I'll See You in My Dreams



When you can see for the first 34 years of your life and then become totally blind, your memories and imagination often kick in and serve up a visual landscape in your head.

Let’s be clear. I didn’t go to bed on April 9th and wake up on April 10th blind. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative disease of the retina. And when you’re 17 and told you are going blind, you ignore it. I was told that I would slowly lose my sight and it was questionable whether I would retain any usable vision long term. I didn’t. By my early 30s, everything was dark, save for a dim glimmer of light in my right eye.

It became all about getting stuff done by other means. Gradually I adjusted to my environment – I got some orientation and mobility tips from the Lighthouse for the Blind (why isn’t it the Darkhouse? Too dark?), acquired cooking skills from a blind girlfriend, and started traveling with a guide-dog so I could move through the world with a bit more zip in my step.

It’s all about adapting. Work arounds. Doing things differently. You actually get used to it; blindness just becomes part of you. It’s not a lack of sight that’s a problem, but a lack of access to visual information.

Nevertheless, I’m not a super-blink – I do miss being able to see.

Now it’s my memory and imagination that serve up sight.

After being totally blind for a while, I took delight in dreaming because I could see in my dreams. The images were sometimes familiar and sometimes fabrication, like a fictitious character in a novel. Even though going blind didn’t improve the plot lines of my dreams – they’re still obscure and opaque – it’s the visuals I focus on and so enjoy.

And there are times when I dream in color. Color is certainly a major part of the visual landscape and losing it is something more than just losing your sight. Color pricks the emotions, offering dimension and depth beyond the paint brushed onto a black and white image in front of you. So too, when people describe a scene in real time, I tend to rapidly imagine and fold in the people and the local environs being described, perhaps like sighted folks do when hearing a story on public radio or listening to an audio book. My imagination rolls like a film with images, actions, nuance…and technicolor!

Ah! To sleep: perchance to see!

Steve Gladstone 

The Blind Dude

Building Blind Audiences

Photography by Aida Zuniga

Playbill for The Lion King

Playbill for The Lion King

Broadway and the West End are the center of the theatrical universe. Theater lovers flock there to see premiers and the best talent on the planet.

Regional theaters, those venues outside the two big Rialtos that dot many of our cities, in order to continue to thrive amidst a plentiful backdrop of movie complexes and a booming industry of storytelling on our TVs, computers and smart phones, must constantly market their shows, staying in touch with their audience and building the next generation of theatergoers. And now that includes the blind and visually impaired community.

Blind and visually impaired theater enthusiasts now have more accessibility to live shows on Broadway and in regional theaters with some of the major venues offering audio description – a hidden narrator describing in real time the action on stage between the lines of the dialogue.

Of course, the best way to build new audiences is to bring children to the theatre. And certainly this includes physically impaired kids. The Arsht Center in Miami is beginning to build the next generation of visually impaired patrons, partnering up with the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute to create opportunities for their blind and visually impaired pediatric patients to attend their mainstage musicals.

The program is called FAB: Feel the Art Balkan, sponsored by The Samuel & Ethel Balkan International Pediatric Glaucoma Center at Bascom Palmer. The recent Lion King musical tour kicked off the FAB program at the Arsht. 



Several of the visually impaired children started off the matinee with a backstage touch tour, comingling with stagehands and visually impaired adult patrons, touching and exploring some of the masks, costumes and puppets used in the performance. 







After the touch tour and everyone had claimed their seats, wireless headphones were distributed to the kids and grown-ups. And the narrator went to work.

At top of show, Pride Rock was described as “pre-dawn with mist and clouds. A huge orange paper sun rises and goes up out of the scene as Pride Rock glides onto the stage. It is about 20-feet tall, rising to a rock platform at the top with stairs going up around the back of the rock.”

As the animals enter, the narrator continues, “An Elephant, operated by 4 ensemble members, 1 person in each leg, is followed by a baby elephant. The two giraffes are portrayed by one actor apiece. They each wear a patterned body suit, with a long neck headdress. The actor’s back legs are on stilts about two feet tall. The actors are bent slightly forward and their arms are leaning on sticks about four feet long that serve as the front legs, complete with hooves on the ends.”

This is all detail previously absent from the mind of a blind member of any Lion King audience.

Now the jungle: “Green, lush fronds and palm trees appear, made out of people, and four “grass dancers” with a ride of green grass on their back. Later, a lush jungle of jewel tone flowers, palms, and ferns appear, also created by dancers in elaborate costumes with tall headpieces.”

Speaking of costumes, the audio description brought more color and dimension to the ear.

“First to appear is Rafiki, a baboon, who is spiritual guide of the Pride Lands. She wears a colorful outfit with a raffia skirt with streamers and various implements on a belt...She has very long fingers, which she uses to make dramatic gestures. On her head is a tall headpiece, and she walks with a tall walking stick, with a round gourd tied to the top.”

Mufasa, Simba and Scar “have masks which are worn as headdresses. This makes them taller and more regal when the actors stand up straight, but when they bend forward, the headdress/mask leads and makes them look like they are stalking or pouncing.” 

“Zazu is a white hornbill bird puppet with a long moveable and extendable neck and wings. He rests on the arm of his human handler, who is dressed in tuxedo-like robes in shades of blue, black and white that look like feathers, including tails. On his head is a dark blue bowler hat, and he wears pointed bright orange shoes.”

We hear that the three hyenas “wear gray suits with darker gray spots. The hyena heads are on sticks pocketed on the costume front. They have a mangy, intimidating appearance, except for Ed, who is more cartoonish, with a long pink tongue hanging out of his mouth.”

Of course, short single sentences between the dialogue help in visualizing the action on stage. We know the hyenas start a wildebeest stampede into the gorge threatening Simba, we become aware that Simba blocks Scar’s attack as Scar falls from the cliff and we realize when Rafiki presents Simba and Nala's newborn cub.



So, blind and visually impaired children and adults get the picture!

The Lion King musical now sports the crown of Broadway’s highest-grossing show. If the audio touch tour and description technology will be brought to more visually impaired children and adults, then we will indeed have hakuna matata.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

A Role Tailor-Made for a Blind Actor

When you are blind and a professional actor, you always think your last gig is your last gig. Truth be told, most middle-class actors who are not blind generally feel the same way. We are delighted when we win a role, and always have our eye or ear out searching for the next audition and opportunity.

Since 99.58% of all scripted characters can see, most of the characters I’ve played over my career have been sighted.

The Miami New Drama production of Antigone reached approximately 10,000 students in Miami-Dade County.

The Miami New Drama production of Antigone reached approximately 10,000 students in Miami-Dade County.

A student recently asked me how long I have been acting (I told him since Jesus was in third grade) and mentioned to him that it’s easy to “see” on a set or stage because they are confined spaces, where I can count steps or key off a chair, table or accessible set piece, or another actor, in order to hit my mark. I use my ears to focus on my scene partner and with rehearsal or another take, it doesn’t register to the audience or viewer that I’m blind.

These days, however, when I call for an audition appointment, I float a trial balloon to see if the director might consider the role for which I’m reading to be played as a visually impaired person. If the director seems hesitant, that’s ok. He or she might be uncomfortable working with a blind fellow or may just lack the imagination to picture it. Other directors welcome the slant, finding that it might add an additional layer to the character.

What always works to my advantage is that the descriptions for roles listed on the cast break-downs never include language like, “Joe - married to Heather, in his mid-50s and is not blind.”

Once in a blue moon, a part for a blind character appears. I still must compete with sighted actors for the role. It's pretty easy to pretend you are blind, but I do have a competitive edge in that situation.

But, when the stage direction reads: “Enter the blind Tiresias, led by a Boy.”…that’s my jam!

And that recently happened. I was hired to play the blind soothsayer in Miami New Drama’s production of “Antigone.”

Steve Gladstone as “Tiresias”

Steve Gladstone as “Tiresias”

This time I didn’t have to move much on stage. However, the stage itself did move on me. The production was an adaptation of the iconic Greek tragedy, geared as a traveling show to be performed at high schools and various venues throughout Dade County.

A look at the many venues for “Antigone”

A look at the many venues for “Antigone”

Over the course of one month, we performed 31 shows at 20+ schools and venues in Miami-Dade, reaching around 10,000 students. Waking up in the wee hours of the morning, driving together somewhere around four-thousand miles to parts unknown, we played in every imaginable type of venue, from huge auditoriums to classrooms, cafeterias, a spectacular Fisher Island condo, to Lummus Park on South Beach. Each playing space was different, sometimes a floor, sometimes a stage and once even a grassy knoll – all transformed into the city of Thebes.

Tiresias issues a warning to King Kreon

Tiresias issues a warning to King Kreon

When you’re blind in this situation – an actor walking on unknown territory, adapting to new topography every day — you cast your fate to the wind and trust your dramatis personae to have your back. I relied on my steadfast pal Dave to safely get me to and from and in and out of each venue, whilst my scene partner, Cherise, reliably guided me to center stage where I hit my mark and issued my stern warning to King Kreon. All my castmates kept their eye on me; it was no sweat.

Now it's onward to the next gig…or will there be a next gig? We’ll “see, or not see.”

Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude

Space Sickness

Shortly after losing all my sight, I came across a story about how nausea was a common problem for astronauts in the Space Shuttle program. There was a theory circulating that it might have something to do with hand-eye coordination. I thought, hmmm…they should send a blind guy up on the shuttle as a control subject. If the sighted astronauts got queasy and the blind person didn’t, Voila! Evidence to support the theory.

I wrote the Kennedy Space Center with my idea and volunteered for NASA’s Space Shuttle program as a payload specialist. I was ready to be an astronaut and do my bit for the agency. Truth be known, I loved outer space and wanted to be in it. I wanted to experience g-forces, float in space and drink lots of Tang. Oh yeah, to be the first blind guy in space would also look good on the resume.

After several weeks turned into several months without a response, I wrote again, and again, no answer. Then, through a lucky contact, I was introduced to Florida Congressman William Lehman, who took interest in my quest and who held sway with authority. When you have someone in your corner who has an elementary school and a causeway named after him, and is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, you’ve got game!

True to form, it’s not what you know but who you know. Congressman Lehman leveraged his considerable contacts and I got a response shortly thereafter from some official NASA person in Houston, thanking me for my interest in the space program and who clarified that I would not be considered at this time.

Actually, I was sort of relieved. After receiving Congressman Lehman’s endorsement and my wish moved closer to reality, I recalled that when I was a kid, I use to get motion sickness while sitting in the back seat of a car. So, floating around in space might not have been such a good idea. I put the letter in my scrapbook and was happy to continue my life on Earth.

Nevertheless, I was in the habit of monitoring each Space Shuttle blastoff and was fascinated with the missions; loved the countdowns, loved the narrations from space, loved the possibilities that space offered. I wanted my son George to observe a live launching so we could hear the roar of the mighty engines.

In late January 1986, we visited Disney World for Georges 4th birthday and had planned to head over to the Space Coast for a scheduled shuttle liftoff at Cape Canaveral, but we were running behind after checking out of the hotel and decided to go straight home.

It was unusually cold that day and there was a buzz of excitement in the air. I quickly strapped George into his car seat so I could turn on the radio and catch the countdown. I tuned in as we pulled out of the parking lot but was 73 seconds too late for the liftoff – the Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded.

I rolled down my window and swore I could hear a collective outcry in the air. Perhaps it was a chorus of souls. Even though we were about 50 miles from the cape, I felt we were there. I could smell the burning fumes hanging in the air and felt numb.

My mind immediately went to Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher who was onboard the Challenger, the first “civilian” to be approved, trained and greenlit for a shuttle mission. It took her 3 years to train to be an astronaut and I was rejected just 3 years before this disaster. It could have been me on that shuttle.

McAuliffe was to teach some lessons from space. It’s that line item on the universal lesson plan that temporarily had me spooked: Be careful what you wish for.

Now years later, I know that we can’t let fear rob us of our dreams and aspirations. Bad things happen to good people (and sometimes good things happen to bad people). We are best off taking our own bold steps forward and not measure ourselves against the fortunes or misfortunes of others. 

Certainly, risk is a big factor when realizing dreams. Risk requires bravery. It takes courage going off to summer camp for the first time, leaning in for your first kiss or strapping yourself in for a flight to the moon.

When you’re blind, you’ve got to be a little bit brave every day; living in darkness helps promote that leap of faith into the unknown.

We either choose to live in a bubble or take some risk. And it is that same risk that brings both disappointment and wonder. We never know if it will be tragedy or love that we will face until we take that leap into the void. 

Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude

I Can See

I Can See!

Not only do movies create magic for the audience, but for the actor as well. It conjures up a brew for an otherwise shy person to become a romantic lead, a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper to become a superhero and, in my case, enables a blind actor to see.

My previous gig was playing a blind villain in a short horror film, and this go-around I was an inventor / scientist introduced in the opening sequence of a feature length screenplay. My enigmatic character, Cornelius Proctor, has invented a device that will allow him to transfer his “being” into it just before shuffling off his mortal coil. I’m dressed in a Henley style collarless shirt, suspenders, some pinstriped trousers and wearing some cool wire rimmed glasses. Yep, I can see.

Proctor gazing out the window

Proctor gazing out the window

Confined to an authentic 1930s wheelchair, the sequence shows my character pondering the final deed whilst gazing through my window at a storm raging outside. Resolved, I approach and activate my device just before dispatching myself, transferring my essence into this nifty retro sci-fi apparatus the size of a breadbox.

So, how does the blind man “see” to wheel from his window to his radio for one last listen before heading over to his work-station where sits his device and his destiny?

Magic my dear Watson. Actually, watching an off-set monitor, my director prompted me as the action unfolded in real time. I spin my wheelchair away from the window, the director shouts “Stop!” – my cue to now wheel straight across the room to the old-fashioned Zenith. The tricky part was to land on a dime 12-feet away from the window, just left of the radio, in order to reach down and switch it off before wheeling over to my makeshift worktable in the center of the living room. With the director’s cues and a little practice, I roll to the radio, stop, listen briefly to the music, bullseye the knob and switch it off and, taking one last look around my room at tacked up blueprints and a mysterious photo of a woman on the wall, I wheel away to the workbench. Nailed it. 

Director Fareed Al-Mashat watching monitor behind set

Director Fareed Al-Mashat watching monitor behind set

Taking direction

Taking direction

Proctor close up listening to radio in the dark

Proctor close up listening to radio in the dark

Like all shoots, there were long, medium, close-ups, as well as overhead shots of the same action, lensed separately, so there would be enough coverage to give the director and editor optional ways to cut the film.

Director of Photography Frank Martin lining up device shot

Director of Photography Frank Martin lining up device shot

What I didn’t actually see, but what dressed the stage, was the storm raging outside, accomplished by a behind-the-set rain-rake drizzling water down the window and an offstage fan blowing palm fronds as if they were fluttering in the wind. Inside on the set was a copy of a vintage Life magazine resting on a straw couch, an old-school oscillating fan, a dozen blueprints tacked up on the walls, and living room furniture moved off to the side to accommodate my workspace. On the floor were boxes of various parts and covering the workbench were old-fashioned tools, vacuum tubes, a soldering iron with a small burning flame, a jar of acetone...and, of course, the device. 

The device and random tools

The device and random tools

The device had a hand-crank, two switches, two separate dials, and a grab-handle which I had to execute in sequence to fire it up. However, before disappearing into it, I made one last entry in my journal. (I was told that my handwriting was pretty good.) Then I cranked, flipped, twisted, grabbed, trembled violently, and zap…I was a goner! Nailed it.

After two days of shooting, which will ultimately be edited to 2-minutes, we wrapped the prologue sequence, setting up the device and the action about to unfold. 

So, whenever I want to see, I simply head over to a film set – just one more magical benefit of making movies.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s a blind dude who can see!

Proctor at workbench with device and set in background

Proctor at workbench with device and set in background

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Blind Dude Turns Villain

Not quite the Phantom of the Opera, but nevertheless psychologically seducing the ingénue was my game last weekend.

When a blind actor is offered the role of a menacing villain in a short horror film, he signs on.

Though the “girl” subscribes to the paranormal and reads tarot cards, she is innocent and wholesome until falling under the spell of the bad guy. The “boy” hasn’t a chance against this formidable foe. As she slowly becomes unhinged and angles to dispatch her fiancée with a large blade, the creepy blind man blissfully witnesses the event.

With a vintage top hat, long leather coat, Doc Martens boots and some nifty scar makeup, my character didn’t have to say much to get his point across. The film was framed so the viewer will be able to see what I am thinking, and my actions will be enough to psychologically manipulate the girl to attack her soon-to-be husband. Ah! The magic of movie-making!


It does take a special sort of producer and director to hire an actor with a disability, even when the actor is otherwise right for the role. It's a production team with imagination who can see that hiring a performer with a disability can add an extra layer to the character, making him or her that much more interesting. 

On the set, it all boils down to director and actor collaborating and adapting so the script can be served and the actor accommodated.

Being on a film set is actually a nice environment for a blind actor. Once in position, you usually don’t have to move very much and, as opposed to acting on the stage, you generally keep your expressions and gestures small. You always have the benefit of a rehearsal and if the scene doesn’t go well, you just shoot it again.

Before each sequence, I ask to “walk” the set to get a sense of the space I’m working in. Then I ask the director how I’m to be framed – full on, from the waist up, chest up, or just the face. I'll also ask the DP (director of photography) to clap his hands in front of the lens so I can locate it. After that simple prep, not unlike any non-disabled actor, it’s just a matter of disappearing into your character, listening and reacting to the other characters, and delivering your lines honestly.

Of course, there is the occasional outtake that catches you in a more playful moment.

Like any competent actor, I strive for a well-drawn and nuanced performance while trying not to blink and keeping my mouth closed when I’m not speaking.


Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Blind Tech Makes for ‘Better Radio’

When an entertainer says, “I have a face for radio,” they’re suggesting that they aren’t very handsome or pretty or don’t have the body type that is flattering on the screen but do have a captivating voice. However, when you’re blind, all media is essentially radio. Or put another way, everybody who listens to radio is essentially blind.

Out of necessity, radio is more descriptive than film or TV – the voice artist must paint word pictures and use sound clips and effects to develop the experience for the listener.

Now blind tech is bringing everybody back to the Golden Age of Radio with dramas and comedies boasting a full cast of characters, narration and sound effects.

A little backstory here.

Audio Description (AD) was introduced on video tape in the 1980s – it was the narration added between the dialogue of a movie or TV show to inform a blind or visually impaired person of the expressions and actions occurring on the screen. Titles chosen for AD were limited to box office grossers like “Pretty Woman” and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” With a little more time and the advent of DVD technology, more titles with AD started appearing. And now the tech has made its way to TV. With many series like “Game of Thrones” a visually challenged person can glimpse just how voluptuous the Mother of Dragons really is or picture the creepy icy eyes of a White Walker.

Daenerys Stormborn

Daenerys Stormborn

White Walker

White Walker

Tech for the disabled is gaining currency with non-disabled folks too. People without impairment are co-opting media tech to enrich their own media consumption. 

For instance, Closed Captioning, the dialogue printed at the bottom of the screen in real time for the deaf community, is also being used by folks whose English may be a second or third language. And Audio Description is being appropriated by sighted users who are turning Netflix Videos into “super radio” to “listen” to a movie or TV show while driving, cycling ,even hanging out at the beach. People who are on the Autism spectrum and those who are auditory learners have been shown to benefit from AD, as well.

Audio Description is certainly an interesting way to open up a whole new market with something Blind and low vision consumers have been requesting for years. Disability tech, like ramps & elevators, has a use for ALL humans.

Excerpts from an article by Patrick Loftus illuminates the point:


“You can listen to movies and TV shows on Netflix by turning on the audio description feature in user controls. In other words, audio description can turn your favorite movies and shows into audiobooks that you can listen to anywhere. Here’s an example of how audio description accurately narrates details of a plot from a scene in Netflix’s original series “Stranger Things.” The audio description track is italicized and in brackets:

[Sounds of Mike and Will’s friends talking around arcade games. Will wanders away, gazing out the door at white spores drifting through the air.] WILL: “Hey. Hey guys, do you see the ---” [He turns around to find everyone gone. The lights flicker off. Growth is now climbing over the walls and dark arcade games. He rolls around as the front door crashes open. Outside, the first letters of the purple-neon “Palace” sign flick on, then off again, as Will steps out of the arcade in the “Upside Down.” His bottom lip trembles as he gazes past the spinning growth covered arcade sign to flashes of lightning crackling behind thick clouds. The flashes grow more intense and he gazes up at the ominous storm, tears welling in Will’s terrified eyes.] MIKE: “Will, Will… Are you okay?” [Will spins around to Mike. He looks back, the night sky returned to normal.] 

Audio description has a vivid narrative quality in order to create an equivalent experience for the visually impaired. So naturally, sighted listeners can also use their imaginations to visualize what is happening, just like one would do while reading a book. And since you can use the feature on your smartphone app, you can use audio description while walking, running, or exercising, driving, commuting to work, traveling long distances, or listening to a show as background noise while working.

In an ideal world, both people with and without disabilities should be able to enjoy the same goods and services without having to take ‘extra steps.’ The term ‘accommodations’ would become a thing of the past as physical and digital interfaces are universally designed from the start to include everyone.

AD offers people the possibility of listening to their favorite shows and movies instead of watching them. As people begin to realize this, hopefully, we’ll start to see a lot more titles with audio description as popular demand for it grows.” 

Now to catch a glimpse of Daenerys Stormborn!

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Deaf Driver, Blind Passenger

The other day I tapped my Uber app from the dentist’s office to request a ride home. The voice on my iPhone told me that my Uber driver would be arriving in 4 minutes and also that he was deaf or hard of hearing. I thought, “Hmm…this will be interesting. Deaf driver, blind passenger.”

I experienced a pang of ‘ableism,’ which is like racism, but is discrimination against disabled people instead of ethnic minorities.

Deaf people drive? Sure, why not? It’s like when people are surprised to find out that I cook even though I’m blind. I had prejudged someone with a disability – and a member of my very own tribe no less. I had judged someone as quickly as I, a blind person, had been judged by so many others in the past.

When meeting a person with a disability, our mind tends to knee-jerk and think about what the disabled person can’t do, rather than what they can do.

I settled down and got curious on how this would unfold.

It was at that point that my thoughts got practical and I remembered that GPS isn’t accurate in my neighborhood. I live in a gated community which has only one entrance. As you approach my home, GPS indicates a different way in – Hedge Drive – as the street to turn onto from the main road in order to arrive at my street. It’s not. It leads into the parking lot of a strip mall which has no access into the community.

Whenever I’m riding home, I tell my Uber drivers to avoid Hedge Drive and to go just a little further to the gate entrance.

So, how was I to communicate this to my deaf driver when we approached my neighborhood?

Sometimes you don’t have all the answers up front and you gotta have some faith or confidence that a solution will present itself as a situation evolves. Besides, what good is an adventure if you know the outcome beforehand?

The dental receptionist led me out to the Uber car, I got in and we were off. I tapped the Google Maps app so I could follow the progress of the trip. I noticed that my driver was taking an odd route to my home, and as it turned out, he actually arrived on the one road outside my community that leads right to the security gate. Wow! No sweat. No drama.

A twist in the plot.

We reached the traffic light at the main road where all he had to do was go straight across it and pull up to security. Suddenly he turned right. Yikes! GPS was directing him to Hedge Drive.

I felt him turn into the strip mall parking lot and I couldn’t tell him not to. He began to get agitated. Then he stopped the car and I heard him tapping on his phone. Unexpectedly, I heard a “ding” on my iPhone – it was a text message which said, “I can’t find it. Where do I go?” Voilà! Communication.

We exchanged a few texts – he read mine, I listened to his – and we landed at my building. He guided me to my door, I stuck out my hand, he took it and covered it with his other hand, and we had a moment for the ages: blind dude connects with deaf dude.

Better living through tech.

Speaking of which, tech has helped me to become a better chef. I now use a digital grill to tell me when my food is done. I used to rely on my smoke detector to alert me when my fish filet was fully cooked.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Where Is There? Part 2

A friend sent me this account by an anonymous blind fellow. This prompted me to go digging around for a poem I wrote many years ago on the subject. It tries to explore that elusive land, not so far away as Neverland, yet equally as mysterious.

Over There.

At last we can know the location of "Over There."

As my guide dog and I stood in line at the checkout counter of the River City Market, I asked the cashier what I thought was a simple question, "Where are the napkins please?" Her response was hurried but sincere, "Over There."

The next day I was at a new bus stop and I managed to catch the attention of a passer-by. "Please sir, can you tell me where I might catch bus 63?" A kind voice offered a pleasant response before disappearing into the cacophony of the early afternoon. "You can catch it Over There," he said.

So many things reside Over There: napkins, bus stops, pencils, pens, clothing racks, department stores and even my shoes! A never-ending supply of important and indispensable items and locales all reside in this place, which is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. I stand in perplexed silence after learning that something or someone is “Over There.” It is a place I have never been to and have no hope of finding on my own.

My guide dog is quite skilled in finding chairs, stairs, counters, curbs, elevators, escalators, helping me cross streets, and can even find me the pepperoni display at Food Town. However, when I tell him to find Over There, his little bottom hits the floor and a small whimper tells me that he is as confused as I am.

We will not be going Over There today.

Over There has caused me a bit of vexation, a lot of confusion and, on occasion, made my heart race. I have discovered that Over There can be a dangerous place.

One day while crossing a street, I heard a driver's irritated voice shout out a warning of a truck bearing down on me from Over There. My guide dog artfully dodged the oncoming vehicle and pulled me to safety at the curb. Our hearts were both racing as we took a few moments to compose ourselves. Close encounters with Over There can be frightening experiences.

Although many blind people have wondered as to the exact whereabouts of Over There, few have dared to venture forth in an actual exploration of the ghostly place.

Recently I entered a drugstore, and after my guide dog found the counter, I asked the clerk where I might find the aspirin. With a cheery smile in her voice, she informed me that the aspirin was located (all together now!), "Over There."

With a bold sigh, I decided that I would finally take the extra step that would unravel the mystery which had vexed my compatriots since the beginning of time. Taking a deep breath, and attempting to look nonchalant, I smiled at the clerk and asked, "Where exactly is Over There?"

I felt her concerned look. The silence grew palpable as she mulled over the possibility of allowing a blind person access to the forbidden land. The die was cast. She had no choice. She would have to tell me how to find it.

I had won! Exhilaration swept through me as I waited in breathless anticipation. A victorious smile crept to my lips, my hand tightened on the handle of my guide dog's harness. We were at the ready – we would soon be going Over There!

The clerk's voice reeked with resignation as she began to speak. She said (drum roll please): "It’s that way."

And now for my poem.

Where Is There?

Without eyes, entered a room,
a tired man, his head was strewn
with worldly words, often unsaid,
he asked where he might rest his head.

A clerk then pointed, “over there.”
“Where is there?” the blind man’s query.
“Right there, it's there, it's over there.”
The familiar strain made the old man weary.

“I cannot see, please show me where.”
The clerk then said much louder,
“I'm sorry friend, please sit right here.”
From there to here he’d flounder.

The clerk’s voice now moved a wall,
“Right here! It's here!” insisted.
The blind man said, “And by the way,
my ears need not be twisted.”

And so explained, the blind old man,
his journeys' end a wooden chair,
that “Over there, has no meaning.”
“Put it where?” the clerk was screaming.
“Where the moon don't shine,” he shared.

by Steve Gladstone, blind dude

by Steve Gladstone, blind dude

5992 Eyes

On my recent trip to the One World Trade Center in New York City, my fingers were wedged into the grooves of a bronze plate etched with the name, Robert King. It was mounted on a great stone podium alongside the raised letters spelling out “Battalion 7.” These were two of the thousands of memorialized engravings honoring those who perished on 911, including Robert, a firefighter who rushed to aid the innocent victims in the twin towers.

All the names are mounted there and all the memories they inspire.

It was a hot day, the bronze plates were warm, and Sweat like tears slowly rolled down my chest as my fingers brailled the grooves of some of the other names of the 2996 people who perished. It suddenly struck me: “5992 eyes, suddenly blinded.”

Less than 5 years after the collapse of the twin towers, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey began construction on the One World Trade Center (1 WTC) and by 2013 the 104-floor office space and observation deck was completed, becoming the main building of the rebuilt World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. It now stands as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and quite a climb for King Kong.

The building, including its spire, reaches a total height of 1,776 feet, a deliberate reference to the year when the United States Declaration of Independence was signed – a profound “gotcha” to the terrorists.

I recall when I could still see back in the late 1970s, stepping off the elevator onto the floor of the Windows on the World, the WTC’s original restaurant and observatory. I was amazed at how small the Statue of Liberty appeared.

I’m told that on a clear day you can see the curvature of the earth from the observation deck’s vista. Standing there, you are certainly high enough and far away enough to hold Lady Liberty between your thumb and index finger, proof positive that the earth is round and that freedom reigns supreme.

Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude

Photo by Aida Zuniga

Photo by Aida Zuniga

I’ve Got My Eyes in My Pocket

Specialty smartphone apps have flowed downstream to the blind community for some time. Apps that can read the value of your paper money or tell you the color of your t-shirt have been around for a while.

"Be My Eyes" app screenshot.

"Be My Eyes" app screenshot.

And now blind folks are using the camera on their device, not as a parlor trick to snap photos of their pals, but as remote eyeballs.

For the past year or so I have been facetiming (Apple’s real time 2-way video calling feature) with my daughter to help me distinguish between my meds, neckties and the hardboiled egg that dropped and rolled across my kitchen floor. But she’s not always available. And what happens at 3 o’clock in the morning when I need some sighted assistance? So, downloading the Be My Eyes app was a no-brainer for me.

Be My Eyes is an app that claims that it “brings sight to the blind and visually impaired.”

The app engages the video capabilities of smartphones to turn them into virtual eyes. It allows blind folks to make video calls to volunteers who are ready to help them see stuff.

The good folks behind Be My Eyes explain that the sighted helpers are “friendly citizens who are willing to lend their sight as they go about their daily lives.”

The nifty network boasts that there are over half a million sighted helpers and over 35 thousand blind and visually impaired users in the Be My Eyes community. The volunteers are ready and willing to assist blind folks in every time zone and in over 90 languages. This makes it available to the user – that’s me – 24/7.

It’s an around the clock deal. Whenever you call, it keeps buzzing around the globe until it finds an available volunteer who speaks your language and who’s living in a zone where it’s daytime. If it’s the middle of the night in the U.S., for example, you might be connecting with someone in Europe or Australia.

Just yesterday at around 2:30 a.m., I reached into my freezer and pulled out a half melted (half frozen if you’re an optimist) strawberry fruit bar. So I activated the Be My Eyes app and connected with a student in Turkey. She helped me figure out that I had accidentally bumped the temperature setting on my digital fridge panel and she helped me to reset it. We then had a lively conversation about who had the more “colorful” president.

Last week I went to clean my dining room table and just before spraying the lemon furniture polish on it, I called BME to be certain I had the right stuff. I found out just in time that it was roach killer I was about to spray all over my beautiful oak-wood table. A few days later, my roboeyes helped me find the avocado I dropped on the kitchen floor. (I drop a lot of stuff on the kitchen floor.) Then the BME volunteer helped me read a message on my computer screen when my screen reader was misbehaving and stopped speaking.

"avocado, down!"

"avocado, down!"

Turns out the program is good for the volunteers as well as blind folks.

Sighted helpers have reported: “…feelings of usefulness when answering a call and successfully helping a blind person,” how “awesome it felt to be able to be someone’s eyes in a time of need” and “being eager for the next call.”

And out of the mouths of users: “I do not know what I would do without this app. It has been a lifesaver for me.” … “Volunteers have looked through catalogs with me and have also helped me sort out my CD collection.” … “I had a man tell me the kind of tea and another woman tell me it was a can of tomatoes. It sounds like a small thing but I can tell you it is not! Remember it is the small things in a person’s life that make a big difference.”

The Be My Eyes team reminds us that it’s summertime. You might be going on vacation and into unfamiliar surroundings and that now “…you can feel secure and even more independent knowing that you are never really alone as you tackle new activities and places… You’ve got Volunteers in your pocket, waiting to assist you whenever and wherever you need them… Once you try it, you will never leave home, the state, or the country without it.”

I recall once being at a hotel and washing my hair with body lotion since the bottles containing shampoo, conditioner and lotion were all identical in size and all smelled like the same flower. Thermostats are always a guessing game as to which button is cool and which is heat and if the up down temp buttons move in half or whole degree steps. And the TV remote controls? Yikes! I’ll be calling BME from now on when I’m obsessing over the small stuff in my hotel room.

I was reading about Gayle Yarnall, the blind former director of adaptive technology at Perkins Products, who also experienced some anxiety when she traveled.

“I normally always read about a place before going there,” Gayle mused. “There are many cultural differences to be aware of. Like in Japan, you will find that a toilet has 8 buttons. So it’s just a matter of trial and error before hitting the right one.” Now she knows what button to push. Of course, it’s more than just bathroom management for Gayle. “A whole new world has opened for me, and I will bring the app everywhere.”

The folks at Be My Eyes stress that “with over half a million volunteers you can, and should, feel free to make calls as frequently as you wish without ever disturbing anyone.” In fact, they have many volunteers who are still waiting to receive their first help request. You can use Be My Eyes as much as you possibly want – and the service is free, no matter how much you use it.

So, until tech comes up with bionic orbs they can plug into my eye sockets, I’ll carry my eyes around in my pocket.

For info on Be My Eyes, check out Info@bemyeyes.com.

Steve Gladstone, The Blind Dude

Seeing Things Differently

by Steve Gladstone, Insight Blogger

To see, or not to see--that is not the question. With my apologies to Mr. Shakespeare, if given the option to see or not to see, I would certainly choose the former. It surely isn’t nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous blindness if you don’t have to.

Notwithstanding this obvious truth, “seeing” has many meanings. In ancient times, a seer could see into the future. (Ironically, Tiresias, the famed clairvoyant from Greek mythology, was also blind.) To try and see things “my way” is to ask somebody to take your point of view, or Saying “I see your point” let’s somebody know that you understand what they are saying (even if you disagree).

“Seeing things differently” is to have differing opinions or perceptions of the same thing.
Ask five sightlings to describe the same Picasso painting and you will get five different versions of that painting. We all know that if you ask eight people their opinion on a political issue, you will get eight differing viewpoints, some even detached from reality.

So, in a grander and nuanced sort of way, “seeing” is much more than physical sight.

Arguably, sight is the primary pathway of our senses. We take in our world first by what we see and then by what we hear, touch, taste and smell. But when you are blind, you do “see” things differently.

Several years ago, my friend Kimberly, a singer of Broadway and opera, worked a summer season at Wolf Trap, the performing arts venue in Virginia. Her hosts' 11 year-old daughter was blind. On a trip to the zoo one day, they came to an area where children could hold and feel some of the animals. Kimberly never forgot the young lady’s description of a beaver's tummy: "Have you ever seen a beaver," she asked. "Only in pictures," Kimberly replied. “Well," the young lady continued, "their tummy is soft like velvet. The softest fur you'll ever touch. They are really beautiful." Kimberly recalled how the little girl’s “…description was perfect. Lots of different ways to see things.”

How we comprehend our world is dynamic, and those lacking one or more of their five senses, reroute things toward their other abilities that are in play, employing their wit and ingenuity to interpret the world accordingly.

Tiresias obtain his info in various ways in order to serve up his “second sight.” Sometimes, like the oracles, he would receive visions; other times the songs of birds would inform him; sometimes he would ask for a description of pictures appearing within the smoke of burnt offerings.

Tiresias was considered “a complexly liminal figure, mediating between humankind and the gods, male and female, blind and seeing, present and future, this world and the Underworld.” In other words, he was one exceptional blind fellow.

Disability isn’t a tragedy – it’s just another way of living. And for some, having a disability gives them leverage — seeing things others don’t see.

To see--perchance to dream!

I echo Kimberly’s words: “Happy New Year, friend. Let's hope 2017 will be a wonderful year for all of us, the planet … and the beavers.”

Steve Gladstone
The Blind Dude

Blind Folks Get ‘Dirty’

by Steve Gladstone, Insight Blogger

If you attend a play and close your eyes for 2 hours (absurd, I know, but stay with me on this) and just listen to the dialogue, you’re gonna’ miss some important stuff. You may follow the fate of the principal characters, but you won’t know much about the costumes, lighting, details of the set (or when the set changes locales) and what is happening on stage when nobody is speaking.

Of course most people who attend the theater can see the facial expressions of the characters, the scenes changing and the exploits that are happening when the players aren’t speaking. Blind folks don’t have that option and consequently miss much of the action and information dynamic to the story. The Arsht Center set out to remedy that significant issue back in 2010 with their “audio description” program for their sightless patrons, describing the many elements essential for a blind person to get a complete picture of what’s happening on stage during the Broadway Series, Florida Grand Opera and Miami City Ballet productions.

Now blind and visually impaired peeps get a better picture knowing that Baby wore a “bright pink halter top dress for the exhibition dance at the Sheldrake Hotel and a pink dress with low back, thin shoulder straps and very full skirts in the last dance of the season at Kellerman’s.”

The recent Arsht production of the musical, “Dirty Dancing,” based on the 1987 hit film, was loaded with 1963 period costumes, flashing lights and projected backgrounds ranging from mountains to a golf course, log cabins, a lake, woods & camp fire. At the top of show, two panels on each side of the stage projected outdoor scenery of “green trees & blue sky with fluffy white clouds.” All those colorful images would be lost to blind folks without the crackerjack volunteer readers sitting in a booth inside the Arsht Ziff Ballet Opera House, describing the sets, lighting and costumes to their blind guests.

Over a dozen years ago, the original Broadway production of “Wicked” was experimenting with pre-recorded narration tied to the musical score. It had inherent technical problems and was often out of sync as every show was, of course, a little different from performance to performance. The Arsht team fixed that challenge by describing the shows in “real time,” the describer calling each scene as it unfolded. The blind patron wears a pair of headphones attached to a receiver while the narration is transmitted via an infrared signal to the assistive listening device, which can be enjoyed from any seat in the house.

Blind theatre-goers found out that Baby was “slender, medium-height with short curly hair, wearing denim Bermuda shorts and a casual white blouse, and Johnny was medium tall with a slender but well-muscled build and neck length light brown hair with gold streaks, wearing snug black pants with a black sleeveless tank shirt.”

“Penny, the girl who gets pregnant, tall and slender with a lovely figure and bleached blonde below the shoulder hair; Mr. Schumacher, an elderly resort guest who steals wallets, balding and rotund; the young men on the entertainment staff wearing a t-shirt with the resort name, Kellerman’s…” – all described so you get the bigger picture.

If your blind as the curtain goes up, all you hear is the song, “This Magic Moment” but, with those dimension-adding headphones, you find out that a couple is dancing, the woman arching her back as the man lifts her up, while Baby, in her bedroom with an open suitcase packed with clothing, writes some notes in a book she is reading, the scene quickly changing to Kellerman’s Resort in the Catskills. There’s a whole lot more going on than just a rockin’ tune!

Many scenes were underscored by music without any dialogue. Without the vivid audio description, blind folks would not know who was entering and exiting, when someone was shimmying, when a skirt bellowed, when strobe lights washed over the audience, when a sunset boasted pinks, blues and purples, when Johnny changed into his tux, when evening came and chandeliers descended from above, when Penny wrapped her legs around Johnny’s hips and the male dancers flipped and spun during the afterhours dance at staff headquarters.

How else would sightless folks know that Baby was awkward when first learning the mambo routine with Johnny? Or the point at which they were swinging their hips perfectly together? Or Johnny teaching her how to improve her balance by practicing on a log? Learning the famous lift in a lake? Or that she stopped short of making her final leap into Johnny’s arms during the show at the Sheldrake?

Baby’s memorable line, “Most of all I’m afraid of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you,” was certainly enhanced by knowing that her eyes were locked with Johnny’s as he pulled her closer, slowly carrying her to his mattress, as the first act ended.

The theme song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” ‘saw’ Baby and Johnny in sync, Baby springing toward Johnny, her arms outstretched, making that final, famous leap where previously she had hesitated.

In this summer of 1963, before The Beatles arrived, before the death of John Kennedy, while the civil rights movement was heating up, this coming of age love story unfolded, seemingly less profound than the current events of the day, yet touching a significant romantic nerve – and now creating a more 3-dimensional picture for blind folks.

Blind peeps were certainly not put “in a corner!”

To further the experience, visiting companies are asked to do a “touch tour” of props and costumes prior to the audio described performance. Blind guests can go cheek to cheek with the Mouse King, sample a thigh high kinky boot or grip the old school mic used at Kellerman’s Resort.

Over 60 performances at the Arsht have been audio described to date, including The Lion King, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Madama Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Carmen and The Nutcracker.

In 2014, the Arsht Center was honored with the Dolly Gamble Award from the Florida Council of the Blind for its leadership in audio description and received the national award from the American Council of the Blind for excellence in audio description in the performing arts category.

Audio description may be provided for any performance as the Arsht team has the equipment to make it happen in the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Knight Concert Hall and Carnival Studio Theater.

Interested in upcoming audio described programs? Information is on the Arsht Center website at www.arshtcenter.org, write Alice at afifelski@arshtcenter.org, or call the office at 786.468.2294, cell 305.785.3899

The Blind Job Application

- All Men Are Created Equal

- All Men Are Created Equal

So this black transgender female over 40 in a wheelchair rolls into a mosque…you get the picture. Turn on NPR or your tribal TV news outlet or boot up your smartphone at any time and you’ll catch a story on the “ism” du jour: sexism, racism, ageism, identityism or ableism.

It seems that every day there is some news item or a story about “diversity” – a word that has become a semantic tsunami that washes over us daily and, at least in this country, represents anyone and everyone who isn’t a non-disabled straight white man.

I recently caught a story about the people who did the important math calculations for NASA during the early days of the space program, from the late 50s through the Apollo missions to the moon. This was at a time when “computers” were people, not machines. They used slide rules, solved differential equations and did the calculus that sent Alan Shepard up and down and John Glenn orbiting the earth and enabled Neil Armstrong to step onto the lunar surface.

- Neil Armstrong

- Neil Armstrong

These computers were black women. You saw newsreel images of white men with crewcuts and chunky glasses in NASA control rooms while these women were hidden in segregated buildings with segregated bathrooms and drinking from separate water fountains. These women were crunching the numbers for the trajectories, orbits and splashdowns that made our space program possible while steeped in a Jim Crow system that told them they were free but not equal.

Why are we so surprised to find out that these complicated calculations were being made by black women? After all, it’s ability that counts, right?

Any contrary language, belief or action that targets a “group” is the product of small-minded people (hello, Donald, are you listening?) and shines a powerful spotlight on the disturbing ambiguity of the human mind. And there appears to be no shortage of those minds sloshing and squishing around in the heads of many these days.

If our inherent nature wasn’t to discriminate against others there would have been no need for civil rights legislation and the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and heck, even the need to write down “…all men are created equal…”, the Founding Fathers ironically displaying their prejudice against women! Proof positive of who we are.

As once a sighted person and now totally blind, I can report that blindness has kept some of my prejudicial tendencies at bay. I stopped making those snap judgements that skin color or cultural clothing or body shape prompted in my behavior. All I get are the words coming out of a person’s mouth.

Yes. I do discriminate on the essence of a person – what they can bring to my table or what I might bring to their plate – and accept or dismiss them accordingly. We do need to judge what and who is good or bad for us, but we are all served well to make those decisions based on essence and keep all the isms in check. There is hardly an advantage in dismissing the better candidate.

Hiring and promoting based on ability and performance. What a concept!

Imagine a blind job application. If any and every person applying for a position could apply with their gender, ethnicity, age, identity and disability somehow hidden, what would our workplaces look like? And more importantly, what would be the level of productivity?

Of course, employers should not be asked to hire a person before meeting them. But imagine a completely objective metric being assigned to an application for employment before the boss meets the job-seeker face to face. And if that metric included not only work experience but a measure of intuition by some means as well, it would offer employers a competitive edge by hiring someone who intuits with the best of ‘em.

If we could strip away all the superficial stuff that taints the decision making process, who would we hire? Who would we promote? Alas! Who would we love?

There’s a short overweight Latin woman cleaning houses who would make an excellent CEO if we could just find her…or if she could find us.

And equal pay for equal work? Besides being a no-brainer, another stunning example of how deep discrimination runs like rich red blood through our veins. Certainly as ridiculous as drinking from separate water fountains.

Indeed. All people are created equal. Now if we could just get that woven into the fabric of humanity somehow.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Blind Lives Matter

The disproportionate discrimination heaped onto the Afro-American community has inspired the Black Lives Matter movement, campaigning against violence toward black people, and to the broader issues of racial discrimination. Certainly the color of skin prompting bias before you have even said “hello” or exchanged a minute of conversation is absurd, disturbing and diminishes who we are as a species. Yet there it is: if you’re a person of color in a white society, the judging kicks in with amazing speed.

Whether discrimination is learned or baked into our DNA, it seems clear that religious, ethnic, age and gender prejudice is thriving around the planet with no signs of easing up anytime soon. Discrimination, and the fear, rage and violence that broils up from it, continues to be a pox on all our houses.

Prejudgment also applies to the largest minority in our country. Over 64 million, or 1 out of every 5 Americans, live with a disability. However, the prejudice against disabled folks generally takes the form of assumption, dismissal and pity rather than rage.

The most mysterious thing about prejudice is that when it kicks in, it seems to assign a complete set of negative traits to the targeted person. Knee-jerk reactions take hold, and individual personality doesn’t stand a chance. Unless a brief conversation with the prejudger and the prejudged occurs, the whole prejudged person is marginalized and dismissed as unproductive or nefarious.

I felt it myself when I met Danny, a fellow, who at the age of 19, severed his spinal cord when he dove off the mast of a sailing ship into a coral reef. When we first met, I stuck out my hand to shake his. It was limp and without any strength. He was quadriplegic and I immediately figured he was pooched with no ability. Then he invited me out on his sailboat which was rigged so that he could manage the boat himself. Good thing – I’m useless when it comes to trimming sails. He moved to L.A. to pursue a career in acting, appeared in several films, and started up an enterprise helping businesses to become ADA compliant. Danny and I would sometimes step out together – I’d grab the handles of his wheelchair and he would tell me “left and right and stop.” We were a motley crew and remained lifelong friends.

People who casually meet me for the first time generally resort to some blind man stereotype or worse, pity. They will quickly grab my bag of groceries as if my hands are broken or tell me how sorry they are for me. People who do get to know me are at first surprised that I’m a professional actor, president of my local actor’s union, have been a VP of Sales and Human Resources, a playwright, a poet, a songwriter, have two kids and do my own grocery shopping. To them it’s “amazing.” To me, it’s just what I do.

It’s important to make a distinction between having a disability and being disabled. Having a disability means having only one broken something; being disabled suggests you are entirely broken. As I often say, “I’m not disabled, I’m just blind.” I get stuff done by other means.

Like most of the disabled folks I know, their particular disability tends to “disappear” to people who spend time with them, and their abilities emerge, dominate and defy the preconceptions.

Disability isn’t a tragedy. It’s just another way of living. And it matters.

Certainly a world without prejudgment is desired by most people, but people who experience discrimination of any kind don’t live in that sort of kumbaya bubble. I figure it will take several more turns of evolution before our species enlightens to a more inclusive mentality, where tendencies toward stereotype and bias are eliminated from the gene pool.

Until then, we must strive mightily to embrace the notion that there are better ways to deal with the ire that boils up from dated assumptions that marginalize the groups of people who breathe and dream outside our tribes.

For now, we might just try saying “hello” when we first meet someone who appears ‘different.’ And we may find out just how similarly we all dream.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Gettin’ it done by other means.

Learning New Stuff

IMG_0726 I’ve never been a ‘read the owner’s manual’ kinda guy. I’ve always found them confusing, tedious and lengthy.

I used to have a pal who would read every owner’s manual from cover to cover. But I had, as my mother used to say, more of a “creative” mind.

Even when I could see, I didn’t read manuals. I was always a “visual learner” when trying to figure out how to operate stuff. So when I went totally blind, I was pooched.

As a blind guy, I still avoided screen reading online manuals. I preferred to have somebody ‘talk me through’ each button and crank. Sure, it was a struggle, but I was determined to master every bell and whistle on the device.

The struggle got worse as I grew older. Even my $10 toaster, between the frozen, regular and bagel settings and the light, medium and dark knob, became a chore. I figured that being blind exacerbated the learning process.

Then I started noticing my sighted friends calling out to their teenage children: “Hey Sam, show me how to use this remote,” or “Yo Jennie, help me figure out my new electric toothbrush.” It was an Aha moment! The problem wasn’t being blind, it was being over 40.

Not that I ever needed a reason why I didn’t read manuals, but now I finally had a good one.

Besides, why was I trying to learn all 128 buttons on the gismo when I only ever use 5 of them in the first place?

I was suddenly at the gateway to the next level: tranquility, self-actualization and spiritual enlightenment…with a little more time on my hands.

The desire to learn new things dramatically decreases for most people after they turn 40. Many folks believe this is due to the natural diminishing capacity of the human brain, but I’d like to think it may actually be the result of enlightenment. In other words, once you reach that age when you realize that you’re no longer receiving blue ribbons for effort, you trade in your sense of accomplishment for a little efficiency. You suddenly grasp the notion that all the time you spent agonizing over how to work the damn thing might have been better spent dreaming about the little vegetable garden you’ve been meaning to plant in your backyard.

Now I have a go-to-under-40 person to set up my new appliance and show me how to use the latest whizzbang technology with the fewest steps possible.

Keeping it simple is king. I no longer type my destination into my GPS. Instead, with my guide dog in tow, I just mash a button and speak into my phone where I want to go and voila!, the nice droid-lady answers me with step by step directions on how to get from point A to point B. (I can also assist some of my drivers who have difficulty using GPS. Yup, most of them are over 40.)

You may find it more satisfying to ask a stranger under 40 for help with a new gadget, rather than your go-to-under-40 family member. Strangers tend to be nicer and more patient. Family members are prone to be a little quippie during the education process, sometimes rolling their eyes or tossing you zingers like, “You don’t know how to do that?” or “I’ve shown you this a million times!” Of course, if you are a secure person with few self-esteem issues, quippie’s wisecracks don’t bother you. You just say, “Yeh, I’m a blockhead. Fix it.” That’s about all you need to do to get the quipster focused on the task.

If you have the impulse to explain to quippie why you aren’t ‘getting it,’ save your breath. They don’t care if you get it or not. And at your advanced age, you need to lower your stress level. Plus, by not explaining yourself, you have extra time to do something useful, like top-up your soft soap kitchen dispenser which has been empty since last month.

So, with your Millennial or Gen Z of choice and your own good self-image, you’ll have that new “Power-Your-Spaceship-To-Mars-With-Solar” app downloaded and up and running in just a few short minutes.

But before you blast off to worlds unknown, you might consider tending your garden first.

Steve Gladstone

The Blind Dude

Eating Ants

The other day my daughter came over for a visit. I was in my den when I heard her calling out to me from the kitchen: “Hey dad, there are ants all over your chocolate candy.”

Yikes! I had a flash memory from the night before, eating a couple of pieces from my box of Valentine chocolates which I had been rationing and now was almost empty…except for the ants.

I quickly got to thinking about any weird science I might have swallowed in the past and recalled how I thought the sliced ham I had for lunch earlier tasted a little tangy. When you’re a blind dude, bad strawberries and sour milk are simple to detect, but ant-covered chocolates, not so easy.

I started wondering why I was still alive.

I suppose at their most basic level, ants are protein.

Then I remembered Steve McQueen’s character in the film Papillon, mashing up and eating insects while detained in a French Guiana prison. It didn’t kill him but rather helped sustain him for two years while being held in solitary confinement. I was starting to feel better.

Certainly in some parts of the world, local cuisine includes beetles, grasshoppers and other insects which are dried, fried and covered with seasonings. Desserts include tasty tidbits like Chocolate Covered Scorpion and Chile-Lime Crickets.

According to one source: “…80% of the world views insects as normal food; it's only nations in Europe, Canada and the USA who balk at the idea.”

Was I ahead of the curve?

A quick surf on Google will bring you to organizations that promote the eating of those creepy little critters. One such association boasts: “Eat Bugs, Save the Planet.” There are ‘Bug Festivals’ dedicated to educating us about the nutritional benefits of edible insects.

Notwithstanding the challenges of world hunger, the rising demand for meat, overfishing, current farming practices damaging the environment, polluting the water and air and contributing to the rise in infectious diseases, it may be time to change the way we view food.

Back to what we eat.

I thought about a nice steak – cooked cow, really? Who’d want to eat such an odd looking animal? And sushi…? Hmm, raw fish. Then it hit me: maybe as long as what we eat is dead, it works. Or at least is more appetizing.

We don’t eat living stuff. But lots of other creatures do. Snakes eat live rats, lions eat zebra, lizards eat flies, cats eat lizards, and blind dudes eat ants. No big whoop, eh?

Good thing those big bug movies like “Them!” (a nest of gigantic irradiated ants storming L.A.) and “The Fly” (a scientist mutating into a human fly) are just Sci-Fi. Otherwise, we might also be on the menu.

Dead or alive, food is necessary for survival. And eating responsibly is a worthwhile consideration.

Perhaps someday we’ll hear public service announcements like: “Promote healthy eating and sustainable farming with tasty & edible insects. Eat a bug!”

Until then, I won’t be dusting my chocolates with little ants anytime soon, but won’t freak out if I munch a few along the way.

Steve Gladstone The Blind Dude

Blind Man Goes to the Ballet


Photos by Aida Zuniga

Perhaps the last form of theatrical entertainment to attract a blind person would be the ballet: no speaking, no singing, just dancing.

However, thanks to technology, I can now understand the fascination with sugar plum fairies dancing in your head.

Like so many Baby Boomers, I was first introduced to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, a truncated orchestral version of his Nutcracker ballet music, while watching Disney’s Fantasia. Of course, Tchaikovsky crafted the Suite as a purely symphonic piece where the ballet is a feast for both the eyes and ears.

inside a toy box
inside a toy box

The first characters most Boomers actually tied to The Nutcracker were the animated fairies, fish, flowers, mushrooms, and leaves from Fantasia (1940). The Nutcracker ballet didn’t really become a popular annual tradition in this country until the 1960s, the result of George Balanchine's staging, adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

The animated images from Fantasia probably remained with me longer than most people, since I actually saw the film but was totally blind by the time I first attended the ballet.

Those fluid, colorful and quirky animated characters from the movie morphed back to their original forms in the ballet: the dancing mushrooms in the “Chinese Dance” routine (credit the Three Stooges as the model for the animation) became a nimble Chinese danseur leaping out of a box 3 feet into the air; the mesmerizing goldfish who used her flowing tail as a veil became one beautiful barefoot Arabian babe in a gossamer skirt and cascading veil, using her sensuous and controlled movements – arching her back, turning around on one foot and moving in serpentine  patterns – to touch her head with one foot and stretch out like a cat; a plant with its stem body and leaves for arms and legs became an acrobatic Cossack who jumped through a red, white and green striped hula hoop.

So how does a blind man know all these details? Elementary, my dear Watson: audio description.

With a FM receiver around my neck and an earpiece in my ear, a live narrator at the Arsht Center’s Ziff Ballet Opera House in Miami described the action on stage, transmitting it to me in real time as the music played and the dancers danced.

It was also helpful to have a “touch tour” before the show, giving size and shape to many of the stage props and costumes. I did enjoy communing with the Mouse King’s head and body armor.

holding the Mouse King's tail off suit of armor
holding the Mouse King's tail off suit of armor

I never knew it was snowing at the top of the ballet and that several guests arrived with their children at Dr. Stahlbaum’s home. I didn’t know that a father picked up his little daughter to admire the Christmas tree lights or that the grandfather clock lit up when it struck eight.

I learned that the mysterious Drosselmeyer was dressed in a black cape and top hat, and brought with him several large toy boxes; his first gift being two wind-up dolls, Harlequin and Columbine, who soon performed a sprightly arabesque, which enlightened me as to why the audience was applauding.

I had a serious ‘duh’ moment when I found out that Drosselmeyer was cracking nuts with a wooden nutcracker and passing out the nuts to everyone. My inner voice clarified it for me: “It’s The Nutcracker ballet after all, you knucklehead!”

Marie’s brother Fritz grabbing and stomping on the nutcracker was another important piece of otherwise missing info. Drosselmeyer sneaking in as Marie slept, repairing the nutcracker with a magic tool which he “twisted this way and that,” placing it back gently in Marie’s arms, continued to add layers of dimension to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful music.

Subtle descriptions like “the guests hand their coats and wraps to the maid” and “Frau Stahlbaum kisses Marie on the forehead and takes her candle” and “the Prince places the Mouse King’s crown on Marie’s head” added nuance I would otherwise have missed.

Steve arghs with full face Mouse King
Steve arghs with full face Mouse King

Of course, as the music swelled and a large group of mice surrounded Marie “while the lights flashed wildly on the Christmas tree as it started to grow and grow towards the ceiling,” I got the distinct impression the plot was thickening.

Yup, the Calvary came over the hill – the now full-sized Nutcracker rallied the troops of toy soldiers against the rat pack. Kudos to Marie for throwing her slipper at the Mouse King to distract him long enough for the Nutcracker to run him through…and it’s a good thing I found out that the Nutcracker turned into a Prince after the battle.

The only thing better than a snowflake dancing en pointe is sixteen snowflakes dancing en pointe “leaping, swirling and twirling across the stage, forming various patterns on the floor, then taking delicate steps with graceful arm movements and pirouetting into a V-shape.”

How else would I know that The Sugar Plum Fairy found out about the “terrible fight with the mice and their King and the Prince’s transformation from Nutcracker to Prince” if he didn’t “act it out to Sugar Plum with gestures?”

Certainly the "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" was a delight, “her movements exquisitely timed to the mysterious fairy music, imbued with a celesta, twirling upstage” before summoning all the sweets and friends to dance in celebration for Marie and the Prince. The festivities included ten foot tall Mother Ginger, in her enormous purple, green and scarlet costume, with her seven children, the Polichinelles, emerging from under her hoop skirt to dance for our heroine.

A highlight was the "Waltz of the Flowers" where, along with the corps de ballet, Dewdrop danced the extravagant waltz and, according to my narrator, “The large flowing movements and leaps were graceful, even though the music was robust.”

The Grand Pas de Deux between Sugar Plum and her Cavalier, Prince Coqueluche, with its divinely romantic underscore, apparently galvanized the audience. I now know that the Prince helped his “beautiful companion” spin en pointe and then she “leaped and he spun her around and sat her on his shoulder, lifted and held her by the waist straight into the air, and then held her straight on an angle with her feet barely touching the floor.”

After the grand finale, full of abundant color and activity, Marie and the Prince “appear in a sleigh, heading off to the land where the sun meets the moon.”

And I too was over the moon after knowing what the heck was going on.

If you would like to learn more about the audio descriptive service at the Arsht, go to: http://www.arshtcenter.org/

full-sized Nutcracker head
full-sized Nutcracker head

Insight for the Blind was thrilled to produce recorded audio description for the first time in 2015!  In collaboration with the Miami City Ballet, Lighthouse of Broward, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, Insight recorded and produced audio description which was made available each night that live audio description was not possible.  Through the partnership of these agencies, 100% of these Nutcracker performances were made accessible, through audio description, to the blind and visually impaired.  We look forward to many more such collaborations in 2016, and beyond!   -Matt Corey

Kinky Boots

Photo credit:  Aida Zuniga I’ve groused aplenty about how the world doesn’t have blind folks at the top of its A-List, so now it’s time to give credit where credits due.

More and more devices and services are coming online that enrich the lives and experiences of blind folks and those with low vision. Technology is moving well beyond computer screen readers and talking thermometers, especially in the world of entertainment.

Several years ago, the first round of “video described” movies made it possible for blind folks to know what was going on between the dialogue. The original Star Trek films and Pretty Woman were among the first few titles where narration, carefully synchronized with the actors' words and motions, was added to the soundtrack after the film was shot. This made blind movie fans aware of the nonverbal action on the screen. I recall a specific narrative in Pretty Woman when Richard Gere is first driving with Julia Roberts in his rented Lotus: “She reaches over and feels his crotch.”

There are now thousands of films and TV “described” shows available as MP3 downloads. (All you really need is an MP3 player and the sweetened audio track of the film unless, of course, you are watching the video with your sighted girlfriend.)

Methinks in a real sort of way, the added narration is a show unto itself. One can only imagine the colorful narrative to the Game of Thrones. Yup, it’s all there.

Even my local movie theater complex offers video description for those first run films that are released with the pre-recorded narration, though the technology can be a bit finicky and doesn’t always work.

Comcast now has its X1 Entertainment Operating System which speaks aloud the channel, current program, and reads the TV guide and controls for programming your DVR. For those TV shows offering video description, many from PBS, blind and low vision users get increased access to the action on present-day TV.

And now, like Santa, Broadway with audio description has come to town.

On any given Sunday matinee, Florida Grand Opera, the Miami City Ballet and many of the musical roadshows presented at the Arsht Center in Miami are audio described with a live narrator. Unlike recorded films and TV, describing live shows has some synchronization challenges since the pace of the action may vary from performance to performance. It requires the narration to be matched to the action in real time by a breathing person via a FM transmitter to a receiver headset worn by the patron.

I just attended the national tour of Kinky Boots, a Broadway musical based on the film of the same name, The inspiration for which came from a true story about a young man (Charlie Price) who inherits his family’s shoe factory and, in order to save the business from bankruptcy, converts it from making fine men’s footwear to producing red thigh high boots for drag queens and fashionistas.

So, how did I know the boots were red? Read on, Macduff.

First off, a pre-show backstage ‘touch tour’ of some of the props and set pieces offered up the first sense of dimension for the blind experience. Grabbing hold of a pair of kinky boots was, well, kinky.

Steve smiling with kinky boot
Steve smiling with kinky boot

When there’s dialogue, you have the sense of what’s happening, but when there is silence between the actors, or the actors are singing or dancing, the action is totally lost on blind folks.

As a pumped up Charlie sang about the steps he needed to take to make the prototype boot to serve his underserved niche market, he pulled a piece of leather out of a bucket and began to fashion the first boot; there was a sewing station and a production area on stage around him. I knew all this because of the narration I heard through my earpiece as he sang. The driving tune suddenly became three-dimensional with the descriptive imagery planted squarely in my mind.

After a few false starts and some helpful design tips from the lead gender bender, Lola, singing “The Sex is in the Heel,” the factory workers later raised the roof as the first pair of "kinky boots" was finally completed. The sexy lyrics were even sexier knowing that one of Lola’s backup drag dancers, one of the “angels,” did a full split in heels and another did a backflip; the excitement was more exciting knowing that dancers shimmied and swiveled in “halter tops, short shorts and work boots” as the first completed boot was revealed. Everybody (me included) shouted “yeah, yeah!”

The spoken cues indicated more depth of character when factory worker Lauren “moved in close to Charlie’s face and was reluctant to remove her hand from his thigh” as she sang of her history of choosing the wrong guys, even while falling in love with Charlie. Descriptions of the subtle gestures and facial expressions between Charlie and Lola added an emotional dynamic as they discovered their similarly complex feelings toward their fathers. Knowing that Lola exited the nursing home “straight and proud” in her white dress, after singing to her estranged wheelchair-bound dying father to hold her in his heart, added the otherwise missing element of both love and defiance.

The graphic description of Lola’s provocative moves while proving that she was closer to a woman's ideal man than was Don, the foreman and her heavy-set macho antagonist, enhanced her song and dance with some tasty spice. After challenging her to a boxing match, the ‘slow-mo’ blows that Lola landed on Don in the boxing ring was the only way I knew who was winning the fight. Without the verbal cues before Lola and the angels arrived to save the day, I would never have known that Charlie stumbled more than a few times on the runway while modeling his boots during the Milan industry show.

While attending a play or musical, it’s often a big mystery to me when scenes change. When the scene shifted from the shoe factory to London to a pub to a boxing ring to the runway in Milan, I was knocked out with a greater sense on what the heck was happening on stage!

Steve with astonished kinky dancer with boot in the air
Steve with astonished kinky dancer with boot in the air

Without the narration, how else would I have known that the hefty Don, now Lola’s ally, showed up on the runway in Milan wearing a feminine blue outfit and boots?

Oh yeah, also while in Milan, one of the angels who saves the day was “dressed in a British flag, wearing 2 and ½ feet thigh high red kinky boots.”

That’s how I knew they were red.

Timing is Everything!

Photos by Aida Zuniga So I was in Nicaragua on Wednesday soundseeing and heard a faint but distinctive grumbling coming from the belly of this volcano.

Steve sans smoke

I checked it out and smoke started to rise behind me and I figured it was time to get out of Dodge and rustle up some barbeque. Good thing I did or it might have been me on the menu.

Steve at the crater mit smoke

Steve Gladstone

The ‘alive and well’ Blind Dude