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August Men In Motion | Ahmet Ustunel

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MEN IN MOTION

Editor’s Note:

Bold Blind Beauty, home of Beyond Sight Magazine, is an empowering online community that connects blind and sighted people while eradicating misconceptions about blindness and sight loss. We’ve found that when we are open to the idea of limitless possibilities our preconceived notions dissipate. The people we feature aren’t extraordinary because they are living with sight loss, however, they’ve worked hard to adapt to a new way of living. Today, in our August Men In Motion, you’ll meet Ahmet Ustunel known as The Blind Captain. Ahmet is the first blind person to kayak solo from Asia to Europe, crossing the Bosphorous Strait. We’ve also provided a transcript of the YouTube audio below. Enjoy!

Transcript

Nasreen Bhutta:

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Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty and Beyond Sight magazine, an online community where real beauty transcends barriers. Bold Blind Beauty’s 2020 A Year Of Vision campaign also celebrates blind and visually impaired men. I am your host, Nasreen. For our August segment of Men In Motion, our featured guest is The Blind Captain himself, Ahmet Ustunel. With an adventurous spirit, he was able to kayak solo. Yes, kayak solo via the Bosphorus Strait, a 3.5-mile route. Let’s all give a warm welcome to Captain Ahmet. Hey, Ahmet.

Ahmet Ustunel:

Ahoy, everyone. This is Ahmet, The Blind Captain. Thanks for having me.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you for joining us. What inspired you to become an ocean lover and to be known as The Blind Captain?

Ahmet Ustunel:

I grew up by the ocean, so I spend a lot of time swimming, fishing, doing all sorts water activities when I was a kid. Since then, since I was very little, three, four years old, water was my favorite place, and I continue to do sports, water sports, even after I moved to US. And then I became The Blind Captain around 2018 by crossing the Bosphorus solo.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You went on a kayak, which incidentally is called or known as a smart kayak. What does that mean?

Ahmet Ustunel:

Smart kayak, when I first started thinking about it, it was a kayak that can, pretty much similar to self-driving cars. I was actually inspired by self-driving cars, seeing them around on the street in San Francisco. I thought, wow if cars can navigate around the city, densely populated and a lot of traffic, it could be much easier, it should be much easier on the water. That’s how I started. It was just an idea. I was planning to do something in the future. This was probably the early 2000s when self-driving cars were just starting. And then in 2017, there was an award given by the Lighthouse For The Blind called Holman Prize named after James Holman, which was a British Navy officer and an adventurer, a traveler. He was the most traveled person in the world at his time, and he wrote some bestsellers book. And then for some reason after a while, he was forgotten.

To honor him, Lighthouse started this award program called Holman Prize. I applied with my project and I got the Holman Prize in 2017, and then the design process started. I start putting a whole bunch of technologies together to create this smart kayak. The smart kayak, again, means a kayak with all the technologies that allow a blind person paddle solo.

Nasreen Bhutta:

First of all, I just want to backtrack a little bit here. For those who don’t know where the Bosphorus Strait is, can you share that information with us?

Ahmet Ustunel:

Bosphorus Strait is a body of water between Europe and Asia. It is located in Turkey. It’s a geographical border separating Europe and Asia. It’s a symbolic place. I did my crossing there because that’s the area I grew up around, and I used to sit around Bosphorus when I was in middle school, high school, and imagine one day I should be able to paddle, or sail, or use a fishing boat around here. I remember then, we were studying Greek mythology in high school. There was a Greek hero called King Phineas. He was blind. He used to guide sailors through Bosphorus from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Although he’s blind, he was able to do this. I was really inspired by reading those Greek mythologies because usually blindness or blind people are portrayed not as heroes, not that often.

Nasreen Bhutta:

That’s so true.

Ahmet Ustunel:

That’s why I was thinking, I will be King Phineas one day. Even if I cannot guide other sailors, I will just guide myself.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You were talking a few minutes about the smart kayak and certain technologies. Can you tell us a little bit about those certain technologies?

Ahmet Ustunel:

For an autonomous, or let’s say semi autonomous kayak or any vehicle, a couple of things are must. The first one is a navigation system. It is pretty available and simple. It is a GPS system that will tell you how to get from point A to point B. That was the first system we put together by using some satellite GPS systems and something similar to autopilot. We recorded different plots on the Bosphorus or around my training sites. It actually kind of creates a geo-fence around the route you are going to take. If you deviate from your course, it lets you know by saying, “Oh, you are five degrees off to the West, so come back to East a little bit until you get back.” It keeps warning you. It’s basically very similar to autopilot.

The other system you need is an obstacle avoidance to avoid any kind of collision on the water, which-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Absolutely.

Ahmet Ustunel:

… which we tried whole bunch of things and hacks. This is a lot more complicated and expensive area of autonomous vehicles, especially on the water. You are using a lot of sensors, which cannot be as accurate as on the land because light reflects from the water and you have a constant motion up and down with the waves. So the sensors are not very reliable. That was the hard part. The third one is also getting to know the traffic. The area I was crossing is one of the busiest water channels in the world, so there are a lot of huge tankers and freighters are coming back and forth from Black Sea to Mediterranean. It was like crossing a highway, so I need to know which freighters are coming and how long they are going to take to reach me all that stuff. And then for that, we used Marine Data System.

And so, those were the three main technologies we focused on. But depending on the area you are working or depending on the watercraft you are going to adapt, these technologies might slightly differ. But I would say the three main things you need are navigation, obstacle avoidance, and the traffic control. So-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Being completely blind, how did you train for this solo journey?

Ahmet Ustunel:

How did I train? Well, the training also had a couple of different areas I needed to train for. First of all, I need physical training to be able to cross. Well, it was not a very long distance, but it could be very choppy and it has a strong current. So even if it is not a long distance, it requires a certain physical stamina. I also need to cross it quickly without getting caught in the traffic, right?

Nasreen Bhutta:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ahmet Ustunel:

That’s why I needed some physical training. I put a goal for myself. I said, “Before the crossing, I’m going to paddle 500 miles in eight months.” I get up at 5:00 AM every Saturday, Sunday morning, I went to my training site, paddled 20, 25 miles a day. And then before the crossing, actually I exceeded my goal. I paddle about 650 miles or so. That was the easy part, physical training. Rain or shine, I get up and do my paddling, and I was in good shape. And then I also needed training with the technology because we were … remember, this technology, I didn’t have. We were developing it at the same time. Whenever we have a new software or hardware, I used to take it with me to my training site and try it on the water and give a report back to the engineers. “This works, this doesn’t work, let’s change this, let’s add this feature.” It was constantly changing. That required a lot of tech training. And also, I feel like I trained myself emotionally as well because there were a lot of ups and downs during those eight, nine months.

Well, the basic, the easiest thing was the challenge with technology. Something fails and then we say, “Oh, this doesn’t work and we don’t have that much time. We have like three months, what are we going to do? We need to find a plan B or replace this technology with something else.” And then that is the type of thing I can deal better because it was a troubleshooting issue, and I like problem solving and working on that kind of stuff. That didn’t affect me that much. But more than that, there were times people were discouraging or my project almost stopped by the Coast Guard and they didn’t allow me to do this and people were like, “Oh, why are you going to do this solo? You can just sit on a tandem kayak and paddle with a sighted person. Why are you even trying this?” That kind of stuff took more energy for me to deal with. That’s why I need to train myself also emotionally, just close my ears and not to listen to people. That was-

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Nasreen Bhutta:

It’s a good thing you didn’t listen to them.

Ahmet Ustunel:

… a hard part of the training. Yeah.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Good thing you did close your ears. I’ve been actually on a paddle boat which is kind of like a kayak, and you do have to paddle. Yeah, I could see you having to really physically train that paddle, sitting in a position in such a manner just on top of the water like that. What-

Ahmet Ustunel:

Exactly, but that was the fun part because for me, any time on the water is fine. I love it, so I didn’t regret any second of it.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Ahmet, can you share some of the challenges that you encountered during your trip?

Ahmet Ustunel:

Well, challenges, I mentioned a little bit about the challenges. Most challenges were actually easy to handle, like dealing with technology. We had a lot of trial and error with the technology because everything was new. The team working with me were all volunteers, so they were professional engineers, but they were just spending their own personal time on this. It was kind of hard to finish things quickly, so things were taking time and we were constantly changing things. But as I said, that kind of challenge was easy to handle because I like working on tech. The biggest challenge, as I said, was dealing with people and the negative ideas about the projects. The other stuff I don’t see as challenge. I capsized multiple times in the winter in 45 degree water.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Cold.

Ahmet Ustunel:

I got pneumonia. I don’t know, I got caught in 30, 35 mile wind, had to wait six hours to be able to get back to the land. All that stuff I don’t see as challenge. They were mishaps, yes. It could happen to anyone, any time. But I was prepared. I was prepared for that kind of-

Nasreen Bhutta:

Yeah, you absolutely were. One other thing I wanted to ask you is, did you have any sponsorship behind you? You keep mentioning a team. Was there any company sponsoring it?

Ahmet Ustunel:

Oh, yeah. I had a lot of sponsors. The main sponsor of course, was the Lighthouse For The Blind Holman Prize. They paid for all the equipment, expenses, and travel and all that stuff.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, great.

Ahmet Ustunel:

Other than that, I had Hobie Kayaks was one of my sponsors. The volunteer engineer team was from AT&T. Although the company didn’t sponsor the engineers, that’s organized and created a workforce group for this project. Those were the main sponsors.

Nasreen Bhutta:

A lot of folks in our community are actually still applying for Holman Prize. It seems to be a big thing each year. Let’s see what other amazing things come out of that venture from Holman Prize.

Ahmet Ustunel:

I definitely encourage anyone to apply for the next round because it’s not only gives you the opportunity to realize your dreams by sponsoring you, and also it helps you to connect with other prize winners and other people with great ideas. Now, this will be the fifth year, I think. Next year will be the fifth year. That’ll be a big group of people helping each other and giving ideas and exchanging great projects.

Nasreen Bhutta:

One quote that I absolutely love from your bio is when you’re talking about blindness as a characteristic rather than being a limitation for a person. What does this mean? Why is this important to you? Because I’ve never heard it spun like that before.

Ahmet Ustunel:

Well, this is the approach or philosophy I grew up with, I would say, learning from other blind mentors, blind people I met when I was younger. But it means briefly, we have a lot of adjectives, a lot of characteristics that define us. I am Turkish, I am blind. I am medium height, I am 40 years old, I have black hair. You know?

Nasreen Bhutta:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ahmet Ustunel:

I can count hundreds of characteristics about myself, and blindness is just one of them.

Nasreen Bhutta:

One of them, yes.

Ahmet Ustunel:

It doesn’t have to be the most important one. It doesn’t have to be a negative one. Each characteristics actually has brought negative, positive or neutral implications. But how we define it is because of the physical environment or the social prejudice, or negative perceptions, it could be negative or positive. Blindness, unfortunately, because of the prejudice and the social barriers, it could perceive as a negative characteristic, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be. So that’s why I just see it as a characteristic, not a defining underlining aspect of myself.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Who is your major influencer?

Ahmet Ustunel:

I don’t have one person I can tell I was looking up for this person. But when I was younger at around 14, 15, I start thinking about kind of like my future as a blind person, where I am and where I was, and what I’m going to do in the future. And around that time, I didn’t have really good cane skills. I was about to start high school and I was thinking, I cannot rely on my friends all the time to go places. I need to do my own thing. And then I convinced my parents to take me to this organization, a blindness organization in Turkey. I met some blind university students, blind college students. They were just ordinary blind people doing their own thing, studying and having an independent life. They had girlfriends, they were partying, they were doing cool stuff. I was like, okay, that is how I am going to be. I will just be a normal person, do normal things as a blind person. After seeing those people around 14, 15, I felt like cool, so I will be one of those people, just do ordinary stuff, regular stuff, and don’t worry about it that much. I think meeting other blind people doing ordinary things and being successful was a big influence on me. I cannot say just one person, but the event, just meeting other mentors.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Finally, if you can describe yourself in one word, what would that be?

Ahmet Ustunel:

I would say adventure. I love trying new things, being adventurous. That keeps me going. I always have a new idea and something new to try.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Captain, how can we all reach you?

Ahmet Ustunel:

All right, you guys can find me online on social media. You can check my Facebook page Ahmet, A-H-M-E-T, Blind Captain. And also my website, http://www.theblindcaptain.com. And my email, you can shoot me an email, again, my name A-H-M-E-T at theblindcaptain.com. If you guys have an idea to share or if you’re a kayaker or sailor or rower, any person who is interested in water sports and learn about the techniques or the technology, you can just shoot me an email. Yeah, hope to hear from you guys.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thanks, Ahmet, for sharing your incredible journey with us and being our man in motion for August, 2020. You can find Ahmet’s journey and so much more in Beyond Sight magazine at http://www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.

Connecting With Ahmet:

Bio:

Ahmet Ustunel AKA The Blind Captain is a Teacher of the Visually Impaired at the San Francisco Unified School District. He enjoys teaching Braille, Assistive Technology and life skills to support blind and visually impaired students in achieving their dreams. 

Originally from Turkey, Ahmet won the Holman Prize in 2017 and was the first blind person to kayak solo from Asia to Europe, crossing the Bosphorous Strait. In 2019 he founded an outdoor adventure club for the Blind in Turkey called Sports for Everyone because he believes in the power of nature and physical activity to create opportunities for Blind communities and transform public perception of blindness. 

You can read more about him and his upcoming projects at www.theblindcaptain.com.

Image Descriptions:

  1. Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. Ahmet trains for his crossing of the Bosphorus Strait. He stares ahead determinedly as a large wave on his left catches the sunlight and lifts his kayak. In the distance, a bridge connects Europe and Asia. Green trees surround the Hisar castle on the European shore. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 4 lines of black text that say “Andrew Donald The Nocturnal Archer.” In the bottom left corner is a teal circle with an illustration of a blind man in motion with his white cane and “Men In Motion” is in yellow text under the circle.
  2. Ahmet smiles as he paddles in the Bosphorus Strait of Istanbul, Turkey in a specially equipped kayak with the words “Ahmet Ustunel The Blind Captain” emblazoned on the side. He paddles the Hobie kayak with his feet resting on foot pedals that move through the water, and a traditional kayak paddle in his hands.
  3. Ahmet kayaks in Tomales Bay, USA. He smiles as he lifts his paddle and moves over calm waters. Green hills dot the landscape in the background.
  4. YouTube thumbnail is a closeup photo of a ship’s wheel with ropes, sails, water, and another boat in the background.
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CoVid-19 TOTD #7: pH levels

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HEALTH & WELLNESS

Editor’s Note:

At Bold Blind Beauty, our goal is for you to enjoy life, but be well while doing it. During #CoVid-19 we want to assist you with that, so here is our  COVID-19 #TOTD (Tip Of The Day).

CoVid-19 TOTD #6: Being Conscious

By Cheryl Minnette

We, humans, are a smart species. As we try to figure things out in order to help ourselves, sometimes we aren’t seeing the whole picture. Since COVID-19 is so new, spreading like wildfire, and we are still learning about it, it makes sense that the fear of possible death has caused many to try all sorts of things. Some have even gone as far as drinking chemically manufactured cleaners. Others are attempting to go the PH route.

The pH value of COVID-19 is between 5.5 and 8.5 

With the ph level of COVID-19 being between 5.5 and 8.5, many think changing their diet is a cure. They think that eating an alkaline diet of food with a pH higher than 8.5 will automatically produce an environment that will eradicate the virus. What many don’t realize is that our bodies are engineered very intricately. When it comes to the pH levels, the human body is designed to regulate pH levels within a very narrow range. As humans, we cannot simply flip the alkaline switch to high to change our normal pH levels. 

Your thoughts are welcome, so comment below as to whether this TOTD was helpful, what you would like to know as it relates to safety tips, and what you were able to relate to. Your insights and expressions are appreciated. 

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Two garlic bulbs sitting on a counter next to a small group of oranges.

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Smart Daring Different | Featuring Ron Klein

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INTERVIEW

Editor’s Note:

When I met Ron Klein the first thing that stood out to me was how easy he was to talk with. The fact that he has an amazing sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. Picture this: You’re on a Zoom call frantically looking for another headset because yours died. Without missing a beat Ron says “here, I’ll let you borrow mine” as he holds out his headphones towards his camera. Since I’m not as quick on my feet, for a mere millisecond I almost reached out my hand towards my monitor. And just like that, I was quite taken with Ron. At 85 years of age, I could hear the excitement in his voice when he told me he failed three times at retiring. And today, like the Energizer Bunny he still keeps going.

We have exciting news on the technology front which Ron will talk about in his interview. The transcript follows, then below that is another interview Ron recently did. Enjoy! ~Steph

Introducing The Grandfather of Possibilities

Ron Klein and Nasreen Bhutta Talk Technology

Transcript

Nasreen Bhutta:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty and our Cane EnAbled segment, which is found in Beyond Sight Magazine, which is an online community. In addition to celebrating all things related to the white cane, including safety and usage, personalization, this monthly series focuses on sharing broad perspectives from those in the field. Also parents of blind and visually impaired children, advocates, and exciting news on the technology front. Cane EnAbled is published on the fourth Monday of each month.

This month, technology will be our focus, and we are going to be featuring this month the grandfather of possibilities, Ron Klein, who is an ordinary man, but accomplishes extraordinary things. He’s a problem solver. His innovative ideas have changed the world, and he’s very well known for a great invention, which you all out there have probably seen and used many, many times. And that is the magnetic strip that’s found on the back of your credit cards. And he’s also designed and invented a few other nifty inventions out there, including a handy dandy invention for the disabled community, which is the programmable QR codes known as the ELI Technology project. And you can find and read up more about this at www.envisioneli.com. That’s E-N-V-I-S-I-O-N-E-L-i.com. So let’s give a big welcome to our featured guest this morning, Ron, how are you?

Ron Klein:

I’m fine. And thank you for that intro. That was very, very nice. And I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome. So the grandfather of possibilities, where’d that come from, Ron?

Ron Klein:

Well, a lot of it came from when I was a young boy. My grandfather was a great inventor, my mother’s father, and my dad was just a postal worker, and my mom worked in a department store. But they were very supportive, but my grandfather very early in his lifespan, he invented the steam propulsion mechanism for steam ships. And then during the first world war, he invented the torpedo detector for submarines. And then he invented the pressing machine for the tailor shops that press your clothing. And then when the television first came out, he invented the rabbit ears that sat on top of the television that were the antennas.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, wow. I think I had a pair of those, at some point.

Ron Klein:

Yeah, and he was a great inspiration to me, and he was my mentor. I stayed by him all the time, and I loved him. So I followed him, and I guess most of my talent came through him.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you have these programmable QR code in the ELI technology. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about this?

Ron Klein:

Well, actually I did invent the magnetic strip on the credit card, and during my younger years, I developed the MLS, multiple listing for real estate, and voice response for the banking. And then I automated the New York Stock Exchange and created the bond trading system. And then as I got older in my years, I have a great interest, I always had a great interest to help the blind. And I happened to have an impediment myself where I’m partially blind. So I was having breakfast with one of my people one day and I asked what was on their wishlist. And they said, “It would be great if you could come up with something that would be simple, that could help us identify everything we come in contact within our daily lives.”

And I thought about that for a few weeks. And I was very familiar with the QR code, which really wasn’t used to the ultimate, and I figured if I can do a little modification there and write an app, a free app that could be used on a cell phone that everybody carries around, and it’s so prevalent with blind too because they use it for so many things. And the little programmable QR code would be programmable to the point where you don’t have to throw it away. You can change what it says. So let’s say if you take a little code, it’s the size of your thumbnail, and it’s an adhesive, little adhesive book that I make, and you pull one out and paste it on your medication, the things that you keep in your pantry, your peanut butter, your jelly, and you always put it in the same place and then put your finger on top of the code. Then put the camera portion of your cell phone on top of your finger, slide your finger away slightly, and then start raising the phone.

It actually beeps on the QR code and you can tell it what it is. For instance, once you bring your medication home from the drug store, you can say, “This is my heart medication,” and the date that I ordered it. And now every time you turn your cell phone on and sweep it through your medicine chest, you’re not going to take your aspirins instead of your heart medication or your other medications because it’ll tell you what it is. And then the nice thing is, as it gets close to expiration, you can go back and change the code for that. And say, “By the way, this has to be reordered in 30 days because it expires,” anything to that point. So it’s very, very helpful. It can help you identify your clothes, what’s on your hanger, your CDs, your peanut butter jar from your jelly jar.

And what’s so nice about it is that once you download the free app, you never need the internet again. So it’s not internet sensitive. It’s just the iPhone or the Android phone and the little labels. And we were providing the little labels in a little package that you can carry in your purse or your pocket. And you just peel one off, paste it in a familiar spot where you always know you’re going to look, and that’s how it works. For instance, if you’re going to identify your books, it’ll be on the front cover in the upper left hand corner, and you know that’s where it’s going to be. You feel the label, put your phone on top of your finger, pull your finger away, just raise it, and it tells you what it is. And it’s always in your language because it’s in your voice. So that was the latest ELI invention. And then it carries on further than that. I hope I wasn’t too wordy.

Nasreen Bhutta:

No, that’s fantastic. I think our listeners will really get a good, really deep dive into this technology and to kind of understand how to use it. And I love how you explained the day to day.

Ron Klein:

I have a suggestion, Nasreen. If they go on the website and click on where it says low vision or low vision tab, there’s actually a point that you can download the app, the free app on your phone. By the way, the logo for the free app is a green ‘eye’ with the braille characters inside of it that say ELI, E-L-I. So you know you’ve got the right one.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Oh, fantastic. Fantastic.

Ron Klein:

Then once they download the free app, on that same website is a sample label and they can just use that label to record and try it and play with it. And it’s great. So there’s a perfect example. What I feel is so important is how people should constantly be smart, daring, and different. And being smart means not a PhD from Harvard. It means pay attention, learn something new every day, listen to everyone and filter that out and use that as knowledge. And then to be daring, don’t be afraid to make mistakes because if you painted something the wrong color the first time, paint it a different color. And then the last thing, whatever you do must provide a benefit. And if it doesn’t provide a benefit, it’s no more than a hobby. So I’d like to leave them with that message. And also I’d like to inspire them that at 85, I’m a senior Olympian, senior Olympian in cycling, and I did take the gold medal in the Sarasota County Olympics.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Wow, Ron. Those are some amazing words of wisdom for our listeners. I mean, hats off to you and kudos, being so sharp and still going at it at 85. I wish for all of us to kind of be at that sort of longevity and strive when we’re at your age. So I love those words of wisdom. Thanks so much, Ron, for being here with us today and sharing of yourself and your technology with us today. If you want to learn more about Ron and his segments, you can find this feature and many other great articles and innovative information. You can visit the Cane EnAbled page in the Beyond Sight Community at boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening, everyone.

Innovative Problem Solver

TEMA TALK: Let’s Get Inventive – Guest Ron Klein

Connecting With Ron:

Featured Image Description:

  • Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. A headshot of Ron is on the cover, he is wearing a jacket over a light shirt. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 2 lines of black text that say “The Blind Guide.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby Bold Blind Beauty’s fashion icon who is walking with her white cane in one hand and handbag in the other. She is wearing heels and a stylish dress made of panels resembling overlapping banana leaves. The dress panels gently curve from her nipped-in waist to just above the knee. She’s also sporting her signature explosive hairstyle and “Cane EnAbled” is in yellow text under the circle.
  • A clear light bulb with two green leaves inside representing innovation.
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Celebrate #ADA30 July 26, 2020

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ADVOCACY

Editor’s Note:

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. Every year at this time I recommend a moving PBS documentary about the Disability Rights Movement called “Lives Worth Living.” This year I’m adding Crip Camp, another film that highlights the disability revolution.

Americans With Disability Act Turns 30 Today

While I am not a sociologist I am an empathic person who respects humanity and believes in doing the right thing. Being born into a couple of marginalized groups allowed me to become uncomfortably familiar with discrimination and exclusion. Even so, because I value human life and deeply appreciate diversity, I refused to allow my circumstances to define who I am. Then later in life, I acquired a disability.

Living with a disability is a life-altering uniquely personalized situation that’s been physically and emotionally draining. Adding to this heaviness, confronting an additional layer of discrimination makes day to day life even more uncertain. Losing my independence has been frustrating and enlightening.

Because of my background, I’ve always known that the world we live in isn’t fair or equitable for everyone. As complex as we are as humans, no one can possibly understand what it’s like to live in the body of another person. Even so, our need to classify everything including people, makes it more difficult for us to see our commonalities. The further we drill down these classifications the lesser the value of those belonging to certain groups like, for instance, people with disabilities.

An Ugly History

Here in the United States, it was against the law to be in public spaces if you were “diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object.” As unbelievable as it might seem “The Ugly Laws” as they came to be known in 1975, were enacted in the late 1860s. These ‘laws‘ encompassed the “poor, the homeless, vagrants, and those with visible disabilities.”

Eugenics, also known as a movement to improve the human race, was a process where people who met certain criteria were sterilized to prevent them from reproducing. The laws were put in place by our government and/or the people who thought they were superior to everyone else.

The Fight For Disability Rights Continues

I think the difference between those who fight for social justice and those who are against it is our view on humanity. People who respect differences and are open to accepting others as they are with empathy understand that “life,” no matter who it belongs to, matters. Even the elitists have no more or less value than those whom they deem less than.

“Around 15 percent of the world’s population, or estimated 1 billion people, live with disabilities. They are the world’s largest minority.”* The thing that sets our community apart from other minority groups is we are wholly inclusive. Anyone at any age, social status, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc. can become a member at any point in their lives. What’s sad is some of us take the stance that disability rights are ‘not our problem,’ that is until we become disabled. However, being ‘temporarily-abled’ as the majority of us are, makes it our problem.

People with disabilities share many of the same characteristics of our temporarily-abled counterparts, we simply do things a little differently. We’ve come a long way since the ADA became law however the fight for Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation continues.

*Resource: Fact Sheet on Persons with Disabilities

Disability Rights Are Human Rights

So what can you do to become part of the movement?

  • Empathize: I think the most important thing any of us can do, is to check our assumptions at the door. It’s wrong to assume people with disabilities have no value or worse yet, no skills or aspirations.
  • Educate: Increase your understanding of the wide range of disabilities and become more culturally aware and sensitive to the needs of the community. Not every disability is hidden and each person’s story is unique.
  • Embrace: Opening your world to include people with disabilities by volunteering for organizations that support the disability community is a win-win. The organization and the people it supports will benefit from the gift of your time. You will increase your knowledge and build relationships with people who will expand your heart.
  • Respect: No one, wants to be reduced. It’s hard enough being human, so let’s eliminate this idea that disability equals deficit. Learning to appreciate differences and accepting people where they are is at the heart of humanity. If you subscribe to the idea that humanity is imperfect, respecting differences can begin with embracing our own flaws. After all, we are all human.

Let’s continue to strive for inclusivity in all areas of life. Hopefully, there will come a time when we fully embrace our differences without condescension. Until then, celebrate Celebrate #ADA30 with me. What other ways can you think of to impact the disability movement?

Image Description:

Graffiti: the word “ACT” is vertical colored letters that spell out “Action Changes Things” on a black brick wall.