Podcast

Episode 68: Thomas Reid

Join us for a conversation with Thomas Reid about intersectionality, blindness, and the disability community.

JILL: Welcome to the DisTopia podcast, where we look at Disability from the inside out. [peaceful music fades in] My name is Jill Vyn, and I’m the cohost of this podcast with my friend and colleague, Chris Smit. 

What you are listening to now is the first of two interrelated components of our My Dearest Friends project, both of which have been generously underwritten by the Ford Foundation. The My Dearest Friends podcast, which is produced by DisTopia, is a series of recorded conversations with disabled people about their individual experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the personal, cultural, and political alterations it has triggered. These informal conversations give our guests the opportunity to share personal experiences of sheltering in place and to engage in conversations around deeper questions raised about the value of disabled people, the core values of the Disability culture, as well as our hopes, fears, and strategies for living an authentic and pride-filled disabled life.

The second component of the My Dearest Friends project is created in partnership with disabled artist Oaklee Thiele, who is creating black and white illustrations that represent our collective response to our new and uncertain realities as a disabled community. Designed as an open invitation to the disabled community around the world, we invite all of you to participate. More information can be found on Instagram @MyDearestFriendsProject, Facebook, and on our website, DisArtNow.org.

As is true for many of you, our desire for this project is to share our experiences as a disabled community, to disrupt ableist beliefs, to celebrate a culture whose lived experience of Disability necessitates flexibility and creativity, and to validate disabled voices and perspectives in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[peaceful music slowly fades into a smooth hip hop break]

THOMAS: My name is Thomas Reid, and I am a African-American male. I’m an accessibility advocate, and I am a podcaster. I would say those of my main things: podcaster, audio producer, host. I’m just so really into that realm, right. Audio. Yeah. And so, my podcast is called Reid My Mind Radio. And on that podcast, really, I feature compelling people impacted by all degrees of blindness, vision loss, and disability in general. I myself am a person adjusting to becoming blind. I’ve been blind for about going on 17 years. And notice I say “adjusting,” because I think it’s an ongoing process that I’ll be doing all my life. And that doesn’t say anything about where I am politically or in terms of disability. I think it’s just that’s what it is. That’s the nature of becoming a disabled person. I think it’s an ongoing process.

CHRIS: Let’s start with that conversation about disability being a lifelong experience of change. We’ve sometimes talked about the disruptive nature of disability as something that all of us have to embrace who are disabled.

THOMAS: Mmhmm.

CHRIS: And I think I would love to hear a little bit more about where that understanding of disability not as finite, right, which a lot of people in our society want. They want a sorta unified, easy, understandable definition of disability. Where does your notion of this sort of everchanging, more organic understanding of disability come from? That’s really an interesting part of your podcast.

THOMAS: Yeah, I mean, it’s really been my experience, number one, just constantly trying to learn new things about first, specifically blindness, for example, just coming to learn about various issues of accessibility, learning about just the difference in terms of how I was treated by the public, right? There was such a big difference, and to me that was amazing. And I was like, wait, I’m just blind. Why am I being treated like that? And then it was noticing the differences within the blind community, learning more about the blind, quote-unquote “the blind experience,” as, you know, there’s not just one blind experience, right? But noticing the differences in terms of visual acuity and how that plays into people’s experience. Noticing the differences of whether you were born blind or you lost your sight later on. And then starting to just see how, from my perspective, it was as though the blind community seemed to be a little bit separate. And I should say the blind advocacy community is what I’m really talking about because I spent a lot of time within the advocacy world of blindness from a local level to the state level and a little bit on the federal level as well. I kind of wondered about these things, and then that’s when I became a little bit more active online and learned so much, not only from just finding information and different resources, but from different people online within the disability, the general disability community.

And like I say, it’s a constant growth. And just even just the models of disability. You know, there’s no handbook, right? [laughs] There’s no handbook that’s given to you in whatever format you need that tells you these things. And so, from that part of my experience, it’s like, OK, there’s so much more to learn. Every time I learn something, it’s impacting how I think about my own disability, right? Even from not at first calling it a disability and then being able to be comfortable with that, it’s an ongoing process. I started to notice how other people were going through that, people that I eventually, when I started doing my podcast, bringing on the show. And it’s like, wow, this is an ongoing thing, because every time some aspect of your life changes, you’re always going to have to adapt to that. That’s in general, right? But then it’s definitely with a disability of any nature, everything changes, some aspects of you, if it’s physical disability. Some things might change as you progress. Whether your lifestyle changes, things that you’re always gonna have to adapt to. So, that’s kind of what I mean that it’s a constant adjustment.

CHRIS: Yeah. And I’m really curious about that moment in which you were able to or were encouraged to. I’d love to hear how that worked, to think about yourself as a person with a disabled identity. For myself, a guy with muscular dystrophy, I grew up visually disabled. People knew that I was disabled. It was always part of my conscience and consciousness as well. But I remember not claiming my disabled identity, my political disabled identity, until much later when I went to graduate school and began to be introduced, much like yourself, to activist groups and to other advocates. Do you remember that moment where you thought, OK, I can use this word as a part of my identity, and it offers me something? Do you remember that moment?

THOMAS: I don’t think I remember the moment per se, but I know what was important to it is the same thing that I tell people who are adjusting to blindness. I mean, that’s a constant theme on my show. And that’s something that you just said also is just meeting people. That is so important to it, because I think…. OK. So, this is sort of the way I look at it. We’re all born, and we’re raised within the culture, right? And there’s so much ableism that’s in that culture that we don’t even know that we’re absorbing. And so, we have it within us and me too. So, when I became blind, it wasn’t necessarily conscious, but I started thinking about, OK. Well, what am I gonna be able to do? What is my life gonna be like? And then you add on top of it, like I mentioned before, just the way I was treated so differently. And I start to doubt myself. And I was never necessarily a person to really doubt myself like that. I think I was pretty confident. Some people might say too much confidence. [laughs] But, you know, so, that just really sort of struck me.

Like I said, meeting people within the blindness community and starting to shatter these misconceptions that I didn’t even know I really had, that was really important. And like I said, and I saw it going on in the general disability as well, when I just was, like I said, meeting other people and reading things. I don’t know. It just really just started to sink in to me that, yeah, I’m gonna be blind for the rest of my life, right? That is the case. And I mean, it impacts my life, obviously, but it doesn’t take away anything of who I am as a person. It’s like all of these things that people think. And some of it, I don’t think I was to that degree, right, where it was like, oh, you know, I will never be able to do anything. That was never really in my mind frame. But just kinda, like I said, shattering some of those myths and realizing that I had them and that they’re there, it was just so like, wow, this doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense from blindness. Why would it make sense from any sorta disability? And that’s just an ongoing thing.

And so, you know, I’m not an expert by any means about disability in general. I don’t think I’m an expert at blindness. I think I’m an expert at my own experience. [chuckles] And I think there’s a lot of things that I can kinda help people with who are adjusting. And not everybody’s gonna get there. Not everyone kinda goes that direction. And that’s OK. It’s just something for me. It just makes sense that whether it’s whatever specific disability you’re claiming, there’s a lot of pride in it, too. I mean, you do a lot of things that you should be proud of, you know?

CHRIS: Absolutely. And I think one of the wonderful elements of what you just said is that we get to name what our achievements are, right? What I mean by that is we often, from the outside looking in, we are often, disabled people are often praised for doing very mundane things, you know, and the sort of disabled hero and the overcoming narratives that dominate the media. What I hear you saying too is this idea that, yes, we can have pride in our disability, but we can also claim that for ourselves and not have to be told.

THOMAS: Absolutely.

CHRIS: And I think that’s really interesting.

[smooth hip hop music break]

CHRIS: Another element that I really enjoy about your work is that even as you humbly say that you’re not an expert, but you’re sharing your life experience, that sort of relational thinking is deeply embedded in your podcast. I mean, as I listen to your podcast, to me, it comes across as a resource, and it comes across as an invitation to people who are just experiencing a disability. And I think that’s so very important. The way in which you focus on interdependence is really striking. And I think I would love it if you could tell our listeners a bit about why that concept is so important in your work. What is it about teamwork or interdependence, which we see as a line through a lot of what you do, why is that an important concept for you?

THOMAS: When I became blind, I started thinking about different experiences that I had throughout my life, right? There’s this is one example that I like to share when it comes to the idea of teamwork. I grew up with monocular vision. I only saw from my right eye growing up because I had retinoblastoma. And so, I lost my left eye as an infant. But growing up with monocular vision does not make you blind. I had decent vision in the right eye, and so I was not blind. And so, that’s why I didn’t recognize any sort of disability or anything like that. There was no real change to my life in terms of doing all those things. So, I drove when I got older, I played sports and all that. But when I was little, I was on a baseball team, and I had this coach. I used to pitch and play third base, OK. My issue though, with monocular vision, was that it was really hard for me to catch balls that were hit in the air, high pops, right? And that was because of depth perception. I never really knew at that time what that was all about. But if we were just kind of playing, like tossing the ball back and forth, you could throw it up in the air, and I would be able to find it because I could almost track it when it left your hand. But tracking it once it left the bat was really difficult for me.

So, as a pitcher, right, my coach devised a plan because he saw that I had problems with that. And so, it was the best example of teamwork that a young person could get, in my opinion. Because so, what he did, rather than pull me out the game the way certain coaches would do and say, “No, you’re not gonna be able to pitch. You can’t play because you can’t catch the ball,” what he did is devise this whole thing. So, if the ball was hit on the first, second base side, the second baseman would come in. I would back up. So, the second baseman would yell, “I got it.” It’s up to me to back up and play his position. If it was hit on the opposite side, the shortstop would do that, and I would run back and play the shortstop position. That’s teamwork. That, to me, was such a great example.

And I thought about that a lot when I lost my sight because I knew that this was something that I needed. And I was really, really fortunate that when I lost my sight, soon after that, I got hooked up with another gentleman who had lost his sight. We just kind of bonded. And we did a lot of that sort of going through it together, having those types of conversations. Not everyone can have that. Not everyone is that fortunate to actually have that opportunity to have someone right there and meet the people like we were talking about, right? How important these people are. And so, to me, that’s what the podcast is all about. You can’t meet them in person and have the conversations. But if you listen to the podcast for 25 minutes, maybe 30 sometimes, that’s what you’re gonna get. You know, that’s what that’s all about. I mean, that’s that interdependency. That’s the teamwork. That kind of really is where it comes from.

CHRIS: When you started talking about meeting disabled advocates or blind advocates at first, you mentioned that there was some empathy there between those folks, but that you had to make your way into that group. Did you ever feel—and this is a tricky question—but did you ever feel, as a newly blind person, did you ever feel sort of marginalized within the marginalized group, if that makes sense?

THOMAS: No, it does make sense. I think yes and no. So, in the beginning, not so much. And it also kinda goes back to my personality there. Because it’s not really gonna bother me too much. [chuckling] You know what I mean? If I’m there for a reason, then I’m there for a reason. All right. So, it kinda came about in different ways because I wasn’t alone in that. So, when I lost my sight out here, it was a group of about seven other people. And we started a local advocacy group that became a chapter of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind, which is related to the American Council of the Blind, all right? But we were local out here. I’m in the Poconos. So, there were a lot of, not a lot, but there were several other people who we were all virtually new to blindness, right? And so, we were all in that similar position. Now when we kind of went to the conference on the state level, the larger organization, we went as a group.

So, for the most part—now this is [laughs] it’s kind of funny because we were all similar in nature. The majority of us especially, being out here in the Poconos, you got a lotta people from New York, which is where I’m from, and New Jersey, right?

CHRIS: Right.

THOMAS: So, we got a little attitude, right?! So, we go to the conference. You know, we’re gonna have a good time. We’re gonna have. And you’re gonna know we’re there. We were a little loud and rowdy, and that’s what we became known as, right? That was our local group.

CHRIS: Sure.

THOMAS: So, but we were quickly accepted by most people. There were some who did not like us, but it was mainly because we were being loud and rowdy, so.

BOTH: [chuckle]

THOMAS: But on a individual, I didn’t necessarily feel that because I wanted to be active within that group.

CHRIS: Right.

THOMAS: And I also wanted to learn. And I think they knew that. I was not there to change what people were doing necessarily, not just for no reason. I was there to offer and to help and change things that I thought needed to be changing. But if they agree, then, yeah, let’s change them. So, I didn’t really get that much feedback that was negative. I did get from some people. Some, I think there’s a racial component to it, to be totally honest with you. But, you know, whatever. That’s not gonna bother me.

CHRIS: I’d like to talk a little bit more about that part of who you are as well, because I think all of us who have disabilities of any kind really meet those disabilities at other intersections of race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. And I’ll get to one of your most recent podcasts in a minute about Black Lives Matter, which I think was phenomenal. But how did that intersectionality play itself out for you?

THOMAS: Like it usually does, it was sort of…you know, subtle. For me, it hasn’t been overt for the most part since I was a kid, but it was subtle. It was just sort of the way I was treated. Like I said, some of it, you know, some people could easily say it was because my group and I went in there with a little bit of an attitude. But it was all with fun and it was all good-natured and stuff. But we wanted to do some things that were going to make a change and uplift and all of that. The little stuff that I noticed is that there weren’t many other African Americans or people of color in general in the organization. What I noticed that was kind of funny was that the only time people would confuse me with another person, so, call me by the wrong name, they would refer to me as the other African-American gentleman in the organization.

CHRIS: Right.

THOMAS: And our names are totally different. We sound nothing alike. [chuckles]

CHRIS: Right, right.

THOMAS: We don’t look anything alike. He’s a little bit older than me. He’s a great gentleman. But why are you confusing me with him? You know, like, why?! [laughs] What is that about?

CHRIS: Yeah.

THOMAS: I don’t get it. And so, there were other little things just, you know. Just there were some instances that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell you that, oh, yes, this was definitely because of race. But there was no other concrete reason for anyone to kind of to really be negative toward anything that I was doing.

CHRIS: Sure.

THOMAS: And it wasn’t many people. It really, I can honestly say that it wasn’t many people.

CHRIS: Yeah. And it is that implicit bias that chases us, right?

THOMAS: Mmhmm.

CHRIS: That sort of rears its ugly head here and there. And you point your finger at it when you see it, but it’s always present.

THOMAS: Yeah. One of the other things I remember is that, like I told you, I’m in New Yorker. And every New Yorker has to tell you they’re a New Yorker. It’s the truth, right? And if you’re from the Bronx, like I tell everybody. [laughs]

CHRIS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.

THOMAS: And so, there was some of that that was like, oh! You’re from the Bronx. You know that voice, [laughing] and it goes down.

CHRIS: Right, right?

THOMAS: So, yeah, there was some of that, too, so, you know.

CHRIS: Yeah, yeah.

[smooth hip hop music break]

 CHRIS: Your sense of humor comes across in all of your work, this sort of optimism. I’m sure interested in your reflections over the last couple months of what’s been going on in the world that’s COVID-related and of course, Black Lives Matter-related and other BIPOC issues. And we’re in a shifting moment right now. I’m so curious about how you’ve approached the last couple months and what you’ve been thinking about and how’ve you been helping other people and some of the things that you’ve been looking at in the last little while here.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. For me, I think it’s really been sort of a struggle. I think I mentioned it. First with COVID and then, yes, with Black Lives Matter. So, first with COVID. Well, in a way, it’s with both, right? Like, I feel really, really privileged right now. When COVID first hit, it was like, OK. Nothing really about my life was changing. Nothing. Everything I do is mainly within my house. My family was safe. My oldest daughter was home, back from college. She graduated. So, it was just like, she’s back. She’s safe. Everybody’s safe right here. And in a way, I felt guilty. I felt like, wow, I’m not doing anything to help this. But what can I do, right? So, there’s always like, OK, well, what can you do? That was sort of that initial feeling around COVID.

With the Black Lives Matter and with George Floyd, I mean, it’s the…there’s a similar feeling because again, I’m privileged. I’m out in the Poconos. I don’t interface with—right now, it’s a privilege. Sometimes it’s not a privilege, right—but I don’t necessarily have that much interaction with anybody, let alone law enforcement and whatnot, right?

CHRIS: Right.

THOMAS: But when I go out now, I’m viewed so differently. You take out the white cane. No one sees me as a threat anymore. I say anymore because, you know, I once was viewed as a threat. I had interactions with police growing up and all of that, yeah. So, I feel, again, a little guilty about that. But then it makes me think, OK, well, what can you do? And that’s sort of like what that episode and just mentioning it and just kind of bring it out there and touching on the intersection with blindness and how that is, that’s what that was all about. But then part of the other part of it is that to me, the thing that I’m personally still dealing with is that I don’t understand, that I don’t necessarily hear discussed that much is, what is it about right now that makes this different from yesterday? Like the way everyone is reacting, I’m just like, why? Why didn’t this happen before? Is it only because everyone is home, you know? Everyone was home, for the most part, right, when the George Lloyd murder happened. And so, everyone, were they forced to see it? Was it because you couldn’t walk away and just go back and just go to a bar and just hang out? Is that why this is happening?

CHRIS: But isn’t there also some connection—that I’m certain that you’ve thought about this and we can think about it together—the connection between our current political climate and what’s happening in the White House? That too, to me, seems to be an impetus. So, it’s probably a combination, right, of a lot of different things.

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely that. But even that. Like… [chuckles] OK. So, I’m sorta like I’m sitting here, and I’m kind of waiting. I’m really trying not to be a cynical person. And that’s just like as I get older period, right?

CHRIS: Sure. Sure, sure.

THOMAS: [chuckles] But right now, I’m really trying. And my thing is like I need to wait until November because people do what they do in the voting booth. I don’t even understand how the guy got in there. And so, the talk is good, and everybody’s kinda talking a good talk. But this is not my first rodeo. I’ve been down here. We saw this before. People talked and we stood up and we said we’re outraged about this and that. And, yeah, this is going further, by all means. Definitely. This is going further. And the thing that I guess gives me that optimism is that these young people ain’t having it.

CHRIS: And I think what’s also interesting is before, I never saw Amazon or Facebook or any of these large global industries responding either, right? So, I mean, I don’t know about you, but when I turned on the television and put on Amazon Prime, and there’s this huge statement about Black Lives Matter, part of me is like, this is fucking amazing! But it’s also like, wait a minute. Have we jumped into a place where the movement of Black Lives Matter and the movement of social justice has been commercialized?

THOMAS: Mmhmm!

CHRIS: You know what I mean

THOMAS: Yeah.

CHRIS: I had some real mixed feelings about that.

THOMAS: Yeah. I don’t trust it. I don’t trust it. And the one that I do, that I acknowledge if I’m gonna throw out there and sort of kinda give them any props, any credit for doing it is the Ben and Jerry’s. Because I mean, Ben Jerry’s came out, and what they said was like, oh, OK. I mean, they’re talking, yeah, we need to stop white supremacy. And I mean, they’re talking it.

CHRIS: Yeah.

THOMAS: Everyone else, meh, I don’t know.

CHRIS: Yeah.

THOMAS: I don’t know. Well, it’s definitely gonna help their bottom line, you know?

CHRIS: When I watch like Netflix, and I see they now have a Black Lives Matter collection of films, right, I think, again, I think this is really amazing for people who aren’t used to their own privilege.

THOMAS: Right, right.

CHRIS: And it’s great to have that at your fingertips. But I also wonder when it’s commercially packaged like that, does it have the same impact, right? Does it have the ability to really sink in, or is it just another media channel that we quickly scan through?

THOMAS: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know. Again, like I said, I’m trying not to be cynical. And at the same time, it’s sort of like what I was saying. OK, I’m just gonna be real frank. [laughing] I’m just gonna be really, really honest with you, Chris. I care. Now I have to be careful. This is where I hear my, I feel my wife patting my thigh, because that’s like, OK, be good. Be good. [laughs] So, but I wanna, let me see if I can articulate what I’m feeling. Because I obviously care, but some of it seems to feel like the white fragility type of thing, you know. Like we always have to, it feels like we always have to wait for the right time, the right place. And that always seems to be when white people are ready, when white people are ready to do the work. What young people are saying is that, “Nah. We’re not waiting for that.” And that’s the part that I care about. I’m saying that too, and so the thing with me, I feel like I’ve always been saying that. And so, when it goes back to how I feel about this, it’s such the feeling, like, man, I wanna be out there with them in some capacity. But Chris, man, I’m too old. I’m not gon be out [laughing] with them!

CHRIS: [laughs]

THOMAS: And I’m not even that old! But I’m like, you know, like that’s not where I’m supposed to be.

CHRIS: Right. And I feel that way, too. I mean, as a guy in a wheelchair, with a compromised system, and I have an African-American son. We all want to be out there, but we can’t.

THOMAS: Yeah.

CHRIS: And so, we do our part, which is education and activism through media.

THOMAS: Right.

CHRIS: I think it would be inappropriate if we didn’t, after sorta critiquing how BLM has sort of come into the mass media or in the pop culture. And I think your point about white fragility and about change happening only when the majority is ready, I think that’s really important. But I think there’s other things that are happening that we really have to praise and just be like, this is it. This is happening. So, the New York Times a couple days ago finally publish about Brad Lomax and his connection to the Black Panthers and the 504 action. And that’s such an important part of Black and disabled history.

THOMAS: Mmhmm.

CHRIS: And for that to just come out after all these years, that’s a major victory.

THOMAS: Yeah, absolutely.

CHRIS: And it’s a victory that, quite frankly, I have ignorantly not fought for. But my friends and colleagues like Leroy Moore and DJ Kuttin Kandi and some of the other disabled Black folks that we work with, this has been the fight. It’s like, catch up, people!

THOMAS: Yeah.

CHRIS: Catch up to the story. And I think that catching up part is exactly what you mean. It’s like the white majority is like, “OK. Now we’re ready,” you know? And that can be very, very frustrating. And to the point, I guess, and this is the question, that fact of white fragility doesn’t seem to sway you and your work from working with all types of people. I’d like to know why that cynicism that you were talking about doesn’t overcome you. Because we’ve talked to a lot of cripples and disabled people in the last two months, and there’s a lot of them who are really, really angry and rightfully so.

THOMAS: The anger’s there. I’m definitely angry. So, I’m in a family of all women here, so I have my wife and my two daughters, and they’re older now. But I’ll never forget when my daughter now, my daughter told me, like, “When you get upset, we don’t like it. It’s scary.” Now, I never put my hands on my kids or anything like that. But it’s just something about a man being angry scares women. And man, when you hear that from your daughter? Oh, my goodness! That changes you. So, I try to really think about that, not only with my family, but with other people in general, right? So, how I’m gonna say what I need to say. And plus, as a Black man, you know that you have to kinda hold back sometimes because people are gonna go wherever they wanna go if you show any sort of anger, right? It just becomes a whole different thing. So, there’s always that. There’s always that.

But the cynicism thing is because by nature, I’m an optimist. I’ve been a optimistic guy all my life. And so, when I started to feel that cynical nature coming out, I was like, what is? I don’t like it. I don’t like it. I don’t wanna go there because I don’t think it’s gonna serve anything at the end of the day. It’s not gonna serve. It’s not gonna help the cause. It’s not gonna help me. You know what I mean? Yeah. So, that’s why there’s like a constant fight for me to recognize it and then to do something about it.

And that’s why with the podcast, the podcast is helpful because I made a commitment to myself and I feel like to people who listen to the podcast to leave, I don’t want you leaving feeling cynical. I don’t want you, I want you to know some things, but I want you to be a little bit uplifted.

CHRIS: Right.

THOMAS: And I want you to have a smile on your face when you get. But I would love for you to be thinking about something. But if you have a smile on your face too, man, I’m good with that. That’s the way I wanna live, you know?

CHRIS: Right. Absolutely. Absolutely.

[smooth hip hop music break]

CHRIS: I think it would be a mistake if we didn’t talk a little bit about the sound of your podcast and the artistry of it. I mean, I think with the proliferation of podcasts over the last couple of years, listening to your podcast, you create these sound landscapes of secondary audio and b-roll audio and then music. And where did you get your style, and where does that part of your life start in terms of being able to take sounds and create these really beautiful stories, really, is what I hear when I listen?

THOMAS: Well, cool. I appreciate that. I think I’m a musical person by nature. I’m not necessarily a musician, but I’m a musical person by nature. I’ve always loved it. I used to want to be a audio producer [laughs] before I became a tech guy back in the day. Yeah. And so, yeah. So, to tell the stories and to incorporate that is something that I think I kind of always wanted to do and now have the opportunity. I’ve been trying to work on that. I think there’s been podcasts that have really encouraged that and let me know like, OK, yeah, this is doable from the storytelling stuff to the sound design. You know, whether it be like the Radiolab and Snap Judgment. Snap Judgment mainly because they have like a hip hop flavor, and that’s the flavor that I wanna bring. Shout out to the Bronx.

CHRIS: Yeah.

THOMAS: [laughs] And so, yeah, that’s just me. I don’t wanna sound like someone else because that’s hard to maintain. So, I just wanna be authentic. And so, if I’m gonna be authentic when I’m thinking, like if I’m listening to somebody tell me a story, I’m probably putting sounds on it in my head. Like my mother, a natural storyteller. And back in the day when she would tell you stories, she’d put her little sound effects in it. And so, that’s just the way she’d tell you a story! You know, “The car stopped. [makes a brakes squealing sound effect].” She’s doing the “errrr,” you know! She’s animated in there, you know. And that’s just kinda how we told stories. So, to me, when I hear someone, if I’m doing an interview and someone’s talking to me about their story, I’m usually really into it. And I might get a oh, my goodness. Oh, that’s gonna sound great. Or I know what I’m gonna do there. Or maybe it’s on the edit when I’m listening back to it, and I’m trying to figure out. But yeah, I’m always kind of thinking in that nature. And if it sounds good, man, I appreciate that. That makes me happy because that’s something I want the podcast to do. I want it to sound good, and I wanna get better at that process.

THOMAS: In terms of my podcast, I really target people who are adjusting to blindness. That was the initial thing, right? Because that was my experience. Like I said, I wanna bring that experience. I started opening up, and like I said, it’s more disability in general. But there’s always the blindness aspect because that’s who I’m thinking of. But I always try to encourage people, regardless to whether or not you’re a person with a disability, whether or not you’re a person impacted by disability, because I think people who are family members of those with disabilities should be listening to the podcast as well. But I think people in general, because we always are adapting, like I said, and adjusting throughout our lives for some reason. And these stories and these lessons from people are real. They not only have real value, but they have real lessons that can be applied to anything. And people wanna throw around people with disabilities are inspirational. Yeah, OK, whatever. But if you really mean that, then be inspired by the lessons that you can take away from their stories, not by what you think their stories are just because you heard someone’s in a wheelchair or someone….

I was talking to someone yesterday. She was like, “Yeah, they tell me I’m inspiring because I could pour water into a glass and make tea,” you know. Like that’s— [laughs] But no, listen to the stories. If you really wanna go there, if that’s what you wanna call someone, then actually get to know who that person is and what they’ve been through and not how they overcome, but how they live with the disability and how it’s probably not as bad as what you think it is, you know.

CHRIS: Well, and be inspired by what they do authentically, not what you think they’re doing.

THOMAS: Right, right.

CHRIS: I mean, that’s, you know, gosh. I mean, I can remember being with a friend of mine in high school who had muscular dystrophy, and it took him a couple minutes to get a hat on.

THOMAS: Mmhmm.

CHRIS: And I remember we were in a coffee shop, and this woman came up to him and had tears in her eyes and was like, “Boy, I just saw you put your hat on. And what a struggle, and it’s amazing.” And as a kid, I was like, that’s weird. And now I see that as a real evidence of a real social barrier between us and them. And so, it’s wonderful that you’re doing the work you do. And we’ve just, we’ve had such a great time chatting with you.

THOMAS: I appreciate you.

CHRIS: Thank you so much for spending time with us and yeah, really appreciate it.

THOMAS: Cool. Well, thank you for inviting me. I appreciate that.

JILL: Thanks for listening. Be well, keep your distance, send us your comments, questions, and your submissions for Oaklee Thiele to hello@DisArtNow.org. Please make sure to follow the My Dearest Friends project on Instagram, Facebook, and DisArtNow.org. And thanks again to the Ford Foundation for their support of this work and to cat enthusiast Cheryl Green for the transcription of this podcast episode.

Music in the episode: “Far Apart” by Causmic.