An interview with Lela Patterson

Smiling Picture of Lela, spirit of hope

On foggy winter morning we received a message on our twitter handle (@goodwillwillblog) from Lela Patterson (@PattersonLela1) whom we had just followed.

“Hello, welcome to my profile. Please feel free to ask me any questions about my disability. :)”

Lela is blind from birth. What stunned us was the sheer confidence with which she could express her will to talk about her disability. Team GoodWill interacted with her over video call. We realised Lela is among those souls who, with their indomitable spirit not only overcome their own obstacles but also inspire others to conquer their goals. The interview is being published after making relevant edits in the transcript for readability. A special thanks to Lalita, Deepak, Udit & Vikas for coordinating the interaction and editing the transcript.

Team GoodWill : Hey Lela, Thank you so much for your time. We are so excited for this interview. Before we start, let us just tell you that this is not at all a formal interaction, not a kind of studio interview. It’s just friends who are talking to each other. So, you can be very comfortable. And if there is something which you would not like to answer, you can just say it with ease. To start with, what are you doing nowadays?

Lela : Well, at the moment, I’m studying a lot in college. I’m doing IT. I volunteer for a charity called platform, which is a mental health charity. They do lots of mindfulness groups, one to one support sessions, and different phone sessions like well-being sessions. I’m also volunteering for the RNIB, that stands for Royal National Institute of Blind people.  It’s a charity that advises people on sight loss and living with sight loss courses. They teach you how to get in bed like life skills.

Team GoodWill : That’s great. Do you enjoy doing the volunteer work that you’re doing right now?

Lela :  Yes, yeah, I’m enjoying doing volunteer. I mean, I’ve got part time job with my church. I was one of the charities now. Well, I had six months contract, but then they extended it to 12 months. So hopefully they can keep me going. I love getting paid part time. So the job I’m doing is testing websites, online groups and meetings and popping up where I can.

Team GoodWill : When you test website, what are the parameters that you look for?

Lela : Basically, platform will send me a link, and I’ll click on it. And I see how well the voiceover copes with it. So if it describes images, how easy I can click through different lengths, and then I feed back the results, what you know what I find out on platform, and then they make the changes, and then I retest it.

Team GoodWill : So that means that we can seek your help as well, and getting to learn how The GoodWill Blog is behaving. You can test our website!

Lela : I’ve actually been on your website, and it’s really accessible. I really like it. Yeah. And the only thing I suggest if you do have images, you might want to describe them.

Team GoodWill : Okay, we’ll try to incorporate that. Tell us about your initial education? How did you get training with words or languages or anything?

Lela : I went to primary school. And I started learning Braille script. And I had a basic laptop with a screen reader. I could do things like search the Internet, type etc. I didn’t have an iPhone back then. So I was a small, I think had a solid pink phone but there was no voice over. I couldn’t really use that. So, my first iPhone was an iPhone four, I think I had it when I was 14 or 15.

Team GoodWill : How do you use technology? Is there some separate audio-visual system attached to your laptops. We were quite interested to know and learn that how technology is helping people with disabilities to interact with the world?

Lela : Yeah, I have voice over with iPhones. If you have an Apple device, go into the access accessibility partner settings, and voice over. First thing you can do. You can either turn on like that, or you can get Siri to turn it on for you. It’s pre built into the phone into everyday phones, iPads, wherever. MacBooks they’re all there. I use Chromebooks as my college laptop. I also have an Amazon Echo.

Team GoodWill : When people talk about some things like I talk about a fruit, say an apple, we have a certain kind of image in my mind that comes after we listen to that word. How do you relate with these objects?

Lela : Well, if somebody is trying to explain something to me, if it’s an apple or pen, they would actually have an apple with them in their hand on them and they would give it to me to feel it. It’s otherwise hard for me to pick what things are. And colors, mean nothing to me. If you close your eyes, it’s like darkness for me-24/7.

Team GoodWill : Do you have an image for your siblings or your parents or your friends?

Lela : I’m afraid No. I asked them what they look like. But again, it don’t really mean anything to me. So it’s quite difficult. It’s all completely dark. The only way to get to know people is by hearing their voices. So once I’ve heard their voices a few times I start recognizing them.

Team GoodWill : Okay. What do you do when you’re free?

Lela : Play Scrabble. I like to read books, but the problem is my braille displays broken down so I can’t really read at bottom. And I enjoy listening to music. Doing surveys and getting paid.

Team GoodWill : So which book left a deep impact on you?

Lela : Becoming by Michelle Obama. It’s really good. There’s a lot of racism about in this world, and it’s really sad. She explained what her family went through what she went through as a black person. How she overcame challenges. It was just amazing. And it just made feel like well if she can do that, then I can do that as well with the right despite being blind.

Team GoodWill : Do you have any differentiation between the black people or white?

Lela :  No, again, colors mean nothing to me. So I don’t really rely on color people’s skin, I just I don’t  have that personality. It doesn’t matter what kind of skin you have. It could be black or white, pink.

Team GoodWill : Do you listen to audiobooks or you do use the Braille font?

Lela : I actually read Braille funnier though.

Team GoodWill : Do you find it difficult to interact with people?

Lela: I just talk to them! I talk through social media as well. I mean, the other day I was quite shocked or annoyed really, because one of my follower was accusing me of lying about my blindness.

Team GoodWill : Yeah, we saw your post.

Lela : Yeah, I left a really angry message. I said, No, I’m not. I’m not a liar. I would never lie about my disability and I popped in. If they don’t like my tweets, then they can just move on. They can either unfriend me, delete me unfollow me.

Team GoodWill : We can relate and we can understand what you must be going through. How do you come out of the shell? How do you stand against it?

Lela : I did feel a bit shocked. I’m not so bad now. I just keep being me. I just keep posting what I want. I don’t want to let anything get me. I used to be really sensitive but I’m starting to harden myself to it now. If anything bad just happened to me on social media or in real life, I often vent to my friends and family. I put up on social media if I feel that bad feelings are gone away and I listen to music, I just do anything and everything to distract myself and I just move on.

Team GoodWill :   What changes do you want that government or society should make for blind people so that they get benefited from that?

Lela : I think a lot of place to be made more disability accessible. I think a lot of shops these days are tiny. And they have rail sticking out and everything. They don’t have wheelchair friendly access. So it’s quite hard to get around. I remember what I was smaller, there was there was a big massive long rail sticking out. And I walked around and got bruised.

Team GoodWill : What do you aspire to be? So if we ask that in next five or 10 years, what would be Lela doing?

Lela : Tricky one! I did want to be aware of transcripts I transcribe. So browser Scribe is where you convert print documents to words. But you’ve got to learn software called Duxbury. And you’ve got to have proficient IT skills, which I don’t have currently, I’m just improving them now.. So I’ve decided to be put on the well being path and maybe become a counsellor. So, next year, I found a course in the college newbie. So I’m currently going through a college that is like 40 minutes away. And I want to take a level one vocational access and work skills course and I can try and see it’s good to get a job and yeah, so if I don’t I’m not quite sure yet.

Team GoodWill : But you will be a great counsellor.

Lela: (Smiles): Thanks

 Team GoodWill : Are you are you confident that you will make a mark in this world and you will create a special space that belongs to Lela herself?

Lela: Well, I’m not really sure about how confident I am. And I’m just taking each day as it comes, you know, doing what I need to do, you know, complete my assignments whatever. Recently I got a distinction. And my grades are improved.  So I was pretty pleased with I was expecting that like, I got it. So but I don’t do everything alone. I do have assistance with mostly like, obviously, when I’m in college, I’m I have a one to one LSA. So that’s basically a Learning Support Assistant, so that they helped me in the classroom to go on college. Okay. But you know, there are a lot of things I do on my own I answer I my social media pages.

Team GoodWill : Yeah, see, as far as your confidence is is concerned, let us tell you that you are much more confident than any of us. Because the way the way you are standing yourself and the way you are talking to people about the things that you care, it does mean a lot. We admire the way you are taking up your life.

Lela: Thank you. Yeah.

Team GoodWill: People depart, people die. What does death mean to you?

Lela: Well, I’ve already had a few people leave my life or are close to that they’d gone.

Team GoodWill: So sorry to hear that.

Lela : I started crying and I was really upset. And then everyday now I just take a good memory that I have with them and I just keep it close, you know? But, I know death is unavoidable. It will happen to me someday as well. We’ve just got to accept that and just do our plan. And it just makes me think about life and make sure that I live my life and fall to do my best.

Team GoodWill : We can’t express how grateful and happy we are to interact with you. Thanks for your time and we wish you all the best. Keep Smiling!

Lela: Thanks.

~Team GoodWill~

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