Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Show Notes
Name of show: Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.
Episode title and number: Converting Tragedy Into Triumph Episode #4
Brief summary of the show:
May is Healthy Vision Month and our co-hosts discuss the importance of annual comprehensive eye examinations. A comprehensive eye examination is different from a regular vision screening as it includes a patient's health history, visual acuity, refraction, and eye health. During this examination, the doctor will test for glaucoma, and dilate the eyes to get a clear view of the internal structure of the eyes among other tests.
Bullet points of key topics & timestamps:
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Finding Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R.
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Stephanae McCoy 0:17
Welcome back to another episode of Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. is clearing the air for more A.I.R. (accessibility, inclusion, and representation). I'm Stephanae McCoy.
Nasreen Bhutta 0:32
I'm Nasreen Bhutta.
Sylvia Stinson-Perez 0:33
And I'm Sylvia Stinson-Perez.
And we are your co-hosts.
You know, May is Healthy Vision Month. And one of the big things when it comes to vision that we sometimes overlook is getting those annual eye exams. We need to get those comprehensive eye exams because they determine a lot. They can tell us about our vision changes, and also other symptoms in our body, such as diabetes, or glaucoma, or even thyroid disease, so it's important to do that. Hey, ladies, when was the last time you all got an eye exam? Do you guys remember?
Yeah, this is Steph, actually, I had my most recent one about three weeks ago, I think. Because a part of my eye condition is glaucoma, I am required to go to my doctor four times a year, to check my pressure to make sure that it is stable.
As you may or may not know, glaucoma is like the silent thief of sight. So the pressure that builds up in the eye can damage the optic nerve. And what happens, because it affects the peripheral vision, I'm already low vision and rely quite heavily on the residual vision in my left eye. Any other vision loss due to glaucoma I can't really detect unless it's through a field test at my doctor's office. But I go now every three months, and of course, I have to take my medication, I’m on three different eye medications. So yeah, that's what I do. How about you, Sylvia?
Well, Steph, if I had to go to the eye doctor four times a year, I'm not even sure how I’d feel about that. Because I don't know about you, girls, but I know that for myself and for many people I know that's a pretty stressful thing. Already, we know we can't see and it's just a reminder of how much we can't see.
I have historically not been super good at getting in as regularly as I should just telling the truth. Which is really sad when you work in the field of blindness. But a couple of months ago I spent four days getting multiple tests as part of a study. So it was pretty comprehensive. It was also pretty depressing to see how much sight I don't have. I am pretty blind.
But I always tell people and I always try to practice, at least getting in every couple of years for sure. Because as Nasreen said, it is really important because changes can occur that you just aren't even aware of. What about you Nasreen, since you brought up the topic?
Yeah, well, I'll happily say that I've graduated from an annual exam to every six-month exam. Just because my doctor wants to keep an eye on my condition, which is retinal pigmentosa.
And I have what you call angular, the angles... Actually, it's about drainage, really. And it's about where the vision can be distorted a little bit because of how the eyes are draining in the back. Therefore, I have some tight spaces because my eyes are shaped very differently, they're shaped like almonds.
They actually suggested that I get a couple of holes in my eyes in the last two, three years. But honestly, guys, this is where I have to say, even though we recommend you go for annual exams and get comprehensive testing done, I recommend that everybody do your research.
They wanted me to do these holes in my eyes and I went for comprehensive tests. I walked away at the last moment from my surgery because I just didn't feel that it was the right thing for me and it wouldn't solve my problem.
So find an ophthalmologist and an optometrist that you can trust, and that you can ask questions to, and visit them regularly.
And don't be afraid to say, no, this is not for me. No can do. Be armed with information and do your research because they're your eyes, even though they may not be working effectively or efficiently right now, they're the only pair you have.
And also, don't be afraid to get a second opinion. If they tell you something, and you might feel a little off about it. Or you've done your research and you may think that there's just something that doesn't sound quite right, don't be afraid to get a second opinion. And fire your doctor, you can do that. You have to be your own health advocate.
I love that. Fire your doctor Sylvia.
I do want to say this, oftentimes, eyecare providers don't tell people that they can still do things even when they get that first diagnosis of visual impairment such as RP or glaucoma, or macular degeneration. They essentially say, oftentimes, there's nothing else we can do. Well, there might not be anything medically that can be done but you can learn the skills that you need to still live, function, work, and be productive, and enjoy life.
Our first guest is Jonathan Marin, he's from New York City. And he's a program director with City Access New York, and he's also an author. Welcome, Jonathan.
Jonathan Marin 6:47
Thank you for having me.
As someone who is sighted, Jonathan, why the passion and the dedication in working with the blind and visually impaired community?
I'll give it a condensed version because it could be very long.
So once I started job coaching in the early 2000s, I was in a seasonal job coaching with visually impaired high school students. And what I started to notice throughout the years, was that a lot of these high school students I was working with were being put in job experiences that weren't challenging enough for them. They weren't allowing them to really utilize their skills. Because some of these students are really smart.
They had some real personal talent when it came to technology or writing and things like that. And I would know that because I would have access to their files. And just to tell the job coach, I’d also talk to them and play a little bit of a mentoring role.
So I started to get this fire inside of me, that was burning. And I kept telling myself, it was up to me, this particular student would have been working somewhere where he or she wanted to be. Once I started working for City Access New York, I was then put in a position of power to do that.
Can you share with us what is the City Access program? And how are you involved?
City Access New York is a 501 c nonprofit, based in New York City. And they have several programs under them. The program that I run is a Career Discovery Project, which is a grant-funded year-round program that connects blind or visually impaired high school and college students with paid internship opportunities. I am fortunate enough and blessed to be the program director of this one on this project.
And Jonathan, is this a nationwide program? Or is this just in your area, your state?
So the other programs within City Access New York are all local. However, the Career Discovery Project, we have a lot more flexibility, because we're able to provide students with remote work opportunities.
So now it sort of is a nationwide program. I have students working for companies in Pennsylvania, and New Jersey thanks to the remote work opportunities. Otherwise, when they're working on-site, they're local within the five boroughs or somewhere in upstate New York.
For others out there, how can they hire an intern?
So there are many ways to do it, and they all lead back to me getting a referral from The Commission for the Blind.
So let's just say there's a cultural institution that would like an intern to work with them for one or two semesters, whether it be summer, fall, or spring. They can come to me directly. They tell me what the job description is. I will go and search for a student by asking the teachers for visually impaired or commissioned counselors to see which students that they might know or have under their caseload that might be a good fit for this job opportunity.
Once they find one, they send me the student’s information. I reach out, introduce a program, let them know about the job opportunity. I get the resume, send it to the inquiring job site, and then we hope an interview is granted.
I think that's a great experience for the kids. And finally, Jonathan, you're also an author of a book called See Us. Can you tell us a little bit about these students that were in this book and this project?
Sure. So See Us is a photographic journey of six visually impaired students from New York City that are balancing their lives between work, home, and school. These students were participants with the Career Discovery Project back in 2019.
However, the book is not about the Career Discovery Project it’s more about the student’s lives and giving readers an intimate look at how they're handling their struggles and taking advantage of their opportunities. What I'm really hoping with this book is it that erases some stigmas that are out there, and people start to see the visually impaired in a whole new light.
They are our future leaders, so I think this is great. Thank you so much, Jonathan. And how can the listeners connect with you, Jonathan?
Thank you so much.
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Next up Sylvia sits down with Regina Mitchell.
Our next guest today is a friend of mine, but also just an amazing person. Regina Mitchell is a classically trained chef who has worked with amazing chefs from all over the world. She has so many accolades and talents that it's hard to even talk about all of them.
Recently, she is working in the Las Vegas area, with Angela’s House as a culinary instructor for people who are blind and visually impaired. And before I introduce her, I want to say that I have been taking Regina’s virtual cooking classes for several months now and have learned amazing new things.
And so I just really appreciate Regina and her generosity and sharing her knowledge and her skill. So Regina, welcome.
Regina Mitchell 13:57
Thank you so much. I have been waiting to speak to you all since I was asked to come and join you. So thank you so much. It's a pleasure.
Well, it's a pleasure to have you on Regina. I just think you're amazing so could you share with us and our audience just a little bit about your vision loss journey?
I will definitely. Well, first of all, I am married to an amazing man. Going into next month will be our 36th year of being married and I wanted to acknowledge my husband for actually being a part of my vision loss journey. So I wanted to start off with that.
My vision loss journey began on the road to Arizona. We were going on a family trip that we take yearly and I started getting eye pain. I didn't know what to do with it, because it would come and go on the road.
And once we got settled into our destination, it literally stopped. So we kind of thought, well, maybe it was the trip itself on the road. And it didn't start up again, it was mostly my right eye.
When we completed our journey on the road back home, it started again. And we thought again, well, maybe it's just me being in the car, the movement of the car. And then the next morning, when I got up for work, the pain increased. And I had to go to the doctor in the emergency room. He referred me to an ophthalmologist here in the Las Vegas area.
For several months, they just really couldn't figure out what was happening and what was the cause of the vision decline. And then one doctor referred me to a doctor at UCLA Medical Center, the Jules Stein Eye Institute where he did his internship. So I did go.
UCLA Medical Center is approximately three and a half, four hours drive from our home. So we took the trip. And I met with the doctor there, Dr. Levinson. He immediately looked in my eye and realized that I have what was called bilateral panuveitis. Which is an inflammatory disease, which takes up the vitreous cells as well as the central area of the eye.
And instantly, he also requested that I take another exam because he felt that there were other things happening and I did. And then I was also diagnosed with sarcoid in the eyes. And so one of the ways to calm down inflammatory cells is to be treated with a low dose of chemotherapy.
So since that diagnosis in 2012, till current, I have been taking small doses, infusions monthly to continue with the residual vision that I do have.
Wow, Regina, that sounds stressful. You know, the eye is such a delicate thing, and we were talking about it earlier, and how important that eye health and getting regular checkups is and that just so many things can happen to the eye. And yeah, that's just stressful but I know that you did not let that stop you.
You know, one of the things that I love that you teach Regina is to use your hands. And I think that so many people, especially those of us who are visually impaired, think we can't use our hands to cook or to touch things to see if they're done. But you pointed out that chefs who can see do that, and they taste things all along the way, changed so much for me.
And I will tell you I have become so much more creative and exploratory in my own cooking because I love to cook. But tell us about how you are making such a difference in so many people's lives who are visually impaired with your cooking and your willingness to teach us how to not just use adaptive skills to cook but to take that to the next level and be these great home cooks to us. What about that?
Thank you. Well, when I was cooking professionally in the Seattle area before we moved here and before I lost my sight, my husband cooked along with me. He would cook or actually assist me in cooking for my clients and when I lost the greater part of my sight, he started cooking more.
But at the same time, he was still asking me, “when is it ready? Taste this honey.” I was still giving my opinions and assisting him in the kitchen, although I was apprehensive about going back into the kitchen. Because as someone that cooks professionally, then all of a sudden, you can't cook anymore because you just don't have, you don't think you have the skills anymore— because you can't see it—that is really, really heartbreaking.
And I really do believe that it was something that put a pause in my life. However, as time went on, I started cooking just a little bit, just tiny bits. Because I did take a class, I was going to UNLV full time, and I took a class on food history.
We had to do a project and in our final project, we had to cook this amazing meal. We had to record it and do all this stuff. I chose the most complicated dish, which was a Moqueca, which was a Brazilian fish stew. And so I did it, I actually completed the complete meal. And there lies my AHA moment. I thought, Oh, my goodness, I could do this again. I could actually do this.
And when I graduated from UNLV, I went back to The Blind Connect Angela’s House for a support group meeting. Afterward, they were doing their cooking class, which was a part of their program and it really intrigued me. I thought about it for a couple of months. I wanted to step back in and I wanted to lend a helping hand.
And I did and I started helping them in the kitchen, just sort of monitoring the safety aspect of it, as well as lending my skill because although I too was blind, I also was learning blindness skills. So it was as if we were kind of dancing together, this blindness skill along with my culinary skill. And it was beautiful. I enjoyed it.
I felt that I was now back into my element. And now I am able to cook with and learn with my beloved community. And it occurred to me, I have traveled, traveled globally to cook under master chefs. I have had the privilege and honor of working with some of the culinary greats, along with cooking with beautiful people. And now I'm wrapping back around and taking all this beautiful, insightful skill.
And now I can gift it to this community, which now belongs to me. And it really is heartwarming to give this back. And so this is why I do it is because it was freely given to me and I want to just give it back.
Well, Regina, I think you epitomize Bold, Blind Beauty, you truly do. And I know that for me. It's been really life-changing to participate in your cooking classes it really has. And you talk so much about, you might not use this word, but about resilience. What would you say Regina really gives you that resilience that is that just is so apparent in you.
Well, it means to me to take that thing, that it, that has tried to derail me and to use it to move me forward. My husband has always called me a converter. Because I can, he says, I have this amazing gift to be able to look a tragedy in the eye and say “that's okay, I'm coming back for you. That's okay. It's cool. That's all right. We're going to take this and we're going to excel.”
So with that, I have been able to convert those things, those tragedies into this thing. Sometimes they can become bigger than myself, I have managed to convert a tragedy. That's what sent me to culinary school. That's why I decided to go to culinary school because of a tragic incident that happened. I was able to convert vision loss by just going back to school, and taking on something totally different in my life.
And then to be able to convert the inability to cook, like during the pandemic, our inability to be able to gather and to convert that during a pandemic, into a bold, innovative leap of faith. And to say, you know what? I can actually do this, I can actually take something that is a visual concept, bring it into the nonvisual world and do it with blind people on a Zoom call, I can do this. So my resiliency is the ability to convert something that has been handed to me and make it beautiful again.
That's awesome Regina. And it is so true, you are just such a role model for us. And I thank you. So, before we go, I didn't send you this question. But do you have just one tip for everyone on how to make that next dish over the top?
[Laughs] Yes, but first before I say that I do want to say, there are 1000s of beautiful things waiting for you. And they're just sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to come by and get it. And we all need to just take that time to consider these beautiful opportunities. And then no matter what life throws at us, just be ready. And we can take a pause for self-care. We hurt, we cry, we laugh, but we can take that pause to bounce back.
So now, what can we do to take that next great dish of ours to the next level? Taste, taste, taste, taste your food and be creative. Go to the produce department, buy something that you never ever cooked before, or an ingredient or a produce, a fruit, a vegetable, and challenge yourself.
Take your seasoning out of that drawer, put it in your hand, take your other two fingers, rub it together and smell it. Smell that it actually goes from something that's very dull to something very bright and brilliant. Cook, take a deep breath, challenge yourself. You don't have to go from not cooking to all of a sudden cooking overnight. But what you can do is take baby steps.
And instead of using Iceberg lettuce, use arugula that's peppery and bright and amazing. Instead of using olive oil use almond oil instead or grapeseed oil. So just take your humble ingredients and, just like for yourself, take even that to the next level.
So a shout out to Stan Mitchell to Regina’s husband because he is awesome. And he is always her sous chef. And sometimes she even lets him be the teacher in the class. So shout out to him because he's great to Regina, thank you so much for being with us.
It was my pleasure. Thank you, ladies.
And if people want to connect with you, how can they do that?
Thanks, Regina. And this is a wrap for this edition. Remember everybody May is Healthy Vision Month so don't forget to go out there and get your comprehensive eye exams.
Please share this and ask your friends to subscribe and follow us and join us for our next podcast. Bold Blind Beauty On A.I.R. Thanks for listening everyone.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai