that 70% of the web is inaccessible to people who are blind or visually impaired?
Today May 21st, 2020 marks the 9th annual celebration ofGlobal Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). GAAD started with a single blog post written by a Los Angeles-based web developer, Joe Devon, and Jennison Asuncion, an accessibility professional from Toronto. This accessibility holiday is a global event that helps drive awareness for those who are new to accessibility.*
Each year, more than 800 scholarships are awarded to Texas students by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™. As one of the largest scholarship providers in the U.S., the Rodeo has presented more than 19,000 scholarships valued at $230 million since 1957. Currently, more than 2,300 students are on Rodeo scholarships, attending more than 80 different Texas colleges and universities. The value of these scholarships is more than $50 million.
Last week I returned home from a week-long trip to Houston, TX to experience the World Championship BBQCook-Off (WCBBQ). What made this event so special is how it came into existence 5 years ago through the vision of Advocate Extraordinaire Chelsea Nguyen.
A Little Background
My friend and business partner, Chelsea, is a professional stylist, makeup artist, bilingual educator, and business owner. Her involvement in the blind, visually impaired (B&VI) and the disabled community began with her volunteer work with Sight Into Soundin 2011. Chelsea’s company,CN Vision Image Consulting, offers one-on-one as well as group training that empowers B&VI or disabled individuals. With her client’s independence and self-confidence in mind, Chelsea provides them with the adaptive visual and non-visual life skills needed to enhance their lives. In addition to being an advocate for equal employment opportunities for the B&VI and Disabled Community Chelsea also serves on several boards:
Chelsea’s passion for the inclusion and accessibility of people with disabilities (PWDs) is extraordinary. This drive prompted her to connect with the WCBBQ Publicity Committee to strategize ways to enable PWDs and B&VI people to enjoy the event. As an invited guest I was able to do the pre-tour walk-through with Chelsea and Scott Arthur a Publicity Committee Volunteer who helps with Media Relations.
The day before the tour Chelsea and I were greeted by Scott, our golf cart-riding escort. Can I stop here a sec and say how giddy I was to ride on a golf cart for the first time? What can I say? I led a sheltered life. Anyhoo, I thought I understood how big the WCBBQ was gonna be but I.WAS.WRONG! Scott gave me a little history:
2020 is the 47th year of the WCBBQ
This particular cook-off is one of the largest in the world
Money raised for the WCBBQ provides higher education scholarships for Texas students
There are over 1,100 volunteers
Over 250 teams compete
It takes about a week to build the pop-up tent city and 1 day to tear it down in preparation for the rodeo
The number of attendees is staggering and the event is similar to Mardi Gras
I can’t remember how many international teams there were but I do remember the Australian team. I could have listened to them talk for days.
The first stop after leaving the parking lot was the Volunteer’s Committee tent for lunch. Only volunteers and invited guests with wrist bands were cleared by security and allowed entry. The tent was massive and filled with tables, chairs, full bar, a stage for live entertainment, cafeteria-style setup offering (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), an all-day al la carte station that served hot dogs and such. Then they even had an outdoor courtyard with fancy facilities, not your average porta-potties.
After lunch, we visited 6 team’s tents to discuss logistics with the pit bosses in preparation for the next day. While we made good time riding in a golf cart, I didn’t realize the walking distance until the actual tour.
It’s Go Time
The day of the WCBBQ was absolutely beautiful with temperatures rising near the 80s. Chelsea and I got an early start donned our cowgirl gear, packed equipment and headed to the meeting spot. We met up with the other invited guests then boarded shuttles to take us to the BBQ tour grounds.
Once we arrived on the grounds, we were taken to United Airlines’ tent for lunch. United kindly hosted our group for a tasty meal of brisket, sausage, hot potato salad, baked beans and more. During lunch, we were paired with volunteers to serve as sighted guides and audio describers. After we were done eating the United team took us on a tour of their tent which included a large Boeing 777 replica grill. Before our next stop, we had a photo op in front of United where we took turns sitting on a saddled wooden horse.
During our walks to each subsequent tent, Chelsea and the volunteers described everything along the way. A full sensory experience, it was wonderful to participate in an event that appealed to smells, tastes, touch, and sound. Each of the hosts was also extremely kind and accomodating to our group as they explained their particular barbeque technique. Aside from the care put into the event, what touched me the most about it were comments from fellow attendees. “I wasn’t expecting all of this,” said one person. “This is so much fun,” and “I’m so glad I came because it exceeded my expectations,” said others.
Since a few of us stayed after the tour we said our goodbyes to those who boarded the shuttles to go home.
Did I Mention Mardi Gras AKA The Carnival?
So Chelsea told me there was a carnival after the tour and I should have known it’d be HUGE but again I was surprised. After all, they say “everything’s bigger in Texas” and it’s absolutely true. This carnival was like a full-fledged amusement park back home in Pittsburgh and did I mention all the people? It was so crowded for a heartbeat I thought I’d have a panic attack.
The highlight of the night for me was when I got to see a real-life mechanical bull. And yes, I even thought I might give it a go but there was a problem. If I were bold enough to ride the bull my cowgirl hat along with my wig would have flown off. Then there was the possibility of my body becoming a mangled mess cause I wouldn’t have lasted more than a second.🤣 But wow, it looked like a blast!
When In Rome…
When in Texas and especially when attending a huge shindig like the WCBBQ, western gear is a fashion essential. With this in mind, I ordered cowgirl boots online and broke them in prior to leaving for Houston. The day before the event Chelsea and I went thrifting and we couldn’t believe our great fortune. Our color palettes ended up being black and orange for Chelsea and for me, it was blue and beige. Chelsea snagged boots, top, vest, and a crossbody bag. Meanwhile, I scored a super cheap cowgirl hat, blinged-out belt, cross-body bag, and a gorgeous leather vest. Pairing these items with my jeans, chambray shirt, accessories, and boots, I felt fabulous.
Being a minimalist serves me well especially when traveling as I wear the biggest items that otherwise would take up space. So just in case, you were wondering how I got my boots to Houston, the answer is I wore them. Likewise, when flying home I wore the entire outfit because I didn’t want to crush my hat and vest.
My entire trip was so magnificent and I can barely wait to share some of the other things I did while in Houston. For now though I’ll be seein’ ya.
Beauty Buzz Header Image: Background on the header is half black and half white. The words “Beauty” and “Buzz” are white on black and black on white text. At the end of the word, “Buzz” is a colorful bumblebee.
5 Sense Tour Gang: 5 Sense Tour attendees, volunteers, and United Airlines Team are standing behind a wooden fence and in front of the 777 replica grill. A wagon wheel and the saddled wooden horse are in the foreground.
Houston Chronicle Newspaper Clipping: Photo of Brandon Munoz and Chelsea with a caption that says “Brandon Munoz of Missouri City feels an African sable head with Chelsea Nguyen, an advocate for the visually impaired and disabled, during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest on Friday.”
Collage 1: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) BBQ Social Club tent pit boss holding a walkie talkie and telling us about the whole hog on the grill as the attendees and volunteers look on. 2) Attendees are lined up and touching the United 777 replica grill (only used as a warmer and safe to touch). 3) Chelsea is talking into a walkie talking as Scott and several volunteers look onward, an occupied golf cart is in the background. 4) Attendees, volunteers, and the Australian Team posing for the camera while standing. 5) Scott looking sharp in his black western outfit paired with the volunteer orange vest is helping to serve food to the attendees.
Collage 2: Two photos. Top) Steph, Brandon and Chelsea are posing with one of the funniest Texans I met. Bottom) At the carnival Steph, Chelsea and Brandon are each holding a yellow duckie from one of the games.
Paloma, Brandon & Steph: L to R Photo of my friendsPaloma Marquez, Brandon, and me. We are all dressed in our western gear and while it wasn’t planned all of our outfits complement one another. Paloma’s beige top perfectly matched my vest & ‘cowgirl’ hat and my chambray shirt went great with Brandon’s blue flannel. All three of us are wearing shades. We are sitting at a round countertop table.
Collage 3: 6 photos clockwise top L. 1) Brandon and Chelsea are posing for the camera while sitting at a table in the volunteer committee tent. 2) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea are standing in front of a huge Ferris Wheel at the carnival. 3) Brandon, Steph, and Chelsea are among a group of seven posing for the camera in the Volunteer Committee tent. 4) Selfie of Steph and Chelsea taken at the carnival. 5) Steph, Brandon, and Chelsea outside of the Volunteer Committee tent headed to the carnival. 6) Steph and Brandon standing in front of a very tall ride shaped like a palm tree with swings.
Mechanical Bull: A brown and white bull in the center of a red inflated ring.
Cowgirl GearCollage: 5 photos clockwise top L. 1) A rhinestone-embellished fleur-de-lis black crossbody bag and a black western style belt covered in rhinestones. 2) Beige cowgirl hat with decorative brown thin leather stitching on the brim and around the crown. 3) Back of a beige leather vest with lacing detail at the bottom. 4) Front of the vest with a braided strip down each side. 5) Cowgirl boots – The bottom of the boots is olive/brownish. The shaft is cream with an olive embroidered design.
Advocacy is in my blood and fuels my spirit. So when my friend Donna Hill sent me an email asking for help to win a book cover competition I said YES! Since I’m always looking for opportunities to increase accessibility, inclusion, and representation this opportunity is a fun way to do this. Please join me in voting for Donna’s book cover HERE. Together let’s change how we perceive one another. Without further ado, it’s my pleasure to present Donna:
Now in Final Round of Book Cover Competition: Vote it into the Winners’ Circle!
I entered, and Jaws said, “1 Vote Button.” Since that first day, I’ve been working my butt off, following every lead and using social media in ways I would have never dreamed of only a month ago. Through blog posts, status updates, newsletters, emails to individuals, posts to my many Facebook and LinkedIn groups and requests to authors on the AllAuthor site, I’ve been doing everything I can to get the vote out.
Some of the procedures are complicated, but I’m doing them so much that it’s like my hands are dancing around the keyboard. I’m happy to announce that The Heart of Applebutter Hill is now in the fourth and final round! I’m using the opportunity to raise awareness about blindness, guide dogs and accessibility, & I would appreciate your help. If I’ve already convinced you, just go vote: https://allauthor.com/cover-of-the-month/5725/
Description of the Book Cover of The Heart of Applebutter Hill
The cover of The Heart of Applebutter Hill shows a cave scene – stalactites reflected in an underground lake. In the bottom right, a hand holds the blue, heart-shaped Heartstone of Arden-Goth. Photos by Rich Hill; cover design by Bob Lizza, Lizza Studios.
The idea for the book cover, however, came from yours truly. I have a beautiful blue glass, heart-shaped paperweight, which was given to me by my “secret sister” when I belonged to a women’s circle at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Glenside, Pennsylvania. The cave scene is a bit of a secret. I would like to find out if anyone recognizes it. I will say that my hubby Rich and I have been there twice, and without seeing it in the ordinary sense of the term, that cave formation dug a hole right into my imagination and provided one of the novel’s most exciting, scary and intriguing scenes.
Some Thoughts on the Big Picture
Pink breast-cancer-awareness afghan, designed and knit by Donna W. Hill, features twining vine surrounded by butterflies and candle flames with “Buddy Check” in Braille: photo by Rich Hill.
Why is this so important to me? It’s October which makes it “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” and a celebration for me of twenty-nine years as a breast cancer survivor. I am aware that life is short and that there is a reason each of us is here, a unique perspective on the human condition we hold in our hearts and share as a gift to Life.
It’s also “Meet the Blind Month.” I was born legally blind from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative condition, and I feel an obligation to smooth the trail a bit for the next generation. People with vision loss are still dealing with the devastating impact of misguided, erroneous and cruel prejudices and low expectations about our potentials. These prejudices are held by people who have limited imaginations when it comes to their own impressions of what it must be like to not have eyesight.
Sighted Folks Need Our Help
The sighted world needs to learn about and embrace us for at least two reasons. First, many of us have developed survival, coping and innovation skills that are far less common in the general public. We know how to press on. We don’t have the luxury of giving up after a few tries. We endure humiliation and find ways of coping with it.
It was the news about how average Americans were reacting to the Great Recession that enlightened me. So many people have no clue how to deal with adversity. They’re devastated after applying for and not getting ten jobs. They are thunder-struck when their “friends” don’t want anything to do with them after they’ve lost their homes or jobs. The socioeconomic structure in which they place their trust is a mirage, and when they finally figure that out, they don’t know how to continue. It’s sad.
Secondly, there are people out there, from children to senior citizens, who are unknowingly living as temporarily sighted people. Most of the people in the world who are now blind lost their sight as adults. They grew up as sighted kids, soaking up the negative stereotypes about blindness, until they found themselves having to give up on life or transform their thinking about what it means to be blind. Too many give up.
Social Change Through Literature
Blooming red Amaryllis with a print copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill, a fantasy featuring some awesome flowers: photo by Rich Hill.
Blind people come from every race, religion, ethnic, social, age and economic group. From genius to developmentally challenged, straight to gay, we are a cross-section of humanity. To open the minds of the next generation, we need to get our young adult novels & autobiographies into the classroom, where books can open young minds about the abilities and common humanity of visually impaired people.
I have been working on this issue all my adult life, using music, classroom visits, school assemblies and now literature. The prejudices – yeah, there’s that word again – are deeply entrenched in the human mindset. Whether due to unfamiliarity or something else, these roots need some serious tugging at to break free.
Yes, we can open minds about blindness through literature. A book can give sighted people a safe place to get to know a blind person. It’s also important that young blind people get to see themselves in an exciting adventure fantasy. I believe it can help bridge the gap between the sighted public and the blind community and help kids who are losing their sight realize they are not alone.
Blind Authors & the Publishing Industry: a Locked Door
The publishing industry, while occasionally willing to take on the nonfiction stories of blind people who make it into the public arena, has been more reluctant to embrace fictional portrayals of blind people by blind authors. The disability community has a saying, “Nothing about us without us.” So far, however, the industry is more open to fictional portrayals of blind people by sighted authors.
Some blind writers have been told that their portrayals of blind girls and women are “unrealistic.” Others were told that the public wants their fictional blind females to be demure, spiritual and in need of rescue. Despite the obstacles, more excellent blind authors than ever are establishing themselves as career authors.
Fiction by blind authors, however, is not on the bestseller’s lists. Several years ago, I ran across a report by the diversity watchdog group “Diversity in YA.” They track the Publishers Weekly bestsellers for young adult novels with main characters and authors with minority status, including disabilities. In 2013, there were no blind main characters. There were also no black main characters. Only the gay community even came close to having a percentage of books in line with population.
Air is vital to sustaining all life. For people with disabilities, AIR is equally important to our survival. In this scenario AIR, symbolizes Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation 3 key elements required to break down barriers.
Why We Need AIR: Accessibility Inclusion Representation
Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation matters. As a person of color, over 50, female, and living with an acquired disability, I know how exclusion feels. Exclusion is one of the reasons social justice has always been important to me.
When you’re born into several marginalized groups there’s a certain amount of uncomfortable familiarity where discrimination and exclusion is concerned. There is a whole other level of discrimination when becoming a member of the disability community that makes day-to-day living a bit more uncertain. Well-meaning friends and family try their best to understand our experience and we try to help them by inviting them into our world. Living with a disability is a uniquely personalized experience for every. single. person. None of us, even those who share the exact same disability will live with it in the exact same way.
Many people aren’t aware that the disability community is the largest minority group in the United States. What makes our minority group different from others is anyone, at any time can become a member. Our community doesn’t care about your social status, education, sexual orientation, age, etc. ANYONE can acquire a disability during their lifespan. As we get older the likelihood of acquiring a disability increases significantly.
While we’ve made strides towards increasing accessibility, inclusion, and representation we still have a long way to go. The fight for equal rights in housing, education, employment, transportation, and more continues as we still face many barriers.
PBS did a moving documentary in 2011 on the Disability Rights Movement called “Lives Worth Living.” The first time I saw it I felt sadness, anger, and the need to act. People with disabilities share many of the characteristics of our non-disabled counterparts, we simply do things a little differently.
In my blog post, “Observing 25 Years of the ADA” I found this bit which I’ve edited: Our lack of understanding, fear, and inhumanity towards people with disabilities I believe, promotes continuing injustices. It’s no wonder when a life-altering event occurs and we acquire a disability, we have a difficult time adjusting. Coming face to face with our prejudices, then navigating a still-flawed system to protect our new status, can be a difficult transition.
Sadly, some of us take the stance that disability rights are ‘not our problem,’ that is until we are disabled. However, being ‘temporarily abled’ as the majority of us are, makes it our problem.
Air is free yet there are some who believe not everyone is deserving of AIR. Disabled lives are human lives and all human lives matter.
We’ve come a long way since the ADA became law however the fight for Accessibility, Inclusion, and Representation continues.
Featured Image Description:
Striking black and white photo of a silver skeleton key in mid-air aimed at a keyhole.
Capitol Crawl Image:
“A group of handicapped people led by 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawl up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 12, 1990, to draw support for a key bill now pending in the House that would extend civil rights to disabled persons. The group of about 1,000 people or rode in wheelchairs down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol. (AP Photo/Jeff Markowitz)“