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June Men In Motion | Robert Kingett

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Editor’s Note:

Robert Kingett, he’s Bold Blind and full of Pride. From the moment he was born, he was destined to be an overcomer and a person unafraid to be exactly who he is. In celebration of Pride Month, Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to introduce you to Journalist and Author of Off the Grid: Living Blind Without the Internet, Robert Kingett.

Born A Miracle

I’ve always been somewhat of a miracle baby, or person, I guess you could say now. I fully embrace it, though, and yes, even the inspirational label that gets placed on me sometimes. I embrace it all because I just simply don’t have time to quibble over a slightly incorrect label.

My miracle journey started in 1989 where I was a premature baby. It’s so wild, because my birth certificate says six ounces. I was born in September. I have no idea when I was actually supposed to be born, but I came out defying all odds from the beginning.

I was born with Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), as well as cerebral palsy. I wasn’t supposed to walk. I wasn’t supposed to talk either. My mobility was supposed to be very limited throughout my whole life. And, to a certain extent, that’s true now that I’m older, but back then, I did walk, and I did talk. I overcame so much at such a young age. I still had communication issues though. I stammered badly as a kid and still do. Which, ironically, is why I enjoy and embrace writing so feverishly.

On His Terms

I was born in New York but grew up in Saint Augustine FL. I attended the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and that’s how my path to adaptive technology and accessibility consulting came to be, but more on that later. I’m probably one of the very few kids that actively refused mainstream school. I rejected it firmly. I hated the thought of attending a mainstream school. I knew I was getting the adaptive technology and mobility training that would help me later on in life. I didn’t want to waste my time advocating for everything under the sun. I knew that advocacy would come later, certainly, in college, so I wanted my high school to be as painless and as inclusive to my visual impairment as humanly possible and I just didn’t see that in a mainstream school.

I knew that society saw me as another worldly being that wasn’t worth nurturing as a disabled person, so I perceived mainstream school to just be an academic hassle. It probably would have done wonders for my social life, but I didn’t care about having an active social life when I was younger. I also didn’t want to be around sighted people unless it was on my own terms because, I believed, that my academics would suffer because I’d be trying to develop social justifications. I thought my energy would be wiped because I’d have to constantly demonstrate to sighted people that I’m worthy of existing and taken seriously. At a blind school, disabilities didn’t factor into my acceptance. 

Another reason why a big part of that unwillingness to fight for a mainstream education was so strong is because I was getting a very accessible education. I also was just trying to get through the day, and to my eventual long-term goal of becoming influential. Even if it was silent influence, I wanted to actively chip away at the social barriers disabled people face on a daily basis.

From Scrapper To Success

My home life wasn’t that great. I was abused, both physically, mentally, emotionally, and otherwise. My mother, who was a single parent, didn’t know how to deal with her own daemons so she took them out on me. She was a heavy drinker and, yes, there would be beatings. I often went hungry, so I absolutely empathize with someone when they tell people they don’t know what real hunger feels like. People will never fully grasp it, I realized, so I just had to survive. Get out. Become as successful as I could possibly be and hope I make a small difference in the world, even if it’s educating someone about blindness or starts a chain reaction that makes things more accessible for many in my generation and beyond.

I developed a strong sense of advocacy in my teen years. I’ve never been good at giving a punchy media bite that goes viral or gets people talking. I knew I’d never be in the spotlight however, I knew my strength was in planning and strategic implementations. Oh, and trickle-down advocacy—chain reaction advocacy, as I call it.

I’m very career-driven, and very focused, which is probably why I’m still single. I’m very proudly gay and or queer. I use those words interchangeably to describe my sexuality. I’m definitely not bisexual though, I’m very much gay. But, often, the men I’m attracted to are sighted and have no idea how to keep up with my career drive. That’s something that will, eventually, slow down I’m sure as I get even older, but for now, I’m very focused. I find the idea of romance and love is just something that I will find when it finds me, and grabs hold of me. That’s ironic because I’m an extremely romantic person. I’m very empathetic but extremely strong, personality-wise. I guess you could say I’m a mashup of imperfections that changes people’s lives in small ways.

The Path To Journalism

My advocacy started when I created the first-ever newspaper for the blind at FSDB. That proved to me that I could give people chances and opportunities if I just kept being persistent. As a result, well, I’m very politically active now. Very progressive. Very forward-thinking. And yes, I’m a proud feminist and trans ally. I knew I had the power to change lives through journalism and fiction, so I began writing. Fiction, advocacy journeys, telling people’s stories. I find that very few people have media literacy skills today. I mean, even in my generation and younger. I read, constantly. I even read mainstream news everybody likes to rag on so much, but again, very few people just simply don’t know how the media works in general, which is why I don’t get into small fights online about mainstream media and agendas and biases and otherwise. It’s all trite ignorance and a complete waste of my time. Besides, I have a socialist revolution to start. Just kidding. Or am I?

My writing eventually created the Accessible Netflix Project, which actually got Netflix to provide audio description platform-wide wherever possible. This was a huge accomplishment, but my work isn’t over with. My real love is books. Especially diverse books, and audiobooks, and the publishing industry. I’m working to eventually make it so that seeing blindness in fiction is common while continuing to be a very strong ally to my fellow minorities.

Unicorns, Cookies & Education

I always find it really weird when someone asks me what my hobbies are. My hobbies are extremely plain and ordinary. Like, who doesn’t like listening to music and watching TV shows with audio description? I know a few people who don’t like reading, but I just imagine them as very confused unicorns and continue loving books and literature. I read, certainly. I watch very dark comedy. I listen to boy bands. I steal rainbow tinged cookies from unsuspecting glittering cats in my spare time. I’m so done with being normal. It’s overrated. 

Ironically speaking, my career path has never been regular, either. I dropped out of college, published a book, wrote for free, did accessibility consulting, became more progressive, posted accessibility rants onto the web, and, finally, became an expert witness for a law firm here in Chicago. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell all the responsible readers to stay in school, even if I loath private colleges with every fiber of my peculiar soul. Seriously. I think education is the most important facet in someone’s life. Encourage reading. Encourage creativity, because that’s what truly makes the world go round.

Image Description:

Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. Robert’s photo is on the cover, he is wearing a black tee-shirt with the word “PR💛UD” in rainbow colors. 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 “Bold blind and full of” the third line ‘PRIDE’ is in rainbow colors. 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.

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Blind Author’s Diversity, Inclusion & Anti-Bullying Novel

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Introduction

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!

By Donna W. Hill

Earlier this month, my educator-recommended, young adult novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill, was chosen to compete in AllAuthor’s Cover of the Month Competition. I remember the first time I visited my special page and hearing JAWS, (Job Access With Speech) my screen reader, say “0 Votes Button.” It seemed like a hopeless case – not that I haven’t been there before.

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

Book cover for The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill shows a cave scene - stalactites reflected in an underground lake, while a hand holds the Heartstone of Arden-Goth: photos, Rich Hill;, design, Lizza Studios.
Book Cover

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: photo by Rich Hill
Breast Cancer Awareness Afghan

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 Amarilis with a print copy of The Heart of Applebutter Hill by Donna W. Hill, a fantasy adventure featuring some awesome flowers: photo by Rich Hill.
Blooming red Amaryllis with book

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.

Blind Authors Find Ways Around Those Locked Doors

Whether through self-publishing or by working with small publishing houses, their work is getting out there. Some of my favorite blind women authors include Deborah Kent Stein, Amy Krout-Horn, Kristen Witucki, Meredith Burton, Phyllis Campbell, Jo Elizabeth Pinto, Patty Fletcher, and Lynda Lambert. As for blind men, there’s Jerry Whittle and Justin Oldham for starters.

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.

This is evidence of the rejection of diversity by the publishing industry and in my opinion something we need to change to create an atmosphere of inclusion in the general population. Here’s a link to the report: http://www.diversityinya.com/2014/03/diversity-in-publishers-weeklys-2013-young-adult-bestsellers/#more-3170

Voting Instructions for Jaws Users

Go on over to: https://allauthor.com/cover-of-the-month/5725/

  1. The page title is “Vote for The Heart of Applebutter Hill
  2. From the top of the page, use ‘h to next heading which is the book title The Heart of Applebutter Hill.
  3. Down-arrow past author & genre till you hear a number followed by “Vote button.” At this writing, I have 258 votes, so it should say, “258 Sign-in Vote Button.”
  4. Enter.
  5. You will be prompted to sign up to the site; choose ‘author or ‘reader. You can establish a nice profile, but you don’t have to.
  6. Give your email, password and sign up. Thanks, bunches, you’ve just voted.

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Why We Need AIR: Accessibility Inclusion Representation

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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

Capitol Crawl

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.

The Fight For Disability Rights

On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law.

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.

“The “Capitol Crawl” protest for disability rights on March 12, 1990, might have been the single most important catalyst for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 25 29 years ago. The law aimed to end segregation of physically and mentally disabled persons and promised them equal opportunity to participate in society, live independently and achieve economic self-sufficiency.

See Capitol Crawl Image Description

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)