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AAW 015 Bing and Andrew
August 6, 2022
Transcription is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings.
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Welcome to AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities of accessibility for people with disabilities. I’m Jonathan Hermus.
And I’m Albert Rizzi. And this is AccessAbility Works.
Today our guests are Bing Smith and Andrew Hibbler.
Bing and Andrew are our friends from Pennsylvania. Andrew had reached out to us to share a blog he wrote about a fishing trip he and Bing took, as well as a story about their experiences working in the same kitchen. Bing was born blind and had–
I believe his condition is called retinopathy of prematurity.
ROP. It is something that happens to, I think, premature babies. He was born prematurely, and hence has a visual impairment. I believe he has some visual perception. I forget whether it is shadows or light perception, but something he’s been dealing with since he was born. But before we get to that interview, there are some developments I’d like to share.
One, the National Suicide Hotline has rolled out a new simplified number for those of us who need people to talk to. And it is now 988, and people can call 988 and get someone to talk to if you are in a place where you are stressed out and having suicidal thoughts. Dial 988.
Yeah. It’s like 911 but 988.
Yes. I would listen to the news and I know the 800 number. The 800 number will still be something you can access, but I gather from what I’ve been hearing it will be phased out. And the 988 number will be a nationally recognized phone number for people to call when they are stressed out and needing a shoulder to lean on and an ear to bend.
Thank God it’s an easy to remember number now, so you can remember that at any point, like right before you do something you might regret.
No, I agree with you. Because that 1-800-JUST-CALL-ME– then I got to figure out the alphabetical–
Yeah. Nobody’s going to remember that.
No, no. 988 makes a lot of sense. It is about time. I would have never thought about simplifying numbers because we’ve been so conditioned to have those 10 digits we have to punch in. But, again, 988 is the number that people can call when they are stressed out and in need of a person to talk to.
And it’s with a very, very heavy heart that I share some news about friend, colleague, and testing professional extraordinaire, Richard Kelly. Richard passed on Thursday, the 14th of July. Richard had been battling cancer. And both he and his late wife, who also died of cancer, Debbie, were very integral in our development of and perfection of the work we did with Intuit, making QuickBooks for Windows usable and accessible to people with disabilities.
Richard was the voice behind our videos, behind our lessons. He was our trainer extraordinaire. And I ask that everybody keep his family and his mother, Joanne Kelly, in your thoughts and prayers as they deal with the loss of Richard and the void left as he moved on to the next round.
And I have a new blog out. It is a blog about the kindness of strangers– people who you would not otherwise think would be there to assist, and guide you, and lift you up. So please look for that on our website, MyBlindSpot.org. And don’t forget to tell your friends about listening to AccessAbility Works, which can be found on all of your various social media outlets and podcast platforms– Spotify, Apple, and of course, going to our website, MyBlindSpot.org.
And recently I joined an organization called Disruptive Technologists. And I was at Microsoft in New York City presenting on the importance of accessible digital content. I was really humbled to be amongst some really fantastic people– Ramona, Frank, Zep, and my new brother from another mother, Cam in Toronto.
You can find the link to that YouTube video in the show notes for today’s show.
And I know for a fact that you can find it in the blog section of our website, MyBlindSpot.org. And without any further delay, here’s Bing Smith and Andrew Hibbler.
How you doing?
Tell us about how you all met. Andy, why don’t we start with you and then we’ll follow up with the VIP?
Which, Bing, you know– Bing, you know what VIP stands for, right?
Very important people.
Oh, my god no, bro. It’s visually impaired person. That’s it. We’re VIPs on a variety of levels. [LAUGHS]
Yes, we are. Yes. OK, yes.
Anyway, Andy, go ahead.
I think 2015 I started working in Lock Haven at Lock Haven University in the dining hall in the union. And it’s through Aramark. And it’s basically a big, industrial cafeteria where they feed the students. They daily feed the students there. It was my first day.
At that point, I had come from a cooking background. I managed a Five Guys in State College. I worked at a couple of diners. But it was my first day on the job right before the dinner rush, and I was kind of getting trained on the job. So it’s a multi-station big kitchen downstairs, with a grill, there’s a Chick-fil-A there, there was a pasta station.
And my boss– I hadn’t really had time to meet anyone. I was just on the job training. So my boss said, hey, get in that fridge and look for the cheese. And I looked for the cheese. I was like, there’s no cheese here. And he’s like, all right. Well, it must be in the back. Go to the back fridge and get it.
And before I could get off the line, Bing was on the line. He was working there, and he’s holding up the cheese. And he just said, hey– he talked to the manager. He said, hey Rick, you tell the new guy that the blind guy found the cheese in the fridge and he doesn’t need to go back and get– that’s how I met Bing.
Well, you know, it’s kind of funny, Andy. When I read that I got the picture of– I don’t know if anybody remembers Sally Fields was in a– Norma Rae. Norma Rae was a movie about a woman who started unions in the South. And all I saw was this big sign that said “Union” on it. And in this instance, it was just Bing with cheese on it. That was so funny.
Yeah. But that’s how I met him. And, I mean, we worked together on the line for a long time until it stretched into hanging out after work and stuff.
So, Bing, what caused your blindness?
Well, I was born completely blind. This is what they called it. I don’t know if that’s actually what it’s called. But they called it retinopathy of prematurity.
I was born a couple of weeks premature, and I was blind, completely blind, for the first three months of my life. And then they shot lasers into my eyes and I got some sight in my right eye and none in my left eye. It didn’t do anything for the left eye.
When you’re talking about lasers, Bing, that puts you at a certain age group. Are you in your 40s?
No. I’m only 28.
You’re only 28?
Yeah. He’s younger than me.
You said ’93. Holy Cow. I didn’t hear the dates. I apologize. But, yeah, I kind of figured you a much younger than me when you’re talking about laser for premature–
Yeah. That was probably the beginning of laser surgery stuff.
So it probably wasn’t the best science that was going into it, but it did give me some usable vision. Right?
It was probably ’93.
Well, the whole thing is in ’93. Back in the ’70s and the late ’60s, premature babies were being left blind because they put them in the incubators with the wrong balance of oxygen, which caused retinitis– some premature blindness for infants. So I’m sorry, I went right to my old head that you had to be close to my age. And I’m older than dirt. So, wow, OK. So go ahead. So you had this laser surgery that gave you some usable vision back as an infant, you said.
Yep. I’ve been like this my entire life.
Where did you grow up, Bing? Tell us about you. Tell us about your life, now that we know you were born with premature retinitis pigmentosa.
Is that what it’s called? OK.
I don’t know. No, I probably said it wrong. I don’t know. I’m just– I just happen to be blind. I don’t know what I’m talking about.
Oh, me either. I don’t know either.
Retinopathy of prematurity.
I grew up here in Lock Haven. This is where I was born.
Yeah. Lock Haven is in what state?
Yeah. And when I was born, though, I was sick for the first two weeks of me being born. And my mom was sick for a week after she had me. Because I– the reason why I was born premature was because I went to the bathroom inside my mom, so she had to have a C-section. And I think they did it at the Lock Haven Hospital. And then, once I was born, I was life flighted to Danville Hospital and I was there for a couple of weeks.
They had a better prenatal ability there, I suppose. You make it through the birth canal and you’re blind. What was school like for you?
It was great. It was amazing. I got made fun of all the time. It was so much fun. Loved it. And the school that I went to– Keystone Central School District, I think. I was the first blind student to go there. It was a public school. My parents didn’t put me in a blind school. Because I asked them, like, I don’t know, when I was 10 or 12, why didn’t you guys put me in a blind school. They said that they wanted me to have a normal childhood. Now I don’t know entirely what that means because–
–a normal childhood for me in a public school that none of the teachers or the administrators or anybody know how to deal with a blind student– so I just struggled the whole time through school. I never learned how to really read Braille up until I was a senior in high school. I never started using a cane until I was a junior in high school. And I was pretty much raised as if I could see but I was blind.
It was difficult, because my reading ability was not the greatest. I wasn’t very good at reading a book or whatever. And I didn’t really learn how to read until I was about 25, 26 years old. Pretty low reading level.
That’s so disturbing in as much as educators should have known better. And, to your point, in the ’70s we were institutionalizing people with disabilities and people who were blind. And there are schools, like you mentioned, that are blind-centric in nature. But then you lose, to your parents’ credit making that decision, as much as it was a struggle for you, my opinion is it exposed you to real life and you were able to interact and deal with, I guess, the social interactions that come with being blind.
But it sucks. I’m sure the academic enrichment was seriously curtailed because one, nobody taught your Braille. Two, I can’t believe you didn’t have a cane. I would think that would be an absolute requirement. But there are people we’ve interviewed, and colleagues and friends of ours, who are quadriplegic, paraplegic, they’re missing arms and limbs, and/or deaf and blind. And they are much older than you, and they experienced the same things. And it’s just a sad commentary on how we have not advanced academic enrichment for people in our community.
I mean, I went to the same school and in the same school system as Bing. I’m going to be honest here. It’s a very rural and very narrow minded. High school was tough for me and I could see. And I often–
I often think about what Bing had to deal with as– we’re close to the age. I’m 30. I often think about how unprepared the Keystone Central School System was. I think that’s kind of how it is, especially in rural school systems.
Well, Andy, funny you should say that. It is not exclusively a rural issue. I was a kindergarten teacher and a principal in New York City. And the urban school systems also have a lack of resources, a lack of appreciation around ability. And when I was teaching some of the kids that were passed to me– had more behavioral issues– and I was told put them in special ed. Don’t even try to teach them. This is kindergarten. How can you just disregard a child?
No. It was so sad. And I was happy to say that most of the kids that they were claiming needed to be written off just needed to be understood. And I credit my university– St. John’s University– for instilling something in my mind, that as educators we need to teach to the students’ ability rather than bending the ability to our teaching style.
And that’s one of the things that I think is just– it doesn’t matter whether it’s rural or not. It comes down to lack of ignorance, lack of resources– or increased ignorance, not a lack of, but a tremendous preponderance of ignorance about ability. And that’s what we do at My Blind Spot. We work to make sure that ability is celebrated alongside race, gender, orientation, and religion in both our social and corporate cultures. But it’s nice to know that you got a crappy education just as much as Bing did. That’s equality, baby.
It was something else.
So did you guys know each other in school or did you– you had said the first time you met each other was in the university.
I know I saw him.
I mean, how many blind kids you have in your school, Andy? You missed this?
Yeah, exactly. I mean, I’m sure that I saw him in passing. But we didn’t have any contact in school.
And the same time, too, going to– again, the universality of quote, unquote, “seeing” people in disability– we were having this conversation the other day about when we have anybody in our schools that had a disability. They always put you into a special ed class and hid you away from the general population of people.
But we had two people, one of whom– Pam Antilla. Pam had some– I forget what she had– scoliosis, but it really affected her gait and the length of her legs. And then Patty Yoder, who was a little person. But we have a look at them as having a disability.
And growing up I had family members and friends who had a disability, whether it was cerebral palsy, mental retardation, multiple disabilities. They were just Eleanor, PJ, they were my cousin Christopher. They were our friends. They were our family. But we didn’t see them in school. So it’s not surprising because we were conditioned, I think, through our social interactions to not see people that were different.
And don’t even get me started on the rest of the issues like gender, race, orientation. It seems to be human nature. So then, Bing, I’m curious. You graduated high school. Were you attending university where you were working?
Yes, college. Yes, I did go to college but I did not go to Lock Haven University. Whenever I was in high school, I did a vo-tech program. I did the culinary arts program. I was really into cooking food, so I did that. And then I wanted to go to college to cook food, because I’ll be able to get a job cooking somewhere because everyone’s got to eat.
So I went to Penn Tech, Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport for a year. And due to the disadvantages of how to do academics properly, Penn Tech was very difficult for me. College was hard. Even though there was more accessibility for disabled people– like, they had a disability department specifically for disabled people, to help you out with enlarging your books or taking your books and having them on digital format, and having them on your computer, and you can blow them up on your computer and use ZoomText or Jaws. And I learned all that stuff.
See, I kind of need to go back here a little bit to elementary school here. They did not start to enlarge any of my books until– I want to say, like, fifth grade. They didn’t start to enlarge my books. And then even whenever they did enlarge them, they still weren’t big enough to see. Even though they made them as big as they could possibly make them, I still couldn’t read them.
But then I eventually got a monocular so I could try to see the board better. I would always be sitting up front in the classroom because I’d try to see the board the best I can. And I had to use a monocular. And eventually, in high school, I got a– they gave me CCTVs. They gave me a couple of those, which all this assistive technology is great and whatnot. But when I was in school, I didn’t want to use it.
Hey, Bing, just for people who may not know, can you explain what a CCTV is?
A closed circuit television. Is that what it’s called?
That sort of thing. It’s like a camera that sits over top a– well, it was like, a movable tray. And you could put a book on the tray and the camera would blow it up. And there was knobs on, like, a screen that you could change the color. You could change it to black and white or white on black. And then there was like a yellow on blue and normal color. Then you could zoom it in as much as you wanted to be able to read, and then use the tray to move the book back and forth to read it.
Back in the day, that and Braille– that was basically the precursor to magnifiers is like ZoomText and the like. I remember using something similar when we would look at– back in the day we had something called microfiche. It was revolutionary for its time to save documents at a library. But, boy oh boy, what an annoyance that was.
It’s good for all the newspapers.
Yeah, right. Yeah, exactly. So getting an education was a huge lift for you, for sure.
An uphill battle, as it sounds. I can actually– I can relate to the education being an uphill battle. I was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, so it affected my learning a lot and I learned slower. I was left back a grade. It was very disheartening. And I feel like– and you might feel the same being as– if education was a race, I feel like I got tripped at the beginning and had to make up time.
And that’s the thing too, that I think the common thread here, regardless of ability, is it seems that academia failed us. We’re looking at a standardized approach to the acquisition of knowledge. And John being dyslexic, you being blind, Andy– well, Andy just being Andy.
We as a society, and as educators, need to make sure– and this is one of the things that we espouse at My Blind Spot– access to the right tools promotes ability and ultimately leads to infinite possibilities in our lives. If you don’t have the tools you need to succeed, you’re already, like, 17 steps behind the rest of the world, to John’s point about tripping at the starting line. All right. So you ended up going to college. You have this thirst and interest in feeding people. I’m hungry, by the way now, thank you very much, Bing.
Obviously, you have light perception. But usable vision, I wouldn’t really term it as that. Correct?
Yeah. I know growing up whenever it was– it actually progressively has gotten worse since I’ve gotten older. So it’s actually not as good as what it was when I was a kid. But it used to be– it was 20/200, but then it slowly became 20/400. And now I can no longer see the big E on that screen there that the show the big E. But the 20/200 thing is– or over 400– would be like, for someone who has perfect vision, whatever I could see at 20 feet they could see at 200 or 400 feet.
Right. That’s the thing, too, that irks me. School districts and administrators and teachers alike have been conditioned to expect us to thrive by using our weakest muscles, whether that is your eyes, your ears, your body, or in some instances your mind or brain, like with John with dyslexia, instead of delving deeper into the tools that we need to succeed. And I’m just shocked, after hearing what we heard from friends like John Kemp, Kirk Adams, a number of people from the disability community attesting to the same struggles they ran into, and the same parents, by the way, saying suck it up, buttercup. We’re not going to make it easy for you.
To see that in 1993, we were still facing– probably some instances are still facing today these types of barriers to academia and careers in general.
When I was in 10th grade I got introduced to a OVR counselor. And what does OVR stand for?
Occupational vocational rehab.
Rehab specialist, yeah. I was going to say, if you didn’t know that, I got that.
He introduced me to a program that would be over the summer for, like, a couple weeks. It was called the Summer Academy, is what they called it. And the purpose of it was to take 20 visually impaired students wanting to learn the transition from high school to college to learn the difference. And at least the first couple of years I went was like, the first few years where they actually started doing it.
It was called the Hiram G. Andrews Center in Johnstown, PA. It’s not really a college. It’s more like a post-secondary education school. So we went there to learn the difference between high school and college. But eventually then they started doing it at Penn State College in State College, PA, because that’s an actual college.
Because the Hiram G. Andrews Center is just a one building. And that’s not a very good college experience because college is a whole bunch of buildings scattered all over the place. And it’s fun trying to get from one class to another. I got to be at my next class in 15 minutes. Can I navigate down this treacherous pathway to get to it in like, 15 minutes?
I’m just closing my eyes and remembering what my campus looked like– the options and the possibilities for major screw ups by taking a path or not knowing which one it was.
It’s nerve wracking enough being excited.
Yeah, it is. So go ahead.
We got introduced to assistive technology where we got to learn how to use ZoomText or Jaws, if you were completely blind. I was introduced to ZoomText because I had some sight. And ZoomText is pretty cool. I liked it. It was all right. I mean, it was back in 2012 or ’11 or ’10, something like that. So I’m sure there’s a better version of it now, 10 years later, but I don’t know. I haven’t had it since then. But we were introduced to O&M, orientation
So you got all this training at this facility–
Little academy thing that they called it.
Yeah, and it taught you what college was like. It’s not like you’re going to be in class from like 8:00 till 2:00 or 3:00 or whatever. You might have one class at 8:00 to 9:00 and then not have another class until 2:00 or 3:00.
Or the next day, so yeah.
They basically were indoctrinating you to what college was going to be like and how the structure that you would use to in high school weren’t going to be– that you had to be self advocate. You had to be immersed in what was expected of you. They gave you all this, and you went to– now, the college you went to where you started getting your culinary arts training, how big was that campus?
Penn Tech– Pennsylvania College of Technology– it’s pretty big. I don’t know the feet or whatever, but it’s pretty–
It’s hard to compare.
I have no clue, but it is pretty big. But the cool thing about it was is that my O&M instructor– before I was actually starting to have classes there you would get your schedule or syllabus or whatever it was called. And we would walk to my classes. I would use my cane, and we would learn how to get to my classes.
And I would learn what the buildings are, try to use landmarks to figure out where I’m at. I remember one of them– one of the buildings, the IT building. In the summer, there was a water fountain that they would have running constantly. And my O&M instructor said, you could use the fountain as a guide to have an idea of where you’re at, but you also can’t.
Because in the winter, it’s not going to be running, so you’re not going to be able to really that to your advantage. So I would do that– learn how to get to my classes before having to actually get to my classes. So I would know the route to get there.
And that’s something that most people take for granted as sighted people. You can take a visual of the campus and get, OK, that’s the IT building. Whereas when we’re walking, any number of things could happen.
Like your O&M instructor had said, the fountain is not going to be running in the winter. But then it might be off in the summer too for work. You have no clue.
I know walking through New York City, any number of things could come up that complicate my audio sensitivity to listening to where I’m going. And that anxiety, mostly– because you must have been heightened because you had to get to your class.
You had to figure out how to get there. And then you had to spend how many hours with your O&M instructor just learning how to navigate the campus.
And today there’s a lot of wayfinding programs. We’re working with a few different companies to help us– those of us who are visually impaired and/or blind– navigate and travel off the grid, as it were, and be able to navigate inside buildings and campuses.
There’s a lot of new tools out there that I’m hoping people will be aware of and look deeper into, especially those disability resource centers that should be on top of all of this at any university, regardless of whether it’s rural, urban, or in between. You’ve got all this O&M instruction, and then you start going to classes.
Yes. They were kind of difficult. Well, especially the English or like the reading classes– those were difficult because I was stunted because of not having the proper technology to help me through public education. But math– for some reason, I was really good at math. I could do math in my head like nothing. I don’t know why I was so good at math, but I was.
Still are. They still are.
They still are.
I don’t know. I was better back in school.
You’re pretty good because I can’t– you’re pretty good at it still.
If you say so.
You can pick it back up in a heartbeat, man. You just get a little practice in you, and–
Two plus two.
–doing the stuff you did in college, no problem.
2 plus 2 is 3.
There you go.
I was going to say–
Two plus two is fish.
Fish, yes. I went to Penn Tech, though, for about a year. I went there, and it was very difficult because the OVR says they help families that if you don’t make a certain amount of money, they’ll give you grants and stuff to help you fund college and whatnot.
But you have to have a minimum of 12 credits or like 24 credits in order for them to keep funding you. I had, at the end of the first year, 23 credits because I withdrew from my English Comp 1 class because I could not do it. I could not do English Comp for whatever– well, we know. We know why.
You were having trouble comprehending it, obviously.
Yeah. Yeah, it was very difficult. It’s fun trying to write papers. I loved it. So I only had 23 credits, and he’s like, well, you could take a English Comp summer course here at LHU to get it up to 26 so we continue on funding you to go there, but we can tell that you’re not really enjoying this at all.
I was not. It was very difficult. I was not having a lot of fun going to school there. So they had another idea. There’s a program– back at the Hiram G Andrews Center, they have a post-secondary education school there called the Commonwealth Technical Institute, and they use the Hiram G Andrews Center building to do all their different types of courses and stuff there.
And one of them was culinary arts. And there were two programs in the culinary arts. There was a kitchen help program, and then there was an associate’s degree culinary arts program. And I did the associate’s degree one. At that school, they call them terms. They don’t call them semesters.
And you are in school all year round, through the summer and everything. There are three terms through the whole year– fall, spring, and summer. Kitchen help program is two terms. The associate’s degree program was four terms, and I did that one. 2012, fall semester, I went there.
I just want to ask. Did you enjoy that education more than regular college?
Yes. The big difference about that place was it wasn’t about academics. It was more about hands on. They were training you to do the job that you’re going to do out in the labor force. Whenever you get out and go get a job, this is what you’re going to do.
And there were a lot of programs. There was the culinary arts program. There was like a building maintenance one. There was an auto mechanic.
We have something in New York called BOCES, which is a vocational school where you learn a specific task. And that’s one of the things– my undergrad, I was not crazy about. But my graduate studies to become a teacher, like you just said– I was learning what I was able to apply the next day. And that made it different to me because I was able to go out and exercise what I learned. So you’re in this culinary class. You would practically be practicing at home on your family?
Making your food?
No, no, I never did that. No. I never fed them.
Never fed them. Let them starve.
Let them eat cake. Go ahead. So you fell in love with culinary arts or had this unknown passion for it.
Yes. What’s great about this program, though, too, is that in order for you to go to this program, you have to have a disability. To go to the Commonwealth Technical Institute, you have to have a disability to go there. Any kind of disability is allowed.
And I’ll tell you. Whenever I first went there, it was a big change for me. Because to see multiple people with all different types of disabilities, it was very– it was different. It was pretty eye opening.
Yeah, it made you realize you’re not alone, whereas that’s how you felt in elementary school.
Yes. I don’t know. It’s pretty cool a little bit. Like, it was kind of empowering a little bit to let me know that I’m not the only one.
And that’s one of the things, too, that’s really important, I think, and this is something that we talk about here in our house. I’d like to say challenge my limits, don’t limit my challenges. And it seems as though that might have been the case with like-minded people who come from the disability community across the ability spectrum– overcoming their challenges and supporting each other in that way.
Yeah. Going there, it was easier for me to use the assistive technology that was given to me because these people weren’t making fun of me for using it. They’re just like, oh, OK. He’s blind. He’s using that. Whatever. That kind of took the pressure off of that, so it made it easier for me to do that.
And then with the program, I graduated within four semesters. I graduated in December of 2013 honor roll. It was great. A lot of the classes were just hands on. We would be in the kitchen cooking food all year. Except for the first term– we learned all the different names of the type of equipment that you’re going to be using and tools and stuff and different types of cooking and all that.
And then you get to go into the kitchen. It was called the [? Vote ?] kitchen where you get to make a meal, or you got to go into the bake shop and got to bake a bunch of stuff. You got to make a bunch of baked goods. I made a whole bunch of nice food.
Did the university have a placement office to help you find a job afterward?
Well, actually, what you have to do for your last term– the last eight weeks of that term, you have to do an internship. And the program had a bunch of places already picked out where the students would go and just do it there. I actually literally did it where I’m working now.
I was able to go to the Lock Haven University and do my internship at an Aramark. The GM at the time– I called him, told him who I was, the program that I was in, told him what I was doing, and if he was OK with me doing the internship there. And he said, totally fine. That was great.
And I did my internship there, and I passed. And because of that, there just happened to be a new position that was open, and I was hired there January 2014. I got the pizza position there, and I’ve been there ever since.
Working in that establishment at the college.
That’s a sign of a great program where you’ve gotten the academic enrichment you needed. You’re able to acquire that knowledge based around your ability, access to the tools you needed, and then–
And apply that knowledge.
Well, being able to apply that knowledge, correct. And then you got this internship. And as most internships go, yours was a frickin’ success, bro. I don’t know how many internships turn into a job offer, but it does happen, and hats off to you.
Yeah, I was pretty lucky. The cool thing about that place was that these instructors deal with all different types of disabilities all year round constantly, so they know how to educate and assist disabled people. It’s not like it was when I was in public school where none of them teachers had a clue on how to deal with a disabled person.
I find there’s an education on both sides of the fence. As an organization, whether it’s a restaurant or a corporate office, you need to be disability ready and/or friendly. You need to understand the tools that people with disabilities use to not just survive, but thrive, and build environments that support that.
It sounds like you’re on top of the institution you went to to get this education. The general manager at the kitchen seemed to appreciate what they needed to do in order to set you up for success.
Yeah. He told my instructor, Ben is one of the best employees I’ve ever had, and I wish I had 10 more of him.
How many times were you employee of the month, and did you get employee of the month because you found the cheese and Andy couldn’t?
There is no employee of the month.
I know. I’m joking. Bing, how soon into your career did Andy come up on the scene?
A couple of years later. Was it 2015 or was it ’16? I forget what year we–
I think it was ’15.
I feel like it was ’16.
Andy, I’m curious because I can hear what Bing– how he was successful how he integrated and assimilated into a situation where most people from the general public would scratch their heads and say, well, be how can a blind guy do that? What was your first experience seeing that– well, was Bing the first person you came across that was blind and working?
Yeah. Yeah, he was.
What were your initial reactions and thoughts about that?
Since I have a background in kitchens and kitchen work like that, I was very impressed with his spatial awareness and ability to move around a very– like, we’re not talking a sandwich shop. This is like an industrial kitchen with big equipment, hot stuff, sharp stuff. That’s how it is.
And I was very impressed with his ability to get around the kitchen and do the job that a lot of people– a lot of sighted people, they can’t hack it. They can’t do it. That was very eye opening. I had to think about it for a second.
It’s kitschy and everything, but it’s true. Bing and people like Bing live by example, and it does open our eyes. That’s what we do at My Blind Spot. We want to open up eyes to what’s possible as opposed to reinforcing those antiquated myths and misperceptions about ability.
We like to say, don’t diss our ability at My Blind Spot because we don’t want to be disabled. I want to be– as you seem to have appreciated, Andy– measured against my value and what I can contribute, provided there aren’t those virtual or physical walls thrust in front of me intentionally or unintentionally.
That happens in academic enrichment. That happens in careers. I find it very enlightening to hear what other people think about their colleagues who just happen to have a disability in the workforce. It’s instances like that, observations, and sharing your stories that help other people who have blinders on or turn a deaf ear to our abilities as people who roll through life or see things from a different angle as if were.
You guys, now how soon into working together did you forge a relationship and friendship? Because I’m telling you, Bing probably said, I can hang out with him. He can’t see cheese.
I mean, I know one thing that helped was we were two of the youngest guys in the unit. And I know that helped obviously. I mean, we had similar interests. I worked right next to them. We were working basically the same station.
So at that point, basically I was with him all my hours at work, and it quickly moved to, hey, let’s come up and play the game, or we’ll go down to the bar after work. It just blossomed into that pretty soon. I mean, I don’t know, Bing, What do you think?
Just about immediately.
Pretty soon after I started working there, we started hanging out.
Yeah. One very long– he started working there in about September or the end of August. And then the first time we hung out outside of work was in November. So it wasn’t much– a few months after meeting each other, we hung out.
And so Bing, you took him under your wing and showed him the ropes?
He did. He did.
Well, he did because it was a new kitchen, new standards, and stuff. And he had been there for years. So I could ask him– I could run stuff by him without talking to management.
So now, Andy, let me ask you this. And Bing, I’m fascinated by other people’s observation of our abilities. Did your other coworkers and colleagues in the kitchen seem to have this reverence and/or respect for Bing? And did that translate into appreciating what people from the disability community might be able to do as opposed to anything else? Did it increase your morale? Did people feel good about the fact that Bing was working there? Did it make them feel good about the company?
Well, I knew immediately the Bing was well liked there. And I knew he was well liked there because he was efficient and good at his job. It’s hard for me to tell if the students, the customers, even knew he was blind. I wondered that often while I was working there. I was like, man, he’s so good at this that no one would– I didn’t know. And these students that are in here every day for lunch– I doubt that they even– you know what I mean?
Well, it’s one of those things that you don’t need to know as long as he’s doing his job proficiently, efficiently, and effectively.
And I always wonder, Bing. It was obvious for you in this process that the employer or internship people knew you were blind because of where you got your training and education.
Yes. As somebody who, in this particular instance, it wasn’t held against you, where do you stand on self-identify? Would you suggest to other people pursuing careers who happen to be blind to self-identify as such? Would you think it is something they need to share with their potential employer?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You probably should let your employer know that you are visually impaired because if you do something– or it’s like, why did you do that, or– it’s– I did. I don’t know. It’s interesting how many people– they would forget that I can’t see real well because of how well I get around the kitchen and everything. And then as I’m leaving to go home, I pull my cane out and start using my cane. And they’re like, oh, yeah, he’s blind.
Completely forgot about that.
The very first time I met Jonathan some 11 to 12 years ago, it was like, you’re really not as blind as you say you are. You can see something because my hand always landed where it had to. I could hear things. And in that sense, it’s a compliment that people don’t look at you any other way other than somebody who’s capable of doing the job.
And I need you to understand this. You’re a representation of what’s possible when we see people for their innate ability. And I take my hat off to you for setting a tone and changing people’s minds, one company at a time. So rest with that and just reflect on what you’re doing by being proactively involved and engaged in your goals and dealing with the barriers you have to overcome to succeed in life. And this is reflective on us as people with a disability.
Do you think because we have to work harder to just either get to work or learn how to navigate the kitchen, in this instance, that it’s made us better at what we do, that we’ve taken those challenges and turned them–
What you’re saying is because he’s blind, he works harder in the kitchen and he’s better at it than someone who isn’t?
I would say yes.
It sounds like you’re on top of your game as far as it goes in the kitchen.
Super impressive– it’s super– it never stopped being impressive to me. And I had kitchen experience. And we cook together now. We cook together and cook for multiple people all the time now. And it’s still just as impressive to me now as it was then, really.
It’s a story that gives hope.
Yeah, it gives hope to people. I don’t know. When I first lost my eyesight some 16 years ago, I was told I had to go and volunteer at organizations with two master’s degrees. And I had education under my belt before I lost my eyesight. So I didn’t have to endure or deal with some of the crap you did. But they wanted me to volunteer at a place to show them what a blind person could do. That would have probably taken two, maybe three years just so I could get a $9.50 an hour– a job.
The low expectation that gets thrust upon us is disconcerting and just disgusting. And I remember when [? Jon ?] first introduced me to the story about fly fishing and all the things that Andy pulled together, and this is how we became to know the both of you– y’all are like, do we really have anything to lend to the podcast? I’m going to ask you. What do you think?
I think so. Well, I think you’re–
Do you see the value in your story?
I got to say, I wrote that because I aim to become a guide. I’d like to make that my career. Fishing has helped me in all aspects of my life, from a physical standpoint to a mental health standpoint.
Yeah, absolutely. And I have to say doing that with Bing is something that–
It adds an extra little something, something, right?
It does because I’m fully intent on getting involved with Healing Waters. It’s a veteran’s assistance program for disabled veterans to get them fishing because of the value of what fishing can–
It’s like meditating.
–and outdoor stuff in general can do. Bing is a stand-up example that outdoor recreation and the outdoors world can be accessible. You just need someone that can– I don’t know.
I don’t know.
Andy, well, just so people can– can you give us some of the background on the piece that you wrote that we put up on our website, MyBlindSpot.org, as a guest blogger? Give us a bit of piece– a bit of background on that piece.
Sure. Bing and I started hanging out. We started hanging out a lot.
I know you guys went to the bar and drank a lot.
Yeah, we did.
I like that one.
And I mean, that gets old. I mean–
Oh, I know. I know.
I mean, I’m now 16 months sober. I’m a recovering addict.
Congratulations, brother. Every day, one day at a time.
Thank you– because it was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life, honestly.
The most rewarding thing you’ll do, too.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, it definitely is– my life immediately changed for the better. My sobriety had a real tangible effect. Bing saw it. He saw the change that happened to me when I got sober. But the fishing and the being outdoors– that is a big part of that. That is inextricably linked to me living a better life.
First, Bing just liked to be out there with me. That was fine by me, to have someone that was willing to go out when it’s freezing or out– and didn’t matter. And it took me a while to convince him to start throwing the rod himself, and for good reason. You’re throwing laser-sharp hooks far distances.
It’s intimidating at first, but really not. It’s not that–
And Bing fished as a kid. I asked him. And he had a history of being outdoors. We’re in rural Central Pennsylvania. We all, at least, have a background in the outdoors a little bit, I think, I would say. But his first time I took him out where he was actively fishing, he caught a really nice musky. And that’s a fish that people fish for for years and don’t catch. It’s a really special fish. And I knew that was a really special thing that happened to us that day. And I knew I had to write it down because–
It’s like the higher power of the universe was–
Yeah, something was– all the boxes were checked. And something good was happening that day. And I’m like, I got to write this down because this is meaningful to me.
So this started your foray into this– bringing people to the great outdoors?
Yeah, it really did. And I talked to some other guides. And they say, are you guiding? And I’m like, no, I’m not guiding. But then they know that I have got– every time I take Bing out, though, this is a form of guiding. And they say if you do that, you can start calling yourself a guide.
Well, Andy, too–
And the funny thing is I keep talking about the technologies in the world. If we make them such that people with their eyes closed are able to execute, we’ve done wonders for not just the blind community, but the human race in general.
So if you’re able to articulate to a blind person how to do just about anything, your ability to articulate information in a way that’s understandable, interpretable, and executable– hats off to you, too, brother. So when are you taking me on a guided fishing tour?
Hey, man. You’re up in prime territory up there. I’d love to come up there and fish.
I could show you a few things.
I pretty much lived on the Great South Bay my whole life.
So we’ll have to coordinate a road trip.
Unfortunately, the old inlet that just opened up in– during Sandy just closed. And there was some good stripers running through there.
I’ve never caught a striper. And that just makes me want to go there more.
It’s a good bit of a fight.
Oh, yeah. They’re big animals. If I had to sum up my friendship with Bing, probably there were two times in the time I’ve been friends with Bing that I really– I don’t know– I had to take a step back. And I was just moved because he told me he didn’t really read up until he was 25. And we started watching world news and reading. I don’t know, Bing. What do you think? I know you started reading more when you started hanging out. That day you told me that your vocabulary had increased or whatever was probably one of my proudest moments in my adult life. I’m going to be honest about that. That was great. And then getting you out on the water and you being there with me consistently when I do all my– going and fishing in the snowstorm, going and fishing in the high water.
It’s crazy. It sounds like this friendship made both of your lives better in crazy amounts of ways.
Well, I’m just going to say, Bing, do you want to fish? Do you like fishing or you just do it because–
It’s great. It’s great. If I could do that instead of having to work where I work now, I’d do that.
No, it’s interesting. My mom and my brother– avid fisher people. And, well, you can’t say fishing– well, my mother’s a woman. So is she a fishing woman? I know she’s a fish monger when she yells at me sometimes. And [? Jon’s ?] dad– we keep talking about going out on a boat for a deep sea fishing extravaganza. But we haven’t done that yet. But– never was a fisherman, never liked fishing, wasn’t– didn’t like being in the solitude, did not like– I love the nature aspect of it. I don’t mind walking through the woods. But sitting with a pole–
I grew up fishing. So it got boring. I’m more a hunter. I like going hunting.
[INAUDIBLE] sit there in a blind waiting [INAUDIBLE]
I can sit in a blind for a week. I can’t sit in a boat with a rod for a half-hour without hating the sun.
Yes? If you had something to say to your young self knowing what you have accomplished now, what would it be?
I don’t know.
That’s a good question.
Yeah, it is a good question. I’ve never–
Maybe just give it some fun.
Tell it to yourself.
And then if you feel like showing something to the teachers and the other people who have failed you, that’s something I’d like to know, too, because I think there’s an opportunity here for us to have teachable moments on a variety of levels, one about our own self-value and worth and how we could be better if somebody just gave us the opportunity, how educators need to understand not to bend the ability to their teaching style, but teach to the ability. Understand.
I have no clue how you were not introduced to Braille. I learned Braille when I could see. And unfortunate, when I lost my eyesight, I had nerve damage. So my fingers are– I have neuropathy in my hands and my feet. So I’m not able to really read Braille. But without being able to read Braille, you’re, functionally, illiterate. And I have to, again, give you props for learning how to read Braille in high school at 12th– in 12th grade because all those years, your fingers had become conditioned to not respond to Braille. What was the first book that you sat down to read? Do you remember?
Regarding Braille here? Yeah, I’d learn how to do Braille my senior year. And the only reason why I learned it was because for my senior project that everyone has to do, you have to do 20 hours of community service and then type out a one-page paper. And then you have to do a presentation in front of two teachers. And the whole purpose of me learning to read Braille was so I could use note cards to slide my fingers across to have bullet points to know what to talk about next. And that’s the only time I used Braille. Do I know how to read Braille now? Nope, I have no clue.
Well, but that’s–
It’s becoming sort of obsolete.
No. But it never will, in my opinion.
It shouldn’t ever–
Because you can’t– the only way to effectively learn how to communicate is reading, writing, and speaking. And our blind youth get screwed left and right out of reading.
I think it’s an important thing.
It very much is. So just–
At the very least, blind people understand how to read Braille.
To your point, the fact that we have audio books and a lot of–
–that allow us to consume the knowledge is a good thing. But I think Braille is a very important– only 10% of the entire blind population reads Braille because, again, the sighted community are our educators. And they don’t know how to read Braille. So they don’t teach us Braille. It’s a really, really weird, screwed up concept that we basically raise functional illiterates in the blind community. And we expect them to use their weakest muscle along the way. And we expect them, like Bing, to learn Braille on the fly so he can do a thesis or dissertation, whatever you want to call your presentation– mind-boggling– props to you, bro, for stepping up and doing what you had to do to exemplify your knowledge.
Well, so what is in the future for the fishing guide and the blind chef?
I’ll tell you this. And Bing and I have talked about this for– we’ve been talking about this for over a year. I would really like to move into social media, like YouTube, TikTok, Facebook. And we want to get GoPros. We want to show people what– because it’s not just fishing. Bing and I have gone out and done ultralight backpacking and stayed out in the woods with a minimum amount of equipment. And we catch fish. And I metal detect. And Bing has helped me with that. I really think we could create a very informative and–
It’d be like a nature show.
It’s like a hunting and fishing show.
And I really think that–
I can build you a campfire.
Build you a campfire?
Bing can build a fire quicker than me. And that’s–
Hold on a second.
What were you going to say, [? Jon? ?]
There’s a few buddies of mine. And Albert’s been with us once. We go to the Delaware Water Gap.
Twice. Did we go twice?
I’m almost positive we did it twice.
Well, we go to the Delaware Water Gap. And we go for a kayaking trip that we go overnight. And we camp out. And we take everything on a kayak.
Yeah, stuff like that.
You see, Andy, you and [? Jon ?] can never, ever hang out together.
It was so funny because, again, [? Jon’s ?] family and my family both have property in upstate New York and not too far from the Pennsylvania border, where [? Jon’s ?] families is. And my parents’ property is upstate by– north of Binghamton. It’s just a little southwest of Binghamton.
I know where Binghamton is.
So anyway, [? Jon ?] comes to me one day and says, so, you like camping? And I looked at him. And I’m like, sure I do– Motel 8, right?
And he’s like, no. Motel 8– that’s glamping.
I said, no, glamping’s the Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt. So I’m like, OK. He’s like, I mean outside in the woods. I’m like, OK. And I call my parents. I’m like, mom, dad, I’m going camping. And they said the same thing. What hotel? I said, no. I haven’t been in the woods since I was 17. And we went. And we’ve done this. I have my own kayak. We have a two-person kayak, a tandem kayak. We have a tandem bike, all the outdoorsy things that I thought were going to be forever lost to me, whether I wanted them to be lost–
Or whether I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see.
I’ve been reawakened in a way that’s wonderful. And I think it would be great for the four of us to go camping. We’d go run through the woods and stock fires.
That would be awesome, guys.
It’s wonderful. It really is.
And [? Jon, ?] I was like, I remember at one point, too, as I was rowing and everything, and he’s screaming at me, you’re leaning too far to one side. And I’m like, I am centered.
Hold on. No, you don’t know what I’m talking about.
I’m centered. I’m centered. And all of a sudden, I hear him start to laugh. And he says to his brother, Corey, why did you hook up to our boat? So I am rowing three people.
My little brother hooked on to the back of our kayak. So we were towing him.
Your little brother is not little, too. He’s a big boy.
No, he’s heavier than me.
That was so funny. Then we stopped the fire and everything. And we went hiking up and down the mountains. There’s something to be said to being out in nature, as you were saying beforehand, that really helps center your mind. And there’s something about the solitude that really, really does– it’s just wonderful.
I’m glad I can share that with Bing. And it’s just a testament to the fact that it should be accessible to– and this is my opinion.
They should have the choice.
Bing, have you ever gone skydiving?
Oh, no. No.
Oh, I’ve done that. I had fun. But that was kind of scary. And then I also drove in a blindfold taxi derby where everybody else made believe they were blind on a NASCAR track doing 55 miles.
Everyone was blindfolded.
That sounds dangerous.
They had a navigator in the passenger seat.
Yeah, we all had co-pilots and everything. But boy, oh boy, was that a rush. We just got back from Costa Rica, where we did– and I don’t think zip lining is all that scary.
It was relaxing.
It was relaxing.
Zip lining is relaxing.
Some people get so scared about the heights and everything. So I guess there’s that trepidation. But we went on a zip line tour that was the longest in the Western hemisphere and one of the sixth longest in the world. And it was just so awesome.
So I love the fact that you guys get out and do stuff. You’re not sitting around, listening to a transistor radio, waiting for death.
So now we’re hearing you’re going to start your own fishing guide group. And now you’re going to– so you guys will teach him how to–
It’s what I enjoy to do. Why wouldn’t I throw a cast out to the world?
They’ll teach them how to fish. And then Bing can teach them how to gut and set up for the campfire.
Oh, you could have it be part cooking.
We’ve done that. And it’s great. Catching it and eating it fresh right out of the water– it’s amazing.
That’s what we do on the kayaking trip.
Oh, no. This sounds wonderful. So we all know what’s next. Any parting words of wisdom for people who want to pursue careers that are traditionally shut to people who happen to be blind, Bing?
Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.
I got this– I got– I have this Chinese proverb at the bottom of my signature line that says “the person who says it cannot be done needs to get out of the way of the person who’s doing it.” And I think you embody that, Bing.
That’s a great little nugget of wisdom there. And I totally, just totally– that’s–
And Andy, that goes for you, too. Sobriety and working the program can be challenging at times. But the person says it can’t be done needs to get out of your way because you’re doing it, too, brother. So thank you guys.
Thank you for that.
I got to say one thing. I got to say one– I checked you guys out heavily before we agreed. My boss threw it my way. And I really appreciate what you guys do. There needs to be more of it. I know that I have probably scattered across Clinton County– I’ve got a bunch of people that were excited that Bing and I were doing this. And they’re going to check it out and all that. And I really appreciate My Blind Spot and what you guys are doing and making things more accessible and just having the conversation because I feel like that’s half the battle right there– is having the conversation about what things are like for people that are not as able as other people. So I want you guys to know that.
Thank you for those kind words. And it is actually what makes it easier every day for me to wake up and appreciate why I was given this new way of seeing. Being blind was not on my radar, as oddly as–
Oh, you didn’t plan to be blind?
No. I do enjoy when I go to the bar and I get to meet people in Braille, though. Badum-bum! But no, it’s– and thank you. And it’s one of the things that we really try to, I think, as we started the conversation– normal– what is it? But we want to normalize the blind community and people with disabilities in general to make sure that people see us as valued contributors in society and in the work environment. And again, give us the access to the right tools. We can do just about anything we put our mind to.
Well, gentlemen, thank you for joining us today.
It was a pleasure having you guys– look forward to fishing with you guys sometime.
Sure, yeah, totally something I would be interested in, for sure.
Well, that was a nice interview. I really enjoy the relationship that Bing and Andrew developed, a work relationship that turned into what sounds like a really great friendship. It was very interesting to hear the different experiences they’ve had and listen to Andrew actually see what Bing is capable of doing without judgment or influences from a generalized, stereotypical position about what people who are blind can do. So I’m really looking forward to finding time to go fishing with them, for sure.
On the next podcast, we’ll be interviewing Pat [INAUDIBLE]
Pat’s an interesting guy. His very first client was his son, [? Mark, ?] who was born with Down syndrome. And it sounds like [? Mark ?] was definitely an impetus to open up Pat’s eyes to equality and barrier-free access to education. And he is a very, very, very well-known attorney representing families and students with disabilities, talking about ease of access to academic enrichment, the right environments, and how important it is to have the families, as well as the student, involved in determining their academic path and career. So tune in to that one because it’s going to be very interesting.
As we close for today, feel free to reach out to us at our website, MyBlindSpot.org/ AccessAbilityWorks, or you can email us directly at podcast@MyBlindSpot.org.
And be sure to watch out for our next blog on the kindness of strangers. Please share AccessAbility Works with your friends. Tell them to download and listen. Again, you can go to Spotify, Apple, or our website, MyBlindSpot.org.
Thank you for joining us today. This has been AccessAbility Works, a podcast about the possibilities that accessibility means for people with disabilities. I’m Albert Rizzi.
And I’m Jonathan Hermus.
Thanks for listening.
Make believe you’re at a haunted house.
Shut up so I can do it.
Smile, you’re on Candid Camera!
I really hope I’m not.
You are because you’re annoying.
The Susquehanna Hat Company– slowly, I turn.
Don’t say anything racy. On the next episode of Dragon Ball Z–
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]
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