CEO STORIES: Joe Strechay, Producer, Apple TV+ See

Joe Strechay
Producer, Apple TV+ See

Joe Strechay, who was legally blind by the time he was 19, works in perhaps the most visual of mediums: television. Currently a producer on Apple TV+ futuristic series See, a show that depicts civilization centuries after the population has lost its ability to see, he ensures that the show represents blind people and their circumstances with accuracy and respect.



STRUGGLE FOR SERVICES
After having lost most of his sight during college, Strechay struggled to get the services and training he needed to help navigate day-to-day life. He attributes it to various factors: less awareness around the needs of someone who had grown up seeing but became blind at a young age; understaffing at agencies; and a lack of overall support from doctors and educators.

REPRESENTATION
A lifelong passion for film and television caused him to pay attention to how minorities and different populations – people of color, LGBTQI, the disabled – were represented. While working at an organization that advised around services for the blind, he wrote about the portrayal of blindness in TV and film as a hobby. Eventually media companies started requesting help related to casting, accessibility, and portraying the blind. His big showbiz break occurred with a consulting job for Marvel’s Daredevil for Netflix. Other jobs followed, ultimately leading to his producer job on See.

INCLUSION
Representation is the pathway to inclusion, Strechay emphasizes. Too often, minorities of all kinds are portrayed either as downtrodden or as people with some extraordinary authority, power, or other advantage. Once people start seeing minorities in a more accurate light in the reel world, they can better envision them in the real world, which translates into both hiring diverse workforces and being better able to serve the needs of any and all minority populations.

CEO STORIES: Joe Strechay, Producer, Apple TV+ See

POC: Hi, this is Patricia O’Connell with CEO Stories for This Is Capitalism. I’m here today talking with Joe Strechay, who has a great story to tell. Joe, thanks for joining us.
JS: It’s a great pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

POC: And Joe, because I don’t want to be accused of doing what we call in journalism burying the lead, we just have to get it out and tell people right up front the really cool job you’re doing now. Then we’re going to get to how you got there and all those other things.
JS: Sounds great. Do you want me to share?

POC: Yes, I want you to tell us where you are right now and why.
JS: Okay. I’m in Toronto, Canada, in Ontario, I’m quarantined, preparing to get back to Season Two of Apple TV+’s See. I’m a producer on Apple TV+s See. And Season One, which I can talk about, I was an associate producer and also oversaw all the blindness-related aspects of the show.

And if you don’t know about See, it actually takes place somewhere around 600 years from now but the basic idea is that a viral apocalypse happens anywhere between now and 200 years from now and wipes out the majority of the population. There are a few million people left and those individuals emerge blind. Our show takes place centuries after those few million people have developed out societies and civilizations.

And our world in our story is really about a family traveling through the world. The majority of individuals in our show – the characters – are blind. Totally blind, no vision. And so, we have people who are doing all kinds of different professions but it’s about a family: parents, protecting their children, a set of twins who are born with vision.

POC: Well Joe, I think that is probably a really great segue. And congratulations on the promotion. Obviously, you got promoted over the summer from associate producer to producer. So, yay Joe.

But Joe, you yourself are blind. But you weren’t born blind. So, I’m imagining that’s why you’re a great consultant for this show: You’re able to give it a degree of credibility and empathy that might not otherwise be there. But if you could talk a little bit about your own journey from being someone with sight to being someone now without sight?
JS: Great question. I love talking about my life and how my blindness has impacted my life. I’ve been really lucky. I grew up in New Jersey and my mom and I were both diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, or RP.

I was legally blind though at 19. I didn’t have the services that most people have in preparation around school and education and life up until that point and still had to try to get those services while in college. And finally got them when leaving college where they taught me orientation mobility, which is traveling with the white cane or with a guide dog, daily living skills, technology, all of those things that help you be a successful and independent individual who is blind.

POC: Joe, if I can ask, and pardon me for interrupting, you said you didn’t have access to those services that people have now. Is it you didn’t have access to those because you became blind… I don’t know…at a young age vs. an old age? So why didn’t you have access to those things? Or is it just that services have proliferated so much more now?
JS: I would tell you that it was listed on my individual education plan, I didn’t exhibit the typical vision loss that you’d see in children. My vision was degenerating or deteriorating from the outside to the inside, like a tunnel closing in, eventually like a straw. But within that straw, I could see clearly so I could do pretty well in education.

But as I was getting later in high school, it was deteriorating more and more. And then my first semester in college, I lost most of my vision. And trying to get services…I didn’t know what I was supposed to get and asking doctors about it…and they would lead me to maybe some kind of technology that was out there vs. training. And it confused me a little bit. And I sought training.

And then at that time, one of these organizations was not as well established or maybe they were short on employees or something, but they weren’t able to get professionals out to me. So, they would plan appointments and then the person would never show up. So, I finally gave up and just continued on my college education, just using what I could learn from our disabilities student services at East Carolina University.

So, it was connection to services but it was also the awareness about those services. And then maybe even some direction or misconception on the doctors’ part on what allows people to be independent and successful.

POC: Let’s talk a little bit about career. Because you were diagnosed at what age?
JS: Eleven.

POC: So, from the age of 11 on, you knew that this was going to be happening but you say by the time you were 19 you had lost your sight?
JS: Yes. So, 19, I was legally blind, which means low-vision. The majority of people who are blind are legally blind, which means they might have some vision. It’s very little. It’s less than one percent of what everyone else has but it is some useable vision.

So, at 19, I had that legal blindness. And so, it was kind of like looking through a pinhole or straws. And I learned to use that little vision well but it wasn’t…I needed more skills than I had and I didn’t know how to get them.

And truthfully, when I went to the doctors, the first time really blindness came up, even though you could look it up online – and I guess I was in denial – the doctor one day when I was 18 and I was there alone at the end of the appointment he goes, “Yeah you’ll probably be totally blind by the time you’re 25,” and said “you can go pay upfront, have a good day.”

POC: Wow.
JS: Yeah. It was a shocking way to deliver that information. And he didn’t know but he wasn’t too far off truthfully.

POC: Okay, maybe he gets an A for knowledge and an F for empathy.
JS: Agreed.

POC: Then you had to start thinking about a career. What were you think about in terms of career and how were you thinking about it in terms of your lack of vision? I don’t imagine you thought about being a TV producer.
JS: No, no. But I was thinking about public relations and sports marketing and around pro sports and…I had an interest in sports and played a lot of sports growing up. And when I was in college, that interest kept going. And I got involved in public relations and the East Carolina Communications Organization and we started doing work with nonprofits in the state of North Carolina, specific to their public relations and trying to help them and doing some marketing as well.

And I enjoyed it, I really did. So, I sought internships and jobs. And I went up to New Jersey and New York City to go intern to try to finish my degree and do an internship for it to complete my credits and get out there in the real world and get a head start. And I interviewed with pro sport teams in hockey and basketball and then this one communications firm, or sports marketing firm, that worked with the NFL and also racing and stuff like that, and pro golf. And I ended up going there for an internship.

And during that time, it was September 11th and the economy dropped into a recession – and I think we were on our way already. And the organization just kept shrinking. So, there was no opportunity when I finished my internship. And I started looking at what I wanted to do and how I’m going to do that. And I was going on interviews and I was facing that I was visually impaired and I was just getting the skills I needed to be independent and I wasn’t perfect, that’s for sure.

So, I sought a job that paid the bills in the meantime. And I went in for a substitute teaching job at a place called The Calais School. And they offered me a teacher’s assistant position actually in the physical education department because they knew I played sports. I did that for almost two years.

And at that school there were two students with visual impairments. I got to work with them – it kind of started me thinking about it. I was already getting services from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and they were talking to me about some of the fields in education and rehabilitation around disability that might be of interest. And I was thinking about what I could do and what I didn’t have. And I wanted to give back.

So, I ended up going to Florida State University – go ‘Noles – in Tallahassee and studying around visual disability and teaching people who are blind or low vision, teaching children, teaching adults, and teaching them how to travel, how to access their education, and also around transitioning from school to work and employment. So employment became a passion. I know how hard it was originally for me and the obstacles I faced and I wanted to make an impact for individuals.

So, I worked an array of jobs in different career fields within that field after my graduate work but all of them started building on each other. And in my undergraduate around communication and public relations, I studied media as well and media effects and how minority characters are represented in the media and all this and it became kind of a passion. I started looking at the portrayals of blindness and how disability was portrayed in media and movies and television and I started…

POC: Can I ask, were you thinking about people with disabilities as a minority in terms of how they were being portrayed?
JS: Yes. I actually started thinking about that because of this class. We were looking at different populations – LGBTQI, we were looking at race related, gender, and communication and media and all of that. And we did little studies on like…I did a study on the Disney Channel and their afternoon programming and how gender was portrayed and what colors the children wore and what activities they were performing and looking at multiple shows to compare and contrast how they’re representing it.

And I started thinking about that around blindness, visual impairment, and also disability. And I started taking that with me after college and started watching. … I love movies and television. I always have. I worked at a video store for four years in high school, in New Jersey. And I’ve been pretty obsessed with film and television but I never saw myself working in it. But eventually that door kind of opened up.

POC: You’d done substitute teaching, you’ve had this passion, this avocation, if you will, around media, around film, around television. You obviously had a very personal interest in the portrayal of minority characters. So how do you take all that and put it together and end up as a producer on Apple TV?
JS: That’s a great question. So eventually in my career I ended up working at an organization where I worked in the U.S. and abroad. And I got to advise around employment and other areas related to services for people who are blind and I worked with states and countries. And I started, as a hobby, writing about the portrayal of blindness and critiquing it in blog posts and articles.

And then we started getting contacted by some media companies, including commercials and documentaries, asking for assistance, whether it was around casting or around other things. I helped a writer’s room for three episodes on a USA Network show called Royal Pains around a character who was blind. So, just giving the language and some slang and how to talk about the blindness and what a person might do or say and giving input on that. And I was like, “This is kind of cool and fun.”

And then another show came to us, a real secretive show called Marvel’s Daredevil that was on Netflix.

POC: Oh yeah, no one’s ever heard of Marvel’s Daredevil.
JS: [Laughs] Yeah, no, no. And they reached out and they didn’t tell me who they were but I started helping define their job description for what they were looking for. And most of the people that advise around blindness or visual impairment in television and film are people who are sighted. They are not typically people who are blind or low-vision.

And so I started defining it. And then they asked me to interview for it. They were interviewing a bunch of people and I was like, “I have a full-time job.” So they convinced me and I went up to New York and I interviewed, I met with all the different people, and they ended up giving me the position. So, I advised on scripts for the show, for Season One, I gave advice on props and set and also working with the lead actor, Charlie Cox, and some other actors that were portraying blindness. And I worked with background performers as well.

It was a pretty enlightening experience and it helped me learn about the industry more. And they believed in what I would bring and I tried to help them as much as possible. So that was a great experience.

POC: We’re going to talk about enlightenment. You said it was enlightening for you but I imagine it was extremely enlightening for them. And I’m going to ask for just a little interruption here, Joe, a little bit of enlightenment in terms of what is the correct language to use? Is it okay to refer to somebody without sight as blind? How am I supposed to refer to myself? Am I someone with vision, with sight?

I just want to make sure that people understand what is correct and appropriate in this community.
JS: That is a great question. It’s actually one of the first things I talk or speak with actors, producers, directors, other crew and stuff about on our show, See. And just like the LGBTQI+ population, there are different ways to identify and people choose how they want to be identified.

There are two schools of thought. Person-first language is putting the person before the disability. So, a person who is blind, a person with low vision, a person with a disability vs. saying a blind person.

POC: “Here’s my friend Joe, he is blind” as opposed to “here’s my blind friend Joe.”
JS: Yeah. And so the second way would be identity first. Someone might identify as a blind person and might want to be identified that way but that’s their choice. So I always say it’s best to start with the person-first language and then allow them to decide how they want to be presented.

POC: How do you choose to identify, Joe? Or does it depend on the situation, frankly?
JS: I’m a person who is blind. I’m more than just my blindness. My blindness is a large characteristic, like my hair color. But it just means that I do things in a different way. You can call me a blind person, that doesn’t offend me either. I am fine with either but I tend to speak with person-first just to provide a good example and a positive example in that manner and then allow other people to correct as they feel appropriately for their own needs.

POC: Sorry for that little PSA interruption there, Joe, but it just seemed like a good opportunity for those of us, including myself, who aren’t necessarily familiar with the nuances or the subtleties or the sensitivities.

But you were saying it was a really enlightening experience to be able to be working on Marvel’s Daredevil show for Netflix. And you go on there as a full-time job and you’re teaching them and at the same time you’re learning a lot about showbiz.
JS: I am. And it was enlightening. So Marvel’s Daredevil Season One ends and I continue on my work in the blindness community and working with professionals and states and countries. And I find an opportunity and I go to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to run all services for people who are blind or low vision there in the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. And I get to impact the services directly there and how they are provided, kind of what I was hoping to do in the future and also be a leader and a manager.

And actually, funny story is I flew up on a Thursday before I would start work on a Monday and on the Friday morning after I’d just flown up there, I get a call from a producer in New York saying, “One of our producers worked with you on Marvel’s Daredevil and they were recommending you for this new show that’s in development and we want  you to work with the lead actor and the creator of the show. Her name is Brit Marling. The show is called The OA. But we need you in New York. Could you come for a month or something?”

And I’m like, “I’m starting a new job on Monday but I could hop on a train in an hour and be there in like three and a half hours and I could work with the actor over the whole weekend and then train back. And then I can have meetings with your different departments in the evenings and try to help out there and then come back every weekend to work with her.”

I ended up booking The OA on Netflix and working with the lead actor in a similar way I worked with Marvel’s Daredevil, helping with props and ideas of a set dressing and the sets and such and the technology that’s used in the show. And I liked it but I had a full-time job.

And I kept getting other offers and I turned down a number of different opportunities. And I wasn’t really out looking. But I got a call from Apple, or actually these executives and producers and creators – the creator of Peaky Blinders and other shows and Francis Lawrence, this big- time director, who directed three out of four of the Hunger Games movies. And I’m meeting with them and I’m talking about what they need for what they’re developing.

And I sign on to give input on their scripts and their outlines and give them advice. And then they want me to work on the show. And we start figuring out what’s needed. And it turned out it was a full-time job. So I had to decide to leave my current employment running the services in Pennsylvania and I went off to British Columbia to go start working and prepping.

And I started off as a blindness consultant and then really my role grew because of people like Francis Lawrence, Steven Knight, and Dan Shotz, who was the show runner, one of the executive producers, and John Steinberg, another executive producer. They believed in me and they believed in the work I did.

And when we started filming, I was in the video village giving advice to these movement folks, these choreographers and other people, and actors from time to time. And I had an assistant who was audio describing what was going on.

POC: That was one of the questions I was going to ask. If you can’t see what they’re doing, how can you tell them what to do?
JS: Definitely. Great question. So, I can’t see what’s on the screen so I have to have someone, an assistant, who can audio describe what is going on. And they have to know what I’m talking about, what I’m looking for. So that involves training so I’m able to give the input I want and provide those suggestions to the director. By episode…late episode three, I was right up there near the director.

And then episodes four and five, this new director came on, Anders Edstrom, who said, “I want you next to me for every shot.” I was already part of blocking but I was with him as we’re blocking every scene, and trying to help figure out what the actors might be paying attention to in the environment, thinking about things that can be included and making sure we’re doing it right and respectfully.

But Apple didn’t stop there. Like, from the beginning they were committed to hiring people who were blind or low-vision as actors and background. Part of my job became accessibility as well, making sure that the place of employment these actors, these background performers, and others come to is accessible.

So that meant Braille labeling, that meant signage, that meant making sure that they get the scripts in accessible format, making sure that they had time to walk the set early, their first and last marks are tactile or high contrast, figuring out what each individual needs and making sure we communicate it throughout the production so that they can just show up and do their thing.

And these actors and performers were hired because they were the best people for the roles. And that’s Apple’s way, that’s our production’s way – Eye On The Ball Productions. And we are committed to making sure it’s done well.

POC: So, would it be fair Joe to say that they are committed to representing blindness and people who are blind in an authentic way?
JS: Yes, as authentic as you can. By bringing actors who are blind or low-vision, it’s definitely authentic. But also, it has to be authentic to the world. Because this world of See is different than the current world of blindness.

In a world where civilization has developed without vision for hundreds of years, eye contact disappears. Eye contact is a cultural and social construct. So, in a world where people are totally blind, eye contact disappears. It doesn’t matter.

And Apple is committed to making sure that we are representing responsibly and all of our actors, whether they are blind or low-vision, all go through the same training and understanding of the world and about blindness and disability.

And throughout we send out a message a week with videos from people who are successful who are blind or low vision or other disabilities, talking about themselves and their lives and what they have experienced. Because we want as much understanding that blindness is not all vanilla, it’s not one flavor, it comes in so many different shades and sizes and people need to understand that.

POC: Let’s talk a little bit about the relationship then between representation and inclusivity and diversity. What does representation do in terms of helping the move toward diversity and inclusivity in the broader world?
JS: Great question. I’ll tell you that there is a process from representation to inclusion. And studying that in my undergraduate work with Dr. Linda Keane at East Carolina University, who is still there, I think she’s the head of the Communications Department there, I learned from her and our textbooks about the process for individuals moving into representation.

You look at race or LGBTQI and how they are represented. First, characters are provided, they are in the show, they might be some basic background. Then they’re provided professions of legitimacy, like that have authority, such as police officers, lawyers, judges, things like that, something that’s going to give them some kind of authority. And then they move into just general character roles and then from there on.

And you see that in representation around disability as well. Most often I would see myself –  and it was pretty upsetting – as a person laying in a bed in a hospital or walking by on the street. There wasn’t much to the representation of that individual who was blind or low-vision. I’d see movies like Scent of A Woman or At First Sight and I’m like, “That doesn’t feel like me; that doesn’t represent me.”

Apple TV+’s See throws it on its head. We jumped in and the majority of our characters are blind. So they’re villains, they’re heroes, they’re warriors, they’re lovers, they’re parents, they have professions and they’re all doing things out there in the world just like people who are blind. People who are blind or low-vision are out there in the world.

I have friends who are mechanics, carpenters, all kinds of professions, everything except for airline pilot. Airline pilot is the one we haven’t conquered yet but give us time. Technology is moving along pretty quickly.

POC: I think you make an interesting point to represent people who are blind as everything. I think you also made the point that originally if you would have a character with a disability, such as being blind or being deaf, that they would have some other compensating super talent.
JS: Definitely. And really, I would say that you’re seeing more and more portrayals of blindness and visual impairment in media and in mainstream media – This Is Us. And you’re seeing actors who are blind or low-vision getting opportunities and you’re seeing more and more around persons with disabilities. It’s just starting – the door has just started to open. It’s not fully open.

And I think shows like See, This Is Us, and The Politician and other shows around disability are opening doors. Actors are being chosen for their parts not just by their disability but by their skills.

One of the big success stories of our show is the executive producers…and other people move on from time to time to different projects. And our showrunner from Season One and another executive producer, who work together, Dan Shotz and John Steinberg, moved on. They had created a show that got picked up by Hulu and Fox called The Old Man and it stars Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow and other actors.

But they built into their show people that they’ve met, whether through our show or other shows, who are persons with disabilities. And not because they are persons with disabilities but because they are great actors. They built parts around them in their show.

POC: I was going to say when you’re talking about great success stories, there’s of course the actress who starred in Oklahoma on Broadway.
JS: Oh yes, yep.

POC: Remember Broadway? Remember when we had live theater way back when?
JS: Love, love. I love Broadway and musicals. I’ll tell you, Hamilton is the show that changed my whole viewpoint on musicals. Now I am pretty obsessed with musicals.

POC: If we’re going to talk about great success stories in terms of people being cast with their disability not being a factor, Ali Stroker, who was in Oklahoma! on Broadway two years ago. Remember Broadway, Joe, when we used to go to live theater?
JS: I love live theater and I love musicals. Ali Stroker is an extreme talent. And you’re seeing her success. She won the Tony award.

POC: In the show they never make any mention of the fact that she is in a wheelchair. So, you’re not even wondering, “What kind of accident did she have, was she born this way?” She just gave this tremendous performance, she’s got a terrific voice, she’s a great actress. They did the choreography so she was able to do really energetic things in her wheelchair. And it was just a case of completely neutral casting. They cast who they thought was the best person for the part and she gave a terrific performance.
JS: She is an outstanding talent. She was on Glee in later seasons and I think she won a reality show to get an opportunity on Glee.

POC: And Glee is one of the few network shows that I recall that actually had a character on the show who was disabled. I don’t believe the actor is in real life. But they had a character in the show who was in a wheelchair who was part of the group, the glee singing group. And that was kind of extraordinary to see this high school kid…
JS: Yeah, representation.. You’re right. Representation, say like two percent of characters in entertainment programs are persons with disabilities. And that’s a much smaller statistic than the 20 percent or more persons with disabilities who are out there in the world living their lives. So, we don’t see ourselves as often and getting those opportunities within those portrayals. And you’re seeing those numbers grow.

POC: And Joe, when we go from representation to actual diversity and inclusivity let’s say in the workplace, is there a link then between how often we see people represented in movies, in theater, on TV, even referenced in literature, in, I don’t know, graphic novels, however people are consuming media these days, is there any kind of link between how often we are seeing people represented in the fictional world and then the level of inclusivity that is going on in the nonfictional world, in the workplace?
JS: I’ll take it a little further and say that the representation in media matters and not just representation but representation that is meaningful. So, showing people who are blind or low- vision doing different types of professions, not just lying in the bed, not just walking by. Because there’s a lot of disbelief and misconception of what people who are blind or low-vision or persons with disabilities can do.

And when you see those representations that have people doing all kinds of different things, whether it’s in the Paralympics, whether it’s in television shows, movies, doing things that are not the norm as people perceive it, it changes perceptions, it changes what people believe is possible and it becomes normal. And the more you see that normal, the more the opportunities. And you’re going to see more hiring in companies and businesses. But that all starts from creating an environment of inclusivity at your organization, your company, your business.

We had to do that within our show. And during Season One, it stated with our show runner Dan Shotz and myself working together to say that if people don’t respect blindness or disability, they don’t deserve to work on our show. And that meant talking to people and educating them in the beginning. If someone did something that was not in the best interest or respecting blindness, disability or individuals they were gone. And I think that’s important.

Our show on Apple TV+’s See didn’t stop at blindness and low-vision. In our background we had people who were deaf or hard of hearing, people short of stature, people with cerebral palsy, people who use a prosthetic leg, all kinds of other disabilities. We have an actor with ALS.

There are all kinds of people represented, and that is important, but they weren’t represented as their disability, they were represented as just everyday people whether they were soldiers, warriors, villagers, whatever people living their life.

And so, building that inclusive environment, making sure people can get to those difficult locations, can navigate, they have the accommodations they need. And I think companies have to do that. They have to make sure their human resources department creates accessible hiring practices, whether it’s through their website and the whole process and make people feel comfortable. And when they represent themselves in commercials and on their website, showing persons with disabilities. That makes it easier and makes it more accepting in a way for the individual who is applying to the job.

And then getting on the job, seeing people who are persons with disabilities in a variety of different levels of jobs or positions also creates that environment where people feel comfortable to disclose about their disability. Over 72 percent or so of persons with disabilities have non-visible disabilities, invisible disabilities.

And you want to create an environment where people feel comfortable to disclose about their disability. Your customers are persons with disabilities as well – 20 percent of them or more are persons with disabilities and even higher when you get into the senior populations. So, you want to make sure that the ideas that are being created to create your products, your services, are being thought about the whole population and meet the needs of those people.

POC: I think you have given one of the really strong arguments, Joe, about why it matters to have diversity in the workplace. Because there will be people who will say, “Well, we have an empathetic team, we can imagine what it’s like.” To your point they are not thinking about really who their customers are and genuinely the needs of those customers. And that group of customers, 20 percent or greater, as you say, they want to feel that they are part of the community, that they are not being overlooked, that they matter.
JS: That’s true. “Imagining” what a person with a disability needs or wants or…is a problem. And actually you want persons with disabilities thinking about that whether they are working at your organization – whether it’s a business you’re contracting with, whether it’s a focus group –you want those real people helping you to understand that. And you want an environment where those people are on the job creating those ideas and services and working with your team to figure out what those needs are. You want to reach those customers so you include them in your workforce. So, money talks, right?

POC: Yes, it does. And it talks loud and clear. Let’s talk about how do companies get past the, “Okay, I’m committed to it, we’re going to do it, we know it’s important. Do we need to hire consultants, do we need to make sure somebody in HR has this skill set?”
JS: I would tell you that companies only know what they know. If you’re not sure if your website is accessible, it’s probably not. And that doesn’t mean its fully inaccessible, it just means that aspects are probably not labeled or whatever. So, you need to reach out to organizations.

And there are tools out there. The automated tools that test websites for accessibility only find about 30 percent of the mistakes or errors or inaccessibility on a website. So, you need individuals who are blind or low-vision or testers that can also check it or find a business or a company that can consult on that. They are out there.

I have been lucky enough to volunteer with an organization called Disability:In. I’ve been a part of their mentorship program for, I don’t know, now nine or ten years. And Disability: In, you can find them at disabilityin.org, they have a program that is based on the corporate equality index, which was used for LGBTQI populations. They have something called the Disability Equality Index, the DEI.

And that resource will help an organization find out about their systems, their processes and accessibility, and how they support individuals with disabilities. But also Disability:In offers connection to other companies who can mentor businesses of all different sizes through the process of becoming more inclusive. Really by far they are the organization out there around disability and inclusion that are the experts. And I feel lucky that I’ve been going to their conferences for the last ten years and maybe longer and learning as much as I can and bringing the back and working with companies and businesses in my area.

And if you want access to great candidates, vocational rehabilitation, there is something called the Council of State Agencies for Vocational Rehabilitation or the National Council of State Administrators for the Blind re: vocational rehabilitation agencies that have the key to individuals with disabilities in your states or commonwealths depending where you are in the U.S. They can help you access that talent that’s out there, that untapped talent that is looking for opportunities.

And when you hire a person with disability, accommodations are not a huge cost. There are all kinds of averages out there that talk about the cost of accommodations. But also, persons with disabilities are more likely to stay in their position longer, they are more likely to show up on time and probably stay longer as well. They put in the work.

And the dirty secret around persons with disabilities is often we will take work home with us. We will do what we have to do to make sure that the quality of the work is at its best because we appreciate those opportunities. And if you create an environment of inclusion and diversity you will find that your production is going to go up, people will be happier, and you’ll have more and more people that feel comfortable disclosing about their disability and sharing about their family members with disabilities. Because disability touches everyone out there in the world. So the more that companies and businesses become inclusive the better off everyone is.

POC: And Joe, two last points. One is – and I’d love to hear you talk about this – is that October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
JS: That’s correct. Every October we celebrate National Disability Employment Awareness Month. NDEAM we call it for short. So, I also spend some of my time consulting with the American Printing House for the Blind, who create the majority of products for children in the schools. They have a program called Connect Center, which includes this website called Career Connect. And they will be celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month throughout the month, featuring different stories.

But you will find it all over around the disability community and corporations, business, states and commonwealths and even countries celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month where they feature people who are blind but also around accessibility. So if you’re curious about making your business, your website more accessible, there are all kinds of resources that are released during October.

October is my favorite month of the year because I am really passionate about disability employment and making sure those opportunities are out there and we’re encouraging companies and businesses, whether in the world of entertainment or any other industry, to hire people with disabilities.

POC: And the last thing Joe is I imagine you can’t tell us what’s going to happen in episode two of See but can you tell us when we’re going to be able to find it, when it’s going to be airing?
JS: Well, Season Two, I can’t tell you when it’s coming out. You’ll have to watch and see. Let’s see what happens. Get it? I keep using “see.” [Laughs.]

POC: Okay but notice I didn’t ask you to tell me what’s happening in Season Two because I know bad things would happen to both of us if you told me.
JS: Oh, I know. That’s true. So I don’t know when it’s coming out. I’m sure there will be more information down the line.

POC: Here is a great opportunity for everyone who has not had the chance to view the first season of See to catch up on it in anticipation of Season Two. And to be able to see the great impact you’ve had on it. Joe Strechay, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. I’m Patricia O’Connell for This Is Capitalism.


About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Patricia O’Connell: Patricia O’Connell is one of the original contributors to “This Is Capitalism”, a content site sponsored by Stephens Inc. and is host of the site’s podcast, CEO Stories. Patricia, a former editor at BusinessWeek and a best-selling author, blends her experience as a journalist with her passion for storytelling to her role as editor of “This Is Capitalism”.