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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:

Image #2 is described in the body of the post.
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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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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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Monthly Beauties | Annastasia Srock

Featured image is described in the body of the post.

Meet The Faces of Bold Blind Beautiful & Accomplished Women

Representation Matters! Bold Blind Beauty believes that “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” Today’s Cover Model, Annastasia Srock, is a gorgeous college-sophomore who recently started a YouTube channel. Annastasia, who is living with Stargardt disease (a juvenile form of macular degeneration, has such an amazing outlook on life and she sees the beauty in nearly everything. To learn more about Annastasia visit her social media platforms listed below.

Following is personal and empowering insight from Annastasia:

“Losing my sight has brought me more vision than I had ever dreamed. The world around me dimmed, but the light held deep within grew bright and, with that light, I finally see life for everything
it’s meant to be.” 

~Annastasia Srock

My social handles are

Image Description:

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – Annastasia is laying down with her long wavy golden/brown hair fanned out around her face. She has on a single strand of tiny pearls around her neck and is posed with a pink rose on her right shoulder. With dark red lip color and golden eyes that perfectly match her hair the contrast is striking. 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 3 lines of text to the left of Annastasia’s photo that says “Annastasia Srok A Starry-Eyed Life.” In the bottom right corner is a yellow circle with an illustration of Abby looking at a reflection of herself in a standing mirror. She has on a teal dress and a white hat with a black band. In her right hand is her white cane. And of course, she’s sporting her signature explosive hairstyle (peeping from under her hat in the back), and “Monthly Beauties” is yellow text under the circle.

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Living Life To The Fullest | Tekesha Saffold

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WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Introduction:

Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty and Beyond Sight Magazine, an online community where Real Beauty Transcends Barriers. Our Women On The Move segments focus on monthly profiles of inspirational women; their capabilities, achievements, and their journeys as they navigate through the course of sight loss and blindness.

I’m your host, Nasreen. For our July 2020 segment of Women On The Move, our featured guest is the lovely diva herself, Miss Tekesha Saffold. Hi, Tekesha. Welcome.

“Living life to its fullest,” that’s her mantra. And she’s a former contestant of the Ms. Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant. She’s a disability advocate, role model and mentor, and a captain of the Braille Bandits, just to name a few of her extraordinary things she has done thus far. And also, she was our Monthly Beauty for the month of May.

So let’s all give a warm welcome to Tekesha.

Interview with Tekesha Saffold & Nasreen Bhutta

Transcription

Tekesha Saffold:

Hello. I’m so excited to be with you all this afternoon.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Can you please tell us a little bit about your background?

Tekesha Saffold:

Takesha Saffold Photo #2
Tekesha Saffold Photo #2

Well, I was born and raised in Palm Beach County, Florida, I reside currently in Riviera Beach, and I was born to a pretty large family. My grandmother had eight kids. My father is a seventh out of eight kids. I’m the oldest. I have a younger sister and I have four brothers. I went to local schools here in Riviera Beach, and I graduated from Suncoast Community High School and worked in various jobs.

Later on in life, at the age of 26, I became visually impaired from retina detachment. And so from there, I had to be rehabilitated, learning various things to make me as independent as I am now. I joined the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), which I joined the local chapter here in Palm Beach County, and I immediately was voted in on the board. I became treasurer the following year, and I have served as president for the NFB of Palm Beach over the last six years.

Also, during that time, I attended Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, where I majored in social work. And I’m involved in so many different things. I consider myself a consumer advocate for the disabled community, which I have served as the liaison for our disabled community in the city of Riviera Beach.

Throughout my journey, I’ve had various experiences of traveling various places and being involved in various things, which some of those things I’m quite sure I will be sharing with you all.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Let’s just go back to when you first were diagnosed with the, I guess it’s ROP, at the age of 26. I mean, that’s a young age. You’re just finishing college, just starting life really. How did that make you feel?

Tekesha Saffold:

At that age, 26, which was a very fun time for me being sighted. I was working, I was working two jobs at the time, I was living independently, and I was driving. And for myself, I never thought that I would be visually impaired.

So it just sort of happened out of nowhere, within two weeks. I was losing eyesight. And I thought, maybe, like many others, I thought that I would regain my sight at some point because I was in denial. But it’s a life changing experience at that age. Definitely.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So you love to travel. What has been your favorite place to travel to thus far?

Tekesha Saffold:

Let’s see. There are so many places that I have enjoyed visiting, but I would have to say visiting Washington DC has been one of my favorite places I have visited, primarily for advocacy purposes for the NFB Washington Seminar. I’ve been able to attend quite a few times, and I enjoy the atmosphere and the culture and things of that nature.

And I have to just include one other place. I love New York city. I cannot forget about New York.

Takesha Photo #3
Tekesha Photo 3

Nasreen Bhutta:

Me too. Any tips for first time travelers?

Tekesha Saffold:

I would say to not be nervous or afraid, and don’t be afraid of asking. Planning and organizing it, how you want to do it from step-by-step certainly would help the journey. Not just sort of spontaneously getting up and traveling, but just sort of mapping things out. But confidence is key. So if you have the confidence, you will certainly have the ability to feel comfortable with moving around using your cane and just being comfortable with asking people for assistance if you need to.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Can you tell us a little bit about the Just Us Blind Girls initiative?

Tekesha Saffold:

Yes. I want to say in 2011, I went to a conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Miss Virginia Gray, who was the founder of Just Us Blind Girls, because it originates from out of Atlanta, Georgia. I attended a conference in it in 2012 in Palm Beach County. Myself, along with other women, we hosted a conference here as well. I wouldn’t say it died out, but the participation was low.

And so when I graduated in 2017, I was asked if I would like to carry the name in Palm Beach County and facilitate a support group for blind and visually impaired women, just to discuss some of our challenges that we have. I also bring in guest speakers. I call them “sheroes”, women who are heroes in our blind community and who set an example and who are doing things in their community to make a difference. But primarily, it’s a sisterhood of women where we can support one another; how we can turn those challenges into actual things that can be celebrated.

Nasreen Bhutta:

First of all, is that remote or is it onsite? And is it just in the Florida area?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, since this pandemic, we have been meeting remotely, which has been a benefit to our support group because we’ve been able to invite many other women from other areas. So there’s no geographical restrictions. We meet every third Wednesday of the month, which I can provide the conference call number that we use, which is 2539933677.

So we invite any visually impaired or blind female, or just any women in general who’s interested in knowing more information, and we plan to have many guest speakers in the near future.

Nasreen Bhutta:

You also took part in the Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant. What was that experience like for you?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, that experience was a great experience. I would have to say, first of all, when I was a contestant in the pageant, which is in 2018, I was the only contestant that was out of state. So it was interesting for myself flying back and forth to Newark, New Jersey, which I had to fly for various workshops and practices that we had. So it gave me an opportunity to be in a different area that I never traveled, and also to meet other women and to know that there are other women who are involved and who are doing things in their community, and just meeting new friends. So it was certainly a great experience and I would encourage anyone to take on any type of activities or different opportunities that we do have in our blind community throughout the country.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Were you crowned Ms. Diva?

Tekesha Saffold:

No, I wasn’t. But we had to do a video that displayed our independence. It was called the Miss Independent YouTube Challenge. And so I think I got about 2100 views, but I was crowned Miss Independent for the YouTube challenge. So I looked at that as a great win.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Who is your major influencer, would you say?

Tekesha Saffold:

I would have to say our former First Lady, Michelle Obama. I think that she’s certainly a very classy, conservative, educated female, and she certainly inspired me in many ways.

Nasreen Bhutta:

And how do you define success and failure?

Tekesha Saffold:

Success shouldn’t be measured as to how large the accomplishment is. I mean, I think that if I could lose a couple of pounds, that’s a success for me.

I would say that to count the small things and don’t be so hard on yourself, just look at it as it’s a learning experience, and how can you better in that area? And I think that failure, in my opinion, is not an option, even if it’s just taking a couple of steps back, because sometimes in life we adjust back and forth, back and forth, but as long as you continue to have the determination to move forward, that’s where you’re succeeding, no matter if it’s just a small step ahead.

So I just look at those things as just having a positive attitude and outlook on anything that you do in life.

Nasreen Bhutta:

And what do you foresee in longterm goals? What is next for you?

Tekesha Saffold:

There’s quite a few different things. I hope to pursue further education. I’m always looking for various employment opportunities. And I’m also in the process of writing a book on just my experience in different aspects of my life and in marriage.

Nasreen Bhutta:

So how can we reach you Tekesha?

Tekesha Saffold:

Well, I am on Facebook. My Facebook name is T. Nicole Saffold (S-A-F-F-O-L-D). I also have a LinkedIn profile, which is my name, Tekesha Saffold. You can also find me on Instagram at TK Saffold. And also my email address, which is tnsaffold82@gmail.com.

Nasreen Bhutta:

Thank you so much for sharing your incredible and insightful journey with us.

You’ll be able to find Tekesha’s story in Beyond Sight Magazine, under Women On The Move for July 2020, at www.boldblindbeauty.com.

Thanks for listening.

Bio:

Tekesha Saffold has served for six years as President of the Palm Beach Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind and formerly served on the state board of the NFB for two years, which has been guided by strong, committed, and passionate leadership since 1940.  She has been visually impaired for about 12 years and is a passionate consumer advocate in Palm Beach County, where she was born and raised.  The owner and founder of Saffold’s Consultant Service, LLC, she has helped organize campaigns for various politicians and their causes in South Florida.

Among Saffold’s advocacy projects are providing ADA sensitivity training to employers and serving as an advocate for the local transportation system as a member of the Local Coordinating Board for Transportation Disadvantage, which focuses on transportation needs of the disadvantaged in our community, including individuals with physical and economic challenges and seniors.  In addition, she facilitates a support group for Just Us Blind Girls to mentor and empower blind and visually impaired women in Palm Beach County. She is also involved with community service projects through the Lake Worth Lions International Club to empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.

Outside of her professional activities, Saffold plays beep baseball and is the captain for the Braille Bandits of Palm Beach County, which played in the 2019 World Series in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She enjoys traveling the world, whether it is legislating in Washington, D.C. for various issues pertaining to the civil and equal rights for individuals who are disabled or being a former contestant for the Ms. Blind Diva Empowerment Pageant in Newark, New Jersey.  

Saffold, who lives in Riviera Beach, Florida, graduated with honors from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton with a bachelor’s degree in social work and will be pursuing a master’s degree in public administration.  One of the most important roles in her life is being the mother of a beautiful young lady who is currently pursuing her dreams and art and other crafts. She lives life to its fullest potential and anticipates other opportunities in the near future.  

Image Descriptions:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover. Tekesha is on the cover wearing a red Express sweetheart long sleeve dress with an Aldo purse with hearts and matching pumps. Heart-shaped earrings with glittery eyeshadow and soft pink lipstick from Sephora. 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 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
  • Tekesha is wearing a beautiful white spaghetti strap dress that has floral sequences in bright colors, soft pink open toe heels with fur along the toes and glitter on the heel, rose gold accessories with a hint of rhinestones in the earrings to bring out her beautiful makeup by Sephora.
  • Tekesha is wearing a bright yellow maxi dress with a Tory Burch rose gold purse and sandals and other rose gold accessories which bring out her beautiful makeup by Sephora. 
CREDITS: