February 28, 2023
Amplify Inclusion Podcast
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion, a podcast where we share authentic stories of inclusion in action.
Thomas Reid of the Reid My Mind Radio podcast discusses accessible visual media and how access can bring people together. Check out the episode now or view the full transcript below. To access closed captions, you must be logged into a Podbean user account.
This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound with music courtesy of Nealle DiPaolo. This season is made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation, Bernstein, The Boutelle Family, Horton, Liventus INC, United Healthcare and members of the Aspire community.
Welcome to Amplify Inclusion. I’m Clare from the nonprofit, Aspire. Thanks for joining us for stories and conversation about disability inclusion. Today we’re kicking off our sixth season with my guest, Thomas Reid, founder, host and producer. Since 2006, Thomas has combined audio production with advocacy, and in 2014, he launched his podcast, Reid My Mind Radio, featuring compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness and disability. As an audio description narrator, Thomas has appeared on projects for Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, PBS, and more. He provides consultation for independent filmmakers and film festivals, and also participates in workshops and panel discussions on audio description and content accessibility. I recently spoke with Thomas to learn more about his story. Here’s our conversation. Thomas, thank you for joining me today.
T. Reid 01:02
Thank you so much for inviting me. I appreciate it.
Let’s start off with some visual descriptions, Thomas. So would you like to start us off?
T. Reid 01:09
Absolutely. So I’m a brown-skinned black man with a smooth shaven bald head, I’m wearing dark shades and I have a full neat beard that is has some salt and pepper in it. Let’s say that. And I’m wearing a t-shirt. So I think it’s a black T-shirt with a- it’s my dad t shirt, one of my dad T-shirts. So, yeah.
I’m the host, Clare Killy. I’m a 30-something white woman with long dark brown hair, a touch of gray, as well. Today I am wearing a maroon shirt and I’m equipped with my podcasting headset and microphone sitting here in my home office. For those of you not familiar with visual descriptions, this is one way to create access for people who are blind or have low vision. And in this case, it’s also a way for us to provide visual access to a typically non-visual medium, like a podcast. So that could be for anyone that finds that useful, right?
T. Reid 02:02
So Thomas, here we are, I’m so glad you’re with me to share more about your story, the important work that you’re doing. And I would love to start off by talking more about your background. So can you tell us more about who you are and your journey?
T. Reid 02:19
Well, I’m somebody who, I guess I can say, was headed in a totally different direction than I’m headed in right now, or that I’m traveling right now. I guess for those who become disabled later in life, we quickly learned the notion that plans are temporary, Clare.
T. Reid 02:38
So for me, that meant a quick version of the story of my story is that I experienced cancer twice, once as a child, the other as an adult, and in each of those times, and eye was removed to save my life. And what I didn’t realize when I became blind as an adult is that, you know, it would give me an opportunity to be put into this position where I can actually do more of the things that I’m passionate about. So prior to becoming blind, I was a IT developer for a major publishing firm in New York City where I’m from- shout out to the Bronx, always. And before I became blind- well, after I became blind I had a real need to use audio for my access. So it gave me a way initially, to take notes, you know, with a little cassette recorder or a digital recorder, to remember events and things like that. So that was my initial access. Later on there became access to a computer, I learned how to use a screen reader and all of that. But the audio in general working with it, it led me back to something that I wanted to do earlier in my life. And that was audio engineering, and production. But I didn’t I did not do that it was I was really close to graduating from college when I when I got up the nerve to say, Hey, I think I want to do this. But it didn’t make sense for me at that particular time. Anyway, starting to use audio again, I started to incorporate audio into the advocacy work that I was doing. Because soon after losing my sight, I became pretty much pretty quickly became an advocate locally in my area to do some things to make the town a little bit more accessible. But in general, I got better at using audio, editing when I got access to computer, and became a better storyteller in general. And eventually that led me to start my own podcast in 2014. Yeah, so I’ve been I’ve been doing the podcast ever since.
I find it really interesting. Thomas when you said that you really quickly became an advocate. And I think that says a lot about you. And I just wonder why, why you think that was such a natural instinct for you? To become an advocate and think about experiences globally and an allyship and not just kind of going on your own path?
T. Reid 05:00
Yeah, I think the initial reason for me becoming an advocate wasn’t even something that I really thought about. What happened is that again, it was- it was really local to my community, it was a new community for me. Because soon before I became blind, I moved from the Bronx out to Pennsylvania, in the Poconos. And so the level of accessibility from a place like New York City, which I never even thought about accessibility, because I wasn’t blind at the time. But coming out to the Poconos, it was it was a whole different way of being. And so you know, it was an awakening. But part of what happened is that I was going to a support group, a local support group for folks with vision loss, and was fortunate enough to meet some people, we were in a similar age range, all kind of going through a similar experience, and recognizing the inaccessibility within our town. And so, the support group, for me that experience quickly became something that wasn’t, wasn’t right for me, because it was sort of an energy taker. And so eight of us in total, sort of got together and said, ‘Hey, let’s, let’s do something.’ And part of what we decided to do was to create, was advocacy was to just, you know, do some things within the town. And so we created a, a chapter of a of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, which is a, an extension of the- it’s a state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. And so we did that for a good 10-12 years or something before disbanded. So, you know, I’m happy about that, I thought that was that was really good. But that led me to, to not only the local advocacy, but also some state and federal level stuff, and just really starting to think about and look at accessibility. I said, I was an IT professional, prior to my vision loss. And the reason that I had to stop was because of inaccessibility. The the stuff, the programs, the software that I used, was not accessible to a screen reader. So I couldn’t do my job. But I was fortunate where, you know, they sort of took care of me. I went into a position that I could do, but it was a, it was a shock to the ego, because you know, it was a different position, it was more of a customer support position. So yeah, but gain, the reason for that had nothing to do really with my blindness, that as much as it has to do with the fact that the software was not accessible. And so all of that together just really started to light that fire. And in general, I’m just, you know, I want to do something. I don’t want to just talk about, I feel like you know. Or even if I am talking about I want to talk about it in a way that is to promote some sort of change. And so I think that that part of it to me is is all about advocacy,
That example, about the software, it’s just the textbook example of how society so quickly puts the blame on the person, the user, right, and not the product, the environment, and how that is what needs to be adapted, not the person needing to change themselves. And also, you know, an unfortunate example of how people with disabilities, whether they were born with them or acquired that there are so many barriers to employment, just based on those factors in software in spaces and in mindsets, right?
T. Reid 08:17
Absolutely. And it was, you know, for me- and this is something I tell people all the time, like, I was really fortunate because the company that I worked for, and I was probably working there for about 12-13 years, by this time- I had really, really good relationships with the people. And so it was the people who wanted to make sure that I was good, they definitely accommodated me. And I know that that, my experience, unfortunately, is probably not that common. I know more people who, when they became disabled for whatever reason, you know, they lost their work. And so, you know, I was I was very thankful for that for the time that I was able to continue working.
Yeah, and you mentioning that you chose to use your energy in a positive way and surround yourself with people that wanted to do that, too. It sounds like and it’s led to really impactful work in the community. I mean, you’ve- you’re doing some really incredible things, starting conversations about really important topics on your podcast, Reid My Mind Radio. Can you talk a little more about some of your recent projects that you’re most proud of or that have excited you the most?
T. Reid 09:31
So yeah, I mean, I’m, I’m proud of, of the work that I’ve been doing on the podcast. I’m really proud of the, sort of the evolution the fact that that I was able to sort of implement a season and take a seasonal approach to podcasting. So from Doing Your Thing With Disability, which was a theme and a season that I started last year, and that’s what is all about this idea of, you know, when folks talk about disability, especially within the mainstream, it’s usually something that you had to overcome, that sort of deal. And I overcame my blindness.
T. Reid 10:05
And all of that, you know, and I like to say I didn’t overcome my blindness because I go to sleep blind, and I wake up blind. So everything I do, I do it blind. And, and I think that’s, that’s cool. So this is what I do. And I do my thing with my disability. So that’s what that season is all about. The flipping the script on audio description, which I’ve been doing for a few years now. And just that topic means a whole lot to me, audio description, Really going into that that topic in different ways than other people do. I think that’s important for me. And then there’s Young, Gifted, Black and Disabled, which I actually started that one in 2020. And just really getting to that intersection between black and disability. And so in ’21, I wanted to expand on that, because I feel like it’s really, really important to touch on those intersections, right? It’s not covered as much, obviously, it’s definitely not. And anytime we talk about disability in the mainstream, often, it’s not from the perspective of someone who is black. And so I wanted to start talking about that.
Mhm hmm. You’re incredibly authentic and genuine and a really relatable person. And I think that people connect with hearing your ideas on things and the way that you engage with people. So I think that’s why your work is so impactful, and your voice is so powerful. And I want to actually- I want to come back to one of the things you said, and talking about the importance of that intersectionality and using an intersectional lens. And I want to talk more about that in a moment. But first, it dawned on me, some folks might not know what audio description is. So let’s talk about that for a second. I shouldn’t say second, there’s so much to talk about, huh? (laughter) Let’s, let’s pause and talk about audio description. So what is audio description? And why is it so important when we’re thinking about accessibility?
T. Reid 11:53
So audio description basically, is- it’s a separate audio track that accompanies a film or let’s just say visual content, because there’s live audio description in theater, you can have audio description, and sports, all sorts of things. But basically, what is doing is describing what’s taking place visually, that someone who was blind or low vision would not be able to access. So yes, it’s a form of accessibility. But since the fact that it’s a, you know, we’re talking about describing, we’re talking about using words and writing it’s an art form, it definitely is an art form. And there’s a lot of things that go into creating good audio description, because there are, you know, you have timing issues, and all sorts of things that you have to deal with in order to make it a really good compelling fit to the film. As far as I know, it is the only way for a visually impaired a blind person or a low-vision person to actually access visual content to truly access visual content. Without audio description, you can definitely miss out on the story, right? Because sometimes just things are just visual. So that’s basically what it is, why it’s so important. But I always like to say that audio description goes way beyond entertainment, because I think when folks hear it, they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, blind people want to access to movies, and to and to television. That’s cool. So they could just sit around and watch movies and television.’ No, because movies and television are much more than that- yeah, you can just sit around doing nothing. But if you think about what movies and television actually do in society, you know, we’re talking about building relationships. Think about how many times you’re you’re in an office environment, you’re in a school environment. And your conversation starts with ‘Hey, did you see that show last night?’ And then folks can actually talk about it and find similarities things that they agree or disagree on and have conversations, laugh together. And then the next thing, you know, oh, ‘Hey, did you know there’s a job opening up such and such?’ That’s relationship building, that’s what happens. Like I told you, in the beginning, I understand the importance of relationships, just because how it impacted my life. So I think that’s really important. And even within your family, you know, as a dad of two beautiful daughters always got to shout them out, you know, I was fortunate enough to be able to watch movies. And because of audio description, I can I can ask them real meaningful questions about the film. And we can have real conversations that lead to bigger discussions, that also contributes to building our relationships. So again, extremely important. One of the things that just really resonated with me was just that ripple effect that you mentioned, from thinking
about access to a TV show, and a relationship in the workplace and what happens around the coffee machine when you’re building those relationships. Like that is such a important example of how accessibility is really about creating shared experiences where everyone can be a part of something, and ultimately leads to, your right, connections between people and representation. Another really important piece that you were just starting to get to, and I think it leads nicely into the next topic I want to hit, which is coming back to that idea of intersectionality. And I know one thing you’re really passionate about is that idea of cultural competency, when we’re thinking about access services. So tell me more about what we mean, when we say cultural competence lens, and access services. If we’re talking about AD, captions, or even what’s called enhanced transcripts, which sort of combines description, captions, and the actual dialogue from the visual content, like a movie or a television show, and that enhanced transcript provides access for a deafblind person. But um, in either of those cases, right? The accessibility component, the AD, the captions, the enhanced transcript, that’s the lens through which these audiences view the content, okay? It’s sort of filtered through someone’s perspective, even when that person believes that they’re taking a “objective approach” to what they’re seeing in writing or hearing and writing is through their lens. And often, there are cultural references within a film that are being filtered, again, through someone’s experience. So, so for example, if the person is not of that culture, or doesn’t understand what’s happening in that particular scene, well, they might not really convey that in a way that someone who is of the culture that they’re going to sort of be able to relate to, and feel is authentic. So AD writers, for example, we’re going to talk just I’ll just talk about audio description, they need to be aware of these differences, because they have to take culture into account because they have to realize that either they are unknowning about the culture, or they can have a bias. And again, if it’s filtering through those two things, that experience of the audience, you’re just not getting a good expression, not getting the right experience. So with audio description, again, you have an added element. That’s the narrator. That’s the voice that’s describing the film. And that, to me, is a real easy way to see the importance and the need for cultural competency, cultural responsiveness, cultural humility, cultural respect, whatever you want to call it, it goes by all of these different names. To me, it ultimately comes down to- it should be respect. But the voice of the narrator really brings that out. And so in 2018, to me, it was just a real egregious one. And so I vocalized, I said something, but I made an episode about Black Panther that came out in 2018, where the narrator was a white British guy. And if we all remember Black Panther, you know, it’s Black Panther is black pan- it’s right there. The first word is black, it’s Black Panther. But it was even more than that. It was because the movie was sitting, there was such a buildup, we know what the movie was about. We know it’s about this is beautiful blackness on screen, it’s finally a movie that has really positive images about black people. And in the film, just lesson, you know, real life that the white character was the colonizer for the most part, right? And so in here, in my perspective, my view of, of the Black Panther, again filtered through the voice of a white British man. Again, a big disrupter. And so, you know, I guess the way I like to kind of sum it up is that my blindness should not mean that I have to experience black art, or any sort of art really, through through only a white lens, especially black art, though, like that’s not the
lens I should be viewing it through. So that to me is sort of the the part of the conversation when we talk about cultural competence and audio description specifically. But again, that relates to it relates to captions. It relates to other things, as well.
Yeah, American Sign Language, right?
T. Reid 19:30
All of these different access features where we have to think about representation. And I think that word ‘disrupter’ that you’re using really provides framework around how that impacts the experience of the viewer. It’s it’s no longer authentic, it’s changing the message, right? So it’s, it’s a completely different experience. And I think, to me, there’s a couple things to think about. It’s already hard enough, I’ll be frank, to get folks to be thinking about accessibility. Do we have audio description? Do we have captions? Do we have ASL interpretation do- what are the accessible components that are integrated into this? And this is okay, now that we’ve been mindful about access, let’s take this next step and be intentional about cultural representation. That’s kind of how I’m thinking about it. But let me know if if I’m off base with that.
T. Reid 20:24
Yeah, I think the the only amendment that I would, I don’t want to see them as layers. I think they need to be done together. Because throughout- and this is, again, this goes way beyond access. This goes with everything that we do in this society, like we need to put that component just like access, we need to put that at the at the origin.
Yeah. And it has to be a part of the planning and design process. And you’re right, they have to be completely intertwined.
T. Reid 20:51
I think so- I think we, we become better. Because to me, that intent needs to be done with respect. Who is the audience? We always talk about that when you’re building something- who’s your audience? And unfortunately, sometimes when folks think they leave a certain segment out of the audience, we have to think about everybody that’s in that audience. And again, are you going to capture- because there’s no way to make something 100% accessible. But if we create a climate where we know that we’re trying to reach that we’re gonna do pretty good. And then we know that we’re open to accommodating and doing our best to figure out methods to make things accessible for folks, I think we would, we’d do a lot better.
Yeah, they can’t be layers, because that sort of implies one’s more important than the other.
T. Reid 21:41
You know? It has to be prioritization of all of these components and in a comprehensive way.
T. Reid 21:48
I know one other thing we’ve talked about, Thomas, is the idea of people with lived experience being a part of the process. And I think you started to touch on this a little bit earlier. But I want to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit more about what that means to you. When we think about people with disabilities being a part of the production process and the design process.
T. Reid 22:13
Yeah, I’m a big proponent of that, again, I said audio description was started by blind people. But for whatever reason, when I was inquiring about getting into audio description, years before I actually did, and I was talking to some folks who were pretty prominent within the industry. And what I was told was, you kind of needs sight for that process, because the way it works is, you know, they bring the narrator into the studio, and then up on the screen is the film, and you have the time codes. And then the the narrator has their script. And sometimes that’s on the screen, too. Or it could be on a sheet of paper, whatever, but they have the time codes, and then they look at the time code, and they jump in and they say the narration they read the narration, and then they move on to the next one. And so I was like, Okay, that’s cool. But that’s a process is not the process. And I was like- well, why couldn’t it be done like this? And I had my particular way. ‘Well, that’s kind of not the way we do it,’ kind of, you know, dissuading me from really thinking about it from really pursuing it. And that was part of the conversation on the podcast that I kind of started throwing out there, like, you know- you know, why couldn’t I? Why couldn’t I do narration? And so fortunately, what I didn’t know is that there was someone Eric Wickstrom, from International Digital Center, who was listening to the podcast, but was also thinking about, like, you know, hey, this, you know, blind people should be more involved in this process, and can do the narration. So guess what happens? You know, 2020- boom pandemic, you know? (laughter) And that’s awful. But as we know, certain things came out of the pandemic called accessibility, and folks needed accessibility other than disabled folks. And so now everyone had to think about a new process. And fortunately, again, Eric was was interested, he listened to the podcast, I had just so happens to be reaching out to him to
invite him on the show, not even knowing him. And we got to talking about this particular subject. And he was like, ‘You know what, maybe we can work this out, see what we can do.’ So we worked out the process. And I started doing audio description with him. Now I did some work before that. Shout out to my friend, Cheryl Green. That was an independent project. But this was a larger project. This was for a Netflix series. And so fortunately, from that part on, you know, the hope was that others would sort of start to say, ‘Hey, do the same thing.’ And some have, fortunately today IDC now has about 20 blind narrators on their roster.
T. Reid 24:45
So that’s pretty cool. And that, to me, is the big part of what what this is all about because we should be involved. Other companies are also reaching out to some and hiring blind narrators. There’s blind folks who are doing the quality control process. I’m sure we have a couple of blind editors. There have been some who have written description as well. But none of that should be off limits. And each of those things requires some sort of an accommodation, some larger than others. But what’s wrong with that? Nothing. And so we need to be we need to be a part of this industry, if you will.
I think the process you described, that collaborative process, that partnership- that’s the key piece, right? It’s like, that’s how we figure out other ways of doing things, by putting our combined perspectives and experience together to look at something in a new way.
T. Reid 25:37
And even just thinking about it differently and not thinking about it like that first person who says, ‘Ahh well, you know, we never did it that way.’ Ooh I hate that.
T. Reid 25:46
But, but rather saying, ‘Oh, well, how do we do that?’
Yeah, it’s just that, you know, shifting the mindset, and how, how can we be flexible? So thank you for sharing that. And I think it’s important for people to be thinking about that in any line of work that they’re in, right? How can we think outside the box of different ways that people can participate, bring their talents and ideas and contribute their perspectives in a way that works for the way they’re presenting to the world?
T. Reid 26:15
You have a super exciting project on the horizon that’s focused on increasing disability representation in podcasting, right?
T. Reid 26:25
And removing barriers to access. So tell me more about the project, who you’re partnering with?
T. Reid 26:30
Sure. Cool. Cool. So first thing, a big shout out to Alice Wong, and the Disability Visibility Project, because they provided the funding for this particular project that we call Pod Access. And in addition to that, I think she reached out to me and she reached out to a fellow podcaster, my friend and colleague, the amazing access artist, Cheryl Green. So she asked us to kind of take on this project and really think about it and think of what we can do for disabled podcasters. And so the idea is that Pod Access will create a space for deaf and disabled podcasters and their audiences to find one another. And so it’s a space to share resources, and skills. And so by that, I mean, you know, you can, for example, be a podcaster, who maybe you don’t like to edit, you’re looking for an editor, or maybe you like to edit, but you need someone who’s better on graphics, or whatever the case may be. So this, potentially, this platform that we’re creating can be a place to help find some of that, whether it be for hire, whether it be for sharing that sort of thing, swaping. Maybe you are a podcaster or a potential podcaster, but you don’t know how to go about it for for whatever, for whatever reasons, maybe there are access issues that you encounter. And that can be access issues just in terms of finding the information and working through it, whether it be inaccessible format, or maybe it’s just not in a way that you understand. So there’s all of these different needs that are out there. It’s going to be about so many things just in terms of that creation, in terms of the discovery, all of that. And so we’re creating a it’s going to be a website, obviously, it’s going to be a platform there for folks to kind of put in their podcast to find all these other ones, different ways to search. And of course, since it’s about podcasting, you know, what we have to have right, Clare? (laughter) We have to have a podcast.
Yeah. There you go!
T. Reid 28:35
So there’s got to be a podcast associated with this, that that does some of this, this training. So we want to hear from all these different voices, to share this information with
others. And we really just want to eventually create this is- we know it’s going to be a community for deaf and disabled podcasters and again, and their audiences to find one another support one another.
Is there something specifically that excites you most about this project?
T. Reid 29:00
It’s the community aspect of it. So just the fact that you can kind of talk to others who are in a similar experience, or can understand what you’re talking about, or can give you some information about that, that’s going to help you from your perspective. At Pod Access we want to think about the rest of that the entire deaf and disabled community.
Well, I’m so excited to hear updates and see the progress on that project. It’s so important. And I think that if you have any steps that people that are tuning in to this can sort of keep in mind when it comes to prioritizing accessibility, any top tips or things that people can apply to stay mindful?
T. Reid 29:42
No one has access unless we all have access. I would want folks to go back to kind of what we were talking about before and leading with that, that thought around- around that respect, and how do we all fit in? And if you’re creating content and it’s visual content, I mean, it’s right there. It’s visual content, right? If you’re creating a video again, this goes to everybody, this goes to me because I still know that I create content and it’s not always going to be accessible. Sometimes I miss the mark. Sometimes I don’t even think about it in the way that I should be thinking about it. But specifically around around blindness and low vision. If you have, if you’re doing artwork, it doesn’t mean don’t do artwork. A lot of folks sometimes think they can’t do that. No, it might mean just, you know, if you’re posting a picture, take a little while and look at that picture. What’s the importance of that picture to you? What would you want someone to see about that picture? Okay, cool. Write that up in a little paragraph. It’s just a couple of sentences. Just throw that in there. And there’s, there’s your alt text, there’s your image description. Maybe it’s not an alt text, maybe you just wanna throw it in your post, just say, ‘Hey, here’s a description.’ And so the same thing for your videos, if you’re if you’re posting a video, again, it may not be easy to go ahead and put audio description on that video, but a bit of description, whether it be just a quick thing right before the video, whether it be in the in the post, who do you want to be in conversation with? Why not be in conversation with more people than you, then you actually think you might? You might get a really cool response from a blind person about this, about this image that you’re putting up, or question that might lead you to go somewhere and think about it. And if we’re talking about disabled folks, remember that your access is based on my access, too. Even though they’re different, if I’m not getting access, at some point, you’re not gonna get access either.
Well, Thomas, I’ll say one thing I really appreciate about this conversation and appreciate about you is that I’m coming away with learnings and I appreciate you helping me to think in new ways. I appreciate you, helping me to reframe some ideas and questions that I was posing. I think that’s such an important part of this process and of our movement forward is what you’ve mentioned several times, that we all have room for growth and to be better. And, you know, it’s about thinking about everyone, and how do we keep thinking outside the box to make sure that everyone’s able to participate in our world and our communities. So thank you for that.
T. Reid 32:11
Thank you. I appreciate that. And I appreciate you inviting me on.
Thank you to my guest, Thomas Reid, be sure to check out the links in the episode description to learn more about the Reid My Mind Radio podcast and Thomas’s other projects. We look forward to bringing you new stories and perspectives as we shift to a bi-monthly release schedule for season six. Stay tuned for our next episode scheduled for April of 2023. Until then, stay connected with us at AspireChicago.com. And don’t forget to rate review and subscribe to Amplify Inclusion. This episode was co-produced and engineered by Subframe Sound. This season is made possible thanks to generous support from the Fred J. Brunner Foundation, Bernstein, the Boutelle Family, Horton, Liventus INC., United Healthcare and members of the Aspire community.
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