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Joy Mistovich|Blogging on Blindness

Joy Mistovich graduated from YSU with a Bachelor’s in English and Spanish and a Master’s in English. Shortly after completing her Master’s, she completed an extremely intensive adaptation to blindness training program for 10 months in Baltimore. Currently, she volunteers at the Youngstown Radio Reading Service for the Blind at Goodwill Industries in Youngstown where she reads magazine articles to blind listeners. She has also been a guest on the show Insights in Sound, usually hosted by Mike Bosela, the Coordinator of Radio Reading. She also writes a monthly column for the Boardman News related to blindness, technology, and sometimes, interviewing local blind individuals to highlight their accomplishments. Finally, she writes a blog on Wordpress, which contains my poetry, blindness-related topics including technology, Braille, and cane travel. Through all of these skills, she strives to illustrate her passion for a positive philosophy of blindness within the blind community and beyond.

Karen Schubert: This is Karen Schubert for the Power of the Arts and I’m at the happening place here, with all this ambient noise. This is Cultivate Café and I’m here with Joy Mistovich. And Joy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

Joy Mistovich: Thanks so much, Karen, I really appreciate this opportunity.

It’s my great pleasure. I’m looking forward to our conversation. So I want to start with poetry because you and I are poetry lovers. I also read and write poetry. You have a blog and you’ve posted some of your poems, so I would like to talk to you about your poetry writing. When you sit down to write a poem, how do you begin? Do you begin with an image? or an idea? Or how do poems happen for you?

Well, it just depends, because all of my poetry is based on free verse and it’s dependent on what I’m thinking of at that time, whether it’s related to disability rights or some current event that’s occurring and that’s had either a positive or a negative effect on the local community or national or international community. Other prospects I enjoy writing about about sometimes, just more simple such as my pleasure of drinking coffee or just the natural aspect—

You’re just thinking, oh that’s lovely—

It depends. But usually it’s more than an idea since I’m more of an intellectual-type person, it’s rather complex in nature, as far as either it’s allegorical or more straight-forward.

So is that why you prefer poetry over writing, maybe, an essay with the same thoughts? Because you think about the metaphors and the allegory and you want to use a more complex form?

Right. And I’m able to use figurative language or just express myself more in a unique way that I’m not able to do as much as if I’d written an essay or just make it more realistic. It’s just not what I’m used to. I could write essays or other pieces of writing, but I feel the most comfortable writing poetry and that’s the most effective way for me to express myself in complex ways.

That makes a lot of sense. Do you read poetry?

Yes, I love to read poetry, also. Since I was an English and Spanish major at YSU I really like to read Walt Whitman, Longfellow, and I like Pablo Neruda. Several years ago when I was still at YSU getting my bachelor’s, I can’t think of their names right now, but there were two Cuban poets that came to speak at YSU and I had to opportunity to meet them. I think one was Roberto Monzano, I have their books as well. And I was able to speak in Spanish to them so it was really awesome.

That is fantastic. I remember that. Dr. Steve Reese had translated them. Did you study with him at YSU?

The awesome thing was that I had the chance to have Dr. Reese for at least a few poetry classes. I had Dr. Brady, also. They are both such great people.

I agree. I was going to ask you about your favorite poets. So it sounds like you’re reading poets who are really emotional as well intellectual, right? And they’re making their allegories with the natural world, talking about love and the human experience.

Right and one other thing to relate to that was I really enjoy reading, I have read and enjoyed reading The Faerie Queene by Spencer. That’s what I did my thesis on for my master’s, was based on part of The Faerie Queene, Book 1. Also there was another person that was Hispanic (well he was Spanish from Spain): it was Jorge Luis Borges, and I really enjoy reading all of his writing in general. He doesn’t write only poetry; he writes essays and short stories. He passed away, previously, but why I find him fascinating also was because he’s a blind poet and writer, which is just really interesting. He also wrote about extremely complex ideas and situations and events that were occurring in other types of Spanish fiction.

I actually didn’t know that he was blind.

Right. Yes. I think he was from Chile.

So what drew you to English and Spanish at YSU?

I’ve always been passionate about literature, ever since I was younger. I had taken Spanish for four years in high school. Originally, when I started YSU, I was thinking I’d be strictly an English major. After I had taken one or two Spanish classes, I decided I really enjoyed Spanish so much, too, and not just the language aspect but the literary aspect, and learning so much more and broadening my horizons and literally opening my eyes to experiencing different cultural norms in various countries. And just speaking the language. I decided that I’d also become a Spanish major and I’m really glad I was able to do this, also.

I was a Spanish major, as well. I also literally and literarily loved having— yeah, it was really great. And I love the way Spanish feels in the mouth; it’s so tactile But what a long and rich tradition, as well. I feel like Americans are generally impoverished with such a limited literature that’s available to us. So much contemporary work, as well.

Can you tell us about how your classes were accessible to you? How did that work?

Yes. Well, when I was at YSU before I officially registered for classes, I went to Disability Services and talked to the Disability Services Director Gina McGranahan. She told me different aspects that would be available as far as Disability Services was concerned. I had note takers in all my classes. .I took some of my own notes but it was also beneficial, because if the professor was presenting something and it was on an overhead or on a chalkboard or white board they’d be able to copy the notes down.

This was before I had a greater experience of cane travel and becoming more independent as a blind person, so at that time I had escort service. They walked me from class to class during most of my bachelor’s. About the last year and during my master’s, too, I’d gotten so acclimated to DeBartolo and other buildings, and once it was just more of taking the English or Spanish classes, they’re all based in DeBartolo, so at least I knew where I was going. I’d usually go on my own since it wasn’t that far away, but I didn’t feel as comfortable if I was walking a long distance.

Now you have a blog and you’ve invited other guest writers, you are featuring their work as well. Some of them are writing about their experiences and navigating the world as a blind person and also you have, the last time I saw you, you were telling me abut some pretty exciting technology that you are pioneering, so let’s talk about that.

Well the really awesome thing is that currently I’m the first and only user of this technology of

in Youngstown. It’s becoming even more of a popular and revolutionary technology as we speak. It’s called Aira, stands for Artificial Intelligence for Remote Assistance. A basic summary of this technology is it assists blind user in gaining as much visual information as they wish to uncover. The user, once they register for the service, they receive the glasses, the Aira Smart Glasses, which are similar to the Google Glasses, but they’re coming out with these new glasses as we speak, and shipping them to various users. What I have right now are these Google Glasses with this little MiFi device. This is where all of the data comes from.

On the glasses, there’s a video camera so the user streams the video through the glasses via the MiFi device. The other component of it is that there are agents, they’re called Aira agents and they can be remotely located from any state in the country. And there’s an app on the phone it’s called the Aira app. So basically the user has the app on their phone. They turn their Aira glasses and MiFi device on. And they tap a button on their phone and within 60 seconds or less, it’s usually a lot faster than that, the Aira Agent can instantaneously see everything through the Aira Explorer, the user’s glasses, and can assist with navigation, whether it’s reading mail, or work-related components, or it could be anything imaginable— exploring a new city, reading a restaurant menu, the possibilities are endless with the technology.

That is so amazing. The last time I saw you, we were here at Cultivate, because I, too, try to come here as often as I can. [Laughter]I could hear that voice reading the menu to you.

Yes. The Aira Agent.

So great. And, coincidentally, I know a poet who lives in Litchfield, Ohio, who is participating in this at a sighted person. And she has actually written about that. Her experiences.

Oh she’s written about it! I’ll have to get in contact with her! But then the other brief thing is, I had told you when we first met that it was an absolutely incredible experience all around. Just generally, but even more so this year. For the past seven years I’ve attended the National Federation of the Blind Convention. It’s the largest gathering of blind people in the country. Approximately between 2,500 and 3,000 blind people literally descend on the hotel with their canes and guide dogs. It was even more empowering this year because I was able to use Aira and through this I took full advantage of the opportunity of having free access and because of this I made so many connections I didn’t think it would be possible at the convention. It was unbelievable. I was able to meet with several of the Aira employees and agents as well as the CEO of Aira.

Oh my gosh! I bet they really enjoyed meeting you, finding out how you’re using the technology.

—and how much— I shared with them, just how influential and how ground-breaking this technology is, not just on my life but on so many other individuals. It’s related to my positive philosophy of blindness: in order to just break barriers, shatter barriers, in the hope that both the blind and sighted community will gain a more intimate understanding of what what it truly means to be blind, that it’s not a negative aspect if you have the training and capacity to just embrace your blindness and not consider it as a hindrance.

I think that’s a wonderful way to live and it’s useful for everyone to think that way. And that’s kind of what you were getting at on your blog. When you were talking about your philosophy that everybody has something. And this is the thing that I have, but everyone has something.

Right. No matter what their obstacle is. It could be physical, mental, emotional, and not just that. It could be even more complex than any other situation. There, extremely, could be even more challenging, but no matter what the situation is just embrace it and live life to the fullest. There’s nothing that can hold you back if you just believe in the capacity of yourself and others that you can build bridges if others don’t understand. No matter if it’s just disability or other aspects, if it’s cultural or social or economic or religious, whatever the situation is. Just try and open the eyes of everyone in general.

Maybe you are the first blind person someone has spoken to, but you won’t be the last. So you’ll help move them along in their thinking.

Do you think the arts had any role in your developing the way you are and the way you think in your life?

Yes! Definitely. For sure. Not just the written word but I’ve always, well, because, with both of my parents being art teachers and just having the opportunity to go to various art museums throughout my life, it’s been extremely beneficial in just expanding my expectations and horizons of the culture and society and being much more open and acceptable when it comes to understanding those other individuals that may be different, whether it’s culture, economic, social. It’s just been much more beneficial. Not just, well, through seeing all of the art work and just understanding the perspective

of the culture of that time, the artist and the paintings and the written work as well, if it’s poets or other writers, it’s just truly helped to shape and develop my life. So I’ve been much more willing and able to better express myself.

I love that. I feel like you’re saying that the visual arts, or the arts overall, the way they challenge conventional thinking really stimulates us to think about things in different ways, and to have a more open idea of what a “normal” life is, to help us examine the way we’re thinking, ourselves.

I know that you are also working at Good Will, or for Good Will, with the Youngstown Radio Reading Service for the blind. You read magazine articles, so that people can hear them. The magazines are in Braille? Is that what allows you to read them?

They’re not in Braille, actually I have some usable visual so I am able to— I am proficient in Braille and I can read print, as well, so I have an iPhone and I’m able to enlarge the text on my phone and read the articles from my phone. I could just as easily read the Braille, but I prefer to read the print on my phone. I usually read People Magazine but every now and then I switch and decide to read some other different types of articles whether it’s related to the environment or space or especially learning about new technology, new companies, other aspects of technology, if it’s Apple or Amazon or anything like that. So it just varies.

What magazines do you enjoy for science, technology, environmental news?

I have a lot of different magazines on my phone that I’ve put on as news alerts [smoothie machine noise] so when these magazines have a new release of an article then it just automatically comes on my phone.

I see what you mean.

There are so many different magazine choices that I’ve put on there. One’s called Science or Space or sometimes, it’s not just magazines, it’s newspapers too, like the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and CNN. It just comes out with various articles. And then I just pick whichever of those I’m most interested in to read on my phone.

Is this a really big program? Do a lot of people use the service? Are there a lot of readers?

Approximately, there are between, about two or three hundred blind people currently using the service. It’s free, so whoever’s interested in either the tri-county area: Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. they can just let Mike Bosela, who’s the coordinator of Radio Reading Service he’s blind as well and he told me previously that I think there are about 80 or 90 volunteers that come in during the week to Good Will and read various articles.

It’s not just magazine and newspaper articles, they read the job listings and local t.v. ads, grocery store ads, the local newspapers, they have-- have not sure if they still do this—poetry hour, or they read different books, whether they’re fiction or non-fiiction. Mike Bosela or someone else, one of his friends who’s also blind, Don Risinger, they do a weekly show, it’s called Insight in Sound, where every week they have a different person on the air, usually a blind person, but I think it just depends. So other blind listeners are able to learn more about blindness skills, whether it’s independent living or home management or cooking or just getting out and around within the local community.

I love audio books when I’m driving. I used to live in Wisconsin and the public radio station there had a daily program called Chapter A Day, when they would read and I remember once, I was so engrossed in the story, I actually drove too far. It was one of those moments when I looked up and thought, where am I? [Laughter] Oh my gosh. My whole mind’s eye was completely in that story. It’s such a pleasure, that kind of being read to, in a sense. I feel like that’s something that we all can enjoy.

Right. I tried once. I’m not currently a member but I tried at least once or so when they advertised on the Audible service on t.v. It’s a pretty cool thing. I think you can download a couple books for free, maybe once a month, not sure exactly how it works, and then you can just go back to that audio book, either through your phone or the computer, and just listen to it anytime. I think it’s a really cool thing that they offer. And that can be for anyone, whether you’re blind or sighted.

But they also have, it’s more specifically geared toward the blind, more related to college students but it’s not solely for them. It’s called Bookshare, and they have text books and fiction and non-fiction books that they made into audio format and I think hey also have Braille format and large print format so you can pick whichever format you’re most interested in and either download it on your phone or on a computer and it’s also for people with learning disabilities as well.

It sounds like, in your life, it’s been a mix of you meeting the world and also the world coming to you. There’s more technology for you to take advantage of, but also you’re working so hard to fearlessly access everything that you possibly can. Just putting your arms around the world, that’s the sense I have about you. Just a really wonderful way to live. I’m sure I’m smoothing over a lot of really hard days, but I think it’s really terrific.

Thank you. The thing is that I believe— there’s really a bridge between writing and technology, well it’s not just for people with disabilities or the blind community, or anyone— it’s how much of a role that technology plays within society for the general public. It’s opening the world to experience in a new way, using technology and being able to meet other people and go out into to the world and conquer it, literally and figuratively, with the tools that are available, whatever that might be, and it helps to encompass that. Not only strictly based on the technology itself, but it’s related to the positive influences that technology companies and others can place on the wider community at large, so that anyone in general, when the technology companies— if the general public are interested in being willing to cooperate with both those with and without disabilities, it becomes a much richer and more open society, in general.

Yeah. And I bet you have some really supportive people in your life.

Exactly. Definitely.

I would like to end with your description of the Baltimore Intensive Adaptation of Blindness Training that you went on. It sounds like it was a great experience for you. And was it very hard as well? And what was that like?

It was definitely an incredible experience and it was challenging, but throughout all the training— I attended the training program for ten months— I learned a plethora of skills while I was there. The extremely unique thing about the Baltimore program and a few other blindness training programs in the U.S. strictly based is strictly based on the philosophy of the U.S. Federation of the Blind. No matter how much vision that person that comes into the program has, he or she is required to wear sleep shades or blindfolds throughout the entire duration of the program, throughout the whole day.

During my training I took cooking, cane travel, an independent living class, job readiness class, a physical fitness class, a woodshop class, a technology class. At the end, all of the students have to volunteer at a place they’re interested in to help with culminating in their training and take all of the blindness skills that they’ve learned to help to maximize their extent of training. I volunteered at the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and assisted in teaching blind patrons more about technology whether it was on the iPhone, or Windows, or if it was Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel.

Not just that, but a couple of the main components that everyone is required to complete is about four or five months into the program, every student has to prepare a small meal which is served for approximately 10-15 people. And for the large meal, which includes the main dish, a salad, a drink, a dessert, bread, whatever that student’s interested in preparing for that small meal, is approximately for for 15-25 people. [smoothie machine noise] It is extremely unbelievable.

And for the class everyone is required to, once they are acclimated to their general route, whether it’s— well first they begin with learning about how to get on the city bus system, so it’s learning about various types of transit, whether it’s just a bus or the light rail, whether it’s an above-ground train in Baltimore and other cities. Basically every student has to learn first, once they become most comfortable under sleep shades, going from the training center in Baltimore back to the apartment complex. Everyone that’s enrolled in the program, they live in the apartment. So they have the best training experience possible for blindness adaptation so they do this solely on their own.

Once this is completed, then they are able to travel on their own and by the end of the program every student has to complete three drop-off routes. The first drop-off route involves the cane travel instructor, and the majority of the instructors that I had are also blind as well. so this was an extremely empowering experience. There are only about one or two of the instructors that were sighted. But they completed the training under sleep shades and they’ve been immersed in the blindness philosophy so they were totally aware of that philosophy.

The cane travel instructor goes with the student in the van that the program uses in general, if it’s taking trips with the staff or students on a one-on-one basis. So the driver drops a student off at an undesignated location that the student isn’t sure of and they try to get the person confused and a little bit disoriented. Then the driver drops then off with the cane travel instructor but they’re not really supposed to give them much information.

The student, such as myself— I had to find my way back to the training center from where I was dropped off. After the first drop-route, there are two other drop-routes. The student is the only one who’s on the route so the driver drops them off at a designated location that only they are aware of and then the student either has to take the bus or whatever mode of transit in order to get back to the center. By the final drop-route, they’re only able to ask one person in the general public a question about where they’re located, so they can’t receive that much information.

What kind of tools did you use to get back? Because I see you. You’re right in front of me. So I know you’re not still wandering around in Baltimore. [Laughter]

I didn’t tell the instructor— well this is on my own but a majority of the time, I’d ask somebody in the general public for directions, but then I’d discover on my own that it was even more beneficial to try and figure it out on my own. Some people were more familiar with the city areas than others and some just lead you astray.

Well, right. Whenever I get lost in some unknown city, somebody stop to ask me directions.

So I had an Apple watch in my phone sometimes I’d use for directions. Of course I’d be on my own. I didn’t think it was anything as far as not using my blindness skills. I was definitely doing that, when I was under sleep shades using all those skills that I’d been familiar with. But when I was on my drop-route on my own along with the cane travel instructor, at least it was somewhere I was somewhat familiar with. I didn’t want to use any of that technology. I didn’t want it to hinder my experience as far as something might happen and that I’d have to— I wouldn’t have wanted to have been a problem because, of course, I was aware that we’re really not supposed to use that type of technology unless you’re— You have the skills, you’re gaining the skills, so until you become more familiar with that—

You have several layers of skills, so if your Apple watch doesn’t work you can still

Right. I can definitely use Aira and call an Aira agent, as well. Like I said, using my blindness skills and my usable vision and my cane skills to maximize my experience, generally.

So is there any way that you way you would change Youngstown? Is there something Youngstown could do to make it easier for you?

Well, one thing would possibly be that— I heard previously that— it was before my time when they used to have the Youngstown Society for the Blind when it came to training and blindness skills, various aspects for blind people to gain more information in the local community. But that’s disappeared. Maybe, in general, I’d like to give the blind community the ability somehow to be able to learn more information or gain other blindness-related resources within the area so that they can be a lot more familiar with what’s available since in Youngstown it’s not— as widespread.

It’s accessible, but as far as public transit, they have WRTA, I mean that’s beneficial, it’s just a little bit challenging. It’s an effective transit system, but it can definitely improve. The fact that the advantage is now at least that there is also Uber and Lyft in Youngstown so that definitely makes it much simpler as well.

Thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate it, Joy, your taking time out of your busy life. I wish you much encouragement and poetry writing and all good things.


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