Lainey Feingold interviewed Joshua Miele for the Disability Visibility Project™ at StoryCorps San Francisco on August 21, 2014. In this clip, Joshua talks about his work in making media accessible to visually impaired and blind people. He also talks about his childhood and wanting to ‘pass’ as an able-bodied kid, but also learning to embrace and have pride in his disability identity today. Transcript below:
Lainey Feingold: When I try to introduce you to people who don’t know you or I tell someone “oh I have this friend Josh Miele” I always feel like I’m missing something in the description of who you are because, you know just on the work side there’s so many different things you do. Do I say you’re a scientist, or do I say you’re a researcher, an inventor, an investigator, so how do you think of yourself? How do you describe what you do?
[Music, big band swing]
Joshua Miele: What I have engaged with for my entire professional life really is figuring out how to give blind people, myself included obviously because I’m blind, but how to make information available that is necessary to do the things that we want to do.
You know I remember seeing the Red Balloon in second grade. To this day I think it’s the dumbest movie ever, right? But that’s because I’m blind and the only thing I heard through the entire video movie was “balloon, balloon” and it’s like that’s the only line in the whole damn movie.
Because video is such a growing and important part of the way we communicate with each other, it’s a medium that’s crying for better access for blind people.
Lainey Feingold: What was it like to be blind in elementary school?
[Music fade out]
Joshua Miele: So, I, um, I was burned when I was four so I grew up, until I was four, as a little sighted kid and then went first to kindergarten at a special school for the blind in Brooklyn called the Industrial Home for the Blind which is no longer there but was mainstreamed in first grade. “Mainstreamed” meaning just going to a regular public school with special services for me. And We then, we moved to Rocklin when I started 3rd grade which is New York suburbia and I went all the way from 3rd grade through high school there with a Braille teacher named Joan Smith, and was charged with supporting all my accessibility needs.
Lainey Feingold: And did she have high expectations for you?
Joshua Miele: She had very high expectations for me. She was an amazing woman who I served badly at every step. But she loved me and I loved her.
[Music: guitar, drums]
But at the same time, no blind kid wants this, weird, like, nobody else had a Braille teacher hanging around with them! I didn’t want to be seen with her, you know? And she called herself “the stigma.” So, she was like, oh yeah, ok, I’ll walk back here, I’m the stigma.
I was never told I couldn’t do something because I was blind. I was always supported. And I think that part of it — my mother is a person who has deep resentment for authority – and I think part of it was that she was not going to let any authority in society tell her son what he could or couldn’t achieve.
I didn’t want to be, I wanted to be as normal as possible. I tried to pass.
And, obviously I wasn’t passing. Everybody knew I was blind. Everybody knew I was burned. There wasn’t any question about that. But I certainly didn’t want to be thought of as different. And, at every stage, I sort of fought against that.
In 5th grade one time I was, I would ride the school bus to school from 3rd grade to 5th grade and it was a special bus. It was the short bus. And just like the Braille teacher there was a stigma associated with that. And I didn’t — I already am a blind kid with stars all over his face in one eye and you know, it’s just, I got enough to deal with, I don’t need the short bus. You know? And so I wanted to ride on the bus with all the other kids and I had to go through this huge fight with the school system. They said that the insurance wouldn’t cover it, or, you know, if I was on the regular bus then the bus driver couldn’t help me. She would have to be helping all the other kids, she couldn’t just focus on me if there was an emergency, and, just, it was clear, just, lack of vision and lack of imagination on their part. But my family totally supported me. you know they saw it as an opportunity for me to learn how to advocate myself and that’s exactly what happened and I did, you know, get off the short bus.
And now, part of what I was trying to get away from was the stigma of disability and blindness. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t’ know any cool blind people, or disabled people. I thought I was the only one.
So obviously, I mean, I’ve been involved with disability and technology and I’ve been sort of very active in the disability community ever since I’ve arrived in Berkeley. I’ve really sort of embraced disability and blindness identity when I got here and realized, “Oh my God, there are, there’s this huge community of cool blind people and people with other disabilities” and I realized that I was part of a much bigger picture of disability and identity and history.
[Music, big band, swing]
And I’m a grown up now, and I’m proud of the difference that I have. I’m no longer ashamed of the differences. I think that they add to who I am. By saying I am a blind person, that’s putting blind first, because I’m proud of it.
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Disability Visibility Project™. (2014, August 21). DVP Interview: Joshua Miele and Lainey Feingold. Retrieved from: http://wp.me/p4H7t1-NoN
A photo featuring Joshua Miele and Lainey Feingold taken on August 21, 2014. The man on the left is Joshua Miele. He appears to be white, and is wearing a purple button-up shirt. He has curly brown hair, one blue eye and scars on his face. He is looking at the camera and smiling. The woman on the right is Lainey Feingold. She appears to be white, has medium-length salt and pepper hair, and is wearing glasses with a black cardigan and a blue shirt. She is looking at the camera and smiling.
Produced for the Disability Visibility Project™ by Geraldine Ah-Sue and Alice Wong with interviews recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to record, share, and preserve the story of our lives. For more: www.storycorps.org and www.disabilityvisibilityproject.com