When I Lost My Sight I Found Diversity in Podcasts, by Robert Kingett
“The ambulance will arrive in five minutes. Okay, hon?”
As the dispatcher finished the sentence, my world faded into darkness then returned. I knew full well that the ambulance wouldn’t get here in five minutes, but what I didn’t know was that I would lose what little vision I had, forever, on my birthday in 2017. I stayed with
her on the phone though, because I didn’t have my iPhone open and ready to dictate my theories about what was happening to me. Across the room, my laptop’s screen reader told me that I had new email. My remaining vision cut out again as I stared at the laptop on my writing desk.
“I think my optic nerve is damaged.” I told dispatch. She thought I was about to panic. She repeated that I should stay calm and stay with her on the phone. At that moment, I wish I had learned Braille instead of insisting I have everything in audio or large print. I charted my own literacy downfall as the ambulance arrived at my apartment complex. Two black men lifted me onto a stretcher. I tried to look at their faces, but it was like I was sinking. The tunnel I once saw smiles and laughter in was collapsing in on itself. Which is a shame, because I thought these two black men were handsome.
The diagnosis came as a huge shock to me. Acute narrow angle glaucoma. I already knew how to use a cane. I already knew every screen reader keyboard command in existence. I knew and used audio description, which helped fill in the visual gaps my one good eye couldn’t catch when watching TV shows or movies on Netflix, iTunes, or Amazon, but I still didn’t know how to be totally blind. Legally blind was all I knew until, I didn’t. I felt like I was illiterate. I was sure other blind people and even, my blind fans and followers and supporters of my journalism, were silently scolding me about not learning braille when I was younger. I should have, but I was an auditory learner. I used screen readers even when I could see the screen. I can’t spell, but my reading comprehension was darn tootin good.
When I’d finally return home that night, I lay on my bed with my Apple TV remote in hand, VoiceOver turned on, and looking up at the ceiling, wishing I could still see the small patterns overhead. I knew how to use VoiceOver because I used it prior. I chuckled at the thought of using Siri. I know many people think every blind person uses, and used, Siri, but when you have a stutter like I do, she doesn’t work very well.
If I had been using Siri though, I may have missed the podcasts application on my Apple TV. I was aimlessly flicking my thumb this way
and that on the remote, listening to all the clutter I had on my home screen. It just happened. I landed on podcasts.
My opinion of podcasts, and a podcast was in general, was the talk show kind. Every podcast was a talk show. A conversational style show on demand that I’d have little interest in. Podcasts weren’t entertaining to many, I thought. So why get into them? If I wanted to
listen to people talk or argue across a table, I could just go into the craziness that is, well, YouTube.
I opened the application anyway. I’ve always been curious. Sometimes, I am too curious for my own good. This is why most editors like my journalism work, but still, it’s caused me to break a lot of technology and go down rabbit holes I can’t forget. Like Reddit, for
“Let’s peek in the feature section” I told myself as VoiceOver told me, through my Bluetooth headphones, I was on the features tab. I
flicked down, and then right, to cycle through the new editions. The titles didn’t seem very interesting, so I went to the search bar and
typed in, “nerd.”
I didn’t know what kind of talk shows I was going to find, but the first result that popped up for me was something called The Once and
I listened to the description because, why not? The Once and Future Nerd was an audio drama. A what? Really?
They made modern audio dramas?
I scrolled down the huge list of episodes until I got to episode one. I checked the time on my iPhone to see that it was 9:00 PM. The
perfect time to try something new and possibly time wasting. “Imagine, if you can, what life is like for a rabbit. Imagine what it
means to be vulnerable all your life. Which is my very poetic way of saying that life’s hard for a rabbit. Life’s also hard for a small
business owner who accidentally witnesses the death of god. But I’d rather start with the rabbit. This particular story begins with a
To my shock, I kept listening to this world created entirely in sound. Nelson, Jen, and Billy are three Pennsylvania high school kids who
get transported into a fantasy realm. Will their knowledge of RPG stats and game mechanics hinder them or help them?
That’s the preface that appears to be the central theme. I realized though, that this was more than just a satire of tired fantasy tropes
and worlds. I was hooked for a few reasons.
In a sighted world, I always have to play catch up. My life is a neverending problem solving class. I’m never equal with anybody.
Whenever someone invites me somewhere, I immediately have to think about the accessibility of the event. That’s something they will never have to do. What makes me exhausted a lot of the time is the fact that, even when I was legally blind, nobody stepped up to the plate to make sure something worked for me. I always had to be the one to confirm or deny. And, in this satire fantasy world, comprised entirely of audio and no visuals, it meant that, for the first time, me and my sighted friends were starting out from the same place. There was no privilege taking place here. I could be on the same page as they were without needing anything extra.
This audio world had me hooked. For weeks afterwards, my Netflix account with new audio described titles lay forgotten.
Even though I liked the jokes and the production quality. The representation hit me like never before. One of the main plots
involved a lesbian relationship in book 1. What was so revolutionary about it was the fact there was no, well, explaining it. There was no
straight world and no gay world. It just happened within the bounds of their story with no dwelling about how different they were from the rest of society. This, to me, felt utterly revolutionary. Also, it had superb character development, examination of gender roles, and female growth. It was progressive. Something I couldn’t say for any modern broadcast TV show on today.
I dove into the story of these kids and their friends. I didn’t have to do anything extra to follow the plot. I didn’t have to wonder what
the audio description wasn’t catching in a movie or TV show. It was a completely authentic experience. One I wanted to share with everybody, even my deaf friends, after I learned that they offer scripts on their website to read for free.
I’ve never thought about podcast accessibility for the deaf but was happy to see The Once and Future Nerd crew embrace accessibility and progressive values. Plus, I absolutely adored the small jabs at the Apple iPhone.
Others in my apartment complex wondered what had my attention so fiercely when I’d come to dinner with ear buds in my ears. I found
something I could dive into. When I’d caught up to all the episodes, I wanted more. So, I tried even more podcasts.
I quickly found types of podcasts I really enjoyed and that I didn’t want to hear at all. Interview podcasts and conversational, no editing
style, podcasts quickly rose to podcasts I’ll avoid list… unless, of course, a cute black boy suggests one to me.
I found other storytelling podcasts like the Moth. I like shows like The Literary Salon. Magazines had audio editions. I ate those up and
frequently subscribe to multiple podcasts that turn the written word into a work of audio. The Guardian’s audio long reads, for example. I tried, and loved, more radio dramas like the Bright Sessions and Love and Luck, a podcast where two gay guys with superpowers meet and grow together while leaving voicemails.
I was amazed at the representation. Podcasts are a million miles ahead of any TV or movie showing I’ve seen in, well, ever. I think it’s
because podcast creators don’t have to adhere to any certain kind of social acceptance image. If they put too many gay people in a TV show, for example, people wouldn’t watch it. Possibly. I don’t know why diversity is so prominent in this growing medium, but I’m sure that as the medium grows, the stories will become even better too. With the many positives I’ve found, I’ve also found things that irk me
or otherwise, well, I’ve noticed about the podcast landscape. Mainstream media seems to be covering it once in a while. I’ve only
found a few blogs that write thoughtful reviews besides this one, podcast problems being one of them.
I won’t touch interview podcasts or conversational style podcasts. I’m comfortable in my narrative preference. I like editing and
storytelling in my podcasts. I love how accessible the medium is. Who knows? Maybe after stumbling across this form of media, I may
pitch a few of my mainstream media editors to create a new beat or a new vertical at a publication. I may continue to just enjoy the medium and not write about it. One things for sure though. The Once and Future Nerd is the podcast I will always hold near and dear to my heart, even after it’s over. It’s shown me a world I judged, unfairly. All I can really say in return is… well, thank you, and I’m happy to finally be here.