IAP 2019-E5: Interview with a business leader, motivational speaker, blogger, entrepreneur and TED Resident – who also happens to be blind

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IAP 2019-E5: Interview with a business leader, motivational speaker, blogger, entrepreneur and TED Resident – who also happens to be blind

In this episode:

Mark has a lively discourse with Susan C. Robinson about her inspiring Ted Talk (How I fail at being disabled), the mindset of viewing a “disability” as an opportunity to develop unique and innovative skills, and her utter disregard for the term “disabled.” She discusses how her original childhood dream of being an orthopedic surgeon was shattered at 16 when she started to experience symptoms of macular degeneration and how she was able to overcome obstacles during her early years as she came to terms with to her failing vision. They discuss rejecting the idea of a person with a disability as being anything “less” than a full person, and embrace looking at the full sum of people’s abilities, regardless of physical or mental ability.

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Listen to IAP 2019-E2: Interview with business leader Susan C Robinson

Links of Interest

Susan C. Robinson's site

Susan's Ted Speaker Bio

Susan's Ted Talk



Speaker 1: Welcome to the IAP, the Interactive Accessibility Podcast, bringing you the people, technology and ideas, helping to make your world accessible to everyone

Mark Miller: Hey, welcome to the IEP. I am your host, Mark Miller, thanking you for doing your part to make our world accessible. The IEP is brought to you by the Paciello group and its affiliate, Interactive Accessibility, who work together to make the web accessible for everyone. Do us a favor. If you're enjoying the IEP, share it, tell someone about it. Hey, even link to it from your accessible website

Mark Miller: So, welcome today, guys. I'm really excited to talk to this guest we have in today. A very special person that we've already started chatting with and probably are having too much fun with. Her name is Susan Robinson and I have down here, Susan, for you, that you're a consultant but you're so much more than that

Mark Miller: I've done a little exploration on you. I found your TED talks. You're so much fun and you really have an amazing and interesting outlook on, I don't even want to call it a disability or anything like that, because you certainly don't

Mark Miller: So, tell us a little bit about yourself, about what led you into consulting because I understand it wasn't your first choice. And I'd love to get into a little bit of your philosophies that showed up in this TED talk, which I'm sure you've thought about. Well, we'll link to that TED talk to the show notes so everybody can see that too

Susan Robinson: Cool. Cool. Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me today. I am delighted to be part of the IAP podcast and it's super fun to talk to. You already alluded that we had a little chat leading up to the official start and it's really been fun, so thank you so much for having me be a part of this

Susan Robinson: I'll sort of take you way back when. I was born in a small town in Pennsylvania and grew up just like any other kid and wore glasses since the age of eight because I was nearsighted, just like anybody else who is nearsighted

Susan Robinson: We saw I had 20/20 vision at the age of 16 and had a driver's license. But by 17 just sort of weird things would start to happen. They were sort of inexplicable in a lot of ways. I'd be getting out of my front row seat, because I was that kid in school to get closer to the chalkboard to see. So my friends and classmates were like, "You need new glasses.

Susan Robinson: When I went to college, it was the same thing. I had intended on being an orthopedic surgeon. I was taking biology and chemistry and physics and all those things you need to take in order to be a physician. I couldn't get all the notes from, that the professors were giving and I couldn't finish tests. So I kept saying to my mom, "I need new glasses or I need my contacts changed.

Susan Robinson: Ultimately, I'll sort of save you the long version, but ultimately, I was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease, which is the adolescent onset of macular degeneration

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: So after a couple of years of this just sort of weird thing, I couldn't recognize people and reading was becoming a little bit more difficult. Seeing things at a distance was more difficult. I just said, "Oh, I'm not relieved to have a vision impairment, but I'm relieved to have an explanation about why my world isn't functioning the way that I know it to function before.

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: My retina specialist who diagnosed me said, "You know, you're going to have to think about a career because not every career is available to you now." He said, "You're not going to be able to be a fighter pilot." And I'm sitting in his office sort of thinking, "Right. I wasn't really interested in being a fighter pilot. So like, nope, no real big loss there.

Susan Robinson: I forget what he gave as a second option, but he said it a third time that, "You can't be," and he was sort of thinking about what could fill in third blank. I slipped in orthopedic surgeon and he said, "No, no, no, you can't be an orthopedic surgeon." He sort of missed the connectedness of what that meant for me

Mark Miller: As if that's what you were headed for, yeah

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: I just sort of sat back and I was like, "All right," as any smart-alecky 19 year old would say

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: Said, "Well, if I can't operate in a hospital, I'll just operate the entire hospital." So I changed my major from biology to health policy and administration with a couple of minors, because, again, I always was that student

Susan Robinson: I started a career just like anybody else would. I worked in the healthcare sector and a number of different kinds of not-for-profits and in the corporate sector, still in healthcare. But in all of that work and building a career and growing professionally up the food chain, is the terminology I usually say, I became involved in interesting kinds of projects, like disaster response and organizational turnarounds

Susan Robinson: I noticed that my colleagues and peers and folks higher levels than me and lower levels from me, down from me on the organizational chart would be seeking out my opinion on things. Or how I would approach something or what I thought process would be on something

Susan Robinson: So ultimately, I have been in executive and senior leadership positions in the not-for-profit and the corporate sectors and at a certain point I just said, "You know what, this might be the time to start a consulting and advisory practice," which I did and I do that now

Susan Robinson: I also have a public speaking component as well as doing corporate keynotes and commencement addresses and other sorts of public speaking things which really infuse my experience as a vision-impaired person, my experience as a professional and how those two things can often work together to be tremendous benefit to my clients and in some of the projects that we work on

Susan Robinson: But also it helps to reshape mindset when we talk about diversity and inclusion, and even more so to shift culture and mindset in thinking about what the totality and potential is for a person and what success means for a person, a system, an organization, a company. And since I am at that intersection of all those things, it allows me to have a really fun day-to-day experience at work and at play

Mark Miller: Well, I think in the Ted talk that I looked at, you mentioned something very similar, but in the way that you kind of express or think about your challenges or challenges in general, there's definitely a component where, I think you just said it, like you look at the total person. So you're not looking at yourself as being necessarily or not looking at anybody with a disability as necessarily being disabled or being less than the person next to them. But you're actually looking at that person as a total sum of their abilities. Right

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: For some reason, the way that you put it, it really made me stop and think, and it was like an Aha moment for me because I'm like, "I get it." I have my own challenges. I'm ADD. I'm a terrible speller. I have a hard time proofing any of my own work. Details can allude me. There's certain things that when I start working with an employer, they just have to understand that I'm not going to be a rock star when it comes to that

Mark Miller: And to use the language, I sort of need to be accommodated. I need somebody to read what I do. And people don't even get it. They don't even get like, I cannot see the error, unless you give me a day to review what I've done. You know what I mean

Susan Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah

Mark Miller: But somebody like you, you go, "Oh geez, what are we going to have to do for her? You know, she can't see, she's really low vision. Everything is wow." And nobody thinks that about the guy that's a crappy speller. But it's really kind of the same thing and you're just

Susan Robinson: Well, it should be told. It depends on what you're crappily spelling

Mark Miller: That's true

Susan Robinson: Right. That can really get you into trouble. I sent out a mass email once and forgot the M. That was a real problem

Mark Miller: Yeah

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: Yeah. No, yeah. Man, I could fill this podcast with stories

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: And it really made me kind of go, "Aha, low vision in your case is just a tick in the not-so-great columns.

Susan Robinson: Oh, I love that language. "Just a tick." Can I borrow that moving forward

Mark Miller: You can steal whatever you want to steal

Susan Robinson: It's so true because ... and sort of my Aha moment for this was there was a confluence of a few things, but at one point in my career I started to supervise people and then I became a department head and a team lead and an organizational leader

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: And when you do that and you're responsible for professional development of your team, hiring, and in my case, unfortunately, having to fire people

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: Hiring people that do the same job, maybe just in different parts of the country. What I realized is that no person has it all. So when I had a team of folks that they all had the same job title, they just did it in different places in the country, they all did a phenomenal job, but they all brought different strengths to that job and everyone learned from each other

Susan Robinson: It was total steel-sharpening steel kind of thing, but nobody did the job exactly in the same way. Every person that has ever worked on one of my teams, we've always invested in coaching and professional development to grow them over time

Susan Robinson: And everyone was growing for different reasons. Everyone brought their own strengths and had things that really needed improvement. Or in some cases it wasn't even worth tackling. You know

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: So I sat back at one point and I said, "If nobody has it all and everybody's got some sort of deficit, let's call it, why is my not 20/20-sighted vision such a problem

Mark Miller: Exactly

Susan Robinson: It's because it's labeled a disability

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: So the so-called normal ... Let me sort of break up the two groups and just to quickly address my critics. All of the accessibility policy that I benefit from, I acknowledge it. It's wonderful

Susan Robinson: It's the language that I start to really get a little wound up on, because disabled is a word that's used to describe a car that's broken down at the side of the highway and can't function for what it's been designed to do. It's also a word that's used to describe something that works, that specifically and intentionally has been made not to work, such as a disabled alarm

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: It's also used to describe, for example, a major league baseball player who has sprained his middle finger and can't play, so he's on the disabled list

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: And as a New Yorker I always want to acknowledge the critical communication tool that is the middle finger, but does it actually make us disabled

Susan Robinson: See, this word, it's used to mean different things. And when it covers this cohort of people, it covers folks who need 24-hour care in order to accomplish activities of daily living, like eating and getting dressed and bathing, to individuals who are legally covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act because they have migraines

Susan Robinson: I'm not discounting the pain and suffering of migraines, but you can understand how those two groups of people are very, very different

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: So the so-called normal are, I don't want to say programmed, because that's not the right word, but sort of having lived in that world, when you're coached as a student going into your interviews, it's when you're asked, "What is one of your weaknesses," you're coached to identify something and then turn it into a strength

Susan Robinson: But when you're disabled and someone has their unrecognized unconscious bias, they're saying, "What's wrong? What can't she do? What's not possible?" And it's difficult to turn that around

Mark Miller: Hmm

Susan Robinson: So I just so happened over the years to sort of figure out a way to say to fully-sighted people like, "Everything's not worth seeing." And unfortunately there are things that you have seen that you really don't want to ever see again in regret having seen in the first place

Susan Robinson: I am living blissfully unaware

Mark Miller: That is me

Susan Robinson: So who is really disabled? And so when you can take a little bit of logic to approach some of these situations, to reshape someone's thinking, that's where I think the change really comes from in that shift in mindset and culture that we talked about a little bit

Susan Robinson: Because when you have the two groups, disabled, so-called normal, you're really applying to different things. And when you're applying disabled, you're leading with what you can't do first. And when you're so-called normal, you're leading with what you can do first and you're trying to turn what isn't so great about your performance into something that's really good anyway

Mark Miller: Right? Yeah. You know, you had in your TED talk, one of the things that you put in there was this really cool superpower analogy, right

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: Yeah. You like your superpower analogy

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: I was thinking about that as well, and it's like if you really flip this on its head. And you know, talking to a person like you with such a vibrant personality, obviously a boatload of intellect, that's very good from a business standpoint. Very good from a personal standpoint. I really can, your super power's right out front for us all to really experience. Right

Susan Robinson: Oh, well, thank you for those kinds words

Mark Miller: You're welcome. But Superman has his kryptonite

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: And it's almost like without ... You could look at it in reverse. Like if it wasn't for that kryptonite, Superman wouldn't have his superpowers

Susan Robinson: It's true

Mark Miller: You know

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mark Miller: So when I think about a person with a disability, for lack of a better term ..

Susan Robinson: Sure

Mark Miller: ... and I think about a person like you, oftentimes what I wonder is what did not having the benefit of being fully-sighted like we did, how did that change this person for the better? What challenges have you gone through? What have you to overcome

Mark Miller: Obviously, in order to navigate the world, you have to do it in a different way than I do

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yep

Mark Miller: And by doing it in a different way, you develop different skills and those skills will be better than my skills in that area because you work on them everyday to get through things. Just like I would develop a skill related to sight to accomplish it

Mark Miller: So it really does become this, like a balance issue. You know what I mean

Susan Robinson: Absolutely

Mark Miller: Where one thing goes down, it pushes another thing up. And then I think as an employer, as anybody, then you start to ask yourself, "Well, what is that? What superpower does that kryptonite create and how is that valuable to our organization?

Susan Robinson: Absolutely

Mark Miller: [crosstalk 00:15:42

Susan Robinson: I wish every employer asked that kind of question

Mark Miller: Yeah

Susan Robinson: Because they would start to see people, regardless of who came through the door, but in particular, those who have this label of disabled, which is sort of a negative terminology, they would start to view applicants with an asset-based perspective as opposed to a deficit-based perspective

Mark Miller: Which is what the crazy thing is, is what they do

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: If somebody walks through the door, they go, "Oh, let's look at your resume. What are you good at? What are you gonna? What are you good at? What are you good at?" Then they have that one final clever question: "Tell me about a time when you didn't do such a good job and you had to overcome it.

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: And it's like, how would Susan answer that? I mean, you would be like: bullet point, great; bullet point, great; bullet point, great; bullet point, great. And then, "Oh boy, do I have a story for you

Susan Robinson: Yeah. I was told by ... Exactly

Mark Miller: When I was 18 years old, I was told I couldn't be a fighter pilot. You know

Susan Robinson: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And I would say for someone like me, I'm told that I don't look vision-impaired, so that falls under the category of the, quote/unquote, hidden disability

Susan Robinson: But if you're a person who walks into that job interview in a wheelchair or using crutches, not for injury but for permanent use ..

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: ... you sometimes can't get past the unconscious bias of the person who has assessed you and has stepped back going, "Uh oh, we have to make accommodations and what does that mean and how do we ...

Susan Robinson: It starts to cause all of these questions that are fair questions. They're not bad questions, but when they prevent or interrupt the objective evaluation of the qualifications of the individual coming to the door for the job, that's when it becomes a problem

Mark Miller: Yeah. Yeah. It really is. That whole dynamic becomes very interesting because it starts, potentially, and I don't want to throw everybody in this category because I think there's some people that do what we're talking about in an amazing way

Susan Robinson: Oh, yeah

Mark Miller: Right. But you're absolutely right. It does throw that potential for some kind of different behavior on the part of the person observing the person with the disability

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mark Miller: They're like

Susan Robinson: And we're all human. So to your point, it's not about throwing anybody under the bus. We're all human and we all have our sort of built-in biases that we're, well, I'm gonna say it, pun intended, that we're blind to

Susan Robinson: So it's one of those things where an increased of self-awareness but also a really supportive environment to say we're going to really take a look at what we're looking for, a very clear look at what we're trying to achieve with the team that we're trying to build and we're going to look for the talent, regardless of the packaging

Mark Miller: Yeah. Your point is right on too. Like, I can sit here and act like I'm a big deal because I understand people with disabilities and I don't know, but whatever you want to say

Susan Robinson: Your're a total big deal, Mike

Mark Miller: Nah, that's not really true. But the bottom line is I have an unfair advantage. I mean, I work in an organization that's filled with people with disabilities. So by nature of observing and being in this environment over and over again and seeing people like you, and this is what I always tell people, because people in my not-work life don't have this kind of exposure to all sorts of people with disabilities

Mark Miller: And they're kind of like ... I'll get a "What's it like? Oh, really," you know, "Your general managers blind?" And I always go, "Look, this is the most humbling and inspiring environment I've ever worked in, because I have people who don't have the benefit of one of their five senses, right? They're completely blind and they're more successful than me. If you want inspiration, you've got it right there. This person is doing more than I am and they can't see.

Mark Miller: Like, come on. You know? It makes you not only realize the value of that person and that that person has multiple values that have nothing to do with their disability, but also that if they can push and be that successful, they're just an inspiration to you

Susan Robinson: Yeah. That is so well said. That's really well said

Mark Miller: Well, I met an individual through this, who's totally blind. He went blind, I think, later in life. Gentleman named Bruce that works for the, I forget what it's called. It's in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but it's the Carroll Center for the Blind

Mark Miller: Unbelievable. You'd love this guy. He's unbelievable personality. Great, great dude. Just warm personality. And he completely lost sight at one point. He's on a blind sailing team. He and his buddies get together and they sail

Susan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:20:31] it

Mark Miller: They have one sighted person on the boat and they sail. So when I'm listening to stories like that, it's easy for me to be like, "Oh yeah. I don't care if you're blind.

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: "Let's look at your resume." But it's much, much more difficult, I think, for the average person who isn't exposed all the time, that don't have the benefit of having friends and colleagues and coworkers that have all sorts of different abilities and disabilities

Susan Robinson: Agreed. And there's this assumption that the so-called normal has the totality of what they need to be successful and comparatively no one else, therefore, can be as successful as the so-called normal

Susan Robinson: But in the work environment, there have been times where I've pulled out a job description or pulled out a project plan that sort of defined all of the specific resources and talents that were needed to accomplish what we were setting forth as goals. And I asked people where on this list is 20/20 vision

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: We're talking about it now as if it is so important and that's fine, but if it was really that important, it already would've made this list. And then it helps. It's got that thinking, that in-the-moment recognition that we're bringing something to the table that in some ways doesn't even really have logic

Mark Miller: Yeah. Yeah, that's really well said. There's probably a handful of things that you can put on the list of Requires 20/20 Vision, and those would be very specific outlier things

Susan Robinson: Right. I'm not going to be, let's say, an Indy 500 race car driver. That makes sense

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: But I do have friends that have put bets on me that I would be a better New York city cab driver than most and that's a fair hypothesis that we will never test out

Susan Robinson: But considering the circumstances, so I'm not going to really drive, like that's just not going to happen. And there are things, like I will mistake in an Asian man for my mom, so facial recognition is never going to be one of my best strengths

Susan Robinson: But it's really difficult to lie to me, for an example. And I hear things really well

Mark Miller: Why is that

Susan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:22:49] far away and sort of have this forensic hearing process, which is sort of weird to explain to people, but it works for me pretty well

Mark Miller: Can you elucidate that whole lying thing? Because that's really interesting. Why is it hard for you to be lied to

Susan Robinson: Okay, so to break down my vision impairment, just so you understand or the listeners understand how my eye works, I have, as I noted, adolescent onset macular degeneration. So the back of my eye, the retina, it's the thing where when the light goes in, the picture's upside down and then it bounces back out and that's how your brain recognizes it

Susan Robinson: The retina part has two components. The outside part, which is the peripheral, which most fully-sighted people refer to it as, "Oh, I saw something out of the corner of my eye," kind of thing

Mark Miller: Yep

Susan Robinson: And then there's the center vision, which is called the macula, hence macular degeneration. For a 20/20-sighted person or a fully-sighted person, those two parts work together so that you see both movement and static. Because the peripheral catches movements, hence, "I saw something out of the corner of my eye," and macula sees a static, like a street sign for example

Susan Robinson: I don't have the static part, I don't have the macula, so I see everything through my peripheral. It's designed to see movement. It's not designed to see static

Susan Robinson: So it sort of gets a double workout, per se, every day. So if I want to see something that's static, I need to stop moving. I need to sort of put my peripheral vision onto what I'm trying to look at and then try to figure it out. Very cumbersome process

Susan Robinson: So for someone, let's say you're sitting across the table and you ask them a question and they're giving you a false answer. Typically, the average person is very mindful of their facial reactions. So if someone's lying to you, they know how to control their facial reaction so that those muscles and all of the communication to you, close and static, matches what they're saying

Mark Miller: Ah. So everything by perceiving through that macular view, they're in control of

Susan Robinson: Right

Mark Miller: Got it

Susan Robinson: However, people who are lying, there's also body language that goes with lying and that movement, for me, I pick up in the peripheral, so I have no idea what your face is doing. But I can see that you're ticking a little bit to the left, so I know that that tick and the words that you say don't align. And so what I've done, what I've sort of learned to do, is to ask a probing question, for example

Susan Robinson: And then when you start to uncover, like if you have one lie, you ask a probing question, you're either going to blow it up or it's like the person's going to keep going

Susan Robinson: And at a certain point, you ask enough probing questions that are just like, "Well, this isn't making sense to me, but you said this and now you're saying that," you can uncover it in that kind of way. But really it's tipped off through the body language

Mark Miller: That's really, wow. So on the list of things that you'd be really good at, poker

Susan Robinson: I would be really good at poker with the exception of I'm not going to be able to see the cards

Mark Miller: Come on. We could braille those for you. That's not a problem. That's an easy accommodation

Susan Robinson: Yeah, the poker face thing, you're absolutely right. That's amazing. But I would have difficulty with the cards and, quite frankly, I don't necessarily have a good poker face when I'm doing stuff like that. So I would probably lose anyway, but not because I couldn't read somebody else's poker face

Mark Miller: Gotcha

Susan Robinson: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah

Mark Miller: That's super-interesting. Now, I'm going to be looking at people, trying to observe their

Susan Robinson: You have the gift of 20/20-sighted vision, so you sort of got to go with your strengths, you know

Mark Miller: Well, it creates a bias, right? I mean in that ... This is a really interesting example, right? Because I mean that goes back all the way to the kryptonite stuff. The fact that I have 20/20 vision and that macular part of my vision is very strong, creates a biased, that makes it more difficult for me to see what you can see when somebody lies

Susan Robinson: Yes, exactly. And that's where fully-sighted people have, it's not often anymore because I've gotten much better at finding the words that are best heard by somebody else when I explained my vision impairment ..

Mark Miller: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Susan Robinson: ... but I have been accused of faking it because I see things that fully-sighted people don't. For example, again, I see movements because I have the peripheral and you see both

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: And my peripheral gets double workout compared to yours because you have the center

Mark Miller: Right

Susan Robinson: You have the macula. So if there's something rolling on the ground, a quarter, a bottle cap, a roach, whatever, I will see it before you will. And I will jump because I don't know what it is

Susan Robinson: You will always know what it is way faster than I ever will, unless I get close to the ground to see it. But it's just sort of rolling at a particular pace where a roach scurries and a bottle cap is rolling, I can't tell the difference. But I'll see it on the ground moving before you will

Mark Miller: Yeah. Well, it's interesting

Susan Robinson: And so fully-sighted people are like, "You said, you couldn't see.

Mark Miller: Yeah

Susan Robinson: And I have taken to saying backwards, "You said you could,

Mark Miller: Yeah

Susan Robinson: And that sort of ends the conversation

Mark Miller: That's really interesting because I had the same experience with a friend of mine who is deaf. Years ago, the muffler in my car was going bad and so it changes the tone of the mufflers, you know, right

Susan Robinson: Yep

Mark Miller: And the car was on or whatever. The car was turned on, she could hear it. And she's like, "Oh, what's wrong with your car? Is Your muffler going bad?

Mark Miller: And I'm like, it was that moment of like, "Wait a minute. Have you been fooling me all these years? Like that's a ..

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: Not only are you identifying what the sound is, but you're detecting this subtle change in the sound? Well, of course, the muffler sound opens up and it gives more of a base and she can feel that vibration very distinctly. It was a situation where I knew my muffler was going bad, but the average person wasn't going like, "Hey, your muffler's bad," because that total change wasn't significant

Mark Miller: And I think that your brain, you know, it's true with the peripheral vision too, your brain filters pretty effectively, right

Susan Robinson: So that is

Mark Miller: So that is probably a lot of stuff that we're filtering to maintain focus on that macular part of our vision and that you're not filtering because macular part's not there. So you have this like a heightened heightened sense in those areas

Mark Miller: And it was the same for her, her sense of how something felt was all she had, so she had it really tuned and figured out

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mark Miller: And for the same reason, she was a fantastic dancer because she would get on a desk and she would just feel the beat pounding through the air and through the floor and wasn't distracted by all the rest of the music that can throw other people's rhythm off. And so she just naturally

Susan Robinson: I mean it's a really good point because the parts of the brain that are designed to interpret or manage information through all of the different pathways, full vision, full hearing, whatever the case may be, those parts of the brain don't die if the source of the information isn't working. Those parts of the brain are just re-appropriated to do other things in order to help the person do whatever they do

Mark Miller: This leads to an really interesting field of study. I think about another friend of mine who's blind that I've met through conferences and stuff like that. She's a, I think, a grad student. Her name's Lindsey. I couldn't come up with her last name real easily though. And she studies neuroplasticity. [crosstalk 00:30:40]

Susan Robinson: That's a cool field

Mark Miller: Yeah. And it's a very cool field when it comes to vision loss because vision loss really points out a lot of neuroplasticity, because you literally your brain takes over that visual cortex to perform other functions

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Mark Miller: And a lot of those other functions are the things that you're doing to make up for the fact that you don't have a visual cortex. So your spatial acuity, figuring out the space around you and all that kind of stuff

Mark Miller: And I'm nobody, so I could be totally butchering this, but it's ... and I think everything we're talking about, really, has a lot to do with the plasticity of that brain, where your brain is changing what it does and how it uses itself based on what's available

Susan Robinson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I'm no neuroscientist either, but I'm with you on this. I have some friends who are. And the sort of archaic thinking is that your brain develops to a certain point and then that's it. Game over

Mark Miller: Yeah

Susan Robinson: And that's actually not true. The brain can continue to develop. Yeah

Mark Miller: Yeah. It can change. Just as your visual cortex, if you're not using it, it's just dormant

Susan Robinson: Right. That's not true

Mark Miller: Which is wrong, which I found out was wrong

Susan Robinson: Yeah

Mark Miller: Yeah. So it's really interesting

Mark Miller: We're actually over time, right? I couldn't stop us because this was too much fun

Susan Robinson: This is really fun. It was fun

Mark Miller: Talk to you. So I just want to say I really appreciate the discussion and I think we could probably run off in about a thousand tangents, so you may be hearing back from us to come on again

Susan Robinson: Well, I would love to run off on a tangent. This was really such a great conversation and thanks again for having me be a part of the podcast

Mark Miller: Yeah, you bet. Really appreciate it. And we'll talk about maybe having you come back at some point, it sounds, about some more stuff

Susan Robinson: Sounds cool

Mark Miller: Before we go though, I really want to emphasize that your TED talk, Five Tips to Fail at Being Disabled, which is an amazing title, it's a whole lot of fun to listen to. First and foremost. It's just, your're funny. It's entertaining. It's very insightful and enlightening. It's quick to consume

Mark Miller: So if you have a second, we'll put that in the show notes, jump in and listen to that TED talk, because it's just fun and you'll learn something. You'll learn something about yourself and you'll learn something about all that we've talked about today

Mark Miller: So thanks for sharing that. And I hope people look at that and I wanted to get into that deeper. Maybe next time. But

Susan Robinson: Yeah, we'll do it next time

Mark Miller: Yeah. So, check it out. Thank you so much, Susan. This is Mark

Susan Robinson: You're welcome

Mark Miller: This is Mark, thanking Susan and thanking you all for listening and doing your part to make our world accessible

Speaker 1: The IAP, Interactive Accessibility Podcast is brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at interactiveaccessibility.com/blog.


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