Joshua Meili, inventor of Berkeley Blind, writes memoirs

Joshua Meili, inventor of Berkeley Blind, writes memoirs

Joshua A. Mill is working on a book with former New York Times editor and reporter Wendell Jamison. attributed to him: Barbara Botx Photography

If there’s been one major change in Joshua A. Miele’s life since September 2021, it’s pretty much that anyone who wants to talk to him wants to talk to him, too.

They may have said before, ‘Who are you and why should I care?’ Or “You’re working on accessibility, that’s cool,” he said. “But to say I’m a 2021 MacArthur colleague calling, it completely changes people’s reactions to you.”

The Berkeley resident of more than three decades spoke to Berkeley about how his life has changed in the past year, since he was Received the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. often called “Genius AwardsThe fellowship comes in the amount of $625,000 over five years, without conditions. Its website says it is awarded to “individuals who demonstrate exceptional creativity in their work and prospects for more in the future.” The fellowship is designed to provide recipients with the flexibility to pursue their artistic, intellectual, and professional activities in the absence of commitments. specific or reporting requirements.”

But with more pressure, there’s already a lot that has changed for Miele, even though he still works full time at Amazon, which helps the retailer reach him further. While the money is exciting, he said, for him, the grant “gives me the flexibility to start or pursue a range of projects that I didn’t have the money to do myself.”

One of the first things Mielle did after receiving the news was to hire an assistant. Millie said finding the right person with the right skill set wasn’t easy. Eleanor Mays She holds a master’s degree in design at Cal. It’s a part time job for her.

“It’s so wonderful to talk to him about such a wide range of topics,” Mays said. “When he comes up with new ideas, my first reaction is always ‘Yeah, that looks really cool, we should look at that’, rather than thinking of it as just another project to add to my huge backlog of projects. It makes me instantly curious about all the What he’s thinking, so it’s very interesting to work with him.”

The first thing Maze did was find him in a workshop space, where he could work on his various electronic, wood, or metal projects, but she did everything from editing instructional videos to researching more accessible laser cutting technology.

Millie was named Distinguished Research Fellow in Disability, Accessibility, and Design at Cal, his undergraduate school for both undergraduate and doctoral studies, with which he collaborates Karen NakamuraProfessor of Disability Studies and Anthropology. “I give my notes and advice on the projects that her students do while they are studying accessibility and design,” he said.

Some of the long-term projects he’s been working on include starting a nonprofit whose mission is to ensure that open source software is easily accessible. He said that while some open source organizations are already thinking about disability, no one is doing this basic task.

Another goal is to raise awareness of Berkeley’s history as a center for the blind. Millie said that while the city’s role in the disability rights movement is well known, not even many blind people know its history, with the founding of what is now known as California School for the Blind In Berkeley in the nineteenth century, for example. The school is now in Fremont.

Because of her closeness to Cal and her relationship with Cal, Millie said, “There were more blind people coming from here with college degrees than anywhere else. … Students and teachers in the 1920s and 30s who were in the school were the people who founded the organizations that define Now the spectacle of American blindness.”

While he has listed some other items he is working on, he continues to develop the file Arduino Project for the Blindfor those interested in hobby robots, to plan an event in 2024 for people to gather in a rural area of ​​the US or Canada to listen to the radio sounds of the aurora borealis, the only thing taking up more of his time is that he’s working on a book with a former New York Times editor and reporter Wendell Jamisonfrom the beginning Profile of Millie for The Times in 2013.

After reading about his MacArthur award in People Magazine, Jamieson reached out to Miele and suggested they collaborate on a book.

Mel had always wanted to write one, but the topics he thought of included the history of blind devices, or screen reader design principles. The reason he hadn’t yet – besides time – was because he knew it would be for a limited audience.

Despite being the victim of a horrible acid attack that left him blind at the age of four, part of his origin story Millie never felt drawn to writing blind memoirs, as he read so many of them, he didn’t think he had anything new. to add.

As he put it, “I didn’t want to inspire people to do things that really shouldn’t be inspiring,” like getting dressed up or taking Bart alone.

However, the award changes things, as does the fact that it was Jamison who proposed it; The book will come out with Hachette’s books.

“The attack and the MacArthur Prize are the end of a great story,” said Jamison, who grew up in the same neighborhood in Park Slope, Brooklyn, as Millie, and remembers the incident from his childhood. “There’s a lot of hard stuff in this book, a lot of twists and turns, but when Josh tells the stories, he tells them with a sarcastic, obnoxious, sarcastic sense of humor. We never get a session where we don’t fight each other.”

Millie said that although this was not the book he had planned to write, he recognizes that the prize gives the story a great climax, and “will help me if I want to write these other less exciting books in the future.” Additionally, he added, “One of my goals is to interview Terry Gross [of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air] And the book will help make that happen.”

When asked if the award has changed his everyday life in terms of being more famous now, Millie said that there are people here or there that congratulate him, somehow by car, but unlike sighted people, it is not. As if he notices people recognize him.

“Not seeing people see me has been my privilege all my life,” he said. “I think it was helpful not to have to see others watching me, not from being a well-known and notable person at this point, but from people staring at me.”

But if using his newfound fame helps him help the organizations he cares about, then that’s okay.

Mielle recently sat at a table at Solano Stroll to help raise awareness about East Bay Center for the BlindOn Adeline Street.

Unlike some of the other blind nonprofits he’s been involved in, the East Bay Center operates on a small budget, and has joined its board of directors to help raise its profile in the community. With a mission dedicated to providing a space for the blind to socialize, he said its members are getting older, and he hopes he can introduce it to the next generation.

“I know a lot of young blind people, who are very capable, enthusiastic and engaged who want to hang out with other blind people,” he said.

The pandemic has been so difficult at the center that Zoom’s social networking doesn’t work well for blind people. In the Solano Street StrollThey manage to raise several thousand dollars, which will go far to keep their doors open.

While Miele said he is mostly adjusting to the media interest in him, the constant requests he now receives for guidance and advice, and a new level of being known outside of his immediate community, some things remain the same.

“Nothing has changed to give me more hours in the day,” he said. “I’m still the same old, disorganized, procrastinating person I’ve ever been.”

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