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This is Capitalism: Up Close, Inspired, Explained

Oct 7, 2020

Patricia O’Connell interviews Joe Strechay, an entertainment media consultant for blindness and disability employment initiatives. They discuss Joe’s childhood, his interest in representation and inclusivity for persons with blindness, low vision, and disabilities, his career, and the opportunities in entertainment today for persons with low vision, blindness, or disabilities. The door is open but we have further to go.


Listen in to learn what your company can do to foster representation and inclusivity in your hiring practices and your products and services. Remember all your audience.

Key Takeaways:

[:21] Patricia O’Connell welcomes Joe Strechay to CEO Stories on This is Capitalism.

[:50] Joe is in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in quarantine, preparing to get back to Season 2 of Apple TV+’s See. Joe was an associate producer on Season 1. He was in-charge of the blindness-related aspects of the show. He has been promoted to Producer.

[1:15] See is a science fiction show set hundreds of years in the future, in a world with a small population and universal blindness caused by a viral apocalypse. It tells the story of a family with a set of twin children born with vision.

[2:51] Joe grew up in New Jersey. Joe and his mother were both diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a degenerative eye condition. At 19, Joe was legally blind. Joe did not have the services that most people have in preparation for school, education, and life.
[3:27] On leaving college, Joe sought help and was taught orientation and mobility (O&M), which is traveling with a white cane or with a guide dog, daily living skills, technology, and all the things that help you become a successful and independent individual who is blind.

[4:13] As a child, Joe had an IEP for school, but his vision deteriorated gradually from the outer edge, eventually narrowing to a small spot, but within that spot, he could see clearly. By his first semester in college, he had lost most of his vision. He tried to get help, but no one was available to help him.

[5:29] Joe did get some assistance from the Disability Student Services at East Carolina University where he was a college student.

[6:10] At age 19, Joe had low vision, and was legally blind. It was like looking through a straw. When he was 18, a doctor told him off-handedly at the end of an appointment, “Yeah, you’ll probably be totally blind by the time you’re 25. Pay at the front. Have a good day.”

[7:56] Joe’s career plan was to go into public relations and professional sports marketing. He had played a lot of sports growing up. Joe got involved in public relations with the East Carolina communications organization doing PR and marketing work for nonprofits in North Carolina. He enjoyed it. He sought internships and jobs.

[8:35] Joe went to New Jersey and New York City to intern and finish his degree. He interviewed with pro hockey and basketball teams. He interned for a marketing firm that worked with the NFL, racing, pro golf, and more. Then, there was 9/11 and the economy dropped into a recession. There was no opportunity to be hired by the company.

[9:27] Joe started to face the fact that he was visually impaired as he went on interviews. He was still learning the skills to become independent. He searched for any job to pay the bills.

[9:44] He went in for a substitute teaching job at the Calais School. They offered him a teacher’s assistant position in physical education. Joe did that for two years. There were two students with visual impairments. Joe started working with them, which started him thinking about working with visually impaired individuals.

[10:08] Joe was already getting services from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. They talked to Joe about fields in education and rehabilitation of disabilities. Joe wanted to give people the opportunity for services that he hadn’t had.

[10:29] Joe went to Florida State University in Tallahassee and studied visual disabilities and teaching people who are blind or low-vision how to travel, how to access their education, and to transition from school to employment. He wanted to make an impact for individuals. Employment became a passion for him.
[11:14] With his media background, he started looking at portrayals of minority characters and blindness and disability in movies and on television. He did a study about minority and gender portrayals on the Disney Channel. Joe had always been obsessed with movies and television but hadn’t imagined working in the industry.

[13:23] Joe found a job working in the U.S. and abroad advising around employment and services for people who are blind. As a hobby, Joe started writing about the portrayal of blindness and critiquing it in blog posts and articles.

[13:55] Some media companies started contacting Joe’s employer for casting assistance for commercials and documentaries. Joe helped the writers’ room for three episodes of the USANetwork show Royal Pains, regarding a character who was blind.

[14:35] Next, Netflix called about an anonymous project, Marvel’s Daredevil, for consulting around the main character. Most consultants around blindness issues for television or film are people who are sighted. Netflix interviewed and hired him for Season 1 as a show advisor. He advised on scripts and props and helped actors.

[16:44] Joe teaches people on a show how to identify individuals. The first method is to put the person before the disability: a person who is blind (or low-vision) or a person who has a disability. The second method is for someone who chooses to identify as a blind person or a disabled person. Allow them to say how they choose to be presented.

[17:55] Joe is a person who is blind. He is more than just his blindness. It just means he does things in a different way. He is not offended if you call him a blind person.

[18:58] Joe found working on Daredevil very enlightening. After Season 1, he continued on his work with professionals serving the blind community. He became Director of the Bureau of Blindness & Vision Services for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Thursday before he started he got a call to help with Netflix’s The OA. Because of his new job, he commuted to work every weekend with them.

[21:02] Joe enjoyed consulting but he had a full-time job. He kept getting offers that he turned down because they weren’t the right opportunity for him. He wasn’t looking for another job.

[21:17] Joe got calls from the executives, directors, and creators of Peaky Blinders, Hunger Games, and other shows, about an opportunity they were developing with Apple. Joe started consulting and eventually chose to leave his employment running services for Pennsylvania and moved to British Columbia to start working and prepping.

[22:15] The opportunity was for See. Joe started as a blindness consultant and the role grew. The executives believed in Joe and the work he did. He advised choreographers and actors. He had an assistant who audio-described for him what was going on. That is a personal assistant who helps with the organization, and describes the sets for Joe.

[23:40] By Episode 3, Joe stood near the director. For Episodes 4 and 5, there was a new director, who told Joe to be next to him for every shot. He helped block every scene, figuring out what the actors might be paying attention to in the environment and thinking about things that should be included.

[24:20] From the beginning, Apple was committed to hiring people who were blind or low-vision as actors and background performers. Joe became responsible for accessibility and assistive technology, including Braille labeling and signage for the employment office and accessible scripts.

[25:42] Actors who are blind or low-vision bring authenticity. They have to be authentic to the world of See. A civilization built without vision for hundreds of years does not have eye contact. Personal space is different. There was a team of people working together to develop this world.

[27:06] Apple is committed to making sure that persons who are blind are represented responsibly. Blindness is not all one flavor. It comes in shades and sizes.

[28:37] There is a process from representation to inclusion. Joe studied that in his undergraduate work at ECU with Dr. Linda Kean in the communications department. First, Persons with blindness, low vision, or disabilities are presented as characters in the show. Then, they are provided professions of legitimacy and authority. Then they move into general character roles.

[29:40] Joe would see himself represented in the media most often as a person with blindness lying in a bed in a hospital or walking by on the street. He wondered when he would be represented as a character. Apple TV+’s See is a story of a world almost entirely of people with blindness, as villains, heroes, warriors, lovers, parents, etc.

[30:30] People with blindness are in the world doing great things. Joe’s friend, Erik Weihenmayer, summited Mount Everest, climbed an ice peak, and kayaked the Colorado River — totally blind. Joe has friends who are blind who work as mechanics, carpenters, and in all kinds of professions.

[31:47] There are more portrayals of blindness and visual impairment and other disabilities in the media now than there used to be. Actors who are blind or low-vision are getting opportunities, and they are now being cast for their talents as well as their physical traits.

[32:40] People who work on See move on to other shows and give more opportunities to persons with disabilities. Joe gives an example.
[34:09] Allie Strucker played Ado Annie in a wheelchair in Oklahoma on Broadway and won a Tony Award for it.

[36:29] Persons with disabilities are still under-represented in television and movies. Joe says “We don’t see ourselves as often, getting those opportunities within those portrayals.” The numbers are growing thanks to the work of a lot of people.

[37:45] Meaningful representation in media matters, such as showing people who are blind or low-vision doing different types of professions, not just lying in a bed or walking by. There is a lot of disbelief and misconception about what persons with disabilities can do. Media changes perceptions.
[38:48] The production of See has zero tolerance for disrespect for persons with blindness or disability. They have built an inclusive environment to make sure all cast members can get to difficult locations with the accommodations they need.

[41:22] If you have a business, you want to have a company environment where people are comfortable to disclose their disabilities because they might need accommodations and tools to do their job successfully. 20% or more of your customers are persons with disabilities. Consider the whole population with your products or services.

[44:53] If you’re not sure if your website is accessible, it’s probably not. You need testers who are blind or low-vision. Joe recommends working with Disability:IN and the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation.

[47:28] When you hire a person with disabilities, accommodations are not a huge cost. Persons with disabilities stay longer in a job and get there on time. They put in the work. They make sure the quality of the work is up to specifications. They appreciate the opportunity.

[48:19] Disability touches everyone in the world. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM).

[50:59] Patricia thanks Joe Strechay for being on the podcast, This Is Capitalism.


Mentioned in This Episode:

Joe Strechay


Retinitis Pigmentosa

Orientation and Mobility Skills
White Cane
Guide Dogs


East Carolina University

The Calais School

New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Florida State University

Disney Channel

Royal Pains


Marvel’s Daredevil

The OA

Apple TV+

Peaky Blinders

Hunger Games Movies

Dr. Linda Kean, East Carolina University

Erik Weihenmayer mountain climber

This is Us

The Politician


Fox Corporation


The Old Man

Ali Stroker

Oklahoma! Revival




Disability Equality Index

Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM)

American Printing House for the Blind