Exclusive Interview with Dave Bahr by Brainz Magazine
Dave Bahr is an author, speaker, comedian, and disability advocate focused on demystifying the public’s perception of how to interact with people with disabilities. As someone who has been totally blind from birth, Dave founded In-Sightful Living to work as a professional accessibility consultant aiding travel and hospitality industries in remodeling their systems, environments, events, and cultures to be supportive of people with disabilities. Dave’s funny, irreverent wit and way of sharing his day-to-day experiences as a blind person allow him to use storytelling to illustrate that people should not be afraid of disability. Instead, he encourages curiosity, tact, and humor over political correctness, fear, and ignorance.
Dave also holds a Masters in Musicology and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Colorado in Boulder, CO, and has trained with the Coaches Training Institute. When not caught up in his work with disability advocacy, Dave enjoys listening to jazz music, classical music, and baseball games on the radio.
Hi, Dave! I see here that you are the founder and CEO of your very own organization, In-Sightful Living. Will you tell us more about the inspiration behind the name?
Honestly, I really liked the idea of having the word insight with a hyphen in it. There was something dryly humorous about using “In-Sightful” as a pun on the fact that I have been totally blind since birth. But also, the word insight itself holds real weight. It’s not just understanding what’s going on in somebody else’s life, it’s the capacity to gain that intuition and understanding. And we can gain that insight just by doing something as simple as intentionally listening to each other. That’s why I named my coaching program Stop, Look, and Listen. I think if people slowed down and listened to what I have to say, what others have to say, they wouldn’t be so afraid of people who are different from them.
Can you tell me more about what inspired you to become a disability advocate?
My late wife Priscilla was in a wheelchair and had brittle bones. Together, we made up for each other’s congenital shortcomings. I was her arms and strength and she was my eyes. After her sudden death from a brain aneurysm in 2017, I started writing the book that eventually was published called: Prave, The adventures of the Blind and the Brittle. We were both disability advocates because we knew what it was like to grow up having congenital disabilities. So we were experts in our field just by happenstance. In honoring Priscilla’s memory and legacy as the most powerful person I’ve ever known, I’ve chosen to speak and write for and about people with disabilities. The goal is to make accessibility a standard, not an afterthought.
What kind of clients do you work with, or who should choose to work with you?
I work with professionals who want to improve their knowledge of how to interact with people who have disabilities and how to provide inclusive, accessible experiences. This can be anything from making a website more accessible for a blind person, such as myself, or trying to make specific accommodations more accessible, such as in the hospitality and travel industries. My main focus is to touch on all the things that aren’t covered under legal documents such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); the simple, everyday things that I go through as a person with a disability.
How can a client identify if they need to enlist the services of a disability advocate?
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if you need to hire me:
On website usability:
Do my images have alternative text descriptions that are meaningful and useful?
Can a blind person using a screen reader (software that talks using synthesized speech to read what is on a website or in a mobile app) understand the image?
Is my website navigable with a screen reader? This might include ad placement, heading structure, payment processing system accessibility, and overall layout.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are very useful, but has the website been tested by someone who actually uses a screen reader?
For hotel and hospitality industries:
Is my event structured to accommodate a person with disabilities, such as a blind person or wheelchair-user?
Is there enough space between tables for a wheelchair to maneuver? How cluttered is the event space, can somebody using a cane or a guide dog navigate easily?
Can event attendees with disabilities enjoy the event just as much as everyone else?
Are there braille signs on or near event rooms and restroom doors? Are they labeled properly for somebody who reads braille?
Within the next 5 years, what is one professional goal/dream that you wish to accomplish?
One of my long-time goals has been to get on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and talk about my book, Prave: the Adventures of the Blind and the Brittle, and discuss disability advocacy. Not only is Trevor Noah comedic and insightful, but he’s also a great interviewer and I feel like his brand of humor and mine are fairly aligned. We both like to incorporate comedy into topics not necessarily known for their funny bone. But if you can’t have a sense of humor about things, what’s the point?
Having a platform as far-reaching as The Daily Show would elevate the impact we can make for disability advocacy exponentially. Also, his book, Born a Crime, which shares his journey as a minority from Africa trying to make it in America, was genuinely an inspiration for me to write — and eventually publish — my own memoir.
What have you found to be the biggest obstacle, or obstacles, in your line of work?
The biggest obstacle as a disability advocate is that people are afraid to ask me questions or they’re afraid of offending me somehow. Being blind from birth, this life is all I’ve known. It takes a lot to offend me and I would rather have someone ask me a question that they’re curious about than continue on with a faulty perception of me and other people with disabilities. Honestly, 9 times out of 10 I’ve heard the question before and I already have an answer. When people ask questions about disabilities, it opens a dialogue that can educate them on things that they’re completely unfamiliar with. In fact, my favorite reaction when I finish a speech or podcast is when somebody says, “Oh, I never thought of that!” We all have different stories and experiences in life and it’s okay to ask about them.
Off-topic, but I see that you are a big baseball fan. Would you tell us more about what got you into baseball and share how you’re able to enjoy what appears to be a mostly visual sport?
I always tell people that baseball is my religion. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid and my dad coached Little League. It may be a visual sport, but it’s slow enough that I can visualize everything that’s happening in my mind while I listen to the radio broadcast. A few years ago, I actually did a speech on how radio broadcasters in baseball are a lot like jazz singers. It was a fun speech to do in front of about 900 people because I got to do some impressions of my favorite baseball radio announcers. I just truly love the strategy involved in baseball and the musical rhythm that takes place throughout.
What would you say is a shared concern or issue that many people with disabilities face when interacting with people who do not have disabilities?
Some people seem to not know how to interact with people with disabilities in a way that does not come off as either offensive or demeaning to the person. Oftentimes, it is assumed that a person with a disability has a lower intelligence than someone who does not. This is a stereotype of course which I intend to shatter. I am just as intelligent as the next person, I just do things differently and I can sometimes be a little bit slower in certain tasks than a sighted person.
What are some things that you wish sighted people would not do when they are first introduced to a blind person?
I have to say first, I know that people want to help when they see me walking down the street or in a store. There tends to be this impulsive reaction to grab my arm when they ask if I need help. I think it’s because they feel they want to guide me where I need to go. However, this is something that is very off-putting for me. While it has decreased in the era of social distancing, it still happens. Doing things like touching me or my cane without permission takes away from my bodily autonomy. That being said, please do not grab a blind person’s cane to show them where something is. Our cane is an extension of our body, it’s our eyes in a way. It would be like me trying to physically point your eyes in a certain direction to show you something. The best approach when you want to help a blind person is to ask questions. “Can I help you navigate? Would you like to take my arm? How do you want to do this?”
What are the top three tips people should consider when making hospitality and travel more accessible for a blind person?
First, if you’re in the hotel industry or building industry, make sure that your room numbers and restrooms have braille signs on them.
Second, if I’m with somebody who is sighted, and you have a question for me, please ask me and not the person who is with me. E.G. “What would he like to eat?” You wouldn’t believe how often this happens.
Third, try to make sure that there is enough space to navigate around tables in an event so somebody using a cane, guide dog, or wheelchair can get through easily.
How can event managers, hospitality professionals, and podcasters reach out to you with potential speaking opportunities?
The best way would be to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find me on LinkedIn.