Mr. Reid – Consumer Highlight

#BlackDisabledLivesMatter

About Mr. Reid

Thomas Reid (He/Him)

Mr. Reid is from the Bronx, NYC, but currently live in the Poconos in Northeast PA. He is a Freelance Audio Producer, Voice Over Artist, Audio Description Narrator, Consultant & Advocate. He hosts & produces a podcast, “Reid My Mind Radio” which features compelling people impacted by all degrees of Blindness and Disability. Occasionally, he shares his experiences from his life as a man adjusting to becoming Blind as an adult. He enjoys audio described films and television, audio books and music. His ultimate dream is to have access to a pool to swim on a daily basis.

He has been involved with advocacy on local, state and federal levels in various capacities. He has transitioned into using his podcast as a platform to discuss those issues he thinks need amplifying. Including challenging stereotypes around Blindness,  highlighting the many intersections of disability and access to digital spaces all through sharing our stories.

Mr. Reid was born with Bilateral Retinoblastoma. He lost his left eye due to cancer as a child. As a result of all the radiation treatments, a second cancer developed in 2003. In early 2004, his right eye had to be removed.

The assistive technologies that Mr. Reid uses on a day to day basis are Jaws & NVDA screen reader, Voice Over on iPhone, apps like Microsoft Seeing AI and more. And Of course, his white cane!

Interview about Assistive Technology and Racial Identity

  • Tell us about your experience with assistive technology and how it impacts your independence and quality of life.

When I first became blind, I was working as an IT Developer for a large publishing firm in New York City. My sole focus was to get back to work and continue to make a living. I thought learning JAWS was the way to accomplish this goal.

That drive helped me to quickly become comfortable with the screen reader. Unfortunately, I soon learned about inaccessibility.

Assistive technology became a part of the way I did most things. From work to hobbies and everything in between.

Eventually a combination of the screen reader as a tool and accessible software enabled me to explore audio production and storytelling. I no longer work in Information Technology but with the assistance of AT I’m able to pursue my passions.

  • Can you describe your experience specifically as a person of color with a disability?

On the macro level, we as people who are blind or disabled share the experience which results from misinformation and stereotypes. We need access to technology, orientation and mobility.

As disability itself does not discriminate that means it intersects with all identities.

As a Black man who became blind as an adult, I actually personally, on the micro level,  must acknowledge my privilege. I’m a home owner who lives in an area where I don’t interact with police. In fact, because of my specific disability, I’m probably treated better than others as my disability isn’t often viewed as a threat.

But racism is systematic and shows up in all aspects of our society. It’s reflected in the leadership of large corporations to government agencies and nonprofit disability groups. It’s evident in the lack of representation and even the acknowledgment that the problem itself exists.

I’ve personally experienced micro aggressions and double standards. I’ve watched how ignorant references are made in the comparison of the struggle of those with disabilities gets compared to the struggle of African Americans. The comparison itself failing to acknowledge the intersection.

As a black person with a disability no matter what privileges I may have at any given time, turning away from the realities of racial discrimination in America for me is never an option.

  • What do you wish people knew about disability and assistive technology?

One of my greatest pet peeves  around disability and AT is the over fascination with the technology. I like many enjoy the gadgetry of technology, but too often I think it holds onto the spotlight.

Technology for anyone is a tool. No one could send email without the internet. No one could send it without a computer or smart device. There’s nothing  fascinating about a blind person doing so with a screen reader.

It’s what that person does with the ability. Focusing on the device when the person’s story is so much more compelling  feels like a loss. A lost opportunity to connect on a personal level and find connection while respecting our differences.

  • How can the disability community be more inclusive to disabled people of color?

In order for the disability community to become more inclusive of disabled people of color, we should first acknowledge that disabled community doesn’t automatically mean white.

Unfortunately, this default is apparent in nearly all aspects of representation. Images, movies, stories of disability are often discussed from the point of view of white people usually of privilege.

Whether grass roots community organizations or federal agencies, creating a climate where disabled BIPOC voices can be heard and included is just one step.

As in the general society, the systems that govern must acknowledge the history of racism, ableism and all forms of discrimination. POC representation is a must in all levels of leadership and administration.

  • Knowing what you know now about disabilities, services and AT, what would you say to your younger self?

I think what I realized back then that holds true today is you must be prepared to self-advocate. I wasn’t familiar with the specifics  of acquiring services, but I knew from a very early age that you must use your voice and put yourself in a position to be seen if you want to get anything done. The rest is often about relationships and figuring out what works best for everyone involved.

  • Share one triumph, success story, or positive experience you’ve had as a disabled person of color.

One of the most positive experiences I’ve had as a disabled Black man is becoming comfortable in my authentic voice.

Over the years of producing the podcast, I often second guessed my decisions. I over analyze  how I thought certain episodes would be received. I never censored myself, but I felt both personal stories and those where I’m clearly taking a position would not be well received. Being wrong about this has helped me to believe that the ideas come to us for a reason. It’s not for me to judge but rather be true to what I feel. Producing stories with thoughtfulness and compassion.

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Tom DiAgostino

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