Intro: 00:02 You are listening to the ACB Advocacy Update.
Claire Stanley: 00:10 Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of ACB Advocacy Update. This is Claire, the Advocacy and Outreach Specialist here at ACB. I want to insert something witty but I don't got anything. So my partner here next to me is
Clark Rachfal: 00:25 Clark Rachfal, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind. Thank you to everyone for downloading and listening to another advocacy update podcast. This one on Halloween.
Claire Stanley: 00:41 Woooo! [spooky] Is that witty?
Clark Rachfal: 00:48 That's witty enough, sure. So thank you everyone for listening on ACB radio or via your favorite podcast player. Please share the podcast as well as let us know what you like, what you didn't like and you can do that by messaging us at or emailing us at email@example.com.
Claire Stanley: 01:04 You can tell me how much you loved me and how much you don't like Clark. We understand. We take honest criticism. [laughs] Great. Well, we are joined by a exciting guest today. I feel like I could ramble on all day about the project he's been working on and the show he's been working on. But I think I'll let him introduce what he's been working on because he'll do it far better than I will. So if you want to go ahead and introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you've been working on.
Joe Strechay: 01:34 Yeah, my name is Joe Strechay I am the Associate Producer and also blindness consultant on Apple TV+'s "See", which is a streaming television program that'll be coming out on November 1st.
Claire Stanley: 01:48 So just to stop you for a second, you said blindness consultant. Are you blind yourself, or visually impaired?
Joe Strechay: 01:54 Yeah, great question. I am blind as well and I'm also, I have professionally trained from Florida state university in teaching children who are blind or visually impaired orientation, mobility and a specialty in transition from school to work.
Clark Rachfal: 02:09 Okay. So that's your educational background. How do you get from the studying that at Florida state to becoming an associate producer?
Joe Strechay: 02:19 Yeah, that's it's an interesting path, I guess coming out of graduate school, I, I went to work in I did my internships and stuff and New York and New Jersey. And then I went to work for New Jersey teaching orientation and mobility. And then I got hired on in Florida, they run all their transition services state wide and oversee them and provide a quality assurance. And the American Foundation for the Blind created a position for me in their Career Connect program where I worked and helped create curriculum around employment but also eventually ran that program. And part of that I started writing blog posts and other things around entertainment. And I have an undergraduate in communications and public relations where I also studied media effects. And one of my passions became during graduate school writing about the portrayal blindness.
Joe Strechay: 03:18 And so I wrote articles for Access World, AFB's Access World, specific to the portrayal blindness kind of critiquing how some things have been portrayed and looking at them and then also other disabilities. And because of that and all my experience in my background in orientation and mobility, I was a vision rehabilitation therapist or teacher in Florida during my graduate work finishing up before leaving school too. So teaching daily living skills to older individuals who are blind or visually impaired or people going to work. And all these experiences gave me a background, a well rounded background in the blindness area, plus being blind. And once in awhile productions would reach out asking questions about whether it was on a documentary or casting for a show they were looking for someone who's blind or low vision. And I would try to help them out.
Joe Strechay: 04:14 And then we started getting requests from some TV shows. So Royal Pains on the USA network reached out asking if I would work with them with their writer's room specific to a character they were developing who was blind for three episodes. So I worked with their writers room, giving them advice and slang and things that they could write into the story that make it a more, a, like a better portrayal. So after I did that another show reached out real vaguely and secretively. And I, I didn't know if they had an if it was like a reality show and like they had an actor who was blind or a person who's blind on the show and, or if it was a portrayal blindness and they didn't know what they needed. So I started meeting with them and talking to them and I helped them to find what they were looking for, like a job description.
Joe Strechay: 05:09 And I helped them connect to a bunch of professionals out there in the world. And they started interviewing them and they asked me to interview as well. It turned out it was for Netflix's Marvel's Daredevil and and so a superhero show, but I was advising more on the blindness part around Matt Murdock, the alter ego of Daredevil. And so I got to work with Charlie Cox who did the portrayal and the, the child version of them. Skylar Gaertner who's on, on Ozark now and work with some background people as well and, and work on scripts and props and set around his apartment and such. And then beyond set for a specific teams that, that went for, for season one. I worked on that and then and created videos that they could use to help look for things.
Joe Strechay: 06:06 And Charlie was extremely detailed and also just probably the best person I've ever met in my life. So that was a positive experience. But over time, I, I left the American Foundation for the Blind and I moved to Pennsylvania to take over their Director of the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services, like their director of their blind services or vocational rehabilitation. And so I, I started moving there. I moved there, I flew there on a Thursday and I was going to start work on a Monday and I got a call on Friday morning from an executive producer, from a TV show saying that their creator of their show and the lead actor in a show was going to do a portrayal of blindness and one of their producers worked on Daredevil. And they, they said there was only one person they wanted to bring in for it.
Joe Strechay: 06:56 And they thought it'd be perfect. So I, I, was like, I am starting the new job on Monday. They were like, can you come out for a number of weeks? I'm like, I don't think so. I'm like, I could come there right now, spend the weekend with her and then come back every weekend and work with her. So I hopped on a train like an hour later and went straight to New York and ended up working with her through the weekend. And then the next week and the next weekend, and we spent, I train people as though I would train a person who is blind or low vision using, I use sleep shade to help them depend on their, their senses and develop those senses and on and pick up things that they wouldn't normally pick up when they're depending on their vision. You know, a person with who's low vision, depending on their vision might, there might, vision might be inconsistent, but all these characters were, are considered totally blind.
Joe Strechay: 07:50 And I look at when the individual became blind, I look at the research around that to help with the character development and how their postures are and different things. And then we play with the world depending on what the producers are looking for, the, the creators are looking for. And so I got to work with Brit Marling and props and set as well. And they actually used my, Brit was using my canes in the show because they're, they're prop versions of, of the canes did not show up in time. So, so throughout the show she's using my canes, personal canes. And then I, I, so I went on to working with with the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services in Pennsylvania and doing that work. And once in awhile I, I, people would reach out to me there, there were shows that reached out to me and went through the concept and I, and I was like, I don't think that's something I want to work on.
Joe Strechay: 08:47 And and eventually Apple came to me or one of the people from the production early on reached out to me in like March, 2018 asking if I would be interested in meeting with them. So I, I met with like the executive producers and, and the, the creator, Steven Knight. And then I met with Francis Lawrence and they offered me the position and and we just realized it was a bigger lift and whole world revolves around blindness in a science fiction based world, hundreds of years in the future. But also like we are also going to be bringing on actors who are blind or low vision. So it kind of molded different worlds of mine, like, you know, creating accommodations and helping people and employment stuff I've done in the past, like within the workplace. But also I'm molding the world about the portrayal blindness and, and looking at what we can do and what we can't do and, and figuring out what works for the show too.
Clark Rachfal: 09:53 What are some of the things that you notice when working in this capacity? Either teachable moments or misconceptions to the world of blindness that are pretty easy for you to address or correct. And as soon as you knew there's just a, like an aha moment for the staff, the crew writers or actors.
Joe Strechay: 10:19 Yeah, there, there are a number of those for sure that jump out at, you know, we always start from a place of education and awareness, making sure they have a background and address the misconceptions right from the start. I was, they met with like an executive producer and then they met with me. I was the second person they met with when joining the show, whether they were cast, whether they were a new producer, whether they were a new director. So spending time together and learning from each other and asking questions and then also bringing up and using videos from my friends who are blind from around the US and Canada about their lives as people who are blind or low vision.
Joe Strechay: 11:00 But I, I think like there's lots of misconceptions out there, you know, a easy one about, you know, brailling the face or feeling the face, you know we don't go around feeling people's faces, you know, you know, that's a very intimate thing first of all. And just touching someone, strangers face or even, you know, in an intimate moment. I, I'm married, I know, you know, rarely would I, would I do anything like that with my wife. You know, I have an idea of what, what my wife looks like. I don't go around feeling her face nor strangers faces. That's, that's an easy one.
Claire Stanley: 11:37 Oh I should stop doing that then? My bad [laughter]
Joe Strechay: 11:45 That explains a lot from the last time I met you, Claire.
Clark Rachfal: 11:48 So most recently you've been working on project with Apple TV +.
Joe Strechay: 11:56 Yes.
Clark Rachfal: 11:57 Most people I think are aware. Now the show is called "See". And you've already described it a little bit, calling it a sci-fi type production, but can you give us some more background about the show?
Joe Strechay: 12:11 Definitely. So basically our show you take a, what our world now and maybe a few hundred years later or not even not that far. We don't define when, there's a viral apocalypse happens not too far off and causes the Earth's population pretty much to be eliminated for the most part, except there are about a few million people left on earth and those individuals merge blind. And then our show takes place 600 a years, six centuries from this point in time. So after civilizations and societies of sorts have developed out, but earth has been, has really been re-energized and the lack of population, you know, damaging the earth.
Joe Strechay: 13:01 And, and you see remnants of, of today's world and things that might not biodegrade such as plastics and metals and stuff throughout the show and, and, and they, and the people, you know, have a different way of using the environment and ecology in, in this world. And, and our show is about a family. It really is about a family making it through the world together and trying to survive in a world where a vision is seen as like a heresy, and these two twins, or this set of twins are born with vision and, and it's noticed at some point and the family's trying to protect them because there are people that believe that this is a heresy and vision is something that is not even a memory really.
Joe Strechay: 13:56 Like it's been hundreds of years without it. In a world where most things have been destroyed not because of blindness, just because of lack of population or people that had those skills. And at that point to to make sure that those things continued. But, and you would argue, what is the world better off at this point? Or, or, you know I don't know, it's for you to decide like, what if this happened? What if the world was like this? So we had a look at how people who are blind might build out a world or a little civilizations and they're not all the same. And you'll see that if you watch the show, and I would stress watching the whole season and to make a judgment and, and really see where it goes. There are a lot of questions asked and, and I would say the characters are modern, like a, they're, they're good and bad. You know, you see the, the positive and negative of each character.
Claire Stanley: 14:52 So I'm curious, on a day to day basis on the set, were you able to give your input right there? You know, if they did a scene and you said, you know, I don't think a blind individual would do it that way. Were you able to give your input or was it more after the fact? How did they have you participate in giving your input?
Joe Strechay: 15:13 Yeah, I would say like the show was kind of like building a plane while you're flying it. You know, we were trying to figure out, I never worked on a show this size with this much blindness and for the show and for the producers and everyone to understand what, what the important role it was and what, what we could do and how we could do it and, and really figuring everything out. And then you throw in also actors who are blind or low vision and making sure they have what they need to be successful. And or just that everyone understands about blindness. So I would say it developed out, I would say I became more and more involved in the show, what got, made it to screen, like as the show goes on. And I would say that you know, as we also, the scripts were developing as we were going in our show, runner Dan Shotz and John Steinberg who wrote a number of scripts as well and, and Steven Knight early on, but I got to, we've got to put in a lot more little pieces of blindness later in the episodes, like four through eight, you'll see little glimpses of things around blindness that most people won't know.
Joe Strechay: 16:22 There are little pieces earlier on, ah, but more and more so I would say from, I was there and I was able to provide input episodes one through three for sure. But from four through eight, I was right next to the director during blocking, which is when you set up each shot or for a scene and you go through. And then I would make suggestions and then we'd bring them to the actors and, and or corrections or whatever and, or talk about with actors, what their thinking and then what I notice in this environment. So I would say I got more and more involved as the show went on. And and I just, I, I hope people watch the episodes and, and, and watch the season and see what, see as it develops.
Clark Rachfal: 17:08 Joe, you were there to provide instruction and direction to the sighted crew as well as actors and actresses. But you said that there were blind and visually impaired actors on the show as well?
Joe Strechay: 17:21 Definitely. So I provided, so part of my job was to, you know, work on scripts. Part of my job was to work with the, you know, the producers and director and then the, the lead actors and, and then also working with a team, a movement team where we worked with the background and to help develop out, they really developed out the cultures like that outside of just the blindness, but like these cultures, these little civilizations and the differences, whether it was their posture or like I don't know, music or the musicality they use or, and we played with movements and how we can navigate in different ways. Experimented with whips. Like I found that I could use a whip, just like a cane. With the tapping. It's, it's such a light touch with a whip.
Joe Strechay: 18:10 Actually you don't sling a whip. It's just like a flick of your wrist. And actually also, I can use the sound for echolocation to make out an environment. I wouldn't walk around indoors using a whip because you're breaking the sound barrier and you'll end up with hearing problems pretty quickly. But outdoors, I could easily do it. And so we played with things like that, but also with our actors who are low vision, you know, a lot of these actors you know don't know the skills that people who are totally blind use. So making sure that they understand as well. And, and, and also it's true to the world because, you know, we had a, be a consistent in our different civilizations and, and they brought some additional stuff to our show. The actors who are low vision or, or blind brought little details that they, they thought should be in the world or that they noticed in the scripts as well. So it, it wasn't just my input, it was also the actors working on the show.
Clark Rachfal: 19:11 And Joe in the same way that the producers in Apple TV+, the same way that they reached out to find you and bring you on board. Was there a concerted effort to find blind, low vision actors and talent?
Joe Strechay: 19:27 Yeah, we definitely try to recruit actors who are blind or low vision, going through a lot of acting groups around disability through consumer groups. Emails went out and listen, trying to gather people and give people the opportunity. You know, we had to be vague about our you know, there's a lot of secrecy. You're dealing with a television show and then you're dealing with Apple as well, you know so making sure that we don't give away the intellectual property, but we provide people an opportunity. So, yeah, we definitely recruited actors who are blind or low vision. And I have a different perspective on it too in other ways because I worked in state government where we were preparing people for employment. Where you look at labor market information, when you're deciding like in Pennsylvania, are there jobs in theater and acting and is that the best option for an individual?
Joe Strechay: 20:19 And sometimes you know, states I often went out on a limb, but you know, there are times, you know, if you're not willing to move from Erie, Pennsylvania, theater, theater might not be the best option for you or you know, so, and I know there are similar states, other states that feel the same way, but it, you know we, it's an exclusive profession and there haven't been a lot of opportunities even for the actors who are great who are blind or low vision. So, I feel like we're opening doors and providing people a new opportunity or at least an opportunity to showcase their work. And and yeah, it's it's a continual process and we will work to get better. Just like, you know, I said we were building the plane, we will continue to work to build our, our, our process. And we changed our casting process too to make sure people had the best chance to succeed.
Claire Stanley: 21:15 That's what I really caught my attention was this new door that's being opened for actors and actresses and those in the performing arts who are blind or visually impaired because it is tough. I mean, I know very little about that world, but what I do know is that there are few opportunities for persons who are blind or visually impaired. So how exciting to have an opportunity that can open the door for that community of actors and actresses.
Joe Strechay: 21:42 Yeah. And, and typically the portrayals that people who are blind or low vision go out is as the person, disabled person, or the person sitting in the corner or the person laying in a bed who needs help or something like that. And this kind of throws it on its head. Like my studying media effects. And in college at East Carolina university and communications, we studied how minority groups migrate into media. And, and the steps that they go through. And we kind of flip the, flipped it upside down by we're seeing people as warriors, we're seeing people as villains, we're seeing them as lovers, we're seeing them in intimate situations, we're seeing them in all different ways and as heroes that you typically don't see. And as well as giving those opportunities rightfully so to people who are blind or low vision. And we'll continue to look for for those talented actors who fit those parts.
Claire Stanley: 22:39 Yeah, that's, that's great.
Clark Rachfal: 22:42 That's great. Joe, we know our audience really wants to, to watch it also listened to this programming. So where will we be able to view, "See"
Joe Strechay: 22:52 So it'll be through Apple TV+ and you can find it through your iOS devices, Apple devices. If you buy new Apple device, you get it free for a year. But through the, you know, the TV app and, you can subscribe for $4.99 per month, one of the lowest prices for streaming networks, but they, Apple does it, right? Like, you know, Apple is known for accessibility for our community and the, and persons with disabilities. And you'll find that there are nine different languages in audio description and no matter what country you're in, you can access all nine. So in most cases for a streaming network, and I found this when traveling, if you end up in like Japan, you wouldn't be able to access the English audio description on, on other streaming networks because they don't own the rights to them all.
Joe Strechay: 23:41 So Apple owns the rights and so will find that you have access to all nine audio described languages for the shows, for all their content and then also for, for their... Oh, it's the first time that any streaming network or service has released an audio description, soundtrack. So when you pick what what the sound is, typically it takes that sound out of whatever it is, whether it's Dolby 5.1 or whether it's Atmos, which is the latest and greatest, means there are speakers all over the roof and stuff to give you sounds all over. You have to have a, a nice expensive system, but Apple has audio description embedded into all that sound. So if you, if you're using an Atmos system, you'll hear audio description with it and you'll still have that same sound experience that everyone else does with Atmos so it's pretty cool.
Clark Rachfal: 24:43 Wow. So it doesn't just divert everything back to mono sound, you get the audio description and the fact that it's available in you said nine different languages and that's an additional 40 different languages for closed captioning for people who are hard of hearing. And you know, I'm a, I wouldn't go as far as to say fanboy, but I absolutely love some Apple products, you know, whether it's iPad, iPhone or my Apple TV. So we all know how accessible that user interface is and how great voiceover is. So that's just going to be one heck of a, not just viewing, but media experience.
Joe Strechay: 25:27 And for me, this is like full circle because I helped, I wrote the one of two of the first reviews of Apple TV when it, in the second generation, when they added voiceover to it. So for Access World, AFB's Access World and you know, I'm here using an Apple, iPhone 11 pro. I have my Apple, I have three Apple TVs in my home, I have iPads, I have all kinds of Apple devices. And so I live it every day for me. I might say I'm a fan boy. I bleed Apple, I would say. Yeah.
Claire Stanley: 26:05 Nice.
Clark Rachfal: 26:07 Well that's cool. And the Apple TV+ service launches when?
Joe Strechay: 26:14 November 1st on all your Apple devices and and in other ways, so through Apple TV and such a, you can grab it and and start streaming and check out all the different shows. The morning show looks to be a great show as well. From Reese Witherspoon to Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup. It, it looks to look at, you know, how women have treated, been treated in the entertainment industry and and addressing similar to the, you know, the me too movement and such you know, and they, I know they brought, I got to hear Jennifer Anniston and Reese Witherspoon on Friday talk about it and what it means to them. And I, I think it will be a touching story as well.
Claire Stanley: 26:59 That's great.
Clark Rachfal: 27:01 Well thanks Joe. Are there any other projects that you're working on or are we just going to have to stay tuned to hear about those?
Joe Strechay: 27:09 Yeah, there are others, a small movie that I won't be able to talk about yet, coming down the line. And there should be other things, other projects in the future. I've also been doing some consulting work for the American Printing House for the Blind, who, you know, helps develop a lot of the products utilized in the schools for children who are blind or low vision or visually impaired or, and also trying to help adults and, and such too. Yup.
Claire Stanley: 27:40 That's great. And if Clark wants to pursue a career in Hollywood, can he, get any suggestions, any connections.
Joe Strechay: 27:48 Definitely. Yeah. You have my, you have my contact information. Yeah. I will definitely be, if people are interested in, have, have some background in theater or like in the past they've, they've taken acting classes or, or taking acting classes or they've in plays and commercials, whatever, you know, we're, we explore talent. You know, we're looking for talent that people have neglected or not found in the past and giving people an opportunity. We, through our casting, we had an amazing casting team that we cast in person as well as through self-tape and in person. They coach the actors who are blind or low vision and give them a little more tips and help than they typically give to people auditioning but also the self tapes, you know, people self-tape is when you have someone record you or record yourself. Reading through something or practicing a scene or something like that or a shot. And we also give a little more instruction and feedback around that. That won't just aid them for our show. But it will also give them more opportunities in the future with other shows.
Claire Stanley: 28:58 That's so exciting. I love to hear that. So I'm, I'm excited and hoping that our listeners will take that to heart and share it with their friends who are blind or visually impaired. Because like we talked about earlier, it's a venue that a lot of blind and visually impaired actors haven't had access to. So it's exciting to hear that. I guarantee you will never hear a monologue from me because that would just be embarrassing. But I know there are far, far, far more talented actors out there.
Joe Strechay: 29:25 I think you guys would be great, both of you, the CL twins over there. [laughter].
Claire Stanley: 29:29 I like that, the CL twins.
Clark Rachfal: 29:35 Joe, thanks for speaking with us today and sharing the, not only your past and your professional background, but also the great work that Apple TV+ is doing with their accessible user interface and audio description and closed captioning on all, all of their programs. And also about the, not only the training that goes into it, but the blind and low vision actors who are going to debut this Friday, November 1st in "See".
Joe Strechay: 30:07 Awesome. Awesome. And, and one last note is that we, we included actors with other disabilities as well, like whether, you know, cast, but also in our background. So we had individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, individuals using prosthetics, prosthetic leg, or and other types of disability that are in our background. You might not see them up close but they're, they're in there throughout. So just, just, just this little side note,
Claire Stanley: 30:41 Good to know, thank you. Well as always to our listeners, thank you so much for listening to another episode of our podcast. We were really fortunate to have Mr. Strechay On this week. Really, really fortunate. If you guys want to learn more about ACB, check us out on our website, at acb.org. And as always, if you have any issues you want to discuss or any concerns, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and yeah, just let us know. Keep in touch. We always want to hear from you guys. Wait for our next episode. That'll come out next Thursday. And in the meantime, this, this Friday, November 1st check out "See", I'm excited. Check out "See" everybody. "See", See" November 1st is coming Friday, the day after Halloween. And yeah, thanks again for being on our show with us. And what do we always say Clark?
Clark Rachfal: 31:35 Keep advocating!