Episodes
Kristen Smedley standing in the middle with her arms around her two adult sons. They are all wearing formal clothing, smiling to the camera. Kristen's sons are both holding their white canes.
The Be My Eyes Podcast, Mar 18, 2021, Growing Up Blind with a Sighted Mom

Growing Up Blind with a Sighted Mom

Kristin Smedley, author of Thriving Blind and founder of the new Assistive Tech Tank accelerator program, has a simple message: It's not blind peoples' responsibility to make the world more accessible, it's the responsibility of everyone to be inclusive. Kristin raised her two boys, Mitchell and Michael, to play sports, perform at a high level and never take "you can't because you're blind" as an answer. Today, Michael is in college and Mitchell is finishing high school, and they've benefitted tremendously from both having a parent who never doubted them and a technology landscape that's more powerful and inclusive than ever. In this episode, Kristin, Michael and Mitch join Will to share stories from childhood, recount their journey to blindness and inclusion advocacy, and get in plenty of good natured ribs at each other along the way.

Episode Transcript

Will Butler:

You're listening to the Be My Eyes Podcast, I'm Will Butler. And this week we're talking about growing up blind and going to college for the first time with Kristin, Michael, and Mitch Smedley. But first, we promised you a giveaway, and a giveaway you're going to get. Okay, so here's the deal. This spring, Be My Eyes Podcast listeners are going to have a chance to win a couple of really cool products. And the first of these is those envision AI glasses that everyone's been talking about. All you've got to do is one thing, listen to the podcast, that's it. At some point today, and in future episodes of the Be My Eyes Podcast, we're going to give you specific instructions about how to submit your entry. Now, there's only going to be one winner of the envision AI glasses, but we're going to have more giveaways also throughout the season. So keep listening, and you'll be able to enter again, even if you're not the lucky winner of this first prize.

Will Butler:

These envision glasses look so cool. They're built on the Google glass technology using envisions AI to make everyday life easier for anybody with a visual impairment, they call it the AI for your eye. So all you got to do, listen to the podcast all this month, here are the official instructions to enter. That's it. Thanks everyone for listening. And before we hop to the main show, I want to tell you about what's going on on a couple of our other podcasts. You ever sit around the water cooler at work and have a couple of coworkers laughing and you say, "Oh, what are you guys laughing about?" And they say, "Oh, nothing. It's just a meme." Yeah, I know that feeling. And that's why we created a brand new podcast that we've called, Say My Meme. Designed specifically to describe the internet's best memes for those of us who can't see them.

Will Butler:

It's as simple as that, and we're crowdsourcing memes from all over the internet because frankly, laughter is a civil right. Check out Say My Meme on all the same platforms where we deliver the Be My Eyes Podcast. That's three words, Say My Meme. Are you passionate about accessibility and inclusive design? If so, check out 13 Letters, the accessibility and inclusive design podcast from Be My Eyes, unparalleled in depth and scope. And co-hosted by myself and the wonderful Cordelia McGee-Tubb from Salesforce. 13 Letters interviews leaders in the accessibility field about their careers, their approaches, and how they get big wins for inclusivity at their companies. Check us out on all the platforms, @13letters or listen to all these podcasts over at bemyeyes.com/podcasts. And now Kristin Smedley, the mother of two blind boys, Michael and Mitch Smedley wrote about her life and their lives in Thriving Blind.

Will Butler:

Since then, they've become prominent advocates in the blind community, and I was super excited to sit down with all three of them on the Be My Eyes Podcast this week, to hear a little bit about their journeys, where they were at, this was recorded just last year and also what it was like from Michael going to college for the first time. Kristin's also got a very cool new accelerator project called Assistive Tech Tank, which you can find out about @assistivetechtank.com. It's a shark tank style thing. And also, this is a great compliment to this week's episode of 13 Letters, which is all about college and university accessibility with folks from Harvard, Berkeley, and Cincinnati. So there's a lot to dig into today and please check out the other podcast, if you find yourself left wanting more.

Will Butler:

Thanks so much. And now our interview with the Smedley's. I will start with it, but I think typically we don't really do big formal intros because people get a little squirrely, you know what I mean? When you turn the mic on them and everything. But I am really, really excited to have the three of you here. We've never done a podcast with three people at once before. Maybe you guys could just go down the line and introduce yourselves so people can recognize your voices. Mitch, you want to start?

Mitchell Smedley:

Absolutely. I'm Mitchell, and I'm the best out of the three here.

Kristin Smedley:

And the humblest.

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh, absolutely.

Will Butler:

Kristen in the middle there.

Kristin Smedley:

I'm Kristin Smedley, I'm the circus leader of this goofy tribe. I'm the mom.

Will Butler:

And Michael.

Michael Smedley:

Hey, how's it going? I'm Michael, I'm going to be a junior at Penn State.

Will Butler:

Awesome. So these are the Smedley's, and you guys are based in Philly, right?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Been in Philly for most of your lives or what's the story behind Philly, Kristin? When did you guys come there?

Kristin Smedley:

Well, that's where I grew up and then the boys were actually born in Chicago, interestingly enough. We lived out there for six years and then came back and have been here ever since.

Will Butler:

Awesome. Was Philly a good place to grow up? Is it suburban out there? What was it like growing up as kids out there, Michael?

Michael Smedley:

It was great. Where we're at is a really nice mix of everything being a little bit spread out. And I was lucky enough that when we moved in, pretty much everybody moving in on our street had kids my age. So I grew up playing baseball in the backyard, basketball in people's driveways, and then got into high school with everyone, and it's been fun.

Will Butler:

And that was public school system or? Where did you go to school?

Michael Smedley:

Public school K-12.

Will Butler:

Awesome. And Mitch, you're still in high school, out there in Philly?

Mitchell Smedley:

Entering my last year.

Will Butler:

Oh, wow. So you were a junior, you're going to be a senior this Fall?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Did some of your friends do the social distancing graduation this year?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. There's a few festivities going on, a parade or something that they're having at the school. I don't really know all the details, but yeah, it was weird not seeing everyone before they graduated. I definitely have a few senior friends and just texting with them, they're not happy about the situation, but it is what it is.

Kristin Smedley:

Well, you did the first ever Zoom prom.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Oh my gosh. Wait, I have to hear about-

Kristin Smedley:

So there's that.

Will Butler:

... Zoom prom.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. Prom. I mean, we're pretty excited here to get back to normal. If that is a thing anymore, normal. But we'll see how it goes. Yeah.

Will Butler:

What's it been like Mitch switching from physically being at the high school to the virtual curriculum? What was that like as a blind student?

Mitchell Smedley:

Well, I don't do my work anyways. So-

Kristin Smedley:

You had to say it first. Oh, my God.

Mitchell Smedley:

It's been a challenge definitely, because of being visually impaired, you use a lot of assistive technology. And working out all the problems with that, between the assistive technology and the platforms that teachers are using, it seems like every teacher is using a different platform. Some are on the Google Suite, some are on the platform called Canvas. There's all kinds of stuff going on, and we're still ironing things out.

Will Butler:

Is Canvas accessible?

Mitchell Smedley:

Canvas is great, but there's a few programs that go off of Canvas that aren't so accessible. And that's what we've been having problems with. But Canvas itself is wonderful. And it's actually accessible on multiple platforms. I use voiceover a lot on my phone, that works. But I've been trying out ChromeVox on the Chromebook Touch. It's pretty new in the way that not many visually impaired people I know use it. But I'm happy to report that ChromeVox has actually been working very well with Canvas and pretty much anything else I've done so far.

Will Butler:

That's good to hear. I think our listeners will actually appreciate bits of information like this because these are the things that so many of us are trying to navigate now. Whether it's high school, college, work, whatever it might be. And Michael, you were in the middle of your sophomore year at Penn State. Where were you at?

Michael Smedley:

Yeah. Penn State.

Will Butler:

You came home and took classes from home starting in March?

Michael Smedley:

I'm a sound design major at Penn State. So we finished up the run of our show, we left for what we thought was going to be a one week spring break, and then they told us we weren't coming back.

Will Butler:

Wow. Wow. And how has that been for you adjusting to the college curriculum virtually?

Michael Smedley:

So I got lucky that while it was a mess for me, it's not because of the assistive technology it's because I'm a sound design and telecommunications double major, and all of those classes are lab classes where we sit and you learn how to mix audio with the professor in a studio, stuff that you just can't do online. So a lot of the learning curves that I had were the curves that everyone was having, not because of the assistive technology. And I was lucky that I'm at a point with multiple platforms, my phone, I'm a Mac user for the most part, but I was born and raised using Windows stuff. So I was able to jump back and forth across platforms with whatever I needed to do and keep up on the assistive technology side of things so that I could go along and learn the main UI stuff with the rest of the class.

Will Butler:

Cool. Yeah. And I want to talk about audio stuff too. I'm also a musician and a producer, so I was very curious to pick your brain about that. But Kristin, how have you been staying busy the last three months with these two in the house now? And there's a third as well, right?

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, I'm just trying to get on the Wi-Fi and texting people to get off the Wi-Fi when I'm trying to do stuff. It's interesting. Michael and Mitchell have a sighted sister who's in high school also. So everybody trying to get work done at the same time on Wi-Fi, it's been interesting.

Will Butler:

Maybe we should call up our friend, Tom Wlodkowski and get a little extra bandwidth.

Kristin Smedley:

You've no idea.

Michael Smedley:

[crosstalk 00:10:34].

Kristin Smedley:

We were thinking the same thing. We're like, "All right. What can Tom hook us up?"

Will Butler:

Yeah. Tom, for those who don't know, is the VP of Accessibility at Comcast, also blind. And Kristin, you wrote about Tom in the book, Thriving Blind, which is about these two dudes here that you're sitting with, and yourself, and the story of your journey together with your sister as well. So can you give us a little elevator pitch on what Thriving Blind is all about? I know a lot of our listeners probably have checked it out, but many also have not.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. So it's Thriving Blind, stories of real people succeeding without sight. And it's 13 people that we met on our journey, starting with Erik Weihenmayer when Michael was six years old. Erik came into our lives and then everybody else after that. They were the role models that I needed to know it was possible for the boys' lives. And honestly, I mean, to sum up the book, Thriving Blind, it's the resource that I wish somebody would've handed to me when they handed me the blind news diagnosis 20 years ago, and almost 17 years ago now.

Will Butler:

Kristin, I don't know if you know this, but you're actually the first sighted guest we've ever had on the Be My Eyes Podcast.

Kristin Smedley:

Aww, look at me.

Will Butler:

[crosstalk 00:11:56] record signed all over the place.

Kristin Smedley:

I win the prize.

Will Butler:

But the reason you get that prize is because when I saw your TED Talk, your TEDx New York, was it? Where was it?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, New York.

Will Butler:

Gosh, it was probably three years ago now that I first saw the video. You said something that really hit me hard, which was, blindness isn't the problem. I think you said something like that. You said, "It's your perception." You were talking to the audience of blindness, that is the problem. And you put that on them.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, that's exactly right. That's what I speak about everywhere that I possibly can. And I'm actually writing another series of books about my faith journey. And at the core of it is, the fact that my perception of blindness was changed when Michael was three years old. Look, we would've had a very different journey, had that perception of moment that I talked about in the TED Talk, not happened. What I realized was, because of my perception of devastation, isolation, upsetment, sadness, that was my life. Because I had no role model to show me that all things were still possible given the right tools, resources, opportunity, and whatnot.

Kristin Smedley:

That was in terms of raising a blind child. So once all of my perception changed, then I was able to get the boys everything they needed and get on with their lives. It's evolved now though, into two specific realms. One of them is the hiring of blind people. I mean, this still nearly 70% unemployment rate in this community, to tie in with all the social crisis we're in, in this country right now. Sometimes I'm like, "Why is nobody freaking out that this is such a huge unemployment rate in this community?" There is no outrage, and I'm outraged ever since I found out about it. So I'm actually working with some folks now to flip this whole narrative and this perception of hiring blind people. And it was actually Kirk Adams, who's also in the book and is the CEO of the AFP. He turned my brain onto the fact of, employers should be seeking blind employees because of all the practice that they have had, especially if they've been blind their whole lives.

Kristin Smedley:

And pretty much the top five, six skills of the C-suite executives, blind people have been practicing problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork, their whole lives, they're a better candidate. So we're trying to get that message out there that basically, when you're hiring, you shouldn't be nervous about hiring a blind person, you should be actively seeking them, they're the top candidates, that piece. And then the other piece is to parents in general, I mean it only took me 20 years, well, to figure out that, that change I had in perception of raising a blind child was actually what I believe a secret, a key ingredient to parenting any child.

Kristin Smedley:

Because I think our kids are growing up under the weight of our own dreams and expectations for what we want their lives to be. All of my dreams were extinguished when I heard, "Your son is blind." Look at what they've done, they've been able to soar without that weight on them. They've been able to follow their own dreams because quite frankly, I didn't know what the heck they were going to do. So I just said, "I don't know, what are you interested in? I'll help you figure it out." And I think that if all parents would do that, families would have a much easier time. And my goodness, the stuff that kids would be able to do.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I had just never heard a sighted person stand on a stage, in a room with a bunch of sighted people where there were no other blind people around to listen and to approve, and say to the sighted crowd, "This is your fault. This is our fault. This is not on the blind person." And when I heard that, I was like, "Okay, she gets it." But I was equally eager to meet the guys. I wonder, do you guys think of the sighted world as making your lives harder? Or being that you're younger, that you've grown up with this your whole life, that this is just normal, do you have a more integrative view of yourself in a sighted world? Michael? What do you think about that stuff? It's a deep question.

Michael Smedley:

Yeah. So the way that I look at it is, the world by the vast majority is sighted. And we either, as people who are blind or visually impaired learn how to succeed in that world or get left behind because that's just the pace of the world. In Corporate America, and just in every other industry, you have to keep up with the industry, no matter who you are, and it's not going to bend to fit your individual needs. People will accommodate you the best they can, but you have to have the basic skills to get by in an industry or whatever you choose to do. So I think that's a challenge that everybody has.

Will Butler:

So you think that everyone faces challenges from other people's perceptions and-

Michael Smedley:

Absolutely.

Will Butler:

... we're just one of many. Mitch, what do you think? Do you think the sighted world makes your life harder? Or do you feel like you're just dealing with the same types of things everybody else is?

Mitchell Smedley:

I think it's a pretty big challenge, pretty big obstacle, but I will say, I mean, there's been no better point in history for people that are visually impaired or blind. I mean, driving is the first thing that comes to my mind, is that I can't drive, and for the foreseeable future, I won't be able to drive legally.

Will Butler:

Important [inaudible 00:17:53] people about.

Mitchell Smedley:

Now we have things like Uber and Lyft and all kinds of different mobility skills to get around effectively. We have all kinds of new apps and services that can help us with our day-to-day lifestyles. And I think that really, the development of those kinds of areas, those kinds of sectors are really going to be able to bring us forward and bring the entire whatever market we choose forward. Because like my mom said, we're the best candidates. I'm the best candidate. If I succeed, then the entire world's benefiting. So that's just how I see it. I think it's really good, and I think it's getting better right now. So I'm excited for the next five, 10, and so on years to see what happens.

Will Butler:

What about a group like the college board? They-

Mitchell Smedley:

What about them?

Will Butler:

You spent the last couple of months for those who don't know, locked in a bit of a social media battle with the college board, because they had initially refused to make certain aspects of the AP exam accessible in the way that was most efficient for blind folks. Was this your fight Mitch? I'm assuming you were taking APs this year?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah, I was taking AP class. I mean, originally, we'd gone through the, well, I shouldn't say we, my mom went through the fight of getting the clearances for having braille tests and all that stuff, braille diagrams was the other big thing. And due to the special circumstances as they love to throw around, they had to change the entire format of the AP tests this year, for those that don't know, they had to make it all online. And they did not include an option for braille tests or tactile diagrams, even though I believe majority of the tests had braille diagrams. They had diagrams, but they weren't offering them tactically.

Mitchell Smedley:

So me and a few other friends, I wasn't the main person on that, that was one of my friend's, [Kaylee 00:19:54], another visually impaired student, she was in four AP classes. I was just there, like, "I have one test." Yeah, she really spearheaded the operation, and we went up against a huge entity, like college board and we won.

Will Butler:

So ultimately, they did, they went back and said, "Yeah, okay. We don't want to look bad here. We'll accommodate."

Mitchell Smedley:

It wasn't that simple, they were not friendly for awhile. They were not willing to really acknowledge our side of things. And they said, "We're doing the best we can in these circumstances." Which-

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. They gave a lot of pushback, but here's the thing, there is a couple of things at play there. College board initially, because they're college board and they have the monopoly on the entire thing, they really do get to say whatever they want and their stance in the beginning, when Kaylee called us to say, "Kristin, I need your help with this." Because we called them and they said basically, "Too bad. We have what? 20 million kids are taking this test, and you guys are a minimal fraction of that, and we're going to give you this text in terms of accessibility. And you're just going to have to deal with that." When I was talking to Kaylee about it, the biggest thing is, that's not how the braille learners learned.

Kristin Smedley:

So I had said to Kaylee, "Look, the thing is, you got to get as many people behind this as you can." Because college board thinks like most sighted people think. That braille users and blind folks are such a small percentage of the population. It doesn't really matter. Like, "We would like to help you if we could, but it doesn't really matter because the vast majority is who we're really serving." So we sat with it for about a day to figure out, how do you communicate a message and get people behind it? And Kaylee did a tremendous job of this little, less than two minute video. And I said, "You have to be on video. Because people have to see what a successful blind person looks like." I said, "You're actually addressing the sighted world." Because of course the blind world is going to get behind this, but it's the sighted people you have to convince.

Kristin Smedley:

And she sat there poised and read from the tool. She can talk without any script, but she needed to show that she was using braille and she just did everything perfectly. And then that video, that had about a half million impressions on Twitter in less than two weeks. I mean, people got behind that. Like, "This is not right." Actually, the president of the NFB, Mark Riccobono said on one of the Zoom calls with the kids, well the students, because they're getting older, they're not kids. He said, they had never seen that momentum, and they've been fighting for years with not just college board, but other people. But specifically college board, they have never had so much momentum and such a public outcry for making college board do the right thing.

Kristin Smedley:

But even with them, with our congressmen we got involved, attorneys got involved, the office of civil rights got involved, and it was all of that. And then knowing that we were not going to let up in college where we're going to have a really bad social media presence, if they didn't say yes, they finally did say yes.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Kaylee's video really nailed it. And I think college board, it is such a monopoly that there's not any one else to look to, to say, "Will you accommodate us?" It's like-

Mitchell Smedley:

And the big problem is, it's a monopoly on a very important piece of every student's career. I mean, it's the AP test which colleges look for. It's the SATs, which I'm hoping to God, we don't have the same issue in the early Fall. It's a monopoly on one of the worst possible areas. And I don't know how you change that, I'd leave that to the guys in the suits. Yeah.

Will Butler:

Well I think a lot of people are looking hard at it right now to ask themselves, "Is this standardized testing?" Really the whole picture for getting into college and all that stuff. I know the University of California system has started looking at that. And standardized testing, one of many things where I'm sure Kristin, you've had to wage war in terms of making sure that proper accommodations are provided so that Mitch and Michael can be included in stuff. Right?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. And you're right. It's wage war. And I talk with parents, I'm actually doing a parent's mastermind now because to really give them the in-depth how much muscle and exhaustion is involved in the early years. And I always tell them in the early years, it isn't fair, just get over it. It's just not fair that you have to fight, fight, fight your school district, everywhere. Your community sport, everywhere, to lay the foundation. But once you do, and get the kids the skills that they need, where they go from there, and it's all just leveling the playing field is the other thing that I think is important to mention. And I mentioned it in the TED Talk. We are not looking for special over the top stuff, it is to level the playing field. I always say at the IEP meetings, "What are you expecting of the sighted kids?" That's exactly what we're going to expect of my blind kids. They don't have to go do extra stuff or anything like that.

Kristin Smedley:

But in the very beginning, I mean, if you know of the different blindness disorders, LCA, Leber's congenital amaurosis. Most kids with LCA are of very high intelligence for the most part in LCA, no other challenges, learning disabilities, nothing else going on. So that's a double-edged sword for our families because you've got high intelligence, you're going into the regular public schools. They still do not have a test for the gifted program. They don't have an IQ test that you can utilize.

Kristin Smedley:

I did hear there's one maybe coming out now, but back then, there was no IQ test that could get the IQ score on a visually impaired person. So the schools were able to say, "Well, we don't have an IQ test. So you can't qualify for the gifted program." And it became a raging war on them. Thank God, there were a couple of teachers that just thought that was ridiculous and wrote letters, and drove the school nuts until they accepted Michael in that program. But those kinds of things.

Kristin Smedley:

I mean, stuff that you just shake your head gone, but that's where it comes all back to perception. These people did not believe that Michael would ever achieve anything. 70%, was there 100%. They thought that was going to be phenomenal, and they were going to wear a ribbon if Michael would achieved 70% of what the other kids did. And then Michael left them all in the dust by high school graduation, out achieved 95% of them. It's funny.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. And raised the bar for his little brother.

Kristin Smedley:

Which he was thrilled about.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I take it upon myself to lower that bar [crosstalk 00:26:48].

Will Butler:

Yeah, the bar.

Mitchell Smedley:

I don't [crosstalk 00:26:48] the same question.

Will Butler:

Coming from one younger brother to another Mitch is, they're different bars. It's not the same bar. Okay, good news everyone. We're ready to tell you how to win these envision AI glasses. Here's the deal, all you have to do is go to bemyeyes.com/envision. That's envision with an E. E-N-V-I-S-I-O-N. bemyeyes.com/envision. Enter your information into the form and you'll be entered to win. At the end of the month, we're going to draw a winner, all the official rules are on that page, @bemyeyes.com/envision, and good luck to you. There'll be more giveaways, so keep listening. And now back to our interview with the Smedley's. Thanks. I wonder about sports, I mean, Michael, you mentioned you're a baseball fan. Mitch, are you a baseball fan too?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I am a huge baseball, sports in general, fan. Yeah.

Will Butler:

What do you guys like about baseball? Let's just start there.

Mitchell Smedley:

Winning.

Will Butler:

Did you say winning?

Kristin Smedley:

We need to go a little more in tech.

Will Butler:

Did you say winning?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I'll start with an interesting fact. Me and Michael, both won championships in our town little league system on the same team, the Mets, three years apart. Interesting little tidbit, but it really symbolizes that, it was multiple cases of blind athletes succeeding at the highest level in that small stage. But the part I love about sports is the coming together aspect. Everyone's there for a few purposes, number one to win. But it's also, you're finding people exactly like you in some ways in talent, but in other ways in interests. And that goes for, if you're playing or if you're watching, sports fans, I mean, that's some of the best comradery you feel, especially in Philly, which is such a sports town.

Mitchell Smedley:

Especially football, going to Eagles games, that's your family. You might get a beer thrown at you. But hey, it's different than any other fan we get home. I'll pass it over to Michael, I don't want to act like I'm taking up too much of the time. But that's just the beginning of what [crosstalk 00:29:04].

Will Butler:

Michael, you're more the musician. Are you the artsy one? But you're a sports fan too, huh?

Michael Smedley:

Yeah, it depends on the day. I'm in an arts ish program, but I'm at Penn State where football is everything and it's Beaver Stadium, and you go with 107,000 of your best friends every Saturday. But I grew up playing almost every sport under the sun. I played football, baseball, I swam, and wrestled. And wrestling, my high school coach senior year was joking that he wanted to blindfold the whole team so that they understood that they could feel people's weight shifting and didn't need to look because they were all getting their heads hunted and pent.

Will Butler:

That's interesting. So you get too visually distracted, you lose focus on the technical?

Michael Smedley:

Yeah. In wrestling, when you're on the ground, people are looking to see where arms and legs are coming from. But as soon as you do that, you expose yourself. And it's something that, when the person on top of you is going to move their arm, they have to put that weight somewhere else, so you can feel them shift before they even go for it.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Mitchell Smedley:

And it shocked the sighting couch.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Mitchell Smedley:

My last season of wrestling was a while back. It was back in middle school, but I mean, sighted kids, I could just feel them walking up, "I'm going to beat this blind kid." I proceeded to go nine to that day.

Kristin Smedley:

Not that anyone is counting or remembering. Yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

Not that I'm counting or that I remember. Yeah. I mean, I'm not going to brag, but I was really good. Like Michael said, it's a lot of the non sighted cues that you got to look for in a sport that's as close as wrestling. Watching a football, 50 yards down the field, you might have to see that. But when you're within a foot of someone the entire match, that's really where I think blind people can use their other senses and excel. My wrestling coach after that season spent the entire next year trying to convince me to come back. But I eventually left for the theater industry, which was a questionable decision. But I like where I'm at now, also I followed in Michael's footsteps a little bit. I do sound [crosstalk 00:30:57].

Will Butler:

Oh, very cool.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. So I think it's exactly what Michael said though, that it's a lot of using your other senses and bringing other facets of, it's not just that you're blind, it's you're blind, but you also have other talents going on.

Will Butler:

Kristin, as you started the process of trying to get these two into sports and accepted into their various leagues and systems, you must've gotten some crazy looks back in the day, right?

Kristin Smedley:

Oh Will, you have no idea. I'm telling you, I've said before that, I think I may have put it in the book, I don't know. Okay, so they're in regular public schools, and nobody in the IEP system was working on social skills, which drove me crazy. And it's a big thing for me now to make sure that people are working on social skills. I mean, we were the fun house. Everybody was here and there at this ginormous elementary school and all this stuff. And they were in blind sports in the city of Philadelphia. I mean, they drove 45, 50 minutes to go do-

Mitchell Smedley:

Goalball.

Kristin Smedley:

Learn how to play blind sports, which I do find is important to learn the mechanics of sports and your body in space and all of that. But then, Michael comes home when he's nine and he says, "I want to play baseball." And I'm like, "Well, you play the baseball." He said, "No, I want to play baseball here." He wanted to be a part of those nine year old boy, lunch room and recess, trash talking conversations where-

Mitchell Smedley:

[crosstalk 00:32:24].

Kristin Smedley:

... they're making fun of the refs and saying which team is cheat. He wanted fully in on all the social. And I'm telling you, when we walked into baseball registration of our town, there I am with this nine year old boy. I always say that, people say that Disney is the most magical place on earth, no. It's baseball registration day in Northampton Township. I mean, people were like, tears in their eyes, they were excited. They had the tables of the paraphernalia you could buy with the logos and everything on. They must've exchanged millions of dollars that day buying all the jackets and everything. And there I walk in with a little guy walking with a white cane. And it was like, "The old record, [inaudible 00:33:09]." Everybody's looking at us like, "What is happening here?" I said, "Michael wants to play baseball."

Kristin Smedley:

And luckily from all the work and volunteering that I've done, I knew most of the people in that building. And I said, "Michael wants to play baseball." And the commissioner said, "Great. We have the Miracle League. Which is a special needs baseball league." And I said, "I know all about the Miracle League, I was part of getting the word out to build the stadium and Michael wants to volunteer for them, but he wants to play on a Northampton team." And I will give that guy one bit of credit and say that, he did find us a coach that was willing. The coach came to the house and said, "I want to get an understanding of how this might be able to work." And no sooner did he sit down with me in the kitchen, Michael and his son, it was about two minutes of, "Hey." "Hey." "What's up?" "What's up." And then they were off talking about video games and things that nine-year-old boys talk about. And we knew that it was going to work out.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, we got a ton of looks, especially when you pull up to the first practice and there he is with his cane, and they're all carrying their bats and he's got a bat and a cane, it was a little bizarre. And my heart was in my throat for the first several practices, because also knowing that we are in one of those typical towns where, when you explode into flames and you have to walk home, that you're not even allowed in the car.

Will Butler:

Oh, my God.

Kristin Smedley:

And I thought, "Oh my God." They were to have the same opportunity as everybody else to play. They bent a few rules in the league so that the guys could play. And then by the time the season ended, one of the dads, this giant dad that was always standing over me and I was so afraid of him. He said, "Kristin, I got to tell you. When we all arrived here, our kids were a bunch of spoiled brats. And then they took the field with your son and one at a time, he changed every single one of them." He changed perceptions of all those kids, which is exactly what you want. You want the next generation to be even better than the current generation. Don't think we went too far though.

Kristin Smedley:

Because I think all the kids that have grown up with my guys now are going off to college and out into the world, they meet a blind person, they're like, "So what position did you play in football? And how many records did you release?" And these poor blind folks would be like, "Whoa. I have a job." That's cool.

Will Butler:

Oh man. I mean, yeah, it's true. It's hard to admit sometimes that we're not all that far along, but I don't think high expectations are necessarily a bad thing. They're certainly better than low expectations.

Kristin Smedley:

But I think it's where your destiny is to be. I mean, their sister is on 957 teams and she's a star athlete in this town, and she does incredibly well at school because she works hard. We're just a family that has a lot going on and we want to be involved in a ton of things, and we tend to work at the highest level. We're just that family. Not every family is like that. Some people, they don't excel at school, their thing is music. You know what I mean? It's whatever your thing is, whatever you want to do. My thing is, everybody should have access to the opportunities that they want to take.

Will Butler:

Michael, do you remember going into that baseball season either that day of registration or it was more than 10 years ago now, but do you remember how you felt? Were you intimidated to join the mainstream league?

Michael Smedley:

I don't even remember. I think I was more just excited.

Will Butler:

Yeah. That makes sense.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Well, one of the blessings was, he never saw the looks on their faces. Karissa, my daughter, she's funny. She's very quiet and she'll go, "Oh, boy." I'll hear when we go somewhere, she'll say to them, "Oh, here we go. They've never seen a cane." And then these two get all dramatic, like put the cane out and act like [inaudible 00:37:11].

Will Butler:

Oh, they're blinded out.

Kristin Smedley:

Or when she wants to get through a crowd real quick, she'll go, "All right, boys, canes out, let's go. Park to see here, we got to get somewhere." It's very funny.

Will Butler:

There are a few tricks to the trade that are good to know.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Right?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yes. The best is when she thinks she's the best basketball player ever. Because she beat two blind kids on the driveway.

Kristin Smedley:

[crosstalk 00:37:34].

Will Butler:

Does she go out of her way to be an ally to you guys? Or do you feel like she's just our sister? You know what I mean? Do you see her sticking up for you guys?

Mitchell Smedley:

[crosstalk 00:37:45] sister she yells at me 24/7. Everything I do, I can't win around here.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh man. Wait, are you going to start the violin? Who's going to play it?

Michael Smedley:

She is very helpful.

Will Butler:

Something that I hear from blind parents a lot is, as soon as their sighted kid is walking, people say like, "Oh, I bet they're so helpful to you." And the blind parent's like, "No, are you kidding me? They're a pain in the ass."

Mitchell Smedley:

That's Karissa.

Kristin Smedley:

Hey.

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh, I'm sorry. [crosstalk 00:38:25].

Will Butler:

But I mean, the point is they're parenting that child. You're being a sibling to your sibling. People just think that because you're blind somehow there's some saintly relationship that everyone has with you. And it's like, the most integrated people don't even think about it, really.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. I mean, I have seen a lot of families where, I think it's one of those birth order things. Because if the blind child is the youngest a lot of times, and if there's a big age gap, then you'll see the siblings being way more helpful and protective, which is a wonderful thing. And I was jealous of it for a long time because there's mine, beat each other upside the head, they didn't care.

Kristin Smedley:

But what I do know though is, ours being a reverse and just being a typical sibling rivalry, I have four brothers, so that thing happened in my house all the time. These guys have just grown up with it, that's just regular, nobody's protecting them in the house. And it's probably a lot of times they don't mind going into a giant public school with a bunch of jerk kids because they can handle it. They haven't been protected and grown up in bubble wrap here.

Michael Smedley:

So Will, real quick going back to you said, having people integrate and they almost forget. I was in a band from the time I was in sixth grade until I graduated high school. I had a band around here and they left me on multiple stages after we would finish gigs. And I didn't have my cane up there because we'd go up before the set, and then I would completely black out and try and figure out, how do you get off the stage? And they're like, "Oh, we forgot him."

Will Butler:

[crosstalk 00:39:56].

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. That used to hurt my feelings. I used to get so mad at them, but then it was actually a young blind adult who was probably in his 20s was like, that's the greatest thing ever. They forget you're just a normal person. They don't look at blindness first, they're seeing he's in our band. They just forget him. I'm like, "They're are a bunch of maniacs."

Will Butler:

Yeah, no they're feeling the high, just like you are. And they're like, "All right." They run off stage, "Where's Michael?"

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Remember they were all too scared to talk the very first year that they were all together. They had such stage fright with all these people looking at them. So Michael was the one that did every announcement, talk to the audience, he didn't have to worry about seeing their faces or not, it was hilarious.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I do often think that's this great, weird irony of being blind, is that, we know we're being looked at right guys?

Michael Smedley:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mitchell Smedley:

On some level, yeah.

Will Butler:

Yeah. But we're not burdened by it because we can't see it.

Michael Smedley:

Exactly.

Will Butler:

So we don't have those reminders pushed in our faces every day. So we get to live our lives.

Michael Smedley:

It might as well [crosstalk 00:41:01].

Will Butler:

It's really weird. Do you guys remember a time when blindness became the obstacle or became really difficult? Was there a time in your childhood where it was particularly difficult either of you want to chime in on that?

Michael Smedley:

I'll take it. Junior year, when everyone started driving.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I was going to say the same thing, because that's literally what happened this year. The thing is, I prepped myself for it by watching him go through it and he put out a video or something about like, "I can't drive." I was like, "Oh, I'm not going to be able to drive." And then I just forgot about it. And then my friends like, "Congratulations." I'm like, "Oh God."

Kristin Smedley:

There we go.

Mitchell Smedley:

And now we have a whole new age of drivers. And then I realize, I'm like, "Oh wait, I'm 16 now, I'm not going to get my license." And that was like, "Oh, that's how Michael felt." Yeah. It's just three years removed, I don't know.

Michael Smedley:

I will tell you, my mom absolutely loved when I was in technical rehearsals until 11 o'clock at night at school coming to pick me up afterwards.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. She started giving me the harder deadlines.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. That wasn't exactly fun.

Mitchell Smedley:

11 o'clock [crosstalk 00:42:10] 9 o'clock. But that actually forced me to start taking Uber and Lyft. And I was totally against that at first. I'm like, "No, we're people." But then I-

Kristin Smedley:

That was Kirk Adams that told me right when I was feeling like I was the mother of the year telling him all the stuff that the boys were involved in. And he was like, back when Michael was 16 and 17, "Why is he not taking Uber and Lyft? Why are you picking him up?" And I'm like, "Because he can't drive. And what do you mean take an Uber and Lyft?" They were so new, and he was like, "He should be coordinating his own rides, and if he was driving." And I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm the worst mum ever." Now everybody has to pick Uber and Lyft.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. When she first told me, I was like, "No, no." And then she kept going on, "Fine it's your credit card though." And that was my way of getting back at her, she doesn't know this, this is on me. Anyways. So then I started doing it, I'm like, "This is fine." Literally I can leave whenever I want. It just became an easier way to do things, a better way to do things. And then, to top it all off, no one had to go anywhere for three months. So now I might-

Kristin Smedley:

Now we got to remember how to do it.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I was like, "I might have to remember how to do that."

Will Butler:

Well, I remember I used to drive from about age 16 to 19. And then I became legally blind and lost my license and all that. And there was about a three or four year gap between then and when Uber and Lyft came along and it was just like, I mean, I cannot imagine a world without where you can't call a car from an app at the time point.

Michael Smedley:

Yeah. And now we're what? Supposedly two, three years out from them just being able to drive themselves.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I mean-

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. That's what I was talking about earlier. I'm so excited for the upgrades in technology. I mean, if I can get a [inaudible 00:43:53] expert per se, if I can get a Tesla here, just rolling up places, jump out with a cane, out of the driver's seat, that would be awesome.

Will Butler:

You guys are going to have to produce-

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, boy.

Will Butler:

...some hit records before you can afford that Tesla.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Right. Although I will tell you, there is a world that's real, that does not have the app, and that's Vancouver. I got there, there is no Uber or Lyft.

Will Butler:

Really? Yeah.

Kristin Smedley:

Yes. I had to go in a regular old cab. I didn't know what to do, I was frozen. It was midnight. So I'm like, "What do you mean?" Yeah. That's for sure.

Will Butler:

I mean, obviously there's still places that don't have the infrastructure or whatever, but wow, Vancouver. Huh? Get your shit together in Vancouver.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, don't go there.

Will Butler:

So Michael, you started college two years ago now, was it a big leap? Was it was a big change? Was it hard? What's your takeaway after your sophomore year?

Michael Smedley:

The transition never hit me as hard as it hit some people. And I think a lot of it is because I had orientation mobility lessons from kindergarten to the time I graduated. So I started off at a school in Nashville that I went and I oriented to my classrooms the way that I had been doing for years. And I never had the, "Oh my God, how do I get around a giant..." Well, that was a small campus, Penn State is massive. But everyone else had culture shock of, how do I navigate this place on my own, where I had been out in smaller cities, on a weekly basis and then into center city Philly, a few times a year on public transit and getting around on my own. So that aspect of it, at least wasn't a huge shock.

Will Butler:

Was it hard to see him go away to Nashville, Kristin? Were you calling him every day? Or you're-

Kristin Smedley:

It was not one of my prettiest moments.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah.

Kristin Smedley:

I'll tell you what, it was actually funny, I can look now. But there we are on Belmont's Campus, and there was no help from the state, so Michael and I were walking that campus doing his schedule each day. And then where's the Starbucks? Where's this, and where's his friend's dorm? So just doing all the different routes. And after about three days, I'm thinking, "I got to get on a plane tomorrow." And I started having a panic attack in the middle of the campus. And I'm like, "Michael, I don't think this was such a hot idea. I don't know that you're ready for this, and I'm going to be 1000 miles away." And then I started really having this attack.

Kristin Smedley:

And being the loving, loving child that he is, he got right in my face and he goes, "Why don't you have any faith in me? This is ridiculous." He gives me this whole loud lecture in the middle of the campus about, "I've been doing this for 18 years. What's your problem? You're supposed to be my mom." And I was like, "Oh my God."

Will Butler:

I need to do something.

Kristin Smedley:

I go, "Hold on a minute." So I open up my phone as I'm feeling like now the worst person on the planet. And I open up my phone, I go through my Facebook. Now in Michael's class, my group of friends, they were my first mom friends in all that, because he was my oldest. So there's hundreds of people on Facebook dropping all their kids off at college, crying all over Facebook. "I don't think he's ready." And I go, "Everyone is crying on Facebook that they're leaving their child, and they're all excited." So we had this lovely mother, son moment in Nashville, but at that moment, he convinced me that, "I got this. I will figure this out. I've been waiting for this my whole life to do this." And then once I got comfortable with that, and he could navigate the airport, he was doing everything. And then he goes, "I'm bored, I'm going to go to Penn State." And I'm like, "What? That's a whole nother town that we have to figure out."

Mitchell Smedley:

That came as a shock to me because Michael, before that was-

Kristin Smedley:

Would you stop with all of that.

Mitchell Smedley:

No, in our district it's notorious for like, "Everyone goes to Penn State." And he's like, "I'm never going to Penn State."

Kristin Smedley:

Did you say it like that [crosstalk 00:47:43] Michael?

Mitchell Smedley:

And I think it was Karissa who told me. No one ever tells me anything in this home. Karissa [inaudible 00:47:49]. She tells me, "Did you hear Michael's going to Penn State? I'm like, "What?" I was shocked.

Kristin Smedley:

Notice, because you said you were in your room. "You have to come and see us once in a while and have a conversation with us."

Mitchell Smedley:

I look boring.

Will Butler:

At the end of the day, it's about trying things. And trying the same things everybody else is trying or wanting to be included.

Michael Smedley:

Yeah. And I ended up choosing Belmont because it is the number one program in the world for music business. And I looked at that, but neglected to look at the campus life. And it's a teeny, teeny, tiny campus with 8,000 undergrads total, which was suffocating.

Kristin Smedley:

Michael's going to hop off real quick, he has to go do a class.

Will Butler:

Okay, okay.

Michael Smedley:

Hey, thank you so much for having me. It was awesome talking to you.

Will Butler:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks. And you're always welcome back, Michael. And I'll-

Michael Smedley:

Awesome. Would have to [inaudible 00:48:36] about audio some day soon.

Will Butler:

I'll share the link to the music facebook.com/michaelsmedleymusic. Right?

Michael Smedley:

Yes. That's the one.

Will Butler:

That's where folks can check out your stuff. Thanks Michael.

Michael Smedley:

Thanks so much.

Kristin Smedley:

Have fun.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I imagine that Michael leaves the house, the dynamic shifts. I mean-

Mitchell Smedley:

It was wonderful. It was one of the-

Kristin Smedley:

[crosstalk 00:49:04].

Mitchell Smedley:

... best time of my life.

Kristin Smedley:

I'll tell you what, it really drives the point home to me. With my friends that only have one or two kids, I always want to call them up and go, "Oh my God, please don't ever complain to me with one or two kids. It's the third." And it doesn't matter which of the three is removed. It's just when there's three in the house, it's the rivalry hits, the chaos hits, and when they all get along, you can't even hear or think in this house. There's music going, there's dogs barking, it's crazy. And then if they aren't getting along, you don't even want to be here. It's just typical stuff. But once you remove one of the three, the dynamic just completely... I mean, it's like, "You're really quiet and kind." It's so different.

Kristin Smedley:

Which was the hardest thing about Michael coming back and not being able to go back to school. It was like, he was upset, our whole system of things... Well, Michael has always been nocturnal. He's just up all night. And I don't even know how he functions on three hours sleep. And we're like shut down by a certain time and have our way. So it was interesting to have him back in the mix.

Mitchell Smedley:

I mean, that's the difference between him and me. Is, he stays up until two, three, in the morning and then gets up at, what time does he get up? Seven, eight?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

And then there's me, I'm up until two o'clock in the morning, whatever. And I sleep until afternoon. But it's really odd when he goes to college and it's just me and Karissa. Because then it's not so much the blind household anymore. One's blind and one's sighted. Then I become outnumbered by the sighted girls in the house. So I have to assume the position of sighted, and I just go through my day differently. And then Michael comes home and we talk, "Did you hear about this voiceover update? Did you hear about this in the blind [crosstalk 00:50:52]?" Whatever. which isn't a lot, but it's a notable part of, that's what we talk about sometimes.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. That's true.

Mitchell Smedley:

Me and Karissa, the conversations become, "Oh, did you hear what happened at school today? Oh my God, what are we going to do?" The Eagles and the Sixers, and that's-

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, that's just different.

Mitchell Smedley:

It's very different. And then when the two of them are here, it's them and I'm just up in my room, I'm like, "Please, one of you go somewhere."

Will Butler:

Oh, it's interesting.

Mitchell Smedley:

The middle child curse is real.

Will Butler:

It's interesting though. You get different things from different members of your family. That's true for everyone. But obviously with Michael, you guys have a bond that's unique, that no one else could have.

Mitchell Smedley:

An interesting part of it is, him and I are three and a half years apart. Whereas me and Karissa are just over one year. So in theory, I should have a lot more in common with Karissa, but it evens out.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Sometimes siblings who are closer in age actually fight more.

Mitchell Smedley:

I believe it.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

Difference is, I always win.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, okay. Here we go.

Will Butler:

Do you ever feel like you and Michael, I mean, get lumped together just because you're both blind? People assume, "Oh, they must behave the same way?"

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

No, no, that doesn't. Maybe as the mom you see that, but no. Because Michael is-

Kristin Smedley:

No, you guys are totally different, but he's asking, do people think that they're going to get the exact same person in the two of you? Because teachers always did.

Mitchell Smedley:

If they do, they quickly realize that no.

Kristin Smedley:

They're like, "What? How are they related?" [crosstalk 00:52:29].

Mitchell Smedley:

I've had a few of the same teachers with Michael. My ninth grade Social Studies teacher, my 10th grade English teacher. And my 10th grade English teacher, she was really amazing. And she told me very quickly in the year, "You know muffin, thank God you're so different than your brother. That would have gotten so boring having the same student again. Not that Michael was boring, I love Michael." She had a Southern accent, that's why I'm doing it by the way. She loved having the blind student, but something different. And that was really unique, and that was early in the year too. So it didn't take long for her to realize.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Well, muffin there, she was one of the only ones that thought it was just amazing to have different. Because everybody else was like, "Wow, you weren't kidding. He is definitely different."

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. Well, I like to think of myself as Michael 2.0.

Will Butler:

But Kristin, what are you going to do when it's just a sighted household again?

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh, I can't imagine a Smedley house completely sighted.

Kristin Smedley:

I know right?

Mitchell Smedley:

It's going to be weird. I'll just have to stay home and work.

Kristin Smedley:

Okay. Yeah, no, that's not happening. You're going to live at school whether I have to go disinfect the whole place myself or [crosstalk 00:53:37].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah, Michael's like, "Why don't you trust me?" I'll be running after her plane.

Kristin Smedley:

Stay with me. Actually, remember four years ago, you were trying to convince me to go to Penn State with you. He's like, "Mom, you can help with the soccer team, your sorority is there, you'll have a goal. Go with me." And I'm like, "What about Karissa?" He's like, "She'll be fine." It will be bizarre. I actually am setting up my life in a way that with speaking, and writing, and the online business that I have, and the show that I have, I'm trying to set it up such that, in true entrepreneurship that I can work from anywhere. Because my dream is to go see them all at their colleges and experience their campuses. Michael, with Penn State football and see where Mitch lands and hang out there a little bit.

Kristin Smedley:

And Karissa, we're hoping is a collegiate athlete. I've always been following their lead. I've had the most extraordinary life. Following the stuff that they do. I always put that on Facebook. I'm like, "Man, I am just one of the luckiest people to go have the opportunity." I mean, last summer, I'm at team USA headquarters for the week in Colorado Springs because Mitch was identified in the top wind athletes program, and we got to go out there for a week. And then who else gets to say that?

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah, that was wonderful.

Kristin Smedley:

They've really taken me to some incredible places simply because I have helped them figure out what it is that they need to do these things that they want to do. I look forward to, no, no, they look forward to me showing up-

Mitchell Smedley:

I was going to say, you might just want to go between-

Kristin Smedley:

... knocking on the door.

Mitchell Smedley:

... Michael and Karissa. Helpful tip. For anyone sighted or blind or whatever, if you want to change your perception of blind people completely, meet some hardcore blind athletes. The people out in Colorado Springs were some of the best people I've ever met. They were insane in a way, but perfect in others. It was quite a group.

Kristin Smedley:

That was a good week there.

Mitchell Smedley:

That was a fantastic week.

Kristin Smedley:

Let me backtrack for one second while we were talking about the driver's licenses, back when I didn't know that Michael was struggling so much with his 16th birthday coming up and not being able to get his license like everybody else. And when I found out from a friend, I panicked because to that point, he had never had blindness be the reason to be upset in his life, it was always something else. And I was like, "I don't want the 16th birthday, that's always every kid's biggest memory of when they turn 16." And I'm like, "Oh." I wanted to see what would be meaningful for him. And it just so happened that in Philly or around Philly, between Philly and New York, three of his favorite classic rock folks were in town. I spent four days with him seeing Bryan Adams, Springsteen and Billy Joel-

Mitchell Smedley:

Billy Joe.

Kristin Smedley:

... at Madison Square Garden.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Mitchell Smedley:

They just bring along.

Kristin Smedley:

That was his 16th birthday weekend.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. It was absolutely extraordinary. And then Mitch for his 16th birthday spent it at team USA headquarters in Colorado Springs. It's very serendipitous the way things have happened that, they couldn't get their license, but boy, was that a bigger 16th birthday than anybody else had had.

Will Butler:

When you said, sighted or blind, if you want a challenge, what you think about blind people, spend time with blind athletes. What do you think that these blind athletes are doing that's so out of stereotype?

Mitchell Smedley:

I thought about it a little bit and mainly on the plane ride home because we got delayed, shopping. Whenever we fly anywhere, we get delayed on our way home.

Kristin Smedley:

It's you.

Mitchell Smedley:

I'm sorry.

Kristin Smedley:

It's totally you.

Mitchell Smedley:

But I thought about it and I don't know if it must be, but the conclusion I've come to is that number one, they're active and they don't just sit home and do nothing. A lot of people's perception of blind people is that, "Oh, they can't do anything. So they must just stay home." That's the sighted world, we in the blind world know that's almost always not be the case. But I think the other part of it is, like me and Michael, we grew up in the sighted sphere, I'll call it. We grew up playing sighted sports, talking to sighted kids, doing sighted activities. And it really exposed us to a lot of the world.

Mitchell Smedley:

I mean, a lot of the sighted kids are crazy and hyper and you don't know what you're going to get. And I think that transferred over to a lot of the blind kids and being that they were the top athletes, they would have had to participate in sports for a long time. So I think that, I don't know, sighted culture is the right word, but a lot of those characteristics of the crazy, never know what you're going to get kind of world, carried over. I mean, 20 of us congregated in one spot and it was pretty fun.

Kristin Smedley:

Just typical teens.

Mitchell Smedley:

Exactly. We all knew we were blind, but we didn't care. The main focus of the week was sports and fun. That's really what showed. And I mean, even the adults at the place, the coaches of the National Men's and Women's Goalball teams were there. That was the number one reason I went, was for the goalball. For any blind person or sighted person that doesn't know goalball, find out because I've tried a lot of sports in my day, goalball was my favorite.

Kristin Smedley:

We could do a whole nother podcast on goalball and sports.

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh, we could absolutely. Yes. So I'll leave it there. I'm-

Will Butler:

Yeah. Well, it's-

Mitchell Smedley:

I'm going over a lot, but-

Will Butler:

No, but it's a diversity. Basically, the thing, as every blind person's great fear is, that we all get pigeonholed as being the same. Being a blend, a flavor of not active, not proactive, not strong, not effective, whatever all those stereotypes are. And we all know amongst people of the world, there's just great diversity. Some people are introverts, some people are extroverts, just like you're saying, all over the place. You never know what to expect when you meet a person. And that's all we want as blind people, is just for it to be understood that we're all different. And in that way, we're the same. So it sounds like when you went to Colorado Springs, you found like, "Oh wow, all these kids are really different and have different approaches too."

Mitchell Smedley:

Well, I knew going in. I knew that there was no way that these people were just going to be all the same. And the only reason I thought they would be the same is if they were all miles better than me at every sport ever, and I was going to be the kid that's like, "I can play sports too guys." But no, I mean, it was a great diversity in skill level, it was a great diversity in personality. Funny enough, not diverse. Me and my roommate, we stayed in the dorms at the Olympic training center. Me and my roommate had our birthdays one day apart.

Will Butler:

Oh, cool.

Mitchell Smedley:

We both got to celebrate our 16th birthday down there.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, it was cool.

Mitchell Smedley:

So it was brought in a party atmosphere a little bit, which we didn't get to see. Thank God for that.

Kristin Smedley:

Wow.

Mitchell Smedley:

So it was really amazing to see that I wasn't as out there on the blind scale as I thought I was. Because growing up, everyone's like, "Oh, you're the most active and outgoing blind person I've ever met." And it was good to see that that's not really how it is. Because I mean, if you hear it enough, you start to believe it. I'm like, "Wow, I'm gold standard for [crosstalk 01:00:48]."

Will Butler:

Right. No, that's so true. That-

Kristin Smedley:

You're gold standard Mitch, oh yeah.

Will Butler:

No, that's such a good point though, because blindness is rare. Many of us get this thing that, as someone who I won't reveal once told me is called the only blind person in the room syndrome, where you get used to the attention to a certain extent, and you get used to being viewed as an inspiration. And that's really nice, but it can mess with you. It can make you into a, not such a pleasant person, if you really start to believe it at your core. So it's great to meet peers who are doing things that are like, "Wow. Oh, okay. I could step up my game a little bit." Or whatever it might be.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I walked in, I'm like, "I'm awesome, I'm going to win." And then [inaudible 01:01:32]. If anyone knows, it was like the double door entry.

Will Butler:

Double door.

Kristin Smedley:

Knocked right off his high horse. It was grand. That's funny.

Mitchell Smedley:

But I loved [inaudible 01:01:43] of it.

Will Butler:

Kristin, I feel like we could do a whole series of episodes with you about parenting blind kids, which is, its own thing that I know we have many parents of blind children who listen to the podcast. But we'll just point those people over to your material. Because that's your whole thing. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, that's-

Will Butler:

You're putting together this curricula, and all this stuff to really help people get that step-by-step guide of what to do if they've never raised a blind person before?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. And it all is just coming fruition now. That I'm putting together all different levels and with Michael's help since he's going to be home this summer, we're doing a one hour, more simple overview webinar. I'm remembering my entire journey with this. The book is the first stage, need your handheld, here's the beginning of inspiration of how to take one step forward. And then an overview of how I changed my expectations, almost like the TED Talk, but more specific. And then the next level of Michael chiming in with what a day in his life is like, and the tools he uses. All the way to a mastermind group, where it's six weeks of an hour and a half with me and other parents raising blind kids in a very small group on Zoom to go through the six.

Kristin Smedley:

I broke it down to the six areas that I believe are the whole package of how my guys went from me, crying on the couch, not knowing what to do 20 years ago to valedictorian at the high school, and now Penn State. And Michael would have been in the middle of the country, 1000 miles away, again, all summer working.

Mitchell Smedley:

And then there's me.

Kristin Smedley:

So here's the thing. People think it's so sad to have two blind kids. I say in my faith-based stuff that I had said to God, there's no way I could handle two. And God knew exactly that I needed two blind kids because I needed to have the experience of the overachieving, oldest child to the negotiating everything, middle child. Because now I can relate to almost every parent raising a blind child. My kids have run the gamut of expectation of achievement, of interest, they're so incredibly different that it gives me a wealth of knowledge. And who would I be not to share that knowledge when so many people shared theirs with me. And I'm lucky enough that I have a network of people that have taught me how to do this online and how to serve like this.

Kristin Smedley:

And I was so upset that I can't be in person at all these conferences. And then I thought, "Oh my gosh. I finally get to be in front of the people I want to be in front of the most for the next five years, the parents." Because that's where it's all starting, in the home. Their attitudes, and their expectations, and what they see as possibility, it all starts in the home. If the parent doesn't have their kids back, then they can't really achieve as much as they're destined to achieve.

Will Butler:

Well, Kristin, all the work you're doing is an incredible resource. It's an unmatched resource and the network you're building is vast. Folks can go check out all the work @kristinsmedley.com. That's Kristin with an I, and Smedley with an E-Y at the end. And the Thriving Blind community on Facebook as well. Right?

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. And that's a fantastic supportive community where people really give some great information and cheer each other on.

Mitchell Smedley:

And the best hour of the week, Tuesday nights.

Will Butler:

What happens on Tuesday nights?

Mitchell Smedley:

It's [crosstalk 01:05:31].

Kristin Smedley:

Mitchell.

Mitchell Smedley:

Got to figure out a way to carry that on once we've finished the [crosstalk 01:05:34].

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, we are. It's turning into the parent's mastermind time is when I'm taking over for that. You're going to get a six week hiatus and then you can come back on.

Mitchell Smedley:

All right.

Kristin Smedley:

Or we can figure [crosstalk 01:05:43] too.

Mitchell Smedley:

She's canceling my show.

Will Butler:

I'm sure you'll-

Mitchell Smedley:

The network [crosstalk 01:05:46].

Will Butler:

I'm sure you'll have another show Mitch.

Kristin Smedley:

I have to hurry up and write another book that you can read out loud on Facebook. Or you could write one.

Mitchell Smedley:

I'll write a book.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, right.

Mitchell Smedley:

I'll call it the gold standard.

Will Butler:

I love it. Well, thank you guys. Thank you to all of you for joining us on the podcast. And we're going to stay in touch, and you guys are always welcome back anytime you want to talk about new projects or whatever.

Mitchell Smedley:

Awesome.

Will Butler:

Oh, thanks.

Mitchell Smedley:

Thank you so much.

Kristin Smedley:

You have to come on Thriving Blind and talk about the Be My Eyes app and educate our community. Yeah.

Will Butler:

Absolutely. I'd be more than happy. Anytime.

Kristin Smedley:

Cool beans. All right.

Mitchell Smedley:

[crosstalk 01:06:20].

Kristin Smedley:

Well, thanks for all of this.

Mitchell Smedley:

Thank you so much.

Kristin Smedley:

We appreciate it.

Will Butler:

Yeah, so I'll stop the recording. Thank you guys.

Mitchell Smedley:

Right.

Kristin Smedley:

It was good stuff. Thanks for having us. And thanks for doing this. All of this, getting the word out everywhere is what is changing perceptions. If it's one at a time, or 1000 at a time, it's all progress. It's good stuff.

Will Butler:

Absolutely. Absolutely. Are you guys feeling like you're going to get out of the house a little bit, or how's things over there in Philly?

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh yeah.

Kristin Smedley:

Michael has a gig Saturday night, finally.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Kristin Smedley:

Our town is opening up Saturday, and he's got a gig that we have to go to.

Will Butler:

Wow.

Mitchell Smedley:

I'm going to indulge in all the restaurant food I can [crosstalk 01:06:50].

Will Butler:

Wow. Amazing. Okay. Well that's great. That's exciting.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Mitchell only attends Michael's gigs if there's-

Mitchell Smedley:

For the food.

Kristin Smedley:

... good chicken [inaudible 01:06:57].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I shouldn't [inaudible 01:06:58] those chicken fingers are very limited [inaudible 01:07:01].

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. So we're all going. So we can't wait to get out. Goodness, where are you at? I forget.

Will Butler:

I'm in California. I'm in Los Angeles.

Mitchell Smedley:

Is it true that you all are in locked down until end of July, August?

Will Butler:

I've honestly lost track. I think things are starting to open up, but the weird thing is, because of all the protests-

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, you don't want to go near.

Will Butler:

... it's so strange because on one hand, suddenly all these people are going outside, and they've totally loosened up, but the threat of the coronavirus is still the same. It's just, our numbers haven't gone down. So it's very confusing. It's very confusing to know what to do as a person, and as a blind person.

Mitchell Smedley:

I'd like dairies on the news, but I'll hold those.

Kristin Smedley:

All right. Oh, Lord. You can do your own. He is contemplating his own podcast, I'm a little nervous to not having him do that.

Mitchell Smedley:

I really should do it.

Will Butler:

Do it.

Mitchell Smedley:

It's going to be amazing.

Will Butler:

Do it. I mean-

Kristin Smedley:

I think the FCD might find you too much-

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah, I know too.

Kristin Smedley:

... and you'll never make enough in sponsorships to stay afloat.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. It would just be A, it doesn't have to be [inaudible 01:08:00].

Will Butler:

Well, I've done a lot of work on developing these podcasts and some work at places like NPR and other places. So if guys you want to bounce ideas off of me about podcasting and how to get it all streamlined and whatever. I don't know everything, but I'm always happy to toss ideas around.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, cool.

Mitchell Smedley:

How was NPR?

Will Butler:

What's that?

Mitchell Smedley:

How was working at NPR?

Will Butler:

Oh, it was amazing. My first job was, I had an internship with the All Songs Considered, do you know the Tiny Desk Concerts?

Kristin Smedley:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah.

Will Butler:

Yeah. I worked with those guys.

Kristin Smedley:

That's cool.

Will Butler:

Yeah. It was fun. And then I got into music, journalism a little bit.

Mitchell Smedley:

I started out wanting to go into meteorology. Since I was-

Will Butler:

Oh, cool.

Mitchell Smedley:

But then I'm like, that needs four years of calculus and I'm not totally a math guy. So I'm like, "What about broadcast journalism?" Because I knew I wanted to be on TV. So I think that, really what I'm going to go for is journalism and TV communications and all that stuff.

Will Butler:

You know what's cool about journalism is, it's only a very small percentage of people who frankly make really good money off of it. But if you do a little bit of journalism and learn the skills of it, the ability to write journalistically and put your thoughts together in a clear way that communicates to as many people as possible, that's valuable in everything.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Wow. I didn't even think of that.

Will Butler:

It's valuable in business, it's valuable in arts. Because you get into business, and nobody can write, no one can-

Kristin Smedley:

I know.

Will Butler:

... communicate an idea. And all business these days is about creating content.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah. Content creators make a fortune and they're busy as all get out.

Will Butler:

And journalists are trained to hit deadlines quick. And so if you-

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. That's the one thing I'm going to have to step up.

Kristin Smedley:

You think?

Mitchell Smedley:

I'm not a deadline kind of [crosstalk 01:09:52].

Kristin Smedley:

You're all in though when it's something you want to do.

Mitchell Smedley:

That's true. I really am.

Kristin Smedley:

And it's like 100,000% and it's good stuff. I mean, look at that, what was that competition you just went to? The UN or something?

Mitchell Smedley:

Oh, the Model UN. Yeah, I can't believe I didn't mention that at all today. Model UN was probably one of my, right up there with the week at Colorado Springs, that was my best weekend.

Kristin Smedley:

You wouldn't even mention speaking, the fact that you two are very good public speakers.

Mitchell Smedley:

Well, yeah. But-

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, well.

Mitchell Smedley:

... there's always more to me, mom.

Will Butler:

I'll mention it in the intro. Yeah.

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah, that was really amazing. It was my first year and it was junior year. I should have gone sooner, but my friend finally convinced me, "Oh, you got to do this. You got to do this. You'll love it." And he was right. It was a perfect combo of politics and journalism. Because you had to write out all your plans and stuff, and talking to people, and negotiations. It was amazing, but also the orientation and mobility asset of it, it was at the YMCA out in Hershey Lodge. I've never been there before. So I went and the chaperone of the event helped me the first day or so, the first half of the day. But from there I was able to get around. And it was a big place, I was able to get around it really well.

Mitchell Smedley:

And I started to know all the people when they came up. No one knew anyone by name, we all knew each other by country. Because we each represented a-

Will Butler:

Yeah, which country were you?

Mitchell Smedley:

... country. I was Sweden. And I ended up giving this amazing speech about democracy and how it's being infringed upon and whatever. But I just came up with it on the spot. And that was right before dinner, everyone coming up, "Oh, Sweden that was awesome." It was really amazing. And then my grandfather thought it was the best thing in the world that everyone called me Sweden.

Will Butler:

He's going to call you that forever, now.

Kristin Smedley:

It was so fun.

Will Butler:

It's [crosstalk 01:11:39].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. It was-

Kristin Smedley:

It was good.

Mitchell Smedley:

... really, really amazing. And we came home. And no one sleeps that weekend, because it's end-to-end, you're doing stuff. And my mom and my friend's mom come up and they're like, "No one looks happy." I'm like-

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, my God. You were gray. You were so [crosstalk 01:11:54].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. My loud friend Tristan, of course. Well sleep deprivation.

Kristin Smedley:

We'll go. [crosstalk 01:12:02].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. I could totally talk all day.

Will Butler:

I really appreciate it guys. Actually, I'm about to hop on the phone with the Accessibility guy from Charter Communications, which is a cable provider I hear, Spectrum Cable, big provider out on the West Coast. And they released this app called Spectrum Access. Did you ever hear about the Active View app when it was floating around a little bit, a few years ago?

Kristin Smedley:

No. Did you hear about that? Michael may know.

Mitchell Smedley:

I was not a big tech personnel.

Will Butler:

It was personalized audio description. So the idea is that, when you're watching a movie, you can sync it with your phone.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, yeah. I remember that.

Will Butler:

And it'll play AD in your headphones. It's pretty cool. And Spectrum bought the company and now they're launching it. I don't think you have to have that Spectrum cable in order to use the access app because the audio description tracks are all loaded on there separately. You might want to check it out.

Kristin Smedley:

Wow.

Will Butler:

It's called Spectrum Access.

Kristin Smedley:

Yeah, we will. That's cool.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Thanks again you all.

Kristin Smedley:

Cool.

Will Butler:

Really, really awesome. Thanks for spending all this extra time.

Kristin Smedley:

Oh, thank you. Thanks for letting us talk to [crosstalk 01:13:11].

Mitchell Smedley:

Yeah. This was awesome.

Will Butler:

Absolutely.

Kristin Smedley:

We'll touch base again.

Will Butler:

Yeah. Absolutely. Thanks you all. All right.

Kristin Smedley:

[crosstalk 01:13:15].

Will Butler:

Take care.

Kristin Smedley:

See you. Bye.

Will Butler:

Thanks again for listening to the Be My Eyes Podcast everyone, and tune in again next week for more info on how to win those envision AI glasses. If you've got feedback about the podcast, email us at podcast, @bemyeyes.com and go check out, See My Meme, and 13 Letters while you're at it. Bemyeyes.com/podcast, and we'll see you next week.