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August Men In Motion | Ahmet Ustunel

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MEN IN MOTION

Editor’s Note:

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

Transcript

Nasreen Bhutta:

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Photo 2

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-

Photo 3

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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July Men In Motion | Andrew Donald

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MEN IN MOTION

Editor’s Note:

Bold Blind Beauty 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, from Down Under you’ll meet via video, our July Man In Motion, Andrew Donald, known as “Nocturnal Archer.” We’ve also provided a transcript of the video below. Enjoy!

Andrew Donald, Nocturnal Archer

Introduction

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Andrew Donald #2

Good day. I’m Andrew Donald. I’m from Melbourne and I’ve been a professional musician and music teacher since I left school, and I’m currently studying my master’s of education at Victoria University. I’m 36 years old and I’m legally blind. I’ve been involved in martial arts and music since I was about five years old, and more recently I’ve taken up traditional archery. That’s what I’d like to talk to you today about, my journey into archery as a vision-impaired person, and really more broadly about how accessible archery is to really anyone.

Sight Loss & Archery

My vision impairment is called rod monochromatism. This means that I see only with my rod cells and have no cone cell function. This makes me extremely sensitive to light. I have quite low visual acuity and I’m totally colorblind. I do however see quite well in the dark and this has formed a major way that I’ve adapted archery to work for me. Archery is an incredibly diverse art form. There are many different styles from all around the world, and there are so many different ways to enjoy archery. It is primarily extremely fun. It is extremely challenging and very personally rewarding.

You can make a lot of cool stuff in archery. I make my own arrows. I fletch them and paint them. You can make your own bowstrings. You can even make your own bows, which is something that I’ve really been looking forward to getting into. But overall, archery is an extremely technical discipline and it requires a lot of practice, and that’s part of the appeal for me. It’s very similar to music in that way. I’ve found that archery has been a natural extension of my experience with martial arts, but it’s also surprisingly been an extension of my experience as a musician as well.

Instinctive Archery Shooting Style

Like I said, there are many different styles of archery. I practice traditional archery with traditional bows. So this is an example of a traditional longbow. It’s an example of a traditional hunting recurve bow. As you can see, there are no accessories on these bows. There are no bow sights or other attachments. As opposed to a bow like this, which is a vintage example of a bow you might see in the Olympic games. You can see, we have a few more attachments here, including a bow sight used to aim the bow.

The style of shooting that I practice is called instinctive shooting. This is a style that doesn’t use a bow sight or any other visual mechanism to aim the arrow. Rather, you look at what you want to hit and then you use your physical technique and your form to align your body properly so that you can send an arrow to that target. It’s very much like kicking a soccer ball. You can’t aim a soccer ball. You simply have to look where you want it to go and then put your body in the right position to send that ball where you wanted it to go.

It’s also strangely like singing and playing a musical instrument. If you can play the piano without looking at the keys, you’re instinctively aware of where each key is. In singing, even more so. You can’t see a note or a key you have to play in order to produce the note you want so you have to trust your instincts and your many hours of practice, that when you go to sing that note, it’s going to come out the way you want it.

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Andrew Donald #3

Navigation & Senses Working In Concert

Another way I’ve found instinctive archery is very linked to experiences as a vision-impaired person is navigating a familiar space as a vision-impaired person. If you navigate a familiar space without using your vision as a primary sense, then you are instinctively aware of your surroundings and where you are relative to those surroundings, and that’s really at the essence of instinctive archery.

Essentially, you’re using your sense of touch, your kinesthetic awareness to align your body relative to the target. I still need to see my target in order to hit it, but I don’t need to see it that clearly. In fact, I can shoot more accurately than I can see, if that makes sense. This is because archery is extremely technical and your form and technique play such a major part in making your arrow go where you want. That sight is really secondary to that, in my opinion, and especially shooting traditional archery from a bow hunting perspective, the distances that we’re shooting really is not that long. In bowhunting, you would never attempt a shot beyond 20 meters, in traditional bowhunting.

When we practice, it’s always fun to push the distance out to 30, 40, 50 meters, but it’s still very satisfying trying to shoot five, 10 meters, and this is still quite a challenge. So that’s another way that traditional archery and instinctive shooting have worked well for me as a vision-impaired person.

Competitive Archery Tournaments & Low Vision

There’s just so many ways to participate in the art of archery. There’s a strong competitive side to archery, with many different styles of tournaments, and there are often categories for blind and vision-impaired people in these tournaments. Blind and vision-impaired people compete in archery tournaments through the use of a tactile sight, which is a sight that rests on the hand and on the feet and helps the archer align themselves properly to the target, through their sense of touch and with the help of a spotter. This is just another way that blind and vision-impaired people can compete in archery.

There are indoor tournaments and outdoor tournaments. There are 3D tournaments that mimic bow hunting, and there’s of course bow hunting, which is an incredible way to get in touch with nature, and being in a natural environment with my bow and arrow is one of my all-time favorite pastimes. Perhaps the most common reason people get into archery is that it’s incredibly fun. It’s super addictive and it’s a great way to meet new people. It can be a very social activity, but it can also be a tremendous solitary, meditative pursuit as well, and I love that side of archery.

Archery is also incredibly safe. By far, the most dangerous part of archery is the removing of the arrow from the target as opposed to shooting the bow. Yeah, archery is a very safe sport and as a vision-impaired person practicing archery, this is of course very important to me. If you haven’t thought about taking up archery as a blind or vision impaired person, I’d seriously consider it because it’s far more accessible than you might think. There are so many different ways to involve yourself in archery and it can be an incredibly rewarding thing to practice.

Global Archery Community

So I’d love to see more blind and vision-impaired people practicing archery. If you are interested in archery and my story more, you can find me on Instagram under Nocturnal Archer. Instagram has been a tremendous platform to connect with other traditional archers from all around the world and I’d have to recommend it. It’s been a very positive community. If you’re interested, there are lots of experienced archers out there to help you get into the art of archery. So, yes, thank you so much for listening and I hope this might have inspired you to look into archery. Take care.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. Andrew, dressed in a red flannel shirt, knit cap, and shades, is aiming his bow and arrow and it appears as if he’s in 3-D. 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.
  • Photo #2- A dramatic long exposure photo of Andrew dressed in black against a black background and highlights around his bow and arrow.
  • Photo #3 – A long exposure photo of Andrew using an arrow with a light up nock.
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June Men In Motion | Robert Kingett

Image is described in the body of the post.

MEN IN MOTION

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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May Men In Motion | Michael Moran

Image is described in the body of the post.

MEN IN MOTION

Editor’s Note:

When I first met Michael Moran at an event in New Jersey earlier in the year, I was mesmerized by his voice and quickly fell in love with his sense of humor. While he is very funny Michael is also extremely kind, giving, and diligent. Today, Nasreen Bhutta talks with Michael about his life’s journey. Enjoy! ~Steph

For the most part, I think that humor and learning to forgive myself for my imperfections and in doing that I’m more accepting of other people. I fail daily. I’m gonna fail every day, I’m human  and that’s okay too. 

~Michael Moran, Clear Vision Network
May Men In Motion | Michael Moran, www.clearvisionnetwork.com

Interview Transcript

Nasreen: 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’m your host Nasreen and for our main segment of our Men In Motion feature, our featured guest is Mr. Marvelous himself, Michael Moran. Mike is involved in podcasting, voiceovers, inspirational speaking, and is also a business owner and so much more! So let’s all give a warm welcome to Mr. Mike Moran. Welcome, Mike!

Michael: Well thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here. I didn’t know it was magnificent or marvelous or whatever you said but I’ll take it!

Nasreen: Absolutely! 

[both laugh]

Nasreen: We’re so proud of you to be here as part of Bold Blind Beauty’s community as well.  And just for everybody out there listening Bold Blind Beauty, we met up with Mike Moran in an event in Chicago, sorry, New Jersey. Sorry, wrong city Mike. [laughs] And since then Mike has joined our team and we’re really, really happy. So we wanted to really feature him on our Men In Motion segment. Mike, I want you to let me know how it feels to be on the other side of the hot seat? Usually, you’re on this side.

Michael: Yes, I know, this is quite a switch. And I feel like I don’t know where I am. I’m just in such shock I could be in Chicago, I could be in New Jersey now I’m really confused but go right ahead I’ll figure it out.

Nasreen: Mike, let’s start off with a little bit about your background. Can you share your journey of little Mikey with us to the present Michael?

Michael: Let me see if I can condense this. I was born with congenital glaucoma. I only had vision for light and color. I was very fortunate that my mother really had good instincts. She didn’t know very much about the formal aspects of rehabilitation, she went on instinct, and she was very good. She taught me things, she let me go out and get hurt. If I got hurt she put a bandaid on me and sent me out again and she did not hold me back. She wanted me to experience everything. I just love her for that, she was such a wonderful part of my life. She allowed me to be courageous.

Nasreen: That’s fantastic, a lot of parents, they try to shelter folks and kind of reform them into something that they should be bookshelved or delicate. It’s fantastic that she let you out there to experience sort of life as it is and say hey there, there if you take a fall you take a fall. If you achieve the goal you achieve the goal. That is keeping you in the norm and keeping it sort of centralized so you grow up understanding the whole environment around you. So hats off and kudos to her.

Michael: I want to say in defense of those parents who are unable to do that, I believe they have good intentions but sometimes they are afraid and they become overprotective without meaning to be. This is a new experience, let’s face it not every group of parents has a child with a disability. It’s a learning experience. I was fortunate that my mother just followed her instincts. I did attend a mainstream school. At first, I went to a residential school for blind children in Jersey City. It was run by the good sisters of perpetual revenge.

Nasreen: [laughs]

Michael: And they, you know my mother thought she was doing the right thing by sending me there and in retrospect, I have to say “ah, wrong move ma” but, it’s okay. [laughs] It toughened me up. In those days it was a different time so whatever the nuns said or the priest said or the elders said oh they must be right and the kid’s wrong. That was the philosophy in those days. We get through these things. I mean, nobody gets an easy ride in this world and some of us have a little tougher rides than others but it’s how we come out the other side that really counts. 

When I graduated I was the first blind student to go to a Catholic High School from my house. All the other students went to Catholic High School from the residential school for blind children. So I was the first child, I guess to be, as the name changes, mainstreamed or included or whatever it’s called. I didn’t follow the formula and I think I gave the nuns something other than what they were thinking they were getting. I think they thought they were going to get a blind child who stayed home, read braille books, and said the rosary. When I found out where the bad boys were that’s where I went. I was not a good student. I wouldn’t recommend other students who are blind do it the way I did it. But I hung out on the corners, I got in trouble, I got suspended from school, I got in all kinds of trouble. I have to tell you this [laughs] it was fun! I mean, we didn’t do anything to hurt anybody, you know what I mean? We weren’t some rough gang that was out there mugging people, it was all fun. You know we had a doo-wop group, we’d sing on the corner, sing for the girls. You know in high school it’s what can you do to make you stand out, you’re respected by your peers if you can do something. Well, I was one of the bigger kids and I could lift more weights than anybody, that was my thing. And the kids I was hanging out with, they must have had some kind of degree in rehabilitation because all they would do is, we’d be playing football and all they would do is hand me the ball and tell me to go up the middle and or whatever they were doing. Whatever we did we got in trouble together. If we were running I’d hold on to somebody and we’d take off. It was just a great experience and I think it really toughened me up. And in those days I also went to a camp for children who were blind. They weren’t worried about all the litigation that you have today. You know we had counselors who would wrestle with us and you know throw us out of a rowboat and make us swim back to the dock. And it was fun, it was great fun! And it really taught us if you were afraid, keep going, you won’t be afraid once you keep doing it.

Nasreen: That’s a great sort of mantra to share with everybody, you know, toughen up, keep doing it so shatter your fears. It looks like from your childhood and all the wonderful things and fantastic stuff you’ve done broke the barriers on a lot of areas where parents are really stereotypical when it comes to raising their children, not letting them venture out experience new things like things where you got suspended and played football and wrestle and all of that. Those are quote-unquote the norm things that every kid should experience growing up. I commend your mom for that, hats off to her. I don’t know how she kind of put up with all that sort of… 

Michael: I don’t know either. But you know, I have to say we can get children into society by making them aware of life not by shielding them from everything.

Nasreen: I also want to ask you what’s the most ambitious thing you’ve done to date?     

Michael: I don’t know, it’s hard to pick out because I’ve done some pretty crazy things. But I have to say I loved cross country skiing. I thought that was really terrific and I learned and I got a medal. I was so thrilled and I slept with the medal. As an adult man, I got this medal and I slept with it, I had to. I don’t know I traveled all over the country in my work. I’ve met so many different people. I’ve thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game. I don’t know, it’s hard to say what that is. When the book comes out we’ll try to figure it out. 

Nasreen: Oh, so you’re writing a memoir? Fantastic. [laughs]

Michael: I wasn’t until today but I’m just gonna ask you how are you with writing?

Nasreen: [laughs]

Michael: You may be my co-author. I’m signing you up right on the air.

Nasreen: Alright [laughs] we got a deal. Also, Mike, you have also done a lot of voiceovers and you’ve also done a lot of podcasting interviews so I have to you and I’m sure alot of people ask you this same question, but with all the tons of interviews you have done, national and state leaders… 

Michael: Yes

Nasreen: To sports celebrities who was your most challenging interview and why? 

Michael: They’re all challenging because the first couple of seconds, I call the joining process, and that’s really a key. I find that once I get started and connected with the person then it’s fine. So many wonderful people you know and everybody’s got, most people have positive things. I’ve never really interviewed controversial people.

Nasreen: I guess Trump won’t make your cut anytime soon huh?

Michael: I actually met him in an elevator.

Nasreen: Did you? Oh wow.

Michael: I was coming out of a basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden back in the 90s and he was on the elevator and I was on the elevator and I heard him talking. And I said to him are you, Donald Trump? And he said, “yeah, can I pet your dog?” And I said sure. And he shook my hand and he gave my dog a pet and that was that. And I said to him “you know what? You’re gonna be president one-day young man.” No, I didn’t, I’m only kidding.

Nasreen: [laughs]

Michael: It’s funny because for a guy who says he doesn’t like to shake hands, I had no problem, he shook my hand.   

Nasreen: Yeah, wow. I guess that’s something you’ll remember and cherish but I’m surprised you didn’t say…

Michael: I hope he remembers it, you know. If I ever meet him I’ll say “remember the elevator ride?” And he’ll, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about.

Nasreen: Of course, Mike you’re also part of the actor’s guild can you share with us how that journey came to be?

Michael: They’re combined now, it’s called SAG AFTRA which is Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I was always fascinated by the guys who did voiceovers and those are the guys that did the prerecorded commercials. The guys at the end of the commercials or that read the whole commercial say, for example, Time Magazine or Ovaltine or something like that. In those days what you would do is you would go to an ad agency, audition for the spot along with god knows how many other people, and then you’d get a call if you’re lucky and you’d go and record the commercials and get residuals. The worst thing happened to me that could have happened to a new artist. The first commercial I auditioned for I got and it was a national spot. It was two baseball players, Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey from the Los Angeles Dodgers; it was for Swanson Hungryman Dinners and Entrees. All I had to say was “Swanson Hungryman Dinners and Entrees the second helping of meat is already in.” The mailman came every Monday and I’m thinking oh man, this is great. The residual checks kept coming in

Nasreen: Hmmhmm.

Michael: And I thought man, this is gonna be a cakewalk. Well, you know, come to find out it isn’t that way. So, Ed Macmahon did not move over and make room for me. I had to keep struggling [laughs] like everyone else.

Nasreen: Can I ask, how you did that? Were you using a screen reader? Which technology  devices did you use at the time 

Michael: No I just, in those days it was just braille. We punched out the dots either with a stylus or we did it with a braille writer. 

Nasreen: How was that received?

Michael: Once you get past the audition you’re in. They don’t care what you do because they know you’re going to get it done. That’s why you were selected. Sometimes it was hard to get auditions. This was a whole new thing: What do you mean the guy’s blind? How are we going to get the script to him? Budda bing. And some of these people they had you’d think the script was The Valachi Papers or something, they’d hold onto things like: “Oh I don’t know  if we want to release the script that early and ahead of time.” What? What is this a secret document? 

Nasreen: [laughs]

Michael: So, there were obstacles to overcome. Now it’s a different ballgame. I mean, people sit at their computers and they wait for the scripts to come down and read them into the computers.

Nasreen: Hmmhmm

Michael: As a blind person, I’m not that quick that I can just read them as they come down and send them in.

Nasreen: So you’ve been in a lot of things Ovaltine or like Swansons, Ore Ida, things I watched growing up or many other people watched growing up. So my goodness Mike, wow, that is fantastic. You should be so proud. We’re honored to know that part of you cause…

Michael: Well, thank you.

Nasreen: We always hear you asking us “hey how you doing?” “What’s your most ambitious thing?”

Micheal: Somebody said to me last week “you know, you don’t even know what you’ve done.” I said, you know, you’re right I have no idea. No idea until somebody starts asking me questions.

Nasreen: You definitely need to put that into a memoir book. [laughs] We’ll help you do that.

Michael: I hope so.

Nasreen: So if you had to define yourself in one word Mike what would that be and why?

Michael: Caring. It’s hard to come up with one word because I like to combine two things: that’s love and humor. I think that we can’t have one without the other. I mean you can have humor that can be damaging to other people and not beneficial and doesn’t fill people with happiness and joy. For the most part, I think that humor and learning to forgive myself for my imperfections and in doing that I’m more accepting of other people. I fail daily. I’m gonna fail every day, I’m human and that’s okay too. I just wanted to say I learned a very important lesson from a friend of mine, dear friend of mine, years ago who said to me: “Be serious about what you do but try not to take yourself too seriously.” And there is the challenge because we all tend to take ourselves too seriously. So you have to use that big three-letter word ‘TRY’ not to take yourself too seriously and in doing that I think it gives me a freedom because I realize I don’t have to carry so much weight on my shoulders. 

Nasreen: You know I think those are great inspiring words that can help, good for anybody because we all tend to be a little hard on ourselves, too serious, carry the burden or weight and the of the world or our imperfections. We want to change things so that we’re are quote-unquote perfect. I think you summed it up very well that way. We love your humor, that’s one of those things that we’ve come to know here at Bold Blind Beauty that your humor you are definitely a caring person and we experienced that when we were on the trip to New Jersey. And your humorous side is fantastic and I think that’s what sets you apart from many other people. Kudos to you for all that.

Michael: Well thank you. I have to say that we do all learn from each other. I’m not unique, I’ve had role models and maybe I’m a role model to somebody I don’t know, but I hope that we all inspire each other or influence each other in a positive way.

Nasreen: You are now embarking on a new business, you’re becoming a business owner and you’re putting together Clear Vision Network can you tell us a little bit about that?

Michael: What I’m trying to do is set up a podcasting service for people who can’t podcast or want to podcast but can’t do it themselves or needs some help. I’m willing to work with people at all levels so I can monitor and host the podcast for them or they can do it themselves and I can edit it and get it up on the platform. I can help them put it together, format the podcast, whatever it takes, that’s exciting to me. I was sitting around wondering what am I going to do? I wasn’t doing much I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I’m listening to podcasts and I said “oh I can do that.” And in addition, I really would like to give workshops and seminars for people who are blind or visually impaired. I think it’s important that we explore certain topics like work readiness, grooming for success, how to adjust to the work environment, and many other things that I think are important and sometimes don’t get talked about such as non-verbal communications for people who are blind or visually impaired. So there’s so many places we can go with these workshops and I think they’re much needed and I think what’s wonderful though is that a lot of the young people today are receptive the world has opened up to them…

Nasreen: Yeah.

Michael: through technology and they want to learn more.

Nasreen: Mike how can the general public reach you if they’re interested?

Michael: I’m going to give you my website which is clearvisionnetwork.com. So it’s two n’s C L E A R V I S I O N N E T W O R K.COM and my phone number is 201-906-8524.

Nasreen: Thanks so much Mike.

Michael: Well thank you for having me it’s been a pleasure really.

Nasreen: Thanks Mike, for sharing your journey with us and being our Man In Motion for May 2020. You can find Beyond Sight Magazine at www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening. 

Special Thanks To:

  • Michael Moran, Our featured Man In Motion and BBB Advisory Board Member
  • Nasreen Bhutta, Interviewer and BBB Advisory Board Member
  • Daniel Lubiner, Graphic Designer and BBB Advisory Board Member

Image Description:

Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. Michael’s photo is on the cover, he is dressed professionally in a jacket and tie while standing next to his guide dog Carson (a German shepherd). 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 “Mike Moran The Voice Like Velvet.” 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.