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BRENDA NASR: Hi, this is Brenda Nasr, and I’m the owner of Brendan Nasser photography, and this is your Assistive Technology Update.
WADE WINGLER: Hi, this is Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals crossroads in Indiana with your Assistive Technology Update, a weekly dose of information that keeps you up-to-date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs. Welcome to episode number 346 of assistive technology update. It’s scheduled to be released on January 12, 2018.
Today I have a very fascinating conversation with BRENDAN NASSER who is a photographer doing high fashion photography, but has low vision. Also we have a quick rundown of some of the top accessibility news headlines of 2017.
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As we are squarely into 2018, I thought I might take a quick moment and look back at some of the news headlines from 2017 that dealt with accessibility. From the digital accessibility digest from micro assist, they had their top 10 accessibility headlines from 2017. I saw some patterns and common themes are that looks down through there. A lot about web accessibility, a lot about apps and companies like Uber that deal with apps as their primary business model, making things more accessible. Also a story about an accessible waterpark in Texas that we have covered on our show before. And the need for a more refreshed international symbol of access.
The number one headline was, “Department of Justice website and accessibility regulations and rulemaking.” In that list of 10, there were a handful about web accessibility and some of those compliance issues. I’ll pop a link in the show notes over to micro assist digital accessibility digest and you can take a look at not only the list of the top 10 headlines but click on through and read those stories. Check our show notes.
I was recently looking at a Huffington Post article, Huffington Post United Kingdom, and here’s what I read that really grabbed my attention. I said, “I’m sitting here icing the side of my eye from an injury, musing over another rejection from a vanity publication, and trying to massage the bruising from both. I’m a photographer, I’m also legally blind, and the aforementioned injury resulted from a blind spot in my vision that caused me to hit the side of an open cabinet door.” That was from Brenda Nasr who is on the line with us from Serbia this morning. I knew I had to talk to this woman about what she is doing in terms of photography in her career. The more I researched, the more I was fascinated. Brenda, welcome to our show. Thank you so much for being here.
BRENDA NASR: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
WADE WINGLER: We are excited to have you on today. When I read the hospital article, your words really did stick with me. Then I had a million questions that I want to ask. I was super excited when you agree to be on the show today. Before we jump into a lot of technical stuff, I want to start with the basics. I want to know about you and how you became interested in photography.
BRENDA NASR: I’m sort of one of those people who changes career paths later in life than you would expect. I was formerly a legal assistant until about a couple of years ago. Part of the reason for me transitioning was the work that I did really was intensive, and it was getting to the point that it was a little bit more difficult to maintain sort of everything I had going on creatively but also with my vision as well. We decided, my husband and I, to move out of the country for lots of reasons. [Inaudible] this region in the Balkans, a little less expensive, but it’s it’s an East meets West type of place, and it’s a great place to live. I decided okay, this is a perfect opportunity for me to call the shots here. I can establish my own career that’s going to work for me for the long haul and not have to deal with barriers that are a little bit harder to accomplish in a different field that you don’t have control over.
So that’s sort of my background. I do other things as well. I like to use — just like I did Huffington Post, I like to use my voice to bring issues to things that I think people should be aware of. With something this personal, I thought it was the perfect time to bring light to not only my visual impairment but also the way that people interact with people with visual impairments and to let people know that I’m out here as a photographer. Again, it’s something that’s new to me, and I’m learning every day, every shoot. Sometimes the hard way, like the article prefaced, there are a lot of barriers to doing what I do, especially if I am shooting in lower light and things like that. Ultimately it really is the career that I find give me the most freedom even with visual impairments.
I went from working as a legal assistant pretty much showing no creativity, to now photography is pretty much all I do. I have to edit, and I can bring my vision to light. That’s what’s really important for me, having a visual impairment technically speaking, but not one from a core. I think it’s really important.
WADE WINGLER: I love the way you said that, the vision from a technical perspective. Most of our audience will be familiar with vision impairment, but they also know that can mean a lot of things. Can we level set? Tell me about your vision to what that means to you in terms of day today impact on your life.
BRENDA NASR: I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa about 10 years ago. What that is is essentially a degeneration of the retinal cells. More technical standpoint, I have a rod cone dystrophy. Basically it’s outside-in. For me, I lose progressively vision over time, starting with night vision or dim light, low lighting, and it will progressively narrow in. I didn’t actually know – which is also a bit rare – that I had this until I was about 28 – I’m 36 now – because I just assumed everyone is like this. They are a bit clumsy.
What really prompted me to get checked was I was doing an exercise program, and it was really early in the morning, about 5 AM. The trainer is really let’s go, let’s go. While I was running, I just couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. It wasn’t from a fitness standpoint. I just cannot see. It was too dark. He said you really have to push yourself. I went and googled, and I’m like I know who I am. I’m a fighter. I’m really good with training. I’m not lazy. Something is going on, and I started to research.
I thought initially I just had maybe congenital night blindness. There were not too many sources of night blindness outside of what I had in a couple of the things. I knew I wasn’t severely a vitamin a deficient. As soon as I read about my visual impairment, I kind of knew what it was. I was able to get in to be seen two days later, it was about a day before my birthday, and as soon as they dilated my pupils how they saw – what it is, is when they dilate your pupils, they can see what’s called specular. It’s basically black dots. That shows how your cells have degenerated already. At that point, they were significantly black on the outer edges, which is consistent with my disease. Again, that light perception. I knew I couldn’t see in the dark.
I make sure I go in every year even though this is a disorder that can’t be corrected. I do like to go because there are some other things that could happen that can be managed. I have an astigmatism or small cataracts, things like that that could help my vision as this disease progresses. Basically it’s a progressive disease. But for me, it’s more about me being able to manage. That’s something that’s taken me a little while to get to. I’m really actually blessed and feel fortunate that, over the years, specifically with photography, I found something that is empowering. I think that something that’s really important for people to know who have disabilities and people who don’t have disabilities.
Before I was diagnosed with anything, a visual impairment, I would see someone with a white cane and I was ignorant. I didn’t have an understanding. Being on the other side of this, and seeing that this is a management thing – I’m a photographer. I’m a painter as well. I’m a writer. It’s just about having the tools to continue your life and make something meaningful of it that makes sense for you.
The number one question of course is I know someone who had X, Y, and Z. I think you can go get a special pair of glasses or you can get surgery. And it comes from a good place, but I always tell them, listen, I’ve had this for a long time. If there were something that could be done that would not just manage – it’s not like Lasik or something like that – I would have done that by now. I think people come from a good place of offering, I know my uncle had such and such. Now he can do blah, blah, blah. But it really is a situation where I can’t do anything to prevent the progression outside of living a healthy lifestyle. Nothing is so far, advancements is always being made, research is always being done. They really positive attitude of the progression of my vision loss. Like I said before, I was massaging the bruising of both. But just like getting bruised or scratched, it heals and your stronger from that.
WADE WINGLER: Absolutely. Brenda, tell me if there is a typical day in the life when it comes to your job as a photographer. What is that like? What is an average day like or what is a really good day like in your world of photography?
BRENDA NASR: Right now I am transitioning into fashion. I’m working more with agencies where I am working with models and brands, whereas before it was portrait lifestyle which involves a lot of natural light photography. That actually is ideal for me because those are the things where, in some of my work, my website, my portfolio, you can see I’ve tried to give my vision or visual perspective through my photography. You’ll see a shot – there is one specifically where you can see her eyes, but she is shot through leaves basically. Natural light photography portraits, even the fashion shoot side, is preferable for a number of reasons. I see better in the light, but it also gives you a lot more room to work with. It’s more creative.
In my opinion now come with the weather changing – today is a good day actually. I have a shoe a little bit later. As far as temperature, I am pretty much forced to do studio shoots. That’s a little bit tricky. It’s darker; I don’t have as much control over the surroundings. It’s fine. I enjoy any type of shooting cost of a typical day I would work with my makeup artist, stylist, model. It depends on if it’s a brand shoot where we are shooting five different looks, then that’s pretty much going to be a three or four hour process. After that and editing. It could be anywhere from five hours to a couple of days. It depends what they’re looking for, how many images.
It’s definitely intensive visual work. In terms of shooting, there are areas where I have to rely on assistance from others to help with that. In terms of filling the frame, I think I’ve developed my own style. Just like I wrote on my article, there are some things I simply can’t do. I can’t shoot someone who has a full range of their vision and they can see the edges of the frame were so forth. I really can’t. It actually gives me a little bit of a more creative or artistic layer where I can – I’ve even used my glasses in one series. I created this sort of 3-D effect with a halo. It was really effective. I like to put elements of my vision and my work. I want people to see the way that I see as much as possible. There have been some shoes that are really special to me because I’ve been able to do that. I’ve merged sort of my vision with whatever shoot, and I had the creative license to do that.
If you are working with brands where they want you to shoot a model in their shirt and jeans, you can’t really do too much with it. When you are shooting for editorials and things like that, which I’ve been really lucky to be published in quite a few places last year, you have the full range to have creative license to give someone something that they haven’t seen before. That’s the part that really makes this the most rewarding aspect of photography for me.
It’s interesting that I found this past. I always had a sense of urgency with life and experiencing things. I’ve seen the Great Wall of China. I’ve seen the Taj Mahal. This is all before I knew I had a visual impairment. This is early 20s. I’ve been the adventurous type. I have visited twenty-something countries. Luckily, I was able to not really injure myself. At the time, I just assumed I don’t see very well at night. I was lucky to be with friends who knew that. I assumed it was normal. I think somewhere deep down I knew that my vision was declining, so it prompted me to see certain things early on. With my photography, it’s the same way. I don’t really expect my vision to decline very rapidly, but it’s one of those things where the key is a snowflake: everyone is different.
I think that’s why I’m prolific in shooting – I like to see as much as possible. I like to create, even if I’m not shooting, something from my perspective, something from my soul that I can translate and give to the world in the event that I can’t do that in the way I can do that now. I expect that to happen, and that’s okay because there are still plenty of things I can do. I have a voice; I have passions. I hope that answers your question. I can often go on.
WADE WINGLER: It does and I appreciate you sharing that. I want to shift gears for a second and get more technical and practical for a minute. Because our show focuses on assistive technology, are there any two of those things that you use from the business side or with your writing? Are there assistive technology systems that you use aside from technology or related to photography?
BRENDA NASR: At this point I don’t. I’m here in Belgrade, so my next step in the next couple months is to find out in this city what services are available. At this point, I’m able to rely on my husband. He will go out with me on issue when he knows there will be lowlight. As of now because my central vision is very good, again my peripheral is not very good, I’m able to use what is standard at this point. In Belgrade, I’ve seen people who are taking advantage of aid, some definitely going to be – especially now that the weather has changed and it is darker earlier, I will have to pursue that in order to continue to shoot at the pace that I have been shooting at, where after 430 when it gets dark here, I’m pretty much limited to shooting because I can’t really go outside at night. My husband will go out with me but he has his own things going on at times. This is where I will be researching heavily. I can’t really give an answer right now because we are new to this particular city. We were in the neighbor city not too long ago. That’s my next step, is to get with local organizations here so I can continue to do what I do after hours, which would be when it gets dark.
That’s pretty much my biggest barrier at this point, is the perception and lighting. Those are the things where I would definitely need to have support outside of — at some point, you did more than your husband or daughter or friend or whomever helping you.
WADE WINGLER: We have a worldwide audience, so I will play the buffer for you. If we have folks listening in your area that will have resources, send them to us and we will send them on to you so you can have access to those. We are getting close on time for the end of the interview, so I’m going to throw you a really easy question. Are you ready?
BRENDA NASR: Okay.
WADE WINGLER: Defined beauty.
BRENDA NASR: Beauty is something that I believe everyone is born with, and it takes a love of self to bring that out and shine and show to the world. For me, I’m a lover of beauty. I’m drawn to beauty. The thing I love about photography is you can see the essence of people through the lens. This is something that is irrespective of what society defines as beauty. Everyone I shoot is beautiful to me after I’ve shot them, I’ve gotten to know them. It comes from your character. It comes from your heart. That’s my definition of beauty and I’ll always be drawn to beauty in any form. I never really thought about defining it, but I think that’s my answer.
WADE WINGLER: I love that. Here’s another quick question. If you could speak to someone who is interested in photography, may be struggling with a vision challenge or other some challenges, and you can speak courage and wisdom to them, what would you say?
BRENDA NASR: I would say first of all, do it. Don’t hold back whatsoever. Of course that’s an easy thing to say when you have an impairment. What I mean to say is you can take your iPhone and shoot something in your bedroom, and it might be a little blurry, it might be something artistic, and that is still beauty. It’s all photography. There’s something that I think has happened in the mind first. You have to remove what industry has placed – many industries have placed as sort of the definition of this is the standard here and there. No. Your perspective, your vision, what you have to offer is unique. There is no one else like you and there is no one else who can see like you.
I think outside of your normal aids that you need to get through day today, start by joining photography groups. There are many in lots of the cities anywhere I’ve seen back home. Online. You can take pictures. There are YouTube videos where, even from a technical standpoint, if you have to shoot on automatic on many cameras – that’s how I started. I’ll not get too technical, but just like it’s sort of point and click, you had that like an iPhone. Then you go into more technical aspects that you want to get the shot. In the beginning, just start shooting.
If you have it in you to shoot and bring something, I think is not by accident. For me, I kind of resisted it for a long time and then realize this is actually what I feel I was meant to do. This is my passion. I would say rely on people who have been in the business. They will absolutely be able to offer you help.
One thing I think is a misconception is that people are so competitive and they want to get to the top. People who like my photography are other photographers. The same with me. I’ll send awesome shots, how did you do this to how did you do that. Other photographers are always willing to help you. I think that’s something that you should keep in mind.\
Shoot anything you think is beautiful. You never know who will want to see it. They may want to have it on a T-shirt. They may buy it from you. You don’t know. I would say just have an open mind and shift the mindset into thinking that these industry standards that this has to be XYZ and this had to be centered here or not centered, these rules go out the window because it is art at the end of the day.
WADE WINGLER: I know people are going to want to see your work and learn more about you. Is there a website or contact information you would like for us to shares that people can continue the conversation with you?
BRENDA NASR: Thank you. I really appreciate that. There is. Just one website to keep its distinct because there are different links to pages. It’s BrendaNasr.com. You can probably find me on Facebook, Brenda Nasr Photography, and it will link to my website. I’m more than happy to answer any questions, especially photography related, or just to have someone if they want to sound off on what they have. Frustrations, I definitely go through that quite often. I bruise myself a couple of days ago. It’s just part of having something that’s an impairment and something you learn to live with. Even with assistive technology, you still will not be able to have a full range of vision and things will happen. You can get frustrated, get down on yourself, so I’m definitely here to encourage people to keep going, whatever it is you are doing. You can definitely get through it. I’m appreciative of what you all do. I think it’s so important and so wonderful. Really, I think the whole world needs to reevaluate the way they view people with disabilities because it’s about having tools at the end of the day. People have so much to offer and I think my story hopefully can inspire someone else to understand that as well.
WADE WINGLER: Brenda Nasr joins us from Serbia this morning and has been talking with us about photography and low vision. She has quite an insightful story. Thank you so much for being on the show.
BRENDA NASR: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a pleasure and honor.
WADE WINGLER: Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? Call our listener line at 317-721-7124, shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAProject, or check us out on Facebook. Looking for a transcript or show notes from today’s show? Head on over to www.EasterSealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. Find more shows like this plus much more over at AccessibilityChannel.com. That was your Assistance Technology Update. I’m Wade Wingler with the INDATA Project at Easter Seals Crossroads in Indiana.
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