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Bold Blind Beauty, A.I.R. & Abby Reveal

White man with swoopy hair under a headset wears a Aille black T-shirt and speaks into a mic in a recording studio.

Bold Blind Beauty, A.I.R. & Abby Reveal

Contents

“Stephanae McCoy discusses how and why she created Bold Blind Beauty – and we learn about A.I.R. and even more Abby secrets” 

~Roy Samuelson, Audio Description Network Alliance

Editor’s Note:

The only thing better than connecting with people is collaborating with them. Following is an ADNA (Audio Description Network Alliance) podcast interview between Roy Samuelson and me.

During the podcast we dive a little deeper into my sight loss story and what it was like transitioning from a successful sighted person to my adjustment to blindness. When you have a moment please check out the amazing interviews on the ADNA Podcast Series. Below the audio player is the transcript of the conversation. Enjoy! ~Steph

Audio

Stephanae McCoy discusses how & why she created Bold Blind Beauty – we learn about A.I.R. & even more Abby secrets

Welcome

Roy Samuelson: Welcome to The ADNA Presents. Today we have a very special guest, Stephanae McCoy. She is the founder of Bold Blind Beauty. One of the things that I love talking about with audio description is how the implications of what we’re doing in all these interviews have an implication in other areas and industries and in a recent conversation I had with Stephanae, she had well, let’s introduce her. So founder of Bold Blind Beauty, Stephanae McCoy. Thanks for joining us Steph.

Steph: Hey Roy. It is so great to be here with you. I’m so excited.

Love Of Bold Blind Beauty

Collage of BBB Featured Guests: A photo grid of 7 featured Bold Blind Beauty guests and the 8th photo is a group picture of Steph at the Daring To Own Your StoryTM in 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Collage of BBB Featured Guests

Roy: Yeah, mutual honor then. <Laugh> well, usually the first question I ask is what you love about audio description, but I think in this context, I’d love to ask you, and I’m putting you on the spot here. What you love about Bold Blind Beauty?

Steph: Oh my God. But what I love about Bold Blind Beauty is really just the connection with all of the people that I have met from all over the world and being able to share a message of, of Access, Inclusion, and Representation, and doing it in such a way that it is inclusive of everyone. So it’s not just like Bold Blind Beauty is talking to just blind people or, you know, just sighted people to build awareness or just disabled people. But everyone, the message is a global message that’s applicable to everyone, young, old male, female just everyone.

What Is A.I.R.?

Access - Access begins with a heart and mind intention. Access to basic human rights like food, education, employment, healthcare, housing, technology, and transportation is not a given for everyone. Being denied access to basic human rights is demeaning. Denying access as a means to exact control is inhumane. While universal design can address many access issues we need to work together to ensure equity for all.
Inclusion - Acceptance from Boardroom to Entry Level & Throughout. To create an inclusive culture meaningful steps must be taken to fully welcome blind people in all businesses, concepts, and social engagements. True inclusion begins with appreciating differences and embracing people where they are as they are—this is the heart of humanity.
Representation - As members of our multi-cultural society all of us want to be valued, to be seen, and heard. Those of us who are considered different, because have a disability, matter. We desire and deserve authentic representation in business, politics, arts, media, pop culture, sports, law enforcement, military, etc. When we see positive reflections of ourselves modeled through others the possibilities of what can be achieved are endless.
A.I.R.

Roy: I love how you start by speaking about connection. That’s something that means a lot to me personally and professionally when it comes to my career. And also to me personally, that connection has been a fuel to me and your acronym. Excuse me, your acronym is A.I.R. You said out the gate Access, Inclusion and Representation that stands for A.I.R. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how it relates to Bold Blind Beauty?

Steph: A.I.R. matters because I use this tagline when I introduce the podcast, Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Everyone on a planet needs air to survive people with disabilities, not only need A.I.R. to survive, but also to thrive and A.I.R. in this case represents Access, Inclusion, and Representation. At a recent event where I was asked to speak about inclusion in a workplace, I talked about A.I.R. and I spelled out what each of the words meant to me on a personal level, but more so on why it’s important to hire people with disabilities. And I think that what I said in my speech was that it has to be an intentional process. It has to be meaningful and it has to begin from the boardroom to entry level and throughout, and it’s not just in the workplace, but when you think about it more broadly, even in life in general, when we, when we look to our leaders, everybody follows leaders hopefully good leaders, but when we look to our leaders to help to guide us in whatever way that might be leaders possess strength, they possess wisdom.

They possess all of these things that we look up to them for, however, in a disability community or in the community broadly in the world, people with disabilities are left out of that. And we have to ask ourselves, why is that? Because we do have value. We, we are worthy and there are so many amazing people with disabilities who are in higher levels. We don’t hear a lot about them, but we need to shine a light on these people to let the world at large, understand that people with disabilities do have an awful lot to bring to the table. And especially, you know, people who are blind or have low vision because on a disability perspective, people who are on a blindness spectrum, we’re sort of a small minority within the disability community.

Life Before Sight Loss

Successful black business woman working with a digital tablet in a modern office.
Business Woman

Roy: This ties in so clearly to your mission, the the intentional and meaningfulness of, of hiring people with disabilities and also beyond the workplace, as you had said to guide us, you’re using bold blind beauty to guide all of us. And recently I was visiting your bold blind beauty.com website. And on the about us page you shared a message. And if I could share the photo is so strong of you at this podium, just speaking so clearly that you are leading this within bold blind beauty. And one of the things that I read about, and I, I ask you if you’re comfortable to expand a little bit, is that you talk about your sight loss and both personally and career wise, and how that has affected you and also affected the creation of Bold Blind Beauty. Can we talk a little bit about your, your life prior to sight loss and also, and how Bold Blind Beauty was founded?

Steph: Sure. I would love to do that. Thank you so much for asking that question and really for pulling that out of me, because I think, you know, when we’re in our lives, you know, we’re living, we’re in our lives, we’re walking in our shoes. We’re just doing we’re just going through the process of living whatever life that we’ve created. Right. And we sort of forget sometimes I think during that process, how we may have gotten through certain things. So, you know, there’s a lot about my sight loss when I was going through it that, you know, years down the road, after that, that I forgot about, and I forgot about those feelings. And when you began asking me those questions, it was like, wow, I, I had totally forgot that. That’s how deeply I felt about that. You know, before I lost my sight, I really had it going on.

You know I had bought my first house. I had gotten remarried. I was planning, we, we were planning, we were in the process of renovating our home. I had a really nice promotion at the big four accounting firm that I worked for. And, you know, life was just looking so grand. And I just couldn’t imagine I wasn’t prepared for what was coming down the pike, you know, when I began losing my sight. And as a matter of fact, thinking back to that moment, when my first eye went, it was quite sudden, I took out one of my contacts looked in the mirror and half of my face was gone. And in that moment, I didn’t even think it was my eyesight. I thought it was medication that I had taken. So it just goes to show, I think in retrospect, you know, how I think and my thought process.

So sort of a learning thing for me, but when you asked me, you know, how I felt and what was that transition like going from, you know, sighted person, successful person to someone now who is dealing with this sight loss and what that felt like it was illuminating to me because based upon what I knew about blindness, I thought that, you know, I was going to lose my job. I thought that I wasn’t gonna be able to, you know, obviously drive, I wouldn’t be able, all I thought about was all the things I wouldn’t be able to do, because again, I’m going on what I knew my preconceived notions about blindness and what that meant to me. And I’ve talked about this before in, you know, other forms. I had to come face to face with my biases about blindness. And it was a very sobering moment for me.

When I was in it at that time, I didn’t think that I had those biases. I really didn’t, but afterwards I know that I did. And that was something that I had to come to terms with. And I think, I think I know that that was one of the main reasons why I created Bold Blind Beauty. I created it. It was cathartic for me personally. I wanted to share my story, but I also wanted to help other people to understand that we all have these unconscious biases that obviously we don’t know we have them because they’re unconscious, but then something will happen in our lives to make us aware of it. And then we have to do something about it. And for me doing something about it was creating Bold Blind Beauty.

Getting Vulnerable

Isolation - Woman sitting in a darkened room next to a window with her arms wrapped around her bent legs and her face resting on her knees.
Isolation

Roy: Thanks for that. It sounds like the feelings that you had talked about it, it sounds very and I’m sure I’ve, I’ve read this in or heard this from one of your one of your times at the podium something, the feelings of isolation that there was fear. There, there was a lot of overwhelmed that stopped things that were in, in their place. And I don’t, like you said, you don’t wanna focus on it, but it’s like, that was a part of it because of It was real.

Steph:Yeah. It, was very real and it was something that I would have these anxiety attacks, these panic attacks, because this was something I had no control over everything I looked at because I had residual sight, some residual sight. And then that’s what people don’t understand. Blindness is not seeing or not seeing it is a spectrum. And I was in sort of the middle of that spectrum at the time that I began losing my sight. So everything I looked at was distorted. It, I couldn’t trust what I was seeing. And to give you an example of that this morning, when I walk my dog I’m walking her and I happen to look up on the hillside. And I noticed what I thought was a person walking on the hill. And during this type of the, this time of the morning, I typically don’t see that. So as we got closer, the person that I thought was walking actually ended up being a flag that was on one of the parked vehicles.

Roy: Mm mm-hmm.

Steph: <Affirmative> my eyes translated that flag to a moving person. And that’s you know, just an example, one example of how my brain translates, some of the things that I see. So when I was in the early stages of my sight loss, I was fearful all the time, 24 7, just fearful. And I was also fearful of losing even that, you know, distortion that I had, it was like, how am I going to function? If I can see nothing, if it’s this bad, seeing what I’m seeing, what’s that gonna look like if I can see nothing?

Roy: Thanks for sharing that.

Steph: Yeah. <laugh>

Sight Loss, Family & Friends

Sight-Saving Avengers - A large group of family and friends on my team for the Foundation Fighting Blindness Pittsburgh Vision Walk.
Sight-Saving Avengers

Roy: The things that are coming out here is that you are from my perspective both personally and professionally someone that is very incredibly thoughtful that when it comes to the biases, that you’ve mentioned that those are removed when it comes to talking and I’ve seen you talk with others as well, that this is just a part of you, that you are that empowered leader. And you always have been that this, this is very front and center in bold, blind beauty, if I could ask. And I hope you see where I’m leading with this question. I don’t wanna focus on the negative here, but during your initial experience of sight loss, I was wondering about your family and friends and, and their experience and, and what was there for you and and how that relates to Bold Blind Beauty. If we can, if we can talk about that?

Steph:Sure. and thank you for asking that question. The isolation that you mentioned a little bit ago before I answered the last question, that was something that was front and center for me, even though I was among family and friends. Because during that time <laugh>, I didn’t do so well being alone, even though I’m a, a loner, I just didn’t do so well being alone because I was just so afraid. I had these people that were around me, you know, at home and at work, friends and family, they all cared about me, but none of them could understand what I was going through because, you know, this was something that none of them had ever experienced. You know, they all expressed just being, you know, how sorry they felt that, you know, I was experiencing this, but I couldn’t even, it was so bad.

I couldn’t even explain to them. I couldn’t properly articulate what I was feeling. There was a gentleman at work. One of my managers who was legally blind and I worked for him for, gosh, I wanna say what six, seven years or something before I got my promotion. And you know, I knew that he was legally blind. We never talked about it because he always just came in, did his job and, you know, go home just like everybody else. So when I started going through my sight loss and I had all these people around me, I just, I felt sort of almost otherworldly. Like I didn’t fit in anymore. I didn’t understand my place in the world. And I couldn’t even talk with him about it. Somebody who I thought might understand, I just, wasn’t sure how to go about doing that.

One of the things that I did was I tried to look for a support group. I found none. I, I needed therapy. I tried to find somebody who was blind or had low vision as a therapist. There weren’t any in my area. So I had to go to someone who was cited and she was good. She helped me, but I still felt like I wanted somebody that I could relate to or who could relate to me in my experience. And I did find it eventually. I found a group, which is a sort of subsidiary of the American council, the blind here in Pittsburgh local group. And it was through, you know, joining that group and really fully immersing myself in the blindness community. That was when I had this turnaround. And I realized looking at these amazing professionals that not only could I continue to survive without seeing I could thrive and that my life wasn’t over, that was such a huge turning point for me. And it actually improved my relationships with the friends and family who, you know, before I wasn’t able to articulate, you know, what was going on with me and what I was feeling, I was able to do that because it was like I found my tribe.

The Bold Blind Beauty Connection

The greatest challenges we face, and this is again from boldblindbeauty.com, the greatest challenges we face as blind people are the stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness. With the appropriate tools, training, and resources we can live extremely productive and abundant lives.
Quote

Roy: Mm mm-hmm <affirmative> I could hear the smile in your voice, as you said, my life isn’t over. I could hear you say that subtext of connection, that those relationships were improved. Even my, if I could be stretching maybe even stronger than they were prior to your site loss, that here’s a quote from your, your website. That seems relevant to what we’re talking about here. The greatest challenges we face, and this is again from boldblindbeauty.com, the greatest challenges we face as blind people are the stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness. With the appropriate tools, training, and resources we can live extremely productive and abundant lives. What I’m hearing throughout your own personal journey and story that you’re you of how you’ve grown, Bold Blind Beauty. It is about that connection.

It isn’t about eventually finding it. It is a website that you could go to right now and experience these connections and show through lived lives, both your own, and the people that you interview on your, on your blog, on your, on your podcast and all these articles that, okay. Let’s, let’s talk. I’m sorry I’m jumping around so much Steph. <Laugh>, let’s talk. It’s okay. Like you have published somewhere on your website, the numbers that you’ve, that you’ve got for hits. Can you talk about that or, or is that I know it’s probably not top of mind here? <Laugh>

Steph: It’s like 200 some thousand. Yeah.

Roy: Okay. So 200,000 people have been to your website. I think you’ve tapped into something here. <Laugh> I think people what’s that like, I mean, to go from the experience of all of these, these challenges of let’s let’s call ’em connection challenges, the lack, excuse me, the lack of air, the lack of accessibility, the lack of your acronym A.I.R. is such a cornerstone of what Bold Blind Beauty for, and obviously you’ve tapped into something here. What’s that like?

Steph: Yeah. It’s, it’s just phenomenal. You know, especially when I get messages from people that say, you know, I found you on whatever social media platform they’re on, I’m more active on Instagram, but, you know, people have found me through the website, they found me on LinkedIn. Maybe they heard me on a panel session or something and they reach out to me and they’re like, you know, I heard you, you know, talk at you know, whatever it was. And gosh, you know, I can so relate to some of the things that you were saying. And, you know, I had no idea that I could continue to do some of the things that I love to do and even expand, you know, my life could even be more expansive than what I ever thought it could be, you know, living with site laws.

And it just, every time I get one of those messages, my heart just feels like it’s gonna burst. You know? And I, I tell people one of the things that I suggest to people when they ask me you know, what tips would I offer for you know, going on how to keep going. I keep a folder called, do not quit. And in that folder are messages that I receive from people that remind me of my, why, you know, the messages of, of people who tell me, you know, I didn’t wanna use that white cane. I hated that white cane <laugh>, you know, but now that I found you and you know, connect it with your community and I see all these other amazing, you know, blind people, you know, fully embracing themselves, wholly embracing themselves and using their white canes and not looking at it as a, a hindrance or I’m trying to think of another word for it.

It’s not coming to mind right now, but using it as what it is a tool to help you navigate the world. That is powerful. You know, we don’t look at eyeglasses like, oh my God, these are just, well, some people might <laugh>, you know, they’re just awful Uhhuh. <Affirmative>, you know, eyeglasses are an accepted form of, you know, a, a tool that can help people to see better. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> same thing with the white cane. It helps us to navigate the world safely. You know, we don’t have to worry about what’s beyond the cane, you know, as long as you know, I had that cane right in front of me leading the way I don’t have to worry about what’s beyond it, because it’s gonna tell me when there’s a barrier there.

The Abby Easter Egg

Abi + Gale = Abigale is Bold Blind Beauty's brand icon. Abby, 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.
Abi + Gale = Abigale

Roy: Very cool. Thank you for that. When it comes to my experience with bold blind beauty, it is beyond the website. I’ve got a coffee mug that has a cane on it. It’s got Abby <laugh> on it. Yeah. So Abby is well would you introduce us to Abby who’s Abby who’s Abby?

Steph: Sure, sure. Abby, is a figment of my imagination. <Laugh> I actually had put out a post requesting designers to creat her for me and this one designer. I never met her in person. We worked virtually she’s from Philadelphia. She sent me several samples and the one I chose is the one that’s on the website. And she’s just fabulous. You know, she’s stylish. She knows how to dress. She wears heels. She, she carries color canes or blinged out canes. She’s confident. She’s beautiful. She’s intelligent. And she lives her life without limits. You know, she believes that anything is possible. Her name, even her name is significant because the, the full spelling of her name, her name is Abigail, but it’s not spelled the regular way you spell it. It’s A-B-I-G-A-L-E ‘Abi’ is short for abilities.

And Gale G-A-L-E is short for the Nightingale bird. The Nightingale bird is just a, a small brown ordinary bird. When you look at it, you would think nothing of it it’s, there’s nothing spectacular about it, but the moment that bird sings, Ooh, <laugh>, it has a beautiful voice. <Laugh> so, you know, things aren’t always what they might appear to be. And I think that’s what bold blind beauty really represents. That’s why our mission improving humanity by changing the way we perceive one another is so broad because we can’t just, you know, meet a person or look at a person and think that we know their whole story. We just can’t. There’s so much breadth and depth to people. If we just give ourselves a chance to get to know them and listen to them. So stop, listen and learn that I think is what really connects us and broadens our horizons and talk about inclusion. I can think of no better way than to be inclusive than to do just that to stop, listen, and learn.

Final Thoughts

Roy: Wow. <Laugh> there is, there is so much here. Thank you for this. The stop, listen and learn. I’m I’m soaking in it. And I gotta say no idea about Abby’s name. I feel like we just uncovered this delicious Easter egg. Like we just saw like the, the director’s cut of something that we all just are. Oh my gosh. Did you hear, did you hear what Stephanae said about Abby stands <laugh> abilities and Nightingale bird listen to <laugh> it’s like, this is so great. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience?

Steph: Oh gosh. Just one thing?

Roy: <Laugh> Sure.

Steph: <Laugh>, you know, I’ve lived my life believing that anything is possible. I really have, however, when I began losing my sight, that stumped me, it really did. And for a moment, I thought it was gonna take me out of action. But once I stopped, listened and learned my life opened up, you know, I said on my, my website that, you know, my site loss, it, us, it, it was hard. It was, but since losing my sight, my clarity has increased exponentially. And for this I’m so grateful.

Finding Bold Blind Beauty

Roy: Oh, thank you. Thank you for sharing all of this. How can we follow you? You mentioned Instagram. The website?

Steph: Yes. Okay. So <laugh> Instagram, the website, Facebook, YouTube, and our podcast, Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R., which can be found on YouTube and on any of your favorite podcast platforms, Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. All of our other socials are Bold Blind Beauty.

Roy: Thanks for that. And again, the podcast name itself, bold blind beauty on air. There’s that acronym air coming in again, you’re so playful with language. It’s like, there’s so many, the, these kind of discoveries are just so delightful and they’re, they’re sprinkled throughout your, your content. And it’s, it’s so exciting to stumble on them and, and to see how you weave it in and, and tell this story of, of inclusion. And this is just great. I’m so glad to have interviewed you. Thank you for your time here. Step.

Steph: Thank you for the interview, Roy, it’s always a joy talking with you.

Finding The ADNA

Like what you’ve read and want to chat about it? Join us in the Bold Blind Beauty Facebook group.

Image descriptions:

  • The header is a photo of Roy Samuelson a white man with swoopy hair under a headset wears a Aille black T-shirt and speaks into a mic in a recording studio.
  • Collage of BBB Featured Guests: A photo grid of 7 featured Bold Blind Beauty guests and the 8th photo is a group picture of Steph at the Daring To Own Your StoryTM in 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • A.I.R. text slide that describes:
    • Access – Access begins with a heart and mind intention. Access to basic human rights like food, education, employment, healthcare, housing, technology, and transportation is not a given for everyone. Being denied access to basic human rights is demeaning. Denying access as a means to exact control is inhumane. While universal design can address many access issues we need to work together to ensure equity for all.
    • Inclusion – Acceptance from Boardroom to Entry Level & Throughout. To create an inclusive culture meaningful steps must be taken to fully welcome blind people in all businesses, concepts, and social engagements. True inclusion begins with appreciating differences and embracing people where they are as they are—this is the heart of humanity.
    • Representation – As members of our multi-cultural society all of us want to be valued, to be seen, and heard. Those of us who are considered different, because have a disability, matter. We desire and deserve authentic representation in business, politics, arts, media, pop culture, sports, law enforcement, military, etc. When we see positive reflections of ourselves modeled through others the possibilities of what can be achieved are endless.
  • Business Woman – Successful black business woman working with a digital tablet in a modern office.
  • Isolation – Woman sitting in a darkened room next to a window with her arms wrapped around her bent legs and her face resting on her knees.
  • Sight-Saving Avengers – A large group of family and friends on my team for the Foundation Fighting Blindness Pittsburgh Vision Walk.
  • Quote – The greatest challenges we face, and this is again from boldblindbeauty.com, the greatest challenges we face as blind people are the stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness. With the appropriate tools, training, and resources we can live extremely productive and abundant lives.
  • Abigale – Abi + Gale = Abigale is Bold Blind Beauty’s brand icon. Abby, 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.
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