for Gretchen. Let’s see if you hear it. [air horn blasts]
THOMAS: All right, all right.
NEFERTITI: I love that sound! [giggles]
THOMAS: All right. Well, tell me what you think about this one, then.
[recorded clip plays, starting with a bit of cute, cheery music, then Nefertiti’s voice comes on as Meggy Eggy]
MEGGY EGGY: Oh, Meggy Eggy’s in the building, folks. Whoo! This is so fun already.
MOLLIE: Before we get too far, would you like to introduce yourself to our listeners?
MEGGY EGGY: Oh, of course. Hi, listeners. I’m Meggy Eggy, like I said, but my real name is Meg. My pronouns are she/her, and I’m an egg timer! A very cute little yellow timer in the shape of an egg with numbers in a circle around my waist. I’m a kitchen timer, so you can use me when you need to set a time for two minutes or one hour. Whatever you need, Meggy has got you covered! [delighted giggle] Oh, and I speak Spanish. ¡Qué bien! [recorded clip ends]
THOMAS: Okay. Y’all explain? Explain, Nef! [laughs]
SCOTT N: Just before Nef does that, I would just like to say that I have just suffered a cuteness overload.
NEFERTITI: Wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s me as Meggy Eggy on the Mystery Recipe Podcast, part of America’s Test Kitchen Kids! And I’m honored that y’all wanted to play that. That’s so cool.
SCOTT N: It was efficient, too. It got it done, like, one, two, three.
THOMAS: Absolutely.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. I mean, it has a lot of information, right? She’s yellow, she’s an egg timer, she tells you what she can do. She can speak Spanish. I mean, a lot of information. And how long was that? Like, 30 seconds, maybe?
SCOTT B: Probably 30 seconds. Yeah. I’m guessing.
MEGGY EGGY: [recorded portion plays on a loop with the cheery music behind it] Whoo this! Whoo! Whoo this!
NEFERTITI: Okay. Remix!
THOMAS: Oh, you want the remix? Okay. Hold on, hold on. Wait.
THOMAS: We gonna do, gonna do the remix. Let’s see. Here we go. You ready?
MEGGY EGGY: [sound effect like a tape rewinding] Oh, Meggy Eggy’s in the building, folks!
NEFERTITI: This is what happens when you have a skilled producer as a co-host, you guys. How fun.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: How fun. I’m gonna have you help me put my, one of my reels together, Thomas, just so you know. Anyway.
THOMAS: Ah. [air horn blasts]
NEFERTITI: So, yeah! You guys, this is a major podcast who has this character as an intern for Season Six, and she is, she identifies as blind, low vision, visually impaired, etc. And not only do the folks on the podcast just make it like, “Okay, you tell us you can get around in the kitchen and you know what you’re doing and all that, we’re gonna trust that you’re telling us the truth about that. And if you need help, then you’ll let us know when.” So, that’s fantastic, super good representation and modeling there. But also, this self-description just as part of introducing herself to the young chefs, the listeners, and their grown-ups, I think, is a really fantastic example of what we’re talking about here today. And this is making it to the children. Hopefully those children will grow up with the understanding and the belief that this is okay and even necessary.
THOMAS: Yeah. And setting this precedent as about access, right? We’re talking about access at the end of the day and just making it, you know, normalizing it, right, just really normalizing this thing so we don’t have, “What are they doing?” You know, we don’t have all of that nonsense going on. So, I think that’s part of it.
NEFERTITI: Yeah. #NormalizeAccess.
THOMAS: Yeah. Yeah. For real.
CHERYL: This is Cheryl. I wanted to weigh in on that, too, ‘cause I think I was pushing that we play that clip ‘cause I just, I love it so much. It’s a great description. It’s succinct, and it’s mixed in with all this other information about your character. She speaks Spanish. She’s a yellow egg timer. Like, it’s just part of the description. And I thought that that, it’s just so beautiful as a part of a well-rounded description of who you are. And I have heard on the other side people say—and I think sometimes this is used as a straw man—I’ve heard some people say, “You shouldn’t do self-descriptions because you will never be able to describe every single thing about what you look like. And so, that’s just not fair. And why do you get to pick and choose?” And I mean, it’s a straw man. It’s not, like, that argument is just it…it’s not looking for a really genuine answer. But, you know, Meggy Eggy, the egg timer doesn’t just wear glasses. I looked at her. She’s got gigantic, oversized, retro round eyeglasses.
SCOTT N: [chuckles]
CHERYL: She has hash marks around her waist, not just numbers, but hash marks where the numbers are. Did you say all that? No. Do we still know a lot about Meggy Eggy? Yes. And so, you don’t wanna, I guess, throw the baby out with the bathwater. You’re never gonna be able to describe every single thing. Especially if you’re in a meeting with Scott, and you only have 15 minutes, you can’t describe.
THOMAS: [chuckles]
CHERYL: It would be a 14-and-a-half minute description for one person.
SCOTT B: Right.
CHERYL: But that’s not a reason to not do it. And part of making this space welcoming and accessible and safe is to allow people to say some things about their description, and they’re not gonna say all. Because some people, it’s not safe for them to say all the description. Some people may have a kind of dysmorphia where bringing it up to a bunch of strangers is a really bad thing for them. But like we talked about earlier, not making it mandatory, but making it part of a negotiable accessibility practice seems like a fine way to try to do it.
MEGGY EGGY: Ooh, this is so fun already!
SCOTT N: Love it. Thomas—
CHERYL: Thomas, please follow me around every day with your machine.
THOMAS: [laughing] Yeah, exactly.
SCOTT B: Play our cards with sounds when we fall down. Do all of it.
SCOTT N: Yeah. Just, Scott Nixon here again, just going back to what Cheryl was just saying there about some people being uncomfortable, maybe, about describing themselves because of dysmorphia or things like that. You may’ve noticed at the top of the hour when we were giving our initial descriptions, I hesitated for a moment before calling myself a heavyset gentleman. That is because I am currently having a bit of a struggle with my weight. But then I remind myself that my physical frame is a part of who I am, and I shouldn’t be embarrassed by the current state of my scars or anything like that. So, giving me that little extra push to describe myself that little bit more was a good thing. But, as Cheryl said, some people may be uncomfortable with that, and we have to respect people’s wishes it comes to that sort of thing.
NEFERTITI: Here’s a question for you all. A bit of a…of something I just thought, thanks to Scott N.’s most recent contribution. There’s someone on social media who I’ve encountered who is blind, and I’ll say “they” ‘cause I don’t really wanna gender them. They…describe themselves in a way that doesn’t quite match up with what sighted people would say about them. So, what do we feel about that? Is that something we should be wary of? Like, okay, you’re giving me information, but is it accurate information? And who’s to make that judgment? For example, if this person thinks that they have, say, an hourglass figure, and a sighted person would be like, “Uh…no. You’re more like an apple,” does that matter to us? Should it matter?
THOMAS: That’s an interesting question. I think it goes back to the fact that it’s a self-description.
THOMAS: So, I feel like if this is how the person sees themselves, you know, who are we to say about true or false? I mean, that gets to a, yeah, I don’t think we can do that. I think what we have to, we have to sort of be…. I think we have to come in this with the idea that folks are going to be true to what this is about.
THOMAS: And, but I can’t, you know, if I— All right. So, maybe not as, but I leave out, occasionally because I don’t remember, that my beard is salt and pepper, right? And so, thinking about this more now, I’m like, well, wait, no. My beard is salt and pepper. That’s right. I should say that that is. I should sprinkle that in, right? [chuckles] I should sprinkle that in, into my description. But that’s my choice. If I leave it out, I’m not necessarily lying. But if this person sees themselves having an hourglass, maybe this is part of their, this is part of their vision board. Maybe this is where they’re heading. And so, if they wanna affirm that, you know, aight. Yeah, go ahead, girl! I’m thinking it’s a girl ‘cause the girl would say that, right?
NEFERTITI: Get it, girl!
THOMAS: So, yeah, I’d be like, I’m in support of that if that’s where you trying to go. I’m also in support if you a apple, you know. I love me some apples. But anyway, [laughs] but, you know.
NEFERTITI: [laughs]
THOMAS: Like….
NEFERTITI: [still laughing]
SCOTT N: [chuckles]
THOMAS: But I’m just trying to say, like, [laughs] I shouldn’t have say that. But I…. [busts a gut laughing]
NEFERTITI: [laugh-crying] Thomas!
THOMAS: I’m just trying to say that, you know, if the, we gonna have to give people the benefit of the doubt, I think. And the idea is that, you know, because if a person comes into the room who is sighted and says that, and somebody’s like, “Well, you an apple. You’re not a hour-.” Who are they, you know, who’s to, I don’t feel like someone should be policing this. I really don’t. That makes me uncomfortable, so. Thomas, I’m out. And when I meant apple, I meant Granny Smiths. I meant red apples. [laughs]
CHERYL: Cosmic crunch.
THOMAS: Macintosh, you know what I’m saying.
SCOTT N: Absolutely, Thomas. I mean, you know, if say, just for example’s sake, you’ve got two sighted people at a party. A person walks in wearing a bright orange jacket, green pants, yellow shoes, and they think they look like the absolute business, and they think they’re con-, they feel confident. They feel sassy. They feel great about themselves. And then you got this other person on the other side of the room going, “Oh, my God! Look at that absolutely disgusting color explosion over there.” It’s two people’s opinions. And for me, I will take the person who is wearing the outfit rather than the person on the other side who’s giving you an opinion about the outfit. It’s all about self-expression. It’s all about self-worth and things like that. If people wanna talk themselves up a little bit in their description, hell, why not? If I had a nice, smooth, bald, shaven African-American head, dude, I would be blasting that from the rooftops ‘cause, you know, that’s a good look, man.
THOMAS: Thank you, sir.
THOMAS and SCOTT N: [laugh]
NEFERTITI: Yeah, interesting. I think, you know, my question, I think, leaves a lot of open room for judgment and for things of that sort, and that’s not what this is about, right?
THOMAS: Mm-mm.
NEFERTITI: This is about access to information, plain and simple.
THOMAS: But on the other hand, right, like that’s what folks do with the information. And so, we’re not policing what anybody does with this.
THOMAS: If blind folks wanna be judgmental about it, well, go ahead. That’s what you wanna do, that’s what you wanna be.
NEFERTITI: That’s a very human thing, blind or not.
THOMAS: That’s a human thing. That’s right. That’s right. So, absolutely. So, it’s the access to the information isn’t about policing what you do with that information at all. At all.
NEFERTITI: Mmhmm, mmhmm. Absolutely.
All right, folks. Well, I think this has been super interesting. I wish we would’ve gotten some folks who don’t like it come up and make their case for it. Sorry we missed you, but maybe if this conversation comes back around, you out there listening right now who are like, “Nope. I’m a detractor,” maybe next time you’ll wanna share with us.
NEFERTITI: And you all know you can always keep the conversation going in the Twitter, Audio Description Twitter Community. You know what I say? If you’re not a member, what are you waiting for? We just hit 500 members. I think we’re at 501! Whoo.
SCOTT N: [chuckles]
NEFERTITI: And, you know, you can always keep the conversation going also with the hashtag AD for us, by us. That’s ADFUBU. Do we have any closing remarks?
THOMAS: Well, I do wanna say, I’m just gonna do a little promotion of a episode coming out later on this month that is gonna continue this topic and is gonna talk more about the guidelines that are sort of being formed and who’s forming it and possibly participating in that maybe ‘cause we have already. It’s an episode with Haben Girma, and I think it’s gonna be a cool episode. So, take, you know, get ready for that on the, on Reid My Mind Radio. It’s gonna be a conversation Haben Girma all about self-descriptions, and we’re talking about the guidelines, talking about some of these same issues and how to approach it. So, I like her take on things.
NEFERTITI: Excellent. Looking forward to that for sure. Haben Girma, for those who are not in the know, is a DeafBlind activist, lawyer, and just all-around wonderful person who’s out there every day fighting the good fight. So, I’m really excited that she’s on your show, Thomas.
THOMAS: She part of the family now. Yeah, she part of the family.
NEFERTITI: Heck yeah. Nice, nice. All right. Do we wanna quickly go through, or do we wanna just throw out there what would make for good description? I know this is something we talked about, giving people tips on what makes a good description.
THOMAS: The guidelines are coming. But I think right now I would say, you know, think about it in advance, right?
NEFERTITI: Uh-huh, uh-huh.
THOMAS: If you’re a person who’s going to be sort of facilitating a meeting, it would be great to let folks know that you’re going to do that so folks can think about it in advance. Put time limits on it, like we talked about. Be concise. Think about describing the things that are in the line of vision for someone. If you’re on a Zoom, ain’t no need to really talk about that painting on the wall in your bedroom if you’re not, you know, if that’s not behind you.
THOMAS: So, things like that. And just keep it to what’s visible. I don’t need, you know, don’t talk about your shoes ‘cause nobody sees your shoes.
THOMAS: So, that sort of thing.
NEFERTITI: Most of the time, people are shoeless and pantless anyway!
THOMAS: Yeah. And please don’t talk about that, so.
SCOTT N: [snort-laughs]
THOMAS: So, yeah, I mean, we can—
NEFERTITI: Absolutely.
THOMAS: This is doable.
NEFERTITI: And really quick, something that I think Gretchen said, which was wonderful, which is, “Hey, for you facilitators out there, build time into whatever you’re doing for this practice.”
THOMAS: Exactly.
NEFERTITI: I think that’s hugely important.
SCOTT N: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Just thanks to everyone for being involved. And like Nefertiti said, if you are someone who does have an opposing view to those held by the majority or even one or two people in the space, please come in and talk to us. We aren’t gonna bite. We are going to listen to you. We’re not gonna shut you down or anything like that. It’s a, you know, we try and make a kind and welcoming space here and something that everyone can be a part of. So, pros, cons, whatever, please be a part of it.
And just before we go, I have a quick announcement to make. As I have mentioned in a couple of Spaces so far, I am planning to begin my journey into becoming an audio description narrator, and I have decided to chronicle this on the community. So, keep an eye out for it. It’s gonna be under the hashtag #BrokenEyesVO, and I’m gonna be talking about everything from setting up my rig to hopefully my first job and moving forward as I move into the career to hopefully give a bit of advice and even inspiration to people who want to become a part of the audio description community. Because there are many blind narrators out there, and I know a lot of companies who are looking for more. So, keep an eye out for it, and be a part of it. Ask me questions as I go along. I’m more than happy to answer them. And ladies and gentlemen, that’s me for today. I have been Scott Nixon. And I’m going back to bed!
NEFERTITI: Whoo! I’m Nefertiti Matos Olivares, and I approve this message.
Thank you, everybody. Thank you, Cheryl, Thomas, Scott B. Scott N., Gretchen, and Robert as our two guests who came up to the Space. Really appreciate hearing from you all. All right, y’all. Thank you again for such a wonderful time. This was a great hour or so.
SCOTT B: Quality conversation, as always. Thanks, everyone.

THOMAS: Cool. Well, that concludes this week’s conversation. Why don’t y’all keep the conversation going on social media.
CHERYL: Use #ADFUBU, for us by us, #DescribeEverything, and #AudioDescription.
NEFERTITI: And hey, you know we’re out here, right? Mmhmm! Gathered and galvanized y’all. If you haven’t joined us yet, what are you waiting for?! You can find us in the LinkedIn Audio Description group and the AD Twitter community. We know that your participation will only make these spaces better.
Music fades out!

Hide the transcript

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.




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.

Is it okay, if I ask you questions?

TR in Conversation with 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.

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.

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.

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!”

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

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

Concise, right?

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

(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?


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…

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.

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
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

Now come on fam, say it with me…

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— Sample: (“D! And that’s me in the place to be.” Slick Rick)
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— Reid My Mind Radio outro

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