Category Archives: Art and Culture

We’re with U Concert Helps Blind Ukrainians

People performing and playing music. There are people playing rock, dandcing and rapping.

As I’ve been watching the news on the war in Ukraine I have wondered  what is happening to the people with disabilities there. Are they successfully escaping with their families? Or are they safely staying behind? I know war harms the lives, health and safety of all people involved. but the circumstances are far worse for the millions of people with disabilities and their families living in Ukraine. Getting reliable information in an accessible format  must be challenging. Spotty transportation options  and/or places to shelter safely  are probably  also difficult too. I know just thinking about the basic things of life like food, clothing and shelter, then add a disability  to that equation has got to be incredibly tough.

Benefit Concert for Blind Ukrainians

As a disabled person living miles away from this devastation I  was at a loss  with what to do. Then a few weeks ago it was announced, on one of my favorite podcasts, Mosen at Large, a benefit concert  would be held to help the blind people in Ukraine. This virtual concert would be  an opportunity for the international blind community to contribute  in two ways. First, of course, to give a monetary donation regardless of the amount. Second, to contribute our musical talents and skills to a very worthy cause. I thought this was a wonderful idea and blocked off the date and time on my calendar.

Well, the We’re With U concert was held Saturday, Apr. 16. It ran for about 11 hours or so, reminding me of the days of Live Aid, a benefit  concert  to help the famine in Ethiopia. It was fantastic! I was so proud of the incredible  talent in the community . For hours I listen to singers and musicians. There was a classical guitarist,  trombonist and  poet. All varieties of music were performed  from rock, gospel, classical, operatic, country, reggae and jazz. There were even some performances from the theatric productions of Fiddler on the Roof, Hamilton and the Phantom of the Opera. There literally was something for everyone. The performers came from all parts of the globe-the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, Spain, Romania, Ireland, India, Singapore, Germany, the Caribbean and more. It truly was an international  united front to help Ukraine.

Stories About Blind Ukrainians

Not only did I hear wonderful musical selections but stories  from  Ukrainians  themselves. I got  to learn a little  bit about what  people with disabilities are really dealing with, driving home the pressing need more. Stories were told about blind children trying to shelter in place. A story of a  blind person with cerebral palsy  escaping. Another about  accessing braille books in  Ukrainian’s native language.

Multiple Ways to Donate

Empish Writing a Check

During the entire concert opportunities to donate were provided. In the US, people  contacted the National Federation of  the Blind who partnered with the World Blind Union. On their website there  was a dedicated page about the concert and a form  for your donation. The form was accessible and easy to complete. Once done I got an email confirmation of my donation.

For people outside the US, a donation form from the World Blind Union was available. According to their website, The WBU is  the principal organization that represents and speaks on behalf of blind and partially sighted persons at the international level. The WBU derives its strength from its members in approximately 190 countries worldwide. The WBU reflects the aspirations of blind persons for equality and full participation.

The concert started at 2 p.m. with an amount of around $30,000. By the time I started yawning and nodding off at 1 a.m. the total was around $80,000. And this is not the grand total by any means. For people who  didn’t have internet access a phone number was available  to receive a call back. Also, there is probably opportunities to still give  as the weeks progress. Again, I was immensely proud of all that we  were doing to help blind and visually impaired Ukrainians.

Concert was an Opportunity to Give

I have no idea when this war will end but I do take some comfort in knowing that I helped  in some small way. The We’re With U concert gave me the chance to give   not only to those who are currently disabled but  those who will become  so because of this war. As we all know war injuries can result in PSD, amputations, deafness and blindness. I  also  am giving back by writing this post. Hopefully, you will read it. Share  with friends and family. And most importantly, donate  to the people of Ukraine.

Representation Matters: Excellent Audio Description of The Harder They Fall

Empish watching TV. She is sitting on sofa pointing remote control at TV.

Grew Up Watching Westerns

While growing up in Texas watching westerns were a big part of my childhood, especially on Saturdays. There was Big Valley, Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. In the evenings, my favorite western was  Gunsmoke, starring James Arness as Matt Dillon. I even enjoyed Little House on the Prairie and later as an adult, watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

But rarely have I ever seen a western with Black folks. Maybe a token  character or two. But definitely not a full cast. So, it was to my delight to view the movie The Harder They Fall  with audio description. Although, the movie premiered on Netflix  some months ago, I am just getting around to watching it. But better late than never, right? And boy was it well worth it. The film  has a cast of characters loosely based on real cowboys, lawmen and outlaws of the 19th century American West. It is about revenge, love and redemption. The film stars Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, and Deon Cole.

Popcorn in a red bowl and a mug of a warm beverage on the table with a fireplace in the background.

Representation Really Does Matter

Now when it comes to representation it really does matter. What I am talking about goes beyond race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc. It is providing equal access  to information in a film, movie or TV show for those with vision loss. It is the way information is described  and given to me as I engage with the film. Since I am blind watching films with excellent audio description is important to me. I watch  a lot of audio described movies  and I have to tell you  this one was done exceptionally well. Let me tell you why.

Race and Skin Tone Described

From the very beginning of the movie race is communicated. In the opening scene  we view a Black family sitting down to dinner. They are dressed in clothing of the time period. One of the men is described having  dark Black skin with a salt and pepper beard. Too many times I have watched films with people of color in them never knowing that fact. There are times I don’t discover it until the character  self-identifies  by saying in one of their lines they are Black, Asian, Latino, etc. Then I have to  reprocess the scene because  if race is not communicated the thought process is to assume the dominate race which is white.

The audio description didn’t shy away from identifying variations of skin tone. In the Black community we are a rainbow of skin tones-from light skin to medium to dark-and variations in between. Throughout the whole movie skin tone variations were given which I greatly appreciated. For example, a character  was described as a copper skinned man. It gave me context and understanding as to what the person really looked like especially since I had eyesight before. Other movies I have watch stop short and just describe hair and eye color. Some have stepped a little closer and have mentioned  terms like olive  skin tone or just use the generic word brown.

Clothing and Movie Title Described

Detail description of clothing. I was very impressed  because too many times in the movies I watch there is little to no description of what people are wearing. In one scene  a male character was wearing a poncho and black pants. While a female character wore a felt bowler hat. Yet, another male character wore  a Crimson velvet coat. This information is specific and helpful to understanding the time period of the movie  and also giving more equal access to what my sighted peers are getting too.

I Loved the description of the title of the movie, as one of the main male characters shot another character, the words  to the title appeared on the screen one bullet shot at a time. That was clever and creative.

Black Hair Described

Unique description of Black hair. Very rarely do I watch a movie where Black hair is audio described. Every so often I will hear a word like dreadlocks or afro letting me know the character is probably  Black. But in the Harder They Fall I was so pleased by the description of hair. For example, Stagecoach Mary had fluffy shoulder length natural hair and Treacherous Trudy Smith had micro braids.

Final Thoughts

My last observation of the audio description in this movie was how it  was timed well with the music. This is a tricky thing to accomplish because it depends on the type of music  and the scene in the film. Sometimes the audio description can be distracting  or hard to follow because the music overpowers  the scene. But in this movie I found both worked very well together.

The audio description was provided by International digital center  with writer, Liz Gutman, and voicer, Bill Larson. I have noticed their name numerous times in the credits of movies  I have seen. I am very appreciative of their work  and hope to see more of this kind of audio description in the future not only from them but other companies that audio describe as well.

Painting Glass and Ceramic Pottery in the Dark

Empish and instructor smiling and proudly displaying finished painted wine glass

Today is World Art Day

Before losing my sight, I was on the path of a new career in the fashion industry. Yes, I know you are probably in shock because all I have ever talked about is my writing and non-profit work. But yes, I had other career ambitions. Back in the late 1990s I was taking night classes in fashion design and merchandising at a local art college after work. As part of the course curriculum, I had to take art classes that included painting and drawing. I was working with watercolor and acrylic paints and drawing with charcoal and pencils. But as my vision decreased and it became harder and harder to see my canvas, colors and still models; I withdrew from school. I gave away all my art supplies to an artsy friend and moved on from that career path.

Fast-forward to 2014 I decided to try a little art again, partly to challenge myself, boost my self-esteem and explore my creativity.  These are some of the reasons that the International Association of Art (IAA/AIAP) created World Art Day. They chose April 15th because it coincided with Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. Known as one of the most famous artists in history, Leonardo da Vinci has become a symbol of peace, freedom of expression and tolerance and brotherhood. World Art Day, established in 2012, celebrates the fine arts and promotes awareness of creativity worldwide. Although I took these two art classes some years ago, I learned art produces a love for learning and creativity. It also strengthens my focus and problem-solving skills.

Painting Wine Glass

The glass painting class provided one-on-one instruction, all painting materials and a wine glass. Since I hadn’t done anything artistic in so long, I wanted more hand-holding and accommodation than others. I shared with my instructor that I was blind and that I needed more verbal engagement than her sighted students. I was pleasantly surprised and excited to discover she had worked with a visually impaired student before and felt very comfortable working with me. The mission was to paint a wine glass and decorate it with a variety of stencils of your choosing.

Empish leaning over and focused on painting wine glass

After donning my painting apron, I washed the wine glass with rubbing alcohol and a cloth to remove all dirt and grime. Next, I made my paint color selections and learned which bowls held which colors. I also touched and felt my brushes for the variations in the bristles. I chose my self-adhesive stencils.  There were several pages to choose from and the instructor described each one. Some were phrases and words; others were flowers and butterflies. Some were small and others were big. I carefully handled the stencils because they were paper thin and had adhesive on the back. I chose a large butterfly for the top and flowers for the base of the wine glass.

Once I got my materials organized, the next step was to paint the whole base of the wine glass with a water brush. This was challenging because it was hard determining how much paint was on the tip of the brush and when more paint needed reapplying. My instructor assisted me with this part. After the base paint dried, I placed the small stencils on top for the flowers, which were in a different color. I used a sponge type brush using the corner of the brush and gently dabbed the paint on the stencil. Once the paint dried, I repeated the same steps with the large butterfly on the upper round part of the wine glass. Since this stencil was a lot larger than the ones, I used on the base it was a little tricky. The stencil was fragile so I was very careful in placing it down on the glass so it wouldn’t easily rip. I cautiously placed it down by sections going from one part to the other and laid down the edges last.

During the whole painting process I used my visual memories and my fingers on my left hand as a guide to determine where to place the paint. I also used my fingers on my left hand and place them around the boarder of the stencil. This helped me to determine the perimeter and how far to move around on the stencil. Once everything dried, I admired my work before my instructor placed it in a decorative gift bag.

Painting Ceramic Pottery

My other class was painting ceramic pottery. This project was a little easier since I had already handled ceramics before. But instead of working with an instructor I brought a sighted friend to assist. We went to a ceramic pottery store in the mall where you select unfinished pieces for decoration. Again, I picked out my colors and the paint brushes. I chose bright bold colors and a round jewelry box for my pottery piece. This time instead of using self-adhesive stencils I used a rubber stamp. I chose letters, flowers and butterflies. Yes, I love flowers and butterflies! I first painted the entire jewelry box; both inside and out. Then my sighted friend assisted with drying by using a hair dryer to speed up the process. Next, she assisted with applying the paint on the rubber stamp. We worked together to determine the distance between letters and the other objects. Once completed, we left the jewelry box on the table to dry.  Later the instructor would glaze and fire. About a week later I was called to come by and pick up my finished piece.

Lessons Learned and Resources

Both of these painting projects were a lot of fun for me. But more importantly they showed me that I could do it. It did require some mental concentration and sighted help but I was glad that I stretched myself and exercised my creative muscle. I know that we are still living under COVID   and social distancing so taking an in-person art class may not be feasible. Still, you can explore art virtually. The IAA/AIAP has suggestions on their website or take a Zoom online class. For my blind and visually impaired readers, check out this encouraging podcast about a blind painter ; and the American Printing House for the Blind provides accessible art supplies  and a Building Your Fine Arts Toolkit Blog. You might not be Leonardo da Vinci but all these resources can support that creative inner artist in you!