Not Letting the Flood of Doubt Win Transcript

Announcer [over music]: Welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast, presented by the National Federation of the Blind, the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans. Live the life you want.

Melissa Riccobono: Hello and welcome to the Nation's Blind Podcast. I am Melissa Riccobono, and I am here with the co-host of the Nation's Blind Podcast.

Anil Lewis: This is Anil Lewis. Hi Melissa. How are you?

Melissa Riccobono: I'm doing great. It is a beautiful day here in Baltimore. I don't know what it's like in Atlanta the day that we're recording, but in Baltimore it is in the high sixties. My windows are open, and our very young kitty is feeling the spring in his blood. So if you hear thumps and bumps along the way, that is him running from the windowsill to the other windowsill across the house. [Chuckles] So that's what's going on here.

Anil Lewis: We're at a low seventy degrees. Nice breeze, sunlight. It's nice out. I do not have my doors open because the allergies are really kicking my butt right about now.

Melissa Riccobono: My daughter too. I'm very lucky I don't have allergies.

Anil Lewis: Yes, you are. Yes you are.

Melissa Riccobono: But we have a fun person to converse with today. Should we bring that person in right away, Anil, or do you want to-

Anil Lewis: I thought you were talking about me.

Melissa Riccobono: You are a fun person to converse with Anil Lewis. Yes. Yes, you are.

Anil Lewis: Thank you, and so are you Melissa.

Melissa Riccobono: Well, thank you.

Anil Lewis: But it doesn't hurt to have another fun person join us as well.

Melissa Riccobono: Not at all, because as good as we are, I think people like to hear from other people as well. They can hear our voices a lot. They need to hear from other voices, right?

Anil Lewis: Sounds good to me.

Melissa Riccobono: Well, we have Mari Ortiz here, and we are going to be talking a lot about mentoring, about achieving dreams, about conquering doubts, and being all that we can be. And what we as the organization of the National Federation of the Blind can do to meet people where they are and help them truly feel as if they can conquer things in order to live the life that they want, however that looks for them. Mari, how are you?

Mari Ortiz: Doing good. It is around the seventies down here in the beautiful Sunshine state of Florida.

Anil Lewis: Oh, nice. Convention town.

Melissa Riccobono: Yeah. We're excited to come to Florida for convention. Absolutely. What part of Florida are you in?

Mari Ortiz: In Daytona Beach.

Melissa Riccobono: You're in ... You're at the beach?

Mari Ortiz: Yep.

Melissa Riccobono: Yay.

Anil Lewis: I've driven on the Daytona International Speedway back in 2011. So yes, I have very fond memories of Daytona.

Mari Ortiz: Well, this week is bike week for us, so we have a lot of motorcyclists.

Anil Lewis: Oh, wow.

Melissa Riccobono: I bet you do. And I bet they're all up and down the beach, because that was the thing I found that was very interesting. You can drive on the beach in Daytona Beach, or you could in 2011. I don't know if you still can.

Anil Lewis: Wow.

Melissa Riccobono: Having young children, I have to say, that was a little bit-

Anil Lewis: Nerve wracking.

Melissa Riccobono: Freaky to me. Yes, yes. Nerve-wracking. Exactly, yes. Anyway, can you still drive on the beach?

Mari Ortiz: I am not entirely sure. I rarely go to the beach.

Melissa Riccobono: Okay, got it.

Mari Ortiz: I mostly hang around the ocean walk area.

Anil Lewis: When you live in that space, it's nothing. Oh, no, it's just the beach.

Mari Ortiz: Pretty much.

Melissa Riccobono: But you do go to the ocean. That's good. You're on the ocean walk. That's good. The beach is my very, very happiest place. So I will live vicariously through you. But we're not here to talk about the beach, believe it or not, though that is a lovely topic, and we could talk about the beach all day. You wrote a wonderful article in the Braille Monitor, all about your journey to getting your master's degree. And that's why Anil and I and Chris Danielsen, our producer, thought it would be a great idea to bring you on the podcast, and just talk a little bit about yourself and your journey. And so maybe that's where we should get started. You don't have to reread your whole article, because I hope people will read it themselves. It's going to be in the show notes, but just a little bit about you and where you started, and where you are today. And then we can have a conversation about that as we go along.

Anil Lewis: Yeah. Hear how you conquered any doubts or what mentors you found, and how you achieved your dreams. We'd love to hear.

Melissa Riccobono: Yeah.

Mari Ortiz: Well, my background is a little bit weird, so to speak, because when I was studying in the University of Central Florida, that's where I got my bachelor's at, I got it in humanities, because I do love art and also the aspects of different cultures. Also, I want to travel somewhere in the world someday. I also originally wanted to go into counseling as my master's, since I wanted to be more of a blind services counselor at first. But of course, I did have someone that was not so supportive about that, and they put me into my writing and rhetoric minor, which they believed that writing was more of my true talent. But writing is not an easy field to go into as a career, since I did read Stephen King's memoir, and he did say he had a hard time getting off the beginning of becoming a writer, since he had a hard time getting into different publications.

And he said it's best to find something that would supplement becoming an author. And I went into a pre-employment program and discovered that I am very good with technology, and assistive technology needed more people in the field. And I decided why not go into that as my supplement to being a writer? And of course, I noticed I use it a lot, and a lot of people needed a lot of help. And I decided to go into becoming more of an instructor. I also had a work experience for a few months, and I had to work on interacting with more students. So I volunteered back at home in Seminole County in the district, to get more interaction with the students, and it went from there.
And now I'm working as an assistive technology instructor. Been doing it for six years, well close to six years in November.

Anil Lewis: Nice.

Mari Ortiz: And while I was working, I thought I'm missing something, because I've seen my other co-workers got more advanced degrees. And I decided to go for my master's in assistive technology. But UMass Boston was going to be my first choice, and it turned out not to be a great choice, because I had some difficulties and had to leave. And then when I got into George Mason, I did a lot better.

Anil Lewis: What were some of the challenges you had at UMass Boston?

Mari Ortiz: Oh boy!

Anil Lewis: I don't want to traumatize you. I was just curious to see if we could get just a little bit of a flavor for what that is for our listeners.

Mari Ortiz: One was that a lot of the items were very visual, as in a lot of the diagrams. They were showing the human brain, how a visual impairment affects the visual cortex and all that. And also, I had to take a lot of quizzes based on screen readers and everything. And another thing too was the reading material, because there was so much of it, and some of it was also visual too.

Anil Lewis: So they just did a very poor job of making basic accommodations to the learning materials, and they didn't create a really strong-

Mari Ortiz: Yes.

Anil Lewis: Okay. And that was different when you went to George Mason?

Mari Ortiz: Yes, because it felt more accommodating. And they had reading material that was related more to just technology itself than just one disability, because they focus on more other disabilities besides just blindness.

Melissa Riccobono: Right.

Anil Lewis: Interesting.

Mari Ortiz: In itself.

Melissa Riccobono: And it seems like at Boston they were maybe more interested in, I don't know how different types of blindness might impact people in different visual ways. And to me, I could understand how you would get frustrated by that, because to me it's like, okay, you're blind. What's going to help you most? I understand wanting to understand different conditions and this and that, but-

Anil Lewis: Focusing on that doesn't get you to the goal.

Melissa Riccobono: Yeah.

Anil Lewis: We see that a lot with professional training. Like rehab counselors will be able to read an eye chart, but they don't understand the capacity of blind people to become gainfully employed. It doesn't help that you understand what retinitis pigmentosa looks like, if you don't understand the tools that a blind person will need, who has retinitis pigmentosa or whatever eye disease, to get a job. So I guess that's the same with the access tech. And I love that you're saying they were dealing with multiple disabilities, because that gets you training in an atmosphere that's working on universal design, that makes technology or develops technology, that everyone can use. So yeah, that is a really nice win-win.

Mari Ortiz: Well, when you look at people with visual impairments can have more than one disability, than just-

Anil Lewis: That's true too.

Mari Ortiz: Their visual impairment.

Melissa Riccobono: Absolutely. And when you said that they were much more accommodating, it seems like they were really meeting you where you are, which is really one of the big things that we're trying to talk about here in this episode. How do we meet people where they are, and help them feel like they're being ... I don't know if accommodated is always the right word, but that they're really part of the bigger picture, that we want them to be in our space, that we value what they have to give. And because we value that, we're going to give them what they need to fully participate. So I think that's a really important thing.

Anil Lewis: Just out of curiosity, so I'm assuming, you can correct me if I'm wrong, and maybe you alluded to it, the whole UMass Boston experience, did it get you to the point where you were doubting your ability to be successful in this area?

Mari Ortiz: At first they made it sound like I couldn't read, because even though we can't read print, I mean we have that print disability, but it doesn't mean that we can't find other ways of getting around that issue.

Anil Lewis: Right. And how long did it take you to come to that conclusion? Did you go straight away and then start reaching out to other places for you to pursue your dream, or did it take you a minute to reassess?

Mari Ortiz: I took a few months to reassess myself, give myself time to heal, take a few breaths, step back a little bit. Also in between I decided to improve on my Braille reading speed.

Anil Lewis: Very nice.

Mari Ortiz: Because I noticed that I'm slow with that. And then when I looked at George Mason, it became my second choice. I looked at the different classes, the programs, and also ... Well, not the programs, the courses, what entails all the class credits I need in the application process. And I'm like, "Maybe this would be the better option."

Anil Lewis: Nice. And I'm so glad you were able to do that, because I don't know how many blind people have tried to do something, going through that normal course, and ran into the barriers that you explained. And rather than recognizing that it's the fault of the institution not providing an accessible experience, they think it's them. They think that they can't do it, and then it reinforces the stereotype that, well, maybe a blind person can't do this. So kudos to you really being persistent.

Mari Ortiz: To tell you the truth, I always think this to myself, never underestimate the true power of a blind person.

Anil Lewis: I love that.

Melissa Riccobono: I love that too.

Anil Lewis: That sounds like a superhero theme. [Speaking in big announcer voice] Never underestimate-

Melissa Riccobono: [Immitating big announcer voice] The true power.

Anil Lewis: Power of a blind person. [Laughter]

Mari Ortiz: Exactly. I mean, come on, we have Daredevil out there.

Anil Lewis: There you go. There you go.

Melissa Riccobono: Well, that's a great thought. Hold that thought. We have to break for just a second to bring you some additional information from our sponsors, as it were, and we'll get back to the conversation in just a minute.

Announcer [over music]: The Organized blind movement has joined the Lyft Round Up and Donate program, so you can contribute every time you ride. Lyft will round up the cost of your ride to the nearest dollar, and contribute the difference to the National Federation of the Blind. In the Lyft app, simply go to the menu, navigate to Donate, and select National Federation of the Blind from the list. Please encourage your family and friends who use Lyft to take part in the Round Up and Donate program, to help blind people live the lives we want.

Melissa Riccobono: No, it is true. And in fact, there was a Facebook post that I just saw by somebody the other day. And that person was just talking about all of the ways that he accommodates himself and holds a bunch of different information in his brain, that his sighted colleagues in his job don't have to hold, because they have something right in front of them that's not accessible to him, that they can look at when they need to remember different products and stuff. And for him, he has that all in his head. And so he said something to the effect of, "I feel sometimes really bad when I feel like I'm slower than a sighted person in doing something. But then I remember all the things that I'm keeping in my head, and all the problems that I'm solving on the go, and I feel like that, that skill is very undervalued and just not even thought about."

And he said, "I don't even really necessarily want to bring attention to it and say, oh, poor me, I'm just doing what I need to do. But people sometimes don't realize all the stuff that's going on in my head, when I'm doing my everyday job that maybe they don't even think about, that I have to think about." Which I thought was a very interesting concept that made me think.

Anil Lewis: Yeah, the cognitive load is real. But also the balance of that is, I think that so many times we get caught up on what it takes us maybe longer to do, and we don't recognize that there's some things that we do faster.

Melissa Riccobono: Yes.

Anil Lewis: And it all balances out in the end. I remember when I helped these individuals get employed at a customer service center, there were things that they couldn't do as quickly as the sighted employees, but they were always in the top ten percentile of the overall productivity.

Melissa Riccobono: Wow.

Mari Ortiz: Wow.

Melissa Riccobono: And that's really important to remember too, just because we do it differently, sometimes that's actually better. I think we can use our computers often much more efficiently than sighted people can. And can find things more efficiently and make these workarounds that work really well for us. And so I think that's a really good thing to always remember, and not just focus on, "Oh my gosh, I feel so slow." And some of it too is, do you feel slow because this is the first time you've ever tried to do it, or do you feel slow because it's something you're just slower at? And what are ways that you could make it easier for yourself so you could be faster? So I don't know this person, I don't know if he can read Braille, but if he could read Braille, would having a Braille cheat sheet be just as fast for him to be able to look at that information that his sighted colleagues have access to? Or is it really something that's just so visual that it can't be easily put into Braille or into some other way? But anyway.

Anil Lewis: I think the key thing to what you just said though is, we by nature are always looking at how can we do this more efficiently? And again, that's one of those hidden skill sets. That's a transferable skill. A lot of people, they go in, they learn how to do something, and that's the way they do it. Blind people usually go into it and they're taught how people want us to do something, but we're always continuing to struggle. How can I make this a little bit easier? How can I do this a little better nonvisually? So it is a mindset that really turns into something productive. Mari, I was curious though, when you were talking earlier about your dreams of being a writer, but now you're saying your focus is on access technology. Is the writing thing on the shelf now, is that something you still want to pursue eventually, or?

Mari Ortiz: I am still pursuing it here and there, because I do have my own blog on WordPress. But I haven't been writing as much due to trying to focus more on getting my certification. But I also have been trying to work on the third book in my Backwards Fairy Tale series  

Anil Lewis: Nice.

Mari Ortiz: here and there as much as I can, because I'm trying to get the entire series on to Bookshare, which is my big goal. Because I noticed with certain series on that particular website, they don't have all the books for the series.

Anil Lewis: Interesting.

Melissa Riccobono: Isn't that frustrating? BARD too.

Mari Ortiz: Yes.

Melissa Riccobono: May I say I think NLS is even worse sometimes. You have sometimes, and there's a series that I love from when I was a kid, and they are missing two books. Not only are they missing two books, one book comes in between two other books, and this is actually about a family. So you miss a whole generation of this family. And then one book comes at the end, so you miss the further adventures of this family, but it's really a disservice, and it really makes me frustrated when that happens. So anyway, good for you for recognizing that problem and for really making sure that your books are all going to be accessible. And congratulations for being published, because I, as a person who loves to write and have all sorts of books in my head, and just have not ever taken the time to sit down and just put fingers to keyboard, I guess, as it were. I congratulate anybody that can have that discipline to sit down and make that happen. So I'm very impressed that you've not only written one-

Mari Ortiz: Thank you.

Melissa Riccobono: Not only two, but now you're on your third.

Anil Lewis: And you've also been published in the Braille Monitor. Now your career is really about to take off, look out.

Mari Ortiz: Oh yeah, very well.

Melissa Riccobono: Absolutely.

Mari Ortiz: Yeah.

Melissa Riccobono: Definitely.

Mari Ortiz: Yeah.

Melissa Riccobono: Definitely.

Mari Ortiz: Trust me, I heard my article being read by Gary. I was like, "Try not to cry. You're at work." Yep.

Melissa Riccobono: So I guess I would have a question for you. When you were in the troubles that you were in at the former university, and even as you were at George Mason, because I'm assuming that every day was not super easy, what were the things that kept you going? What did people do or say that really helped you through, and were there things that just weren't helpful that people should try to avoid doing if they possibly can?

Mari Ortiz: Wow, that is a big question. There were some events in my life that happened. For instance, not only transferring to a different apartment, because we were moving in a really close friend at the time, but we were also going through hurricane season at the same time. And one of the hurricanes actually flooded us out of that apartment complex. And I was going through every single emotion on that roller coaster.

Anil Lewis: Yeah, sure.

Mari Ortiz: Don't know where to go, where to live. Will anybody help us get to some place that is far away from the flood zone? So I had to take the breath and just stand back up and be like, "Everything is going to be okay." And of course, finding the way of finding those resources to help you know when it's okay, is important. Because I kept the phone number for our old apartment complex when we lived in West Daytona Beach for the first time, because we used to live in South Daytona where the flood happened. And having that phone number still saved us, because I explained everything to the leasing office and they're like, "Oh my God, we're so sorry that's happening to you. We'll get you into our complex right away."

Anil Lewis: Nice. That's why you don't burn bridges. Good for you.

Mari Ortiz: Oh, no, no. Even though it felt like the other complex burned bridges with us.

Anil Lewis: I'm sure. Yeah.

Mari Ortiz: Because not only the flood happened, but they blamed us for a situation with the bugs crawling in. They thought we brought them from the old complex, but we didn't.

Anil Lewis: Oh, wow.

Mari Ortiz: Yeah, they kind of burnt their bridge with us, so I'm not too keen on going back there.

Anil Lewis: Understandably so.

Mari Ortiz: Yeah. And another situation was also losing my mom, because it was hard.

Anil Lewis: Yeah, I can relate. That's the hardest thing that I had to deal with in my life too.

Mari Ortiz: I knew she was watching me, and she did tell me that I could figure out the college thing when I left UMass Boston.

Melissa Riccobono: So you had her believing in you, even if it was from afar?

Mari Ortiz: Yes.

Melissa Riccobono: That's important. Sometimes it really is just that one or two people that you lean on most when things get hard, because sometimes it's really hard to focus on the fact that there's lots of people cheering you on, because it doesn't feel like it. But if you can focus on those one or two, so for you, maybe your fiance and your mom, even from afar saying, "Yes, you've got this. We believe in you, we support you." I can understand how that would help you get through even the darkest of times, even though your mom wasn't physically there, you had that voice in your head and just figured out that you could do it.

Mari Ortiz: Yeah.

Anil Lewis: Were there other mentors in your life other than your fiance, your mom, any people helping you deal with the blindness piece?

Mari Ortiz: I know my friends back in Orlando actually gave me a lot of strength too, because I had a few friends like that as well. Because they knew how hard I've gone through to try and get my master's, especially when it comes to switching schools and everything.

Anil Lewis: Sure.

Mari Ortiz: Because they knew that I was able to get back on that horse and keep going.

Anil Lewis: Very nice. It is hard when we're all thinking that we're all alone. That's one of the hardest pieces. So it's good that you had a circle of support.

Melissa Riccobono: And really good that you were able to get back on that horse, because sometimes that's very much easier said than done. And that sometimes is okay too. Sometimes people decide that, that horse is really not the horse they want to ride, and that can totally be all right too. As long as they're not just saying that because everybody else is telling them that's the horse that they shouldn't ride, and yet they still have that desire to ride that horse and that dream. Then they should continue to try to ride that horse. But if they decide, "You know what? This horse, I kind of want a pony." I want something that's a little bit easier to fall off of, for whatever reason, that's got to be okay because circumstances change, health changes, life circumstances change.

I really wanted to get my PsyD degree. That was a five-year program. When I was actually faced with the decision of do I really want to go to school out of state for five years, be away from my fiancee at the time, who had just gotten his dream job in Wisconsin. So we really would've been a part for that five years, or could I do what I wanted to do with a master's degree? I chose the master's degree. Yeah, sometimes that PsyD horse is still there in my imagination, but that master's degree little pony has plotted along and helped me. It served me pretty well.

Anil Lewis: I love the way you worked that analogy out. Good for you Melissa.

Mari Ortiz: Now people are asking me, do I want the PhD now? I'm like, "No, I'm good. I'm good."

Anil Lewis: It might resurface. There's still time.

Mari Ortiz: It might, you never know.

Melissa Riccobono: Yeah, you could design technology. That would be the coolest part to me maybe getting a PhD, would actually be designing the stuff that would work right out of the box. To me, that would be amazing. But I'm sure it's quite nice to help people where they are. And maybe you could talk a little bit about that in your job. I bet you have millions of mentoring opportunities every day for people, either blind people or people with other disabilities. How do you mentor them and help them realize that they really do have technology skills, and that they can learn these different systems?

Mari Ortiz: Well, I met so many people during my five years of teaching, and like I said, I'm going on six years in November. And being able to meet so many and be able to teach them what's in front of them, I always enjoy how they are able to learn a new skill. And they always usually come to me and ask me for technology advice. For instance, "How do you do this? How do you do that?" Heck, most of the time I get asked about more of Apple devices or Braille devices, because some people that I've met are like, "Braille is dead." But I'm like, "Not really. There's these devices.  And some people are like, "Wow, I didn't know that would exist." It's like, "Can it do this?" I'm like, "Yeah."

Melissa Riccobono: And so that's really cool. So you actually take what they believe, Braille is dead, and you put it on their head gently and say, "Actually, here's what I believe." And it's not like you're saying, "You should absolutely use this. This is the only way to do it." But you are saying, "Hey, here's another way to think about this. Here's the way that I use Braille. Here are the products that make it possible for me to use Braille." And I think that's really important. The way to change someone's mind, is not to drill something into their head, but just give them evidence to the contrary in a very natural way. Not saying, "Oh my gosh, you're wrong. You're ridiculous. You're not very smart." But really just saying, "Oh, actually, here's what I do, and you can take it or leave it, or whatever else, but these are some options that are available to you. And let's figure out what works best for you."

And I think that's a really good lesson that we can all think about when we're mentoring anybody, or even just coming across somebody and want to get to know them better. It's always much nicer to hear what they're trying to do. And then I guess also, if they're coming to you for advice, that's very different than ... Sometimes I think we all want to jump in and offer advice because that's just who we are. And maybe that's not always a good idea. Maybe it's more letting them get to know you first and then come to advice. Or maybe showing them by example what you're doing with your phone and your Braille display, giving them that, "Oh, how are you doing that?" And then maybe they will feel more comfortable asking you.

Mari Ortiz: Well, to tell you the truth, I go to nerd conventions, I tend to do press at. And I usually bring one of my Braille devices with me. And some people are in awe with what I could do and how I could type notes. I remembered one voice actor that was watching me typing on my Braille Sense Polaris, when I had it back around 2017, and he was like, "What were you typing on? Tell me more about this thing." Because they ve never seen something like that before. And when I look at different devices, it's like, this is how we are able to live in the environment that we're living in.

Anil Lewis: Yeah.

Mari Ortiz: When I was pointing out the issues of reading, for example, one of my favorite devices to teach to this day, is the Victor Reader Stream. Because you never think about audiobooks until having that device. It's like, here's one way of being able to listen to those books from NLS BARD, or listen to podcasts. Because there are different avenues and different devices to look at.

Melissa Riccobono: Yeah. And not everybody's going to want a smartphone. That's why I love the BlindShell. I think that just has really cornered a great part of the market, where there are people that don't want or need a super smart smartphone, but do want to be able to interact with certain apps with buttons, and be able to text people. And by God, dial the actual phone, make phone calls with it! [Laughter] What a concept!

Anil Lewis: But people don't like making phone calls anymore. That's why the smartphones are getting lost. Mari, I really love your description that you gave about how you essentially awaken someone's interest in it. And I think that that's important. I think fundamentally as an organization, if you look at Dr. Perry mentoring Dr. tenBroek, and Dr. tenBroek mentoring Dr. Jernigan, it wasn't a "You'd better do this  kind of mentoring. It was really awakening the potential. I love hearing Dr. Maurer talk about how Dr. Jernigan said, "Why don't you go to Notre Dame?" Just putting it out there because it's nothing he really even thought about, but he awakened that imagination and got him to do it. I know that as an organization, we do get a bad rap every now and then because we do, on a regular basis, transform people who are used to thinking they have no options and nothing to do into what Dr. Jernigan phrased as "radical independence."

And there's something about when you felt like you were useless and you find out that you can do things amazing, you want that for so many other people. And sometimes you can't do it in a way that's more awakening. You do, do it with a little bit more zealous advocacy. "You need a long white cane, because this is what made the difference to my ... You need to learn Braille!" Because you're so excited about what it did to change your life. And sometimes that really scares people off more than awakening them.

Mari Ortiz: Exactly. I still use Bump Dots to this day. I know they're not as high-tech, but I still put them on my new microwaves when I get them.

Anil Lewis: Nice. Yeah.

Melissa Riccobono: No, and that's important too. And I think technology is something that often scares people. They just think, "Oh, I'm not a techie person. This is going to be horrible. You're going to bring me into this kicking and screaming." And so I think it seems like you're a very patient instructor that can really help them awaken in themselves, "Oh, I can use this. This isn't so bad. Wow, look at me. I am able to do this even though I never thought I could."

Anil Lewis: Well, thank goodness you're out there. And I'm sure the individuals that you're working with are really benefiting. And that's the other piece too. I love the fact that you'll never know how many people you're actually having impact on. I hear so many stories about things that I had never given a second thought about in interacting with someone, and someone comes and tells me that that was a turning point in their life, or that was something pivotal. And I think that the way that you ... I'm just meeting you today, but the grace that you offer in describing not only your journey, but the way that you're interacting with others, I think is very powerful. And I think more and more of those experiences are going to be what helps us continue to shape the lives of other blind people.

Melissa Riccobono: And I think using your life experiences, and they've been tough experiences, but you can't help but bring those to your interactions with other people. And so never lose those. I understand they're tough parts of your story, but I do think that even sharing them in an article, a very vulnerable article for the Braille Monitor, really helps people understand, "Look, people told me this was the end of the road. This program wasn't for me, but I found one that was, and these are the reasons why. And I graduated from it." And I think that's a really powerful story. So thank you very much for sharing that article and for sharing some time with us, we really appreciate it.

Mari Ortiz: No problem. It felt good to come up with something that would be like, "Okay, I know I got my struggles." But at the same time, it turned something into gold out of nowhere. So I found my own way. I know others will find their own way too.

Anil Lewis: And that's beautifully said, because finding their own way should be our goal. Not to tell them the way to go, but helping them find their own way so they can be authentic to who they should be and want to be. That's key. So very well said. Well, I've enjoyed you, and I'm looking forward to actually meeting you in person. Hopefully our national convention. Maybe we'll bump into each other there. And looking forward to seeing all the wonderful things that you do in your career. And also, I know that Bookshare will be free, but I've a sense that there'll be something out there that's on a more mainstream market, and I plan on being one of the people that purchase your best-seller. So looking forward to that as well.

Mari Ortiz: Thank you.

Melissa Riccobono: Me too. And I've got to check out the Backwards Fairy Tale series. It sounds fascinating. So I will definitely check out the first two and very much look forward to your third one being released, whenever you have the time to do it. And as a fellow writer, keep writing and-

Mari Ortiz: I will.

Melissa Riccobono: That's fantastic. Excellent. Very, very good.

Anil Lewis: Well, this has been a very interesting conversation, Mari, thank you for joining us. We better be careful because with this, we might end up ... Well, no, we'll have the written compliment to the Nation's Blind Podcast, so we're not threatened. That's good. This works out really well.

Melissa Riccobono: No, you don't need to be threatened by writers at all. No.

Mari Ortiz: No.

Anil Lewis: I don't like the way you said that.

Mari Ortiz: I look up to a few of them out there. I do still look up to Jim Butcher, for example, because I do love The Dresden Files, for example.

Anil Lewis: Nice. I think Melissa was being sarcastic. Our next podcast will be on blind sarcasm. No. I'm kidding. We should do one on those little things. So what are the little cartoons? What are those things called?

Melissa Riccobono: The Far Side?

Anil Lewis: No, the-

Melissa Riccobono: Memes?

Anil Lewis: Memes. We should do one on memes.

Melissa Riccobono: We could do one on memes. Yeah, we could. We could do that. We could also do Far Side cartoons, which I particularly love and think that are very sarcastic, so they're fun.

Anil Lewis: Well, before we go even further adrift, thank you Mari for being with us. Thank you listeners for tuning in again. And remember, you can live the life you want.

Melissa Riccobono: Blindness is not what holds you back.

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