Stories from the brainreels: Guest Colleen Connor

Listen to this post:

[The podcast episode is at the bottom of this page.]

I just had the really great privilege to attend my second-level class with Audio Description Training Retreats. In the classes, we learn how to translate the visual parts of visual art, movies, TV, dance, and theater into words to make the arts more accessible to blind and visually impaired people. The classes are taught by two people, Jan Vulgaropulos and Colleen Connor. Jan is a professional Audio Describer, and Colleen is a professional user of Audio Description. And for as much as I love, love, love Audio Description, that’s actually all I’ll say about it in this post. Because this month’s podcast is not about accessibility in the arts. It’s about Colleen and her guide dog, Joplin.

Here’s Colleen snuggling Joplin one evening after class.Colleen Connor, a white woman with short magenta hair sits on the living room floor. A golden dog lies on its back, cradled in Colleen's lap. A large white bone dangles out of the dog's mouth, and Colleen's hand is on the dog's belly.

Cheryl, a white woman with curly brown hair lies on the floor on her side, laughing. She rests her head on a dog's haunch while the dog lounges on a large velvet pillow. Her t-shirt reads: "in case of emotional breakdown, place cat here" and has a graphic of a cat splayed out on the front.And here’s Joplin after stealing my pillow and blanket. So, I used her as a pillow.

As you can imagine, this dog stole everyone’s heart in addition to my repeatedly taking my pillow. At the same time, all of us sighted students in the class learned a lot about guide dogs and how they work with their person. (We most certainly did not try to lie down on her or even touch or talk to her when she was wearing her work harness and guiding Colleen, fyi.)

Colleen and Joplin have only been together four months. I hope this podcast adequately captures some of what the experience is like for Colleen working with, loving, and caring for this new, young dog. But I think you also get a good sense of what’s on Joplin’s mind too, if you listen or read the transcript closely.

Colleen runs the Blind Inspirationcast with the goal of “changing the world’s perspective regarding visual impairments through motivational speaking, podcasting, product reviews, voice recordings, and more.” She also worked at the International Spy Museum, being not only a badass but also upping their disability access game exponentially. Need to learn about making your space more accessible? Hire Colleen. Thanks!

Before you run off to listen to or read the podcast, please check out this essay by Nidhi Goyal called “I live with blindness, but it is not the hardest thing I have to deal with.” The messages in this essay have a lot in common with Colleen’s work. That includes self-sufficiency, expertise, self-knowledge, and self-care. And they openly address the very painful tension of living with blindness in a society where other people value their own assumptions about you and your blindness more than hearing from, and believing, you about your actual experiences. Whether subtle or overt, ableism rears its head at every turn. I’m so happy that Colleen and Joplin can tackle it together.

Click here for an accessible transcript of episode #063.