This week, to continue Off-Kilter’s ongoing series about the limiting beliefs we as a collective must release and replace to pave the way for economic liberation, Rebecca sat down with Cheryl Green and Thomas Reid, two disabled podcasters who are leading a very cool new project called the Pod Access Initiative, in partnership with the Disability Visibility Project. They have a far-ranging conversation about why it’s so important to diversify the voices out there in media—as hosts and guests and content creators of all kinds—and how the Pod Access Initiative is working to remove barriers to entry for people with disabilities in media, while taking on limiting beliefs around whose voices “deserve” to be driving the conversation when it comes to podcasts and more.
For more from this week’s guests:
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REBECCA VALLAS (HOST): Welcome to Off-Kilter, a podcast about the fight for economic liberation and what it will take to set us all free, powered by The Century Foundation. I’m Rebecca Vallas, and I’m a former legal aid lawyer turned policy advocate who works with public policy and law, as well as organizing, coalition building, and narrative as tools for building a more just society, one premised on collective consciousness of our common humanity and the inherent dignity and rights that come with being human. And every week, I talk with visionary leaders working to reinvigorate our shared imagination and disrupt the off-kilter imbalance of power in the U.S. to build a society where everyone can thrive and experience the shared abundance we all deserve.
And to continue the series of conversations we’ve been having on Off-Kilter about the limiting beliefs we as a collective must release and replace to pave the way for collective economic liberation, I sat down with Cheryl Green and Thomas Reid, two disabled podcasters who are leading a very cool new project called the POD Access Initiative in partnership with the Disability Visibility Project, founded by Alice Wong. We talk about why it’s so important to diversify the voices out there in media as hosts and guests of podcasts and content creators of all kinds, and how the POD Access Initiative is working to remove barriers to entry for people with disabilities in media while taking on limiting beliefs around whose voices “deserve” to be driving the conversation when it comes to podcasts and much more. You can find lots more about the POD Access Initiative and the Disability Visibility Project and subscribe to Cheryl’s and Thomas’s own podcasts in show notes. Let’s take a listen. [upbeat music break]
Cheryl, Thomas, it is so great to be back in conversation with both of you and thank you for taking the time to come on Off-Kilter!
THOMAS REID: Thank you for inviting us.
CHERYL GREEN: Yes, thank you so much.
VALLAS: And I have to say, before we get into this, Cheryl, I’m gonna out you because you are very much part of the Off-Kilter fam, but this is your first time actually being on the other side of the mic. You are our heroic, incredible transcriber. You help us week to week keep the show accessible. I’ve been incredibly grateful to you and for your contributions for years and years and years of being part of the Off-Kilter fam. But I feel like we’re kind of bringing it full circle by bringing you onto the other side of the mic where you very squarely belong as a podcaster yourself. So, welcome onto the show as a longtime member of the Off-Kilter fam, Cheryl!
GREEN: Well, thank you. And I’ve been wanting to say for a while, longtime listener, first time caller.
REID and VALLAS: [laugh]
GREEN: So, thank you so much!
VALLAS: Oh, I’m so excited. And you and I, we have had a longtime conversation going on in cyberspace around our feline coworkers—
VALLAS: —who know each other as well, virtually. So, RouRou is here in spirit. Very glad for London’s companionship throughout this Off-Kilter adventure. So, just gotta bring the cats into the show too, right? We gotta do it. But Thomas, I got to meet you a little bit through Cheryl, and it was actually through the POD Access Initiative that I got to connect with you both. So, I’m really excited to be in conversation with both of you.
But before we get into sort of the meat and potatoes, the tofu, the seitan of the conversation today, I’m gonna give you both a chance, as I ordinarily do in kicking off these episodes, to talk a little bit about how you each come to this work and to podcasting—you’re both podcasters yourselves—and in particular how you both got involved with the Disability Visibility Project. And so, Cheryl, I don’t know if you wanna go first.
GREEN: Sure, I’d be happy to. Well, I come to this kind of from two directions at once, which you already mentioned: behind the mic and in front of the mic. So, I am a content creator. I have a podcast. I’ve made some documentary films. And I’m an access artist, so I focus on captions, transcripts, and audio description primarily. And these days I do much more of the access for other people, as opposed to creating my own art. And I started my own podcast years ago, like at least a decade ago, and it was very much this not-at-all edited, long-form interview streaming radio show about brain injury arts and culture. I made it on a whim. You could tell from the quality of the show that I’d made it on a whim! And over the years it’s really transformed. It’s a new show now. It’s called Pigeonhole, and I feature only disabled people. Sometimes it’s interviews. Usually it’s very short, very weird stories. It’s cross-disability. I don’t focus just on brain injury community anymore.
And my connection to the Disability Visibility Project. I fought myself long and hard to try to remember how I got connected, and I just have no memory of it. But at some point, I became one of the three producers of Alice Wong’s Disability Visibility podcast, and I edited and produced over 30 of the episodes. I transcribed 99 of 100 episodes, and I made a deluxe episode guide when the show wrapped. So, that’s my relationship to this content and to Disability Visibility Project.
VALLAS: Well, and I’m gonna stay with you there for a moment, Cheryl, and then Thomas, we’ll bring you in to connect some of these dots. But just since you’re talking a little bit about the Disability Visibility Project, Cheryl, I’m honored to count Alice Wong a friend, and I’ve had her on the podcast before, although not in far too long. But for folks who aren’t familiar, what is the Disability Visibility Project?
GREEN: Well, Alice started it in 2015, and it was originally supposed to be just a partnership with StoryCorps to collect Deaf and disabled history and culture. And she thought of it in honor of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. And it didn’t stop! It’s just grown and grown. It’s an online community dedicated to creating, sharing, and amplifying disability media and culture. And this is done through podcasting, publishing essays—-which she pays her essayists—Twitter chats, she hosts events. There’s just this huge range of media activities and cultural stuff that’s really about amplifying cross-disability culture, bringing up the history, the narrative, and definitely giving a lot of space to LGBTQ and BIPOC disabled people. It’s just a really exciting project, and I love that it lasted beyond just the original StoryCorps. And you can find those, the stuff tagged with Disability Visibility Project in the Library of Congress and at StoryCorps in general. The podcast, when did the podcast start? Somewhere in there. And it went for 100 episodes.
VALLAS: And folks can find more about the Disability Visibility Project in show notes. We’ll have a bunch of links to all the content that we’re talking about here.
But Thomas, I’m gonna bring you in here and ask you the same question. Talk a little bit about how you come to this work. And then that takes us around to the story behind the POD Access Initiative, which we’re gonna be getting into and diving into today.
REID: Yeah. So, for me, I think blindness, access technology, and podcasting all sort of came into my life at around the same time. So, in 2004, all of these things were new to me. Podcasting was pretty new at that time. So, yeah, I lost my sight in basically 2004, and prior to me getting back, [clears throat] excuse me, onto a computer—so, learning how to use a screen reader—I used a little handheld recorder to sort of take notes and remember appointments and other things that I needed to remember that I would have, in the past, wrote down. So, just playing with the recorder sort of took me back to my days of being a bedroom DJ—
GREEN and REID: [chuckle]
REID: —and, you know, playing with audio. And meanwhile, I was, when I finally did get back on the computer that same year, I started consuming podcasts, and I knew I wanted to create a podcast. But I wasn’t really sure about what the topic was that I wanted to cover. And I wasn’t really, I wasn’t the type of person to give myself permission to sort of make something, if you know what I mean by that. Like, I think there’s this thing where a lot of folks feel the need to, you know, growing up, it was like, “Oh, why are you doing that?” I didn’t have hobbies. It was like, “Oh, why are you playing sports? Okay, you should play sports. Why are you doing this? Are you gonna work? Is that your job? Are you gonna make money from that?” It was never like, oh, I just wanna do something just to do it, you know what I mean?
And so, I figured out how to incorporate audio in some of the work that I was doing in in advocacy, in the blindness advocacy organization. And eventually, I had an opportunity to make some original content, which ended up I put that stuff that I was making for it was a radio reading service called Gatewave out of New York City. And making this content for—it was actually for the blind community using radio reading services—it sort of gave me more confidence because the folks who volunteered for that organization worked for places like CBS, radio, television, ABC. And the fact that they liked what I was producing was really cool, and that kind of helped me keep going. And later I started sharing that on my blog, and I called it Reid My Mind Radio because I was not that creative.
REID: Because the blog’s name was Reid My Mind, R e i d, like my last name. And so, yeah, that’s sort of how I started podcasting, which was in toward the end of 2014. So, it was really first just sort of sharing this content that I was creating for the radio reading service, and then it later sort of just became my own thing, and I really developed it into where I was going and targeting, the community that I wanted to target.
VALLAS: Well, I gotta hop in and say, I love the alignment here on timelines, given that 2014 is also the year that Off-Kilter was born. It was called TalkPoverty Radio back then, but that was the moment in time when Sirius XM said, “Hey, come do a show. We need a show focused on inequality and poverty.” So, 2014, clearly a year that started us on a path to finding each other at some point.
REID: Yeah, how cool. [laughs]
VALLAS: But keep going with your story.
REID: No, yeah. And so, it was maybe a couple years after that that I had met Alice. And it’s funny because I think I met Alice first on Twitter—and when I was first able to get access to Twitter ‘cause it was not accessible in the beginning to a screen reader—but yeah. And so, I ended up wanting to reach out to her to have her on my podcast, but she got to me first.
GREEN and REID: [laugh]
REID: And so, that was kind of cool. So, she contacted me about being on her podcast, and then I was like, “Okay, well, will you be on my podcast?”
REID: And it ended up that my episode with her came out first because she was way more advanced in producing and scheduling and all that type of thing than I was. I was just sort of winging it week by week or every two weeks type of thing. But yeah. And so, we ended up meeting each other through the podcast and the Twittersphere and all of that and yeah. And then things worked out, and there we are. Here we are today. And I met Cheryl, and the rest is history!
GREEN and REID: [laugh]
VALLAS: Well, so, pick up pick up the ball, though, with that history. How did that become the POD Access Initiative, which you guys now are leading and moving forward today?
REID: Yeah. So, I think it kind of corresponds to Alice’s understanding and appreciation of podcasting, right? So, her ability to and her willingness to amplify disabled voices is sort of like I think of it as the root of what we’re doing. So, we know that podcasting and content creation in general is just a way that disabled folks, Deaf and disabled folks, can really share not only our stories, our perspectives, and stories, and all of that, but also, our creativity, right? And so many other things. So many other things. So, we figured out that—Cheryl and I were invited to kind of lead this and take it on—and we figured out that what we needed to know is what prevents folks from starting a podcast. We need to know the barriers, right, before we can kind of figure out how to help them get around them, get over them, and all of that. So, we surveyed what I’m gonna say were potential, former, and current podcasters, right? Because they all have something to contribute to this, to what we need to know. And so, part of that survey was also to the audiences, right? ‘Cause part of what we wanna do is connect content creators to their audiences as well, those who are interested in content made by disabled creators. So, that was sort of the first thing that we covered with POD Access. That was sort of the first part of it.
One of the resources that we’re creating, of course, since this is about podcasting, has to be a podcast, right?!
REID: You have a podcast about podcasts about podcasts.
GREEN and REID: [chuckle]
REID: So, we’re in the process right now of creating that to sort of answer some of the questions, deal with some of the issues around people starting and continuing a podcast. And so, what better way than to get the voices of folks who have experience with that, whatever it is. If it’s just, you know, if they’re just starting, we’re talking to some of those. If it’s folks who have been doing their podcast for quite some time, we’re talking to them, too.
And then eventually, all of these things are going to live on a website, a portal, if you will, where we are, that is gonna be the place where folks can kind of connect with one another. And so, that means content creators themselves can connect with one another to do what? To share skills. So, consider, like, there are people who are podcasting who may be good at audio editing, but someone like myself, you know, I’m not that good at graphics. Who would have thought, right?
REID: So, maybe I can link up with someone who would create graphics for me, and maybe I can do some editing for them. So, those are some of the things that we wanna do with that. Maybe some cross-promotional things where you can share your promo about your podcast on mine because podcasting really isn’t as competitive a thing. I mean, there’s space and room for everyone here. It really depends on the audience. The audience is gonna find you.
And that’s the second part of that. That website is gonna be a place for the audiences to find the content that they wanna consume and hopefully support in whatever ways those are. So, that’s just the basis of what that portal will be, that website. And we think there’s a lot more that we’re gonna be able to do and services to provide the community and vice versa and to the audience as well. So, it’s a cool project, and we think it has a lot of space to grow.
VALLAS: And the project is really just getting started.
VALLAS: So, that’s part of what’s exciting to be having this conversation at this moment in time. Cheryl, Thomas just mentioned that you guys did a survey, and you surveyed Deaf and disabled podcasters and asked, “What are the barriers to podcasting and to really creating content more broadly?” What did you learn from that survey? What are the main barriers that folks are facing? And we’ll get a little bit more into then the community and the portal that you guys are building around this and some of the theory of change. But when you asked that question, what is it that folks said are the barriers to entry?
GREEN: I mean, they are super not surprising barriers. And they’re the same barriers that Thomas and Alice and I and many other people probably heard when aspiring podcasters would reach out: “I heard you make a podcast. Can you help me start mine?” Because people don’t know where to go to get the information, and more importantly, where to get accessible information. So, this is information that is accessible for people to digest, but also information about how to make their stuff accessible. That’s, I haven’t found that out there. Like, the tutorials that I send people to about how to start a podcast don’t have captions. The guy’s a fast talker. And there’s some, it’s video-based, and there’s no description of what’s on screen. So, he might say, you know, “Just click here,” but there’s no description of what here is. So, those were things that were standing out to us in our personal experience, and the survey bore that out.
Big ones that people responded were about wanting to know how to make shows accessible to a broader audience. So, what are the things that make something accessible, and then how do you do those things? Like transcripts, like image descriptions of graphics. A lot of people talked about not having enough funding or enough time to work on the show. Questions about how do you go about building an audience? I need more collaborators to do my show. That is me talking, but also a lot of people said that. And needing to find accessible tools and technology to make the shows. There were other barriers people mentioned, but those really stand out to me.
And for this show, Rebecca, I would like to elaborate just a little bit on the funding question because, I mean, anybody, anybody who is not making their podcast on the clock for some agency or department that they work for is going to have funding questions. So, we know that. And with the independent podcasts or, well, all kinds of podcasts, advertisements and sponsorships are great ways to fund a podcast. I have learned about so many brands of mattresses and bras and food delivery services by listening to podcasts, and I know that that is how those shows are paying some of their bills by telling me about those mattresses and that food. The problem is, for anyone who doesn’t have a podcast, you have to first have an audience to attract funders. And without the funding to build your show and grow your audience, then you don’t have the audience to attract the funders that would help you build your audience. Again, it’s true for anybody.
But when you kind of drill down in disability community, there is another obstacle. Not everyone, but some people in the disability community are on Supplemental Security Income, SSI, which your audience is well familiar with. Some people are on Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. And for people who are receiving either one of those benefits, they may not have the luxury of bringing in a couple hundred dollars per episode or even per month, because if they bring that in, and they have a cap on their income or their assets or both, and they bring in those sponsorship dollars, that threatens their ability to have healthcare and be able to pay for aids. And so, if you can’t seek funding to grow your show because of these caps and limits—which it would be nice if those were removed—then you can’t seek funding for your show. And then how do you get past that barrier? So, the problem then is that either you don’t make your show, or your show is tiny, and it’s not reaching the potential that you know that it could. Meanwhile, the potential audience out there thinks that you don’t have a show because you have nothing to say, or that you don’t have the skills to make a show. When in reality, it’s this vicious cycle of not being able to gather and use the resources to make your show. So, that’s a big one that stood out to me in looking at the survey results.
VALLAS: Well, and Cheryl, that’s a great segue way into really, I think, where the heart of the conversation that we really all three of us wanted to have today. I’m gonna disclose that the three of us actually got the idea for doing this Off-Kilter episode when I was talking with the both of you as part of the interview series that you’ve been leading for the POD Access Initiative. I’m a person with a podcast who identifies as a member of the disability community, lovingly known as the disco.
VALLAS: And we all got into conversation about a whole bunch of stuff, maybe some stuff that you expected, maybe some stuff that none of us expected. And we actually all wanted to bring in some of those themes. But before we start to get into some of the tools and the resources and some of the ways that you all are supporting and preparing to support Deaf and disabled podcasters through this initiative, I wanna connect this conversation explicitly to the series of conversations that we’ve been having on Off-Kilter around some of the most toxic, some of the most problematic limiting beliefs that we as a collective may not be aware of, may not be conscious of, but which, frankly, we need to be doing the work of making visible so that we can release and replace them in service of collective liberation. And I gave you guys a heads up that that was part of what we were gonna talk about.
And so, I wanna turn it to the two of you to ask where you wanna start with this piece of the conversation. Is there a particular limiting belief that the POD Access Initiative is working to call out and to replace? I might guess that it might be something along the lines of only certain people’s voices are worth having out there as podcast hosts, or maybe at a more fractal individual level that, “Hey, no one cares what I have to say, so why should I put my voice out there?” But I wanna turn that back to both of you to ask what is the limiting belief that this project is seeking to take on? And Thomas, I don’t know if you wanna take that first.
REID: So, I think this question for me sort of made me think really about my own experience with blindness and questions that well, a question that I know I’ve asked of myself and of others, and I’ve heard other people ask it, too. And it’s a simple question. It’s, “What can I do?” And I think the subtext of that is sort of like, now that I’m blind. That was my question that I asked of myself and for other people fill in the disability or whatever it is, or as a blind person, whatever, right? Again, I was sort of asking that question of myself, and I ended up asking that question to folks in the vocational rehabilitation space, right? But thinking about it now, I think it’s a question that really takes away our power. And I have an alternative question that I’ve come across and was like, you know what? This is a better question that I should’ve asked myself and I hope to ask myself occasionally, right, which is, “What do I wanna do?” And then sort of figure out, with the help of the community, which I think is a really big deal, on how I can get that done.
And that’s, you know, I think that’s sort of where POD Access is trying to bring in that community to say, okay, this is how you can do whatever it is that you’re trying to do. It’s that whole thing about possibly we need permission. We need someone’s permission to do something. Where I don’t think we need permission. At some point, all you need is really just access, access to the tools that make it possible, you know? And that right there should be enough because there’s so…. For me, podcasting has been such a learning experience, and I just wanna see that for everyone. I mean, it’s about, yes, putting your story out, putting your, you know, getting your creativity, so many things, that there really shouldn’t be that block.
VALLAS: Cheryl, where do you wanna pick that up?
GREEN: Well, I wanna pick that up with just reflecting back to Thomas, because I, oh, I just love listening to Thomas talk about the origin story of his work and where his work goes. And just listening to you talk just then about what can I do? You know, your show, like mine and probably like many people’s, like yours, Rebecca, changed. It started in one way, and then you homed in on something, or you got a new perspective or got a new direction for the show, and you grew with it. And I think there’s this idea that, “I don’t have my idea fully formed, and so I will just sit here at the starting line forever.” [chuckles] And Thomas, you’re such a beautiful model for well, get out there and start making the thing that you can make right now and grow it as you go.
VALLAS: I love that. I love that so much.
GREEN: That was, just that’s just one of my hobbies is to, [laughs] is to thank Thomas for all the stuff that you say.
GREEN: And to tell people to go to ReidMyMindRadio.com.
GREEN and REID: [laugh]
GREEN: It’s the best podcast! But so, limiting toxic belief. In listening to your show every week, Rebecca, each guest brings a new one, and I go, “Oh, yeah, that’s the one.” And then your next guest says, I’m like, “Oh, no, that’s the one!” And I love this question so much. I narrowed it down to about 1,000, and you wanted one. So, here are the top 15. Just kidding.
GREEN: So, I’m thinking a lot about Alice Wong right now, and she has a statement that you can find in writing, audio that really stands out to me. In addition to talking about eating cupcakes or anything you want, she often says, “Believe disabled people.” And she has to say it a lot. And that tells you something, because if you have to keep repeating this refrain, there is a toxic limiting belief behind it that she is trying to address. And this, I think about this with the POD Access Initiative, because I’m gonna be, I’m gonna kind of make generalizations here, but they’re not random or hyperbolic. When a lot of disabled people produce something, then it’s questioned whether they really did it. “Did they really do that? Did they really think of that?” That’s a common one. A lot of people offer us help without asking if we want or need it. They just perceive us as people who are constantly in need of help. If we say we don’t want it, then they express anger at us, which is very weird. [nervous chuckle] And on the flip side, if we do ask for help, we’re told, “No, you can do it yourself.” And I’ve been told I just need to have more self-confidence and positivity. Like, I had to stop driving 12 years ago because my visual processing is really screwed up from a brain injury. I was literally told by somebody that I just need to get more confidence. I’m like, “Hey, if you wanna make my peripheral vision actually work through building self-confidence, you know, show me your research study. That sounds like fun.” It’s just like microaggression after microaggression. You know, if we say we’re in pain, but we get stuff done, like produce one podcast a month, then we’re told, “Oh, the pain couldn’t possibly be that bad. It’s not real ‘cause you look fine.”
And I wanna take us back to episode #43 of Alice’s podcast, the Disability Visibility podcast. Her guest was the now-law professor, Doron Dorfman, and he talked about his research on myths around deservingness and around scarcity, and how those myths play a role in why so many people have this knee jerk response to think that disabled people are faking their situations, faking their disability, or faking the needs that they’re expressing for access. And I just find that one a really powerful one. I cried editing— Did I? Oh, I can’t remember if I edited that one, but I transcribed it. I cried through that one, and I didn’t cry through all of Alice’s podcasts. But the research, it’s just really powerful, and I hope people will check out the audio and/or the transcripts of Episode . And I could go on, but I’ll just wrap up again with that refrain, “Believe disabled people.”
VALLAS: I love that so much as the place for this conversation to go next. And I also just will give Alice a plug as someone that everyone should be following on Twitter, which is often where that refrain comes through, and often in response to problematic news narratives or other elements of public discourse that really are just fraught with ableism, and yet are what we have come to normalize in so many different spaces. So, Alice Wong, you can find all of her Twitter handles in our show notes, but she’s @SFDirewolf and also @DisVisibility on Twitter.
So, Cheryl, picking up with that theme, some of what you and Thomas and I got into talking about in the course of the conversation we had recording for the POD Access Initiative really, really, I think pulls on a lot of the different threads that you were just offering up, right? So, underpinning “believe disabled people” is, of course, a limiting belief that disabled people are not trustworthy or can’t be believed or couldn’t possibly be doing the things that disabled people are capable of doing. I appreciated so much that you also brought in so explicitly the Supplemental Security Income program, which we just marked recently the 50th anniversary of, which is also the 50th anniversary of Congress pretty much forgetting about the program—
VALLAS: —which is how we ended up with the inhumane and incredibly constraining modern-day eligibility criteria that are still 1972 eligibility criteria that I’ve started to talk about openly as a form of mass institutionalization without walls, which is the reality for so many people with disabilities and also older adults in this country. I love you bringing that element of this in as well, because until people with disabilities are the ones curating the conversations, right, that’s how we end up in a reality where a program is critical as, say, Supplemental Security Income can actually be forgotten by the Very Serious People in Washington for as long as it has been, right?
And so, zooming out just a little bit, and then this’ll take us into some of the themes that we were talking about around the POD Access Initiative recording a few weeks ago, there is a larger theory of change here that this project is connected to that is part of the Disability Visibility Project’s theory of change, but which is also a few levels up, a broader disability movement-led push to center the voices and the perspectives of disabled people in media and in public discourse in a way that we’ve made strides towards and that Alice Wong has been a huge leader in pushing us towards. Rebecca Cokley has been a huge leader in resourcing a lot of these initiatives since moving over to the Ford Foundation. Just to give two shoutouts to two of the people who are doing a lot of this work, both visibly and also behind the scenes.
But I wanna put it back to you, and maybe Thomas, this is where you want to come back in to talk about one of the things that we were all in conversation around before and that I wanna pull into this episode as well, which is around why it’s so important for disabled people to be content creators and why it matters to be identifying and removing some of the barriers to, say, disabled people becoming podcasters. And that connects to this larger conversation we’re having about how conversations go when you don’t have disabled people in the driver’s seat, and instead folks are just being talked about, which is what really allows for the reinforcement of the myths and the limiting beliefs that Cheryl was just getting into. So, Thomas, where do you wanna take us in terms of why it’s so important to have disabled voices out there as leaders and driving forces in media, as hosts, as guests, as content creators of all kinds? That feels like kind of the big picture question here for the why behind this initiative you two are leading.
REID: Yeah. I think in a way, I was going there, and Cheryl kind of touched on it, too, when she was so kind to me.
GREEN and REID: [laugh]
REID: But yeah, I mean, because podcasting has been a part of my own personal growth and my adjustment process, adjusting to becoming blind, it’s been like the vehicle, right, to help me sort of travel along this disability journey. And I hope that’s not corny, but I mean, I don’t know a better way to say that. But… not but. The podcast really, looking back at it, it sort of actually reflects everything that I’ve been experiencing over the years that I’ve been creating it, right? So, it’s not just about the people that I interview. It’s about the topics. It’s about the questions. It’s about my approach to it. It’s about the wording, some of the words that I’ve used, the language: “vision loss” versus actually saying “blind.” In the beginning, I would just say “vision loss.” That had to do with many things, but one of them is just my own comfort level, right? I didn’t think about blindness as a disability, and that seems very silly to me. But it was like, “Oh, blindness is one thing. Disability is another.” I don’t feel that way. I know better now. But that’s been like my process over these years. And the podcast, like I said, has been so, so helpful to that.
I used to think that, oh, doing this podcast, if I do it on the topics specific to blindness, it’s gonna put me in a box, and I don’t wanna be put in a box. Like, that was my whole thing. And today, I’m like, I don’t think I’m in a box, but I know that I want to focus on disability. I say it. I say it in everything I do because I understand that disability isn’t just a topic that’s over here in the corner, you know? Disability is everything. Every topic is a disability topic. And the fact that I can talk about it, the fact that I can produce an episode and come from a disability perspective is something that not everyone can do, and I think something that adds value. And so, if it’s a political show, if it’s a show about sports or entertainment, why not come from that disability perspective? It doesn’t mean that it has to only be that way if that’s not what you want. But why not take your life experience and be able to kind of to talk about that? And I think that’s part of why we want to see more disabled folks talking about whatever it is that they wanna talk about. We’re not saying, “Hey, you have to talk about x, y, and z. You have to do this.” No, wherever you are along your journey, that’s value. And I think Cheryl and I and Alice, we wanna see that value added to the conversation. And that’s when I think POD Access can help.
VALLAS: I love that. And of course, and it’s a refrain we bring to this podcast as often as we can, but that every issue is a disability issue. I think folks who listen to this show probably don’t need to be reminded of the statistics. But when you’ve got one in four people in this country living with disabilities—numbers that are, of course, only rising by the day as we continue to live through a mass disabling event, which is what the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be, in fact, the largest mass disabling event in modern history, and certainly the largest for our generation. That is what long COVID is bringing—and it is even more critical for everyone to understand that every issue is a disability issue when we’re talking about folks who must be part of an us instead of continuing to be relegated to some sort of mythological them.
And staying on that point, Thomas, I mean, there’s a lot of ways to be a disabled podcaster. You can do it invisibly and have it be part of your life, and you can be someone who has a disability, but maybe it’s not something you bring into your show, and the show isn’t about disability, and maybe no one has any idea that the person who’s behind the mic is actually someone who’s a member of the community. And then all the way on that spectrum forward to, of course, being a disabled podcaster with a show “about disability.” But somewhere in between is actually a realm the ranks of which are growing. And that’s somewhere, that’s probably where I would put myself on the spectrum is someone who self-identifies as part of the disco—part of the disability community—even though the podcast isn’t “about disability.”
And there’s a tension there sometimes of how much of oneself to bring in to the virtual studio in conversations where maybe the listeners are not expecting a conversation to bring in a disability lens. I’m curious if either of you have thoughts or maybe even advice to folks who are listening about the value of self-identifying as part of the disability community in a way that means bringing that identity into the podcast or the content that you’re creating. And I don’t know which of you would wanna take that question.
REID: Well, I think, I mean, that value, to me, is both for the individual and for the community, right? I think it’s someone’s choice. But like I was saying, for me, it’s been…. You know, I think for those who listen to the podcast, like Cheryl was kind of talking about, there’s value in just kind of watching me go through this. It’s not that obvious. I don’t think it’s that obvious ‘cause the podcast isn’t about me. But hearing me talk about a topic in the beginning or hearing me sort of comment on whatever the guest is talking about or the guest experience, hearing me in 2015 and then hearing me today, that’s two totally different things. Two totally different things. Now, it doesn’t have to be that way. But I think the idea that say, hey, we have people that, disabled people are, you know, run that full spectrum, I think there’s value to that. Because we’re not a monolith, and that just comes out through what we say and how we say it. So, again, the space is for anyone, absolutely anyone anywhere on that spectrum, if you will.
VALLAS: And I wanna bring in another piece of what the three of us were talking about in that POD Access Initiative conversation some number of weeks ago. I think it was the part where you guys asked me, what are the resources and tools that I consider to be indispensable for making this show every week when we’re in season? And that was the moment when we sort of went down the rabbit hole in a kind of a meta way and got beyond talking about headsets or got beyond talking about the funding or the things that folks might think of when they think about tools and resources that are a little bit more tangible. And one of the things that I’ve really been sitting with from that conversation since we talked some number of weeks ago was we got into talking about how one’s “imperfections,” one’s actual, real, authentic self outside of the virtual radio studio, that that’s actually a resource, that that’s actually a tool, even if it doesn’t get often talked about or thought about that way. And that one’s life experience actually is a resource that is not to be checked at the door, as we are often taught and conditioned to do so that we can show up as maybe the image of the quote-unquote “perfect” Midwestern news anchor who has an accent from nowhere and has sanitized any evidence that they ever were a real person, right? That actually, bringing one’s whole self, bringing one’s lived experiences into the conversations that happen in a podcast, that that’s actually a resource and that that’s actually a tool and can, in fact, be harnessed in those ways of what is underpinning some of that conversation and some of what we got into the last time we were talking.
So, I wanna bring that back in and then see where the two of you wanna take this, is a toxic mythology around perfect or perfection, perfectionism, what that looks like and what that can be in terms of an obstacle to actually embracing one’s own being, one’s own authenticity, one’s own—I don’t wanna get too clichéd about this—but sort of the perfectness of one’s own being the way that we really are. And that might come with things like life challenges that one’s going through, right? You were describing this, Thomas, in sort of your audience being able to watch you move through life in a way that hasn’t been sanitized to the podcast. That might come with a conversation that I’m in, in this show around talking about Roe versus Wade being overturned and then bringing in not just statistics, not just the politics, but also my own experience of having had an abortion a long time ago, right, and how that’s part of my lived experience. I’m curious how that shows up for the two of you as you think about how “imperfections,” I put that with large scare quotes, right, but really, lived experience and one’s authentic self might show up as a tool or as a resource, as podcasters are thinking about what it looks like to put themselves out there. And Cheryl, I don’t know if you wanna pick that up there.
GREEN: Oh, wow. Well, I can try! I was so delighted and excited when you said that because I get it, but I had never thought to phrase it that way or frame it that way, that my lived experience is one of the resources and tools I bring. And I just, I wanna share this story when I was…. So, I’ve been a transcriptionist for at least 25 years, and I wasn’t doing it in the disability world when I started. It was a job. I would type up people’s interviews, and they would use that for their dissertation or book or whatever. And when I was starting to get interested in podcasting, I was listening to this mainstream non-disabled podcast, and they had advertisers on there, just like not big companies, [chuckling] not the bra company and the food delivery company. And I thought, you know what? Let me advertise my transcription service. This is a podcast. I should be transcribing this podcast! And I wrote up, you know, I paid the fee, which was a lot, and wrote up the pitch. And this person edited it to take out my description of myself as a disabled person. And I was just…. Most of my disabilities are acquired. So, that was that hard lesson to learn firsthand. I’d heard about it, but then for myself to experience it firsthand of this quote-unquote “regular” or “normal” or non-disabled person saying, “Ooh, you should hide that fact. That’s not a selling point.” And of course, I thought to myself, what a great selling point! What you want is someone who understands accessibility to be making your accessibility. And I got into this argument with her, and I said, “This is super not okay that you took out this key part about myself and my business practice out of this.” And I get why she did. She probably read it as your work is going to be inferior, your work might be late, this person might need a lot of help, like all these, again, knee jerk responses we have to thinking that disability means can’t or won’t be good.
I can’t remember the compromise that we came to, but I did notice that she aired my piece but didn’t contact me about transcribing her podcast. And that was really when I took a break from listening to any non-disabled podcasts for a while. I listen to them now because I have a wide range of interests, and a lot of people do really exciting work, whether it’s about disability or not. But that was my rude awakening into that, and I doubled down and decided, no, I’m going to continue to say that my lived experience of needing some kinds of access might help me understand my own access and other people’s access needs and requests better than you who will not touch this topic and don’t even want to say the d-word.
I don’t know if that answered your question, but that story popped into my head. And I do wanna second what Thomas said about it’s a choice. Not everybody’s comfortable disclosing publicly or privately. Not everybody wants to. And there’s a lot of reasons why. And I don’t think somebody should have to, but I do think if you have firsthand perspective that enhances and informs what you do, you should use it. You should take advantage of that life experience and wisdom that you have and speak about these topics thoughtfully, even if you are not in a position where you want to or can identify publicly.
VALLAS: Yeah, I love that, and I don’t love the story. I hate the story, but I love the story, right? Because it’s incredibly relatable. And also, it’s so important to tell those stories because they happen to so many of us and yet don’t get talked about a lot. And that connects, again, I think, to what we’re talking about here, right, which is the value of representation. But not just in the sense of disability representation, also in the sense of what it is that one sees and consumes and hears and takes in about the person that they’re listening to, which can be a sanitized version, or it can actually be a whole human. And, again, all of these things being a choice, all of this being only right for some people to do under certain circumstances, and often it takes privilege to be able to disclose and to identify in certain spaces. And so, with all of those caveats said and acknowledged and very much appreciated, at the same time, I think part of what I hope to posit in even bringing this conversation thread here from where we started it a couple of weeks ago is I think there is sometimes a responsibility that we don’t acknowledge when one steps into a space like podcasting or content creation, where there is the chance of having an audience of whether it is three people or whether it is three million people, there’s a message that you’re sending that might be not intended about what you are, who you are, what your life looks like that sometimes can actually contribute to, unintentionally, that toxic mythology of perfect. And that’s something I’m sitting with very personally myself and frankly, something that I’m actually reckoning with and looking to do some healing around, given a number of conversations I’ve had in recent years with folks that I’ve had the privilege of mentoring, or whether intentionally or not, being some type of role model to and learning that there are people out there who think that I am quote-unquote “perfect,” whatever that might mean to them in a way that can be destructive when it’s inaccurate, and also leads other people to think that they are somehow falling short of some ideal that they seek to meet that isn’t real. So, that’s my little brief aside to bring in here because—
VALLAS: Keep that and take it back, Cheryl, if you’ve got more to react to there.
GREEN: Well, I just had completely forgotten the part of your question about “perfect,” which is a perfect lead-in to I used to be quite the perfectionist, and I still am in some things. Like, I’m sorry, I want my captions to be perfect. I want my transcripts to be perfect. They’re not ‘cause I’m human, but I want perfection in some areas of my life. But I used to want it in all areas of my life. And guess what? If you don’t reach it, and you’re, you know, born desperately anxious like me, and your baseline relaxed is not ever relaxed, like, you are in your own toxic mess of self-destruction and imploding, exploding, either, both. And having a traumatic brain injury like I did, one of the results of that for many, if not most people, is, whoops, you can’t do stuff perfectly anymore. It’s real bad. [laughs] Some of it’s bad or some of it’s okay, but it took you ten times longer to do it, and you’re exhausted and having a temper tantrum. And I had to accept I can’t do these things anymore. Listen, ask Thomas how many times I cannot even still read my calendar! How many times he has to translate for me, “That is not, that is literally not the date that the person proposed.” What?! I can’t read it. When you can’t reach perfection, and you say, “I accept that I can’t reach perfection,” then you stop pushing that boulder up that mountain or that hill, and it is very liberating to stop trying to be perfect.
And striving for perfection is just a baseline piece of any kind of supremacy or superiority culture or attitude. It does not serve anyone to go through your whole life demanding perfection of yourself or others in every aspect of life. Sadly, it’s when disability comes into the picture that people will say, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” [laughs] Like, well, no, actually, nobody’s perfect! We don’t have to just look at the disability community and say, “Aw, you know, they’re great. Nobody’s perfect.” I think learning to let go of it was, you know, I don’t think it’s a gift that I had a brain injury. I hate it. Still hate it. But a silver lining that came out of it is some level, some pointing toward a state of relaxation in that I’m not gonna be perfect. I can’t, so I’m not even gonna try. “This was good enough, and here you go. I finished. I can’t do it anymore.” And that letting go is, then your creativity can flow. Then you can enjoy more things, and you have more capacity to do the stuff that you want to do or that you need to do without holding yourself back. And I’m glad that you repeated “perfect,” ‘cause I had forgotten that that was part of the question. And now I will pause.
VALLAS: No, I love that, and I feel like, Cheryl, you’re dropping the mic, [laughs] on this, by also bringing it back to, of course, the underpinnings of supremacy that we need to acknowledge as we talk about toxic perfectionism. Thomas, where were you about to take that?
REID: Nah, I was just gonna say that we’re talking about authenticity, it sounds like to me. And I know I have some experience with that in terms of one of the things that I didn’t like about including in my podcast was, there was two things. It was my laugh number one, ‘cause I think my laugh is silly. [chuckle]
GREEN: No, it’s so beautiful!
REID: Well, thank you. But I’m comfortable with it now. Like, I’m just like, it is what it is. That’s my laugh. That’s me. And then also, even the way that I produce the podcast came about because I didn’t necessarily want to include me asking people questions because they don’t always come out concise, right? And so, that actually led to me having a narrated podcast. But since starting, it was like, I remember being in conversation with someone, and I was telling him about how I take out my laugh. And he was like, “Why are you doing that?” He’s like, “You need to keep your laugh in there because it just adds,” right? And I started doing that, and I got feedback. I started including me asking questions, so including more of the conversation that I have with the guests, and it just sounds like my authentic self now. And I think that’s what we want. We want more authentic voices, and whatever that means, bring that. That’s what we want people to bring to the podcasting world.
VALLAS: Oh, I love that. And the only regret I have about this conversation is that we’re gonna have to wrap it up because somehow, we have already managed to blow through an hour. And I wanted a second hour with the two of you because we have so much more that we could talk about. But in the last minute or so that we have, I just, I wanna close on the note of giving you each an opportunity, bringing it back around to the [POD] Access Initiative to just reflect in the last two minutes that we have on the role of community to podcasting. And it feels very much like what you’re building—and really, of course, in keeping with the amazing gift that is the Disability Visibility Project and all that Alice Wong has built—you’re building a community, you’re building a village. And it really, it takes a village in a lot of cases to do this work. And yet, often, podcasting can seem like something or gets talked about something as though it’s a thing you do on your own, that, oh, it’s just one person up against the world, putting out their solo podcast as some kind of hermit in the woods, right? And yet it takes a village; it takes a community. And that is, frankly, how podcasts end up being successful when they do, is when it isn’t just one person on their own against the world. That is very much true for this show. And we’ve got the We Act Radio family and the Progressive Voices family and all these different families that we’re part of. So, I’m gonna turn it back to both of you for sort of a closing lightning round here, first you, Thomas, and then Cheryl, you’re gonna get the last word to just reflect on the role of community to podcasting and in particular to the initiative that you’re both leading. So, Thomas, over to you first, and then Cheryl, you’ll get to close us out.
REID: Yeah, community is a really big deal. And I think that goes into the specifics of some of what we’re doing, is the skill sharing, that idea that, hey, okay, you may not be a good graphics person, but there’s someone out here who may want to work with you, and whatever that looks like is up to you all. Maybe that’s a barter; maybe that’s a paid thing. But there are, we all have various skills that we can lend to one another, and again, to get our voices out there. One of the things that I wish I did from the beginning of the podcast is to look at it like that, is to start with a team, as opposed to trying to develop a team as I go along. And I’ve been doing that a little bit. Most of it’s been my family helping every now and then, but really trying to build it out to more people. But I think, yes, the community can be, you know, it can be a small team, but it can be a large team as well. And I think POD Access wants to be that.
VALLAS: Cheryl, bring us home.
GREEN: One of the things that I think that I feel very confident POD Access as a community is going to offer is that place for Deaf and disabled people to talk about themselves and their work and get support and resources that they need on their own terms and in an accessible way. I don’t like to talk to non-disabled people about my access needs and providing them. I feel like there’s so much justifying I have to do, so much basic 101 education about what I’m talking about, proving that I’m not making this up. It’s exhausting. And this will be a community where somebody says, “I need to learn editing software with, to use editing software with a screen reader.” Thomas is like, “Great. I already do that. Let me tell you how I do it.” You know, “How do you make transcripts?” “Great. I do that. Let me tell you how I do that, and I can tell you how to do it in an accessible and hopefully affordable way, too.” So, I mean, it’s great to be in mixed company, but I think when it comes down to talking about disability topics and producing content by and for and about disability, the best place to go is disability community. And we hope to bring that community together for learning and support and skill sharing, and…. Boy, it seem like there would be another phrase to end that sentence, but it’s gone! [laughs]
VALLAS: Cheryl, this is a perfect place to land this conversation. And I just, I’m so grateful to both of you and to Alice and to everybody who’s involved with this work for building this village and for creating these resources and for making that call to say, “Hey, folks, you can do this. And guess what? None of us are doing this by ourselves. So, let’s pool this. Let’s make this into a project that helps people see that we can all be podcasters if that is what we want to do, and that everybody’s voices deserve to be out there. And these barriers are ones that folks have been creatively grappling with already, so no one needs to reinvent the wheel here.”
I’m really, really, really excited to have had this conversation with both of you for Off-Kilter and really excited to be sending folks to the resources in show notes to get involved with both of you and with the POD Access Initiative and to check it out if the Disability Visibility Project is new as well. So, Cheryl Green and Thomas Reid are both with the POD Access Initiative. Both have their own podcasts. You can find how to find them on Twitter and how to find them and their shows all in our show notes. And just wanna say a huge thanks to both of you for taking the time and for all of your phenomenal work, and Cheryl, for being such a core part of the Off-Kilter fam.
GREEN: Thank you, Rebecca!
REID: Thank you, Rebecca.
[theme music returns]
VALLAS: And that does it for this week’s show. Off-Kilter is powered by The Century Foundation and produced by We Act Radio, with a special shoutout to executive producer Troy Miller and his merry band of farm animals, and the indefatigable Abbie Grimshaw. Transcripts, which help us make the show accessible, are courtesy of Cheryl Green and her fabulous feline coworker. Find us every week on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your pods. And if you like what we do here at Off-Kilter Enterprises, send us some love by hitting that subscribe button and rating and reviewing the show on Apple Podcasts to help other folks find the pod. Thanks again for listening and see you next week.