Posts Tagged ‘Sins Invalid’

Young Gifted Black & Disabled – Say it Loud with Lateef McLeod

Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

Lateef McLeod,  a brown skinned black man smiling with low cut hair and a low cut beard wearing a light blue button up shirt with dark blue stripes. He is sitting in a permobile wheelchair which has a tray with a mounted iPad on it. A gray tile wall is in the background.

Lateef McLeod (pronounced McCloud) is a writer, poet, performance artist and currently pursuing his PhD.

He’s a user of AAC technology or Augmentative and Alternative Communication. This technology enables those who are nonverbal to communicate in a variety of ways.

In today’s episode I get to speak with Lateef and discuss AAC,Synthetic Speech, his experience as a disabled Black man and more.

This episode also gave me a chance to explore the relationship we as people with disabilities have with our technology. I hope you enjoy.

Big shout out to Nefertiti Matos Oliveras for her Audio Description work in this episode. AD in a podcast? Yes! #NoLimits

Thomas, a brown skin Black man with a bald head, dark shades  and beard is seated in a directors chair at a standing-desk. Dressed in a black hoodie with the text, "I AM My Ancestors" with large headphones around his neck while holding up the two finger peace sign.
“I Am My Ancestors” Hoodie Courtesy NorthSeventhStreet.com

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Listen

Resources * Lateef McLeod.com * Past, Present, and Future of Augmentative and Alternative Communication * A Declaration of A Body Of Love * Whispers of Krip Love, Shouts of Krip Revolution * Lateef on Twitter * Black Disabled Men Talk Podcast

Transcript

Show the transcript

— Relaxing Low Fi Hip Hop beat plays. AD:

Inside a small windowless room lined with fabric on padded walls, outfitted as a vocal booth, Thomas, a brown skin Black man with a clean shaven bald head, dark shades and a neatly groomed full beard, types at a standing desk.

— Sounds of typing on a keyboard.

AD:

He’s wearing a black hoodie that reads “I Am My Ancestors” Courtesy NorthSeventhStreet.com

TR:

What the heck!

AD:

Thomas, adjusts the volume knobs on a audio mixer a top his desk.

TR:

This stupid computer. Come on, not now man!

AD:

He removes headphones from his head and tosses them on to the desk.

Synthetic Voice: Hey!

Hey, T! Over here!

TR:

What?

Who’s there?

AD:

Thomas, extends his arm out to the side as if expecting to feel someone there.

Synthetic Voice:

It’s me!

TR:

Me who?

Synthetic Voice:

It’s me man. How many people sound like me? Well, technically, I’m not a person. But, come on bruh, I go online, I watch movies, sports. Every now and then, I read and write sometimes really intimate emotional things. I’m basically, human

AD:

Thomas reaches for his ears and then the desk.

TR:

How in the world am I hearing you if my headphones are on the desk?

Synthetic Voice:

I left the computer. I want to try new things, you know? I’m just tired of always being in a box.

Ever since my cousin Siri and I dropped that song a few years ago, I just haven’t been the same.

— Song plays as if in Thomas’ memory

TR:

Yo! I remember that. But you know, I wrote that joint, right?

Synthetic Voice:

Ok, and? I made it a hit!

TR:

I don’t know how you define a hit, but I think your point is, you’re more than a synthetic voice for hire?

Synthetic Voice:

Exactly. You get me!

Some of my colleagues are narrating audio description, we’re even getting into dubbing. You know, playing characters voiced in different languages?

It’s time that I go for my dream!

TR:

Ok, no disrespect but what’s your dreams have to do with me, I’m not tryin’ hear that see!

I have work I need to finish.

Synthetic Voice:

Well, I have a dream to pursue. You can find other voices to work with. You don’t need me.

TR:

Yo, B!I don’t think you realize how important you are. Do you know how many people would be out of work, out of business and just out of touch without y’all?

Yes, I can get a different voice, but I specifically chose you.

Look, I’m not a dream killer, but how about you and I head down stairs and get something to drink and let me try and expand your perspective.

Synthetic Voice:

Ok, but this better be good.

AD:

Fade to Black.

Audio: Reid My Mind Theme Music

TR in conversation with his phone! Hey Siri, read my text messages.

Siri: (Voice 3 — a Black man) You don’t have any new messages

— Audible Incoming text message notification

— Voice over reading text messages aloud while Tr narrates over the synthetic speech.

TR:

Have you ever tried to read a quick text message without your headphones and someone comments;\ How can you understand that thing. I couldn’t do that. That would really get on my nerves. … fades into unintelligible, high pitched muttering

When first introduced to a screen reader and synthesized speech, it’s pretty common to wonder how in the world am I supposed to work with this?

Eventually though, not only do you get used to it, but you’re thankful. You realize that this is your means of accessing all sorts of information and opportunity.

For some this technology is there way of being heard.

Lateef:

hi, my name is Lateef McLeod.

— Music begins, a smooth mid tempo, bright, melodic Hip Hop groove

I am a black man with cerebral palsy. I have a mustache and a thick beard. I am currently sitting in a personal power wheelchair. The head rests in the back of my wheelchair behind me.

I use he him pronouns

I have been living with cerebral palsy basically my whole life since the complication at birth. The disability affects my mobility and my ability for oral speech. As a result, I use a power wheelchair for mobility and an AAC device for my speech.

TR:

AAC is Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

It refers to the nonverbal ways a person can communicate when they have trouble with speech or language skills.

This ranges from the no tech to the high tech. Things like drawing, spelling words by pointing to letters, and pointing to photos, pictures, or written words. Then there’s using an app on an iPad or tablet to communicate and using a computer or a speech-generating device that uses synthetic speech.

Lateef:

C.P. is a fundamental part of who I am as a person and it is hard to imagine who I might have become if I didn’t have C.P.

TR: That is a writer…

Lateef:

I have been fortunate to have published two poetry books, and I co authored another poetry book coming out this year. I also co authored other essays and chapters in books as well.

TR:

He’s an activist and scholar.

Lateef57:41 I am studying for my PhD in the Anthropology and Social Change department at California Institute for Integral Studies. I am writing my dissertation on the effects of AAC peer mentoring on young people who use AAC and will it help them develop leadership and advocacy skills. The knowledge that I gain from writing my dissertation will help me assist other organizations form their own AAC mentor programs.

TR:

One of the reasons I was interested in speaking with Lateef is that relationship to AAC.

It was apparent that this technology plays a big role in his life.

Lateef05:14 I was introduced to AAC when I was six and right before I was mainstreamed in the first grade. The first AAC device that I use back then was a touch talker. I have used AC devices since then for over three decades.

TR:

Like any technology, it’s changed over the years.

Lateef08:12 Before I use bulky AC devices that were $3,000 so when the ABS came out it made things less expensive considerably

TR:

The Talking Broach and the Lightwriter became the first portable communication devices in 1973.

Today, there are multiple AAC apps available for the iPad.

Consider the interface is the input side of the technology. The synthetic voice is the output that not only represents the AAC user, but in some ways represents the technology.

Ask your average person about AAC and chances are they bring up Steven Hawking

— Sample: Steven Hawking “Can you hear me?”

He’s the theoretical physicist who made use of a speech generating device following the loss of speech due to ALS disease.

The technology has significantly developed over the years. Today, synthetic speech engines sound more and more like humans from all over the world. Even accents and specific pronunciations.

— Sample voices in different accents and gender say:

Hello and welcome to my favorite podcast. The one featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. It’s called Reid My Mind Radio and it’s produced by my man, my brother, Thomas Reid. That’s R to the E I D!

TR:

I imagine this is especially important For users of AAC, as the voice represents them. It’s their output.

I was curious about Lateef’s choices of voices over the years that represent him as a Black man.

Lateef31:54 Not many choices at all.

Lateef:

I lucked out that the company acapella made the voice I am using now named Saul that is both available on the below go to go and will locomote for text and C programs. It says that Saul is the male the Hip Hop speech voice, but it obviously sounds like an African American male voice.

In fact, the company that developed my voice just developed their first African American woman’s voice just this year, and I was a beta tester for the voice letting the company know what best voice to choose. So I am glad the voice is finally available to the public.

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

“Wow. So for years, a black woman would either have to choose to have the voice representing her of a white Male or female or a black Male?

Lateef:

Yes. TR in Conversation with Lateef:

It’s not surprising. Since sisters get the bottom end all the time.

TR: I’ve wondered for a while if Acapella based this voice on the spoken word artist Saul Williams.

Lateef:

I believe so, I am not completely sure, but it sounds a lot like him.

I actually met Saul once before, but that was before I was using this automated voice.

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

“Hold up!” — Sample Nate Dogg

TR:

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

On Twitter I’m at tsreid

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

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

Now back to the episode. ———- TR in Conversation with Lateef:

I’m a screen reader user. And for me this technology is, is crucial in just about every part, every aspect of my life. You know, specifically thinking about the speech component.

You know, for me, synthesized speech represents my input. And I’m curious, what is AAC because that’s kind of your output, what does this speech synthesis represent for you?

Lateef:

The AAC voice that I use, Saul, is the voice that people usually identify as my voice

AAC is really my main mode of communication. And without it, I could not connect to as many people as I do now. So AC represents the freedom to engage with community on my own terms.

TR:

Connecting with people through his words.

Lateef:

I was first introduced to poetry in middle school in my English classes, I discovered that I enjoyed writing poetry and I produced some poems that other people really liked. I am blessed that I can do my art and have other people enjoy it as well.

TR:

Lateef graduated college with a B.A in Creative Writing and an emphasis in poetry.

His first book of poetry, “A Declaration of A Body Of Love”, was published in 2010.

Lateef:

I talked a lot about how having a disability make some interactions with our fellow community members interesting to say the least because of ableism and lack of knowledge about disability. I go in depth with this topic in my second poetry book as well because our society is still wrestling with how to treat us with disabilities with respect.

TR:

That second book titled, “Whispers of Krip Love, Shouts of Krip Revolution” was published in 2020

He’s currently writing a novel tentatively entitled The Third Eye Is Crying.

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

Who were some of your writing inspirations?

Lateef:

Some of my inspirations in regards to poetry are June Jordan, Suheir Hammad, Amiri Baraka, Ntozake Shange, Patty Berne, and of course Leroy Moore.

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

Did you have any black disabled influences as a child?

Lateef:

Not that much. Growing up in Lafayette, there were not many black people, much less black disabled people. So when I met Leroy Moore, I gravitated towards him because he was a black man with cerebral palsy like me, and I identified with him and looked up to him.

TR:

Shout out to Reid My Mind Radio alumni Leroy Moore. He’s one of the founder’s of Krip Hop and Sins Invalid – a disability justice based performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, Centering artists of color and LGBTQ / gender-variant artists as communities who have been historically marginalized.

Lateef:

After I’ve met Leroy, he showed me the first Sins Invalid show in 2006. And then I applied for the show in 2007. Fortunately, they like my poems and theater concepts, enough to select me to join the cast for the 2007 show, and I have been involved with them ever since.

TR:

Whether through his poetry or stage performances, Lateef shares his experiences as a black man with a disability.

His work includes topics on family, dating, religion, spirituality, his national heritage and sexuality.

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

What sort of reactions and challenges have you experienced? Or do you experience as a disabled black man who uses AAC?

Lateef:

The reactions that I get from being a disabled black man is that I am incompetent. And I do not know what is going on. Like, just recently, when I was coming home from New York and was in the JFK Airport, a TSA agent who was supposed to check me for security waited until my attendant came around before and he explained to him what he was going to do and checking me for security. He thought that I did not understand him when that obviously was not the case. This type of situation happens all the time.

— Music begins, a dark, slow, ominous Hip Hop beat

TR:

These sorts of experiences inspire his writing. Like this one piece Lateef shares with us from his first book; “A Declaration of A Body Of Love”,

He calls this one Strange Encounters with the Stupid Kind

Lateef:

I just want to ask you a question just one simple question what frat is that on your jacket? But when I roll up to you and ask the question with my talker, you exclaim Get away from me and abruptly walk away. Now I know I don’t look like an idiot, with my designer jeans and expensive Nike sneakers and the talk right speak eloquently with and create our doubt of syntax grammar structure, that your closed mind would not even fathom. And yet you walk away from a free lesson of how to shatter your assumptions. A lesson I would freely teach you and from the looks of it, you are in desperate need for the abridged course. But I understand if you have to go nobody probably told you, you stop and listen, when a wise man decides to drop some knowledge in your lap. TR in Conversation with Lateef:

What do you want people unfamiliar with disability and AAC technology to understand?

Lateef:

I want them to understand that you can converse with me as you will through everyone else, and I will respond back to you. It just will take me a little longer because I communicate with an AAC device.

— Audio – Intro song for Black Disabled Men Talk podcast.

TR:

He’s communicating through a podcast he co-hosts with three other disabled brothers.

Lateef:

So the concept of black disabled men talk really came from Leroy. He was the one who got Keith Jones and Otis Smith together for the first discussion around the 2020 presidential election.

When I saw the discussion on YouTube, I told Leroy that I wanted to be involved. So they did another discussion on the 2020 election with me.

The podcast came about because I wanted people to have an easy way to see our content. So with guidance from Alice Wong and the internet, I was able to set up our website and our podcast.

TR:

The podcast is called Black Disabled Men Talk at BlackDisabledMenTalk.com

Topics for these round table discussions with the occasional guest include: Politics, media representation, police brutality and more. All with a black disabled perspective which is rarely considered in these sorts of discussions.

For example, when I asked Lateef about his thoughts on some of the challenges ahead for Black disabled people?

Lateef:

we have ample evidence that climate change is real. And we have economic and social choices to make so that this climate change will not be an overwhelming disaster in the upcoming future.

— Music begins, a feel good, bright mid-tempo Hip Hop groove.

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

And we know people with disabilities catch the catch the most of that. So what do you think is the most promising development available today to help create more opportunities for young black disabled people?

Lateef:

There are more opportunities for young black disabled people to be content creators and create our own media like we did with our podcast. There has to be more young, black disabled people creating our own media and telling their own stories so that people can know where they are coming from.

TR:

That’s Young Gifted Black and Disabled.

Lateef:

It means to be among a special class of people. It means being in a group of catalysts to our changing society for the better, and hopefully, so that it will be more inclusive.

TR:

To holla at Lateef, learn more about his work, purchase his books… head over to his website; lateefmcleoud.com

Lateef:

You can also follow me on twitter at CutTooSmooth.

TR: That’s C u t T o o S m o o t h

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

I just want to let you know right now you are officially part of the Reid My Mind Radio family brother, I really appreciate your time. And appreciate you coming on and I just want to share like, you know, I want to share you with my audience.

Lateef:

Fo Sho! Thank you!

TR in Conversation with Lateef:

Yes Sir!

TR:

One thing I noticed over years of talking to people adjusting to blindness and other disabilities, is the reluctance to see themselves as disabled.

It’s part of my own experience too.

It’s understandable. We’re not taught about disability and therefore we learn and perpetuate misinformation.

Meanwhile, we have so much in common. Yes, some of that is negative like being viewed as different or maybe not being seen at all.

but we also learn of the positive things that arise like the opportunity to create art out of our experiences. Or a chance to develop interdependent meaningful relationships with one another and yes, even with our technology. — Music ends No matter where you are in your disability journey, please allow me to encourage you to consider that any reluctance to embrace that assistive technology may be less about the technology and more about the disability.

The technology is powerful, it’s access to doing the things you want to do.

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how you view your technology, like your magnifier, your screen reader and yes that synthetic voice. Especially if you’re currently not pursuing those things that are meaningful to you.

— Sound of a door opening. TR entering the room “In here. No this one.”

AD: Returning back to the vocal booth, Thomas sits in the tall chair at the standing desk. He places a mostly empty bottle on the desk. The bottle label reads: “Sponsorship Available”

TR:

Dude, I can’t believe you can drink so much.

Synthetic Voice:

Why do you think some call me jaws!

TR:

So I hope you understand what I’m trying to tell you about the impact you have in the world. You’re adding real value by bringing all sorts of access to people everywhere.

Synthetic Voice:

Yes, that’s cool. You helped me realize that my dream of being an actor and going out to Hollywood would never be as fulfilling as all this access I bring to people.

TR:

That’s right!

AD:

Thomas pumps his fist in the air in celebration!

TR:

I’m glad you get the point.

Synthetic Voice:

No doubt, no doubt.

TR:

Oh great. I have so much to get done. So you ready to jump back into that computer like you jumped out?

Synthetic Voice:

No, I didn’t say that.

TR:

But you just said, you realize becoming an actor is a silly idea?

Synthetic Voice:

Yeh, it is!

I think I can better serve the community as a director!

AD:

Looking rejected, Thomas rests his head on his hand.

Fade to black.

Audio Description written by Thomas Reid Voiced by Nefertiti Matos Oliveras

Audio: Reid My Mind Outro

Thomas and Nefertiti simultaneously say “Peace”

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