Episode 221 – Unstoppable Upili Program Leader with Carla Birnberg

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Transcription Notes
“Upili program”? Yes and it isn’t even a misspelling. Our guest, Carla Birnberg will tell us all about Upili, where it comes from and what it is. Carla started life in Pittsburg, but nearly thirty years ago she ended up in Austin, TX. Prior to Austin she worked in North Carolina where she owned her own personal trainer business. She sold that company when she moved to Austin which was due to marriage.

Carla has always been quite the storyteller. Her Bachelors degree was in English Literature, but her mom convinced her to go to graduate school where she earned a Master’s degree in Educational Counseling. After her move to Austin she became a successful blogger and internet writer for a number of major brands.

Four years ago she, as she would say, pivoted to working with the Next Step Foundation to help persons with disabilities in East Africa.

We have quite the informative and interesting conversations about disabilities and how they are viewed in Kenya as opposed to the United States. Carla makes a strong case for why in reality the treatment of persons with disabilities between the two countries is not too different although in Kenya possibly the treatment of people with disabilities there is more visibly negative. Carla does say overall the views of us are pretty similar.

While you may hear some things discussed that have come up in other episodes of Unstoppable Mindset I think you will discover in Carla a person with a wealth of knowledge. Among other things, she describes how in Kenya where the Upili program is used, counselors with disabilities are brough into schools and organizations so the people there see good models to enrich and inspire them. This was a fun and wonderful conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

About the Guest:

Carla has dedicated her professional journey to cultivating connections, whether between individuals, places, or concepts. As a passionate advocate for amplifying the voices of marginalized communities, she most recently wove together her gift for ethical storytelling, her passion for uplifting others, and her academic experience/Master’s degree in Educational Counseling to create the Upili program.
Upili, Kiswahili for secondary as in secondary schools, engages Counselors with Disabilities to provide group therapy for Students with Disabilities in Kenyan “special schools.” (In Kenya, Students with Disabilities are educated at “special schools” according to their disability, e.g., schools for the blind, schools for the deaf, etc.)
Youth with Disabilities are 10 times more likely to suffer from depression, especially in East Africa where stigmatization, marginalization and discrimination are still prevalent. The lack of early intervention of essential psychosocial support creates additional barriers that keep Persons with Disabilities from being able to obtain and maintain meaningful employment.
Next Step Foundation’s Upili Program addresses this pervasive mental health challenge by providing support for secondary school Students with Disabilities, their families, and communities. By meeting the psychosocial needs of students, training teachers, staff and peers to serve as “psychological first responders,” and offering support to parents and caregivers the Upili Program instills self-confidence, improves academic performance and provides the tools to successfully navigate future discrimination so that Youth with Disabilities can achieve economic independence.

In her recent role as the Chief Culture and Inclusion Officer at Stepwise Inc., Carla played a pivotal role in advancing impact sourcing initiatives. Stepwise, a frontrunner in the impact sourcing movement and the first B Corp certified company in East Africa, benefited from Carla’s leadership in leveraging AI technology to empower marginalized groups, particularly individuals with disabilities and young women, enabling their full participation in the digital economy.

Driven by a commitment to fostering a positive organizational culture, Carla has created initiatives aimed at enhancing employee retention amidst Stepwise’s rapid growth. Her innovative approaches, including "stay interviews," upskilling opportunities, and mentorship programs, have infused the company’s core values into daily operations, cultivating a workplace where employees are not only motivated to come to work but also eager to remain with the organization, even across vast distances.

As a collaborative leader Carla has developed and implemented comprehensive training and support programs for cultural integration within organizations undergoing expansion through acquisitions. Her approach, which includes individual and group coaching as well as fostering cultural sensitivity, has proven instrumental in navigating organizational transitions.

Carla’s earlier career in marketing showcased her aptitude for connecting communities, influencers, and brands. With a track record of success in developing innovative branding and marketing campaigns, she has left an indelible mark on the industry. Her pioneering use of omni-channel media, blending lifestyle with product placement alongside esteemed personalities and leading brands such as Venus Williams, FILA, and Walt Disney World, made her a trailblazer in the realm we now simply refer to as ‘influencers.

Ways to connect with Carla:

Next Step Foundation website https://nextstepfdn.org/
Upili Program website https://www.upili.org/
Upil Instagram https://www.instagram.com/upili_program?
Upili Twitter
Carla Birnberg Substack https://carlabirnberg.substack.com/

About the Host:
Michael Hingson is a New York Times best-selling author, international lecturer, and Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe. Michael, blind since birth, survived the 9/11 attacks with the help of his guide dog Roselle. This story is the subject of his best-selling book, Thunder Dog.

Michael gives over 100 presentations around the world each year speaking to influential groups such as Exxon Mobile, AT&T, Federal Express, Scripps College, Rutgers University, Children’s Hospital, and the American Red Cross just to name a few. He is Ambassador for the National Braille Literacy Campaign for the National Federation of the Blind and also serves as Ambassador for the American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog Awards.


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Transcription Notes:

Michael Hingson ** 00:00
Access Cast and accessiBe Initiative presents Unstoppable Mindset. The podcast where inclusion, diversity and the unexpected meet. Hi, I’m Michael Hingson, Chief Vision Officer for accessiBe and the author of the number one New York Times bestselling book, Thunder dog, the story of a blind man, his guide dog and the triumph of trust. Thanks for joining me on my podcast as we explore our own blinding fears of inclusion unacceptance and our resistance to change. We will discover the idea that no matter the situation, or the people we encounter, our own fears, and prejudices often are our strongest barriers to moving forward. The unstoppable mindset podcast is sponsored by accessiBe, that’s a c c e s s i capital B e. Visit www.accessibe.com to learn how you can make your website accessible for persons with disabilities. And to help make the internet fully inclusive by the year 2025. Glad you dropped by we’re happy to meet you and to have you here with us.
Michael Hingson ** 01:20
Well, hello, and welcome to another episode of unstoppable mindset. Our guest today, my partner in conversation that is Carla Birnberg. Carla has a really interesting story to tell. She lives in Austin. And I don’t know where else in the US she’s live. But we’ll find out because we’ll drill down and, and get it out of her. But she spends her waking hours thinking of and assisting people, especially children with disabilities in Kenya, and helping them to become more accepted, which makes a lot of sense. And of course, needless to say, that’s near and dear to my heart. And we will we will get to all that as we go through our discussions. But for now, Carla, I want to welcome you into unstoppable mindset. And thank you very much for being here. Thank
Carla Birnberg ** 02:14
you so much for having me. I know it took a beat for us to get the date together. And I’m so glad to be here.
Michael Hingson ** 02:21
Well, we made it happen, which is really good. There you go. Tell us about the early Carla growing up and stuff like that.
Carla Birnberg ** 02:29
The early Carla
Michael Hingson ** 02:31
Yeah, gotta hear about the early Carla.
Carla Birnberg ** 02:34
I laughed because I’ve been thinking a lot. You know, that question that career counselors and coaches ask you What did you dream of being when you were little? And I don’t know. This will date me that book Harriet the Spy. You’re a man you might not be familiar with more of The Girl type read. But Harriet walked around her neighborhood pretending she was a spy with a notebook writing everything down. And I kind of think that my current career as chief storyteller, I’ve achieved it. And there were some deviations along the way. But my whole life that’s really been it, listening to stories and amplifying what other people are doing.
Michael Hingson ** 03:15
Carla the spy no doubt about it.
Carla Birnberg ** 03:17
I know maybe they can make it into a movie.
Michael Hingson ** 03:20
Well, why not? Now who played Harriet? I’m trying to remember was it?
I can’t remember her. Donal, I think she was. I think it was Rosie O’Donnell.
Carla Birnberg ** 03:32
I think you’re right. I’d forgotten. I don’t know where
Michael Hingson ** 03:34
she was Harriet, or she was the mother but she was in there with the mom
Carla Birnberg ** 03:38
she was. And that was I mean, I can really remember walking down my street. It’s a kid with that notebook and the pencil. And I hadn’t thought until right now. So thank you about how far I’ve come and how not far.
Michael Hingson ** 03:54
So now no pencils, keyboards. I
Carla Birnberg ** 03:57
know keyboards, voice notes and our phone all of it.
Michael Hingson ** 04:01
So you, you absorb stories and all that and tell me a little bit more about you and growing up and all that.
Carla Birnberg ** 04:10
I was pretty theatrical. I did a lot of television work when I was younger. And I thought for about three minutes that I wanted to be on air talent and I interned at our CBS affiliate and then I quickly realized that wasn’t my gift. Again, it goes back to I didn’t want to be on the screen like you. I wanted to be more behind the scenes writing the stories ended up in college for English English literature, small liberal arts school in Ohio where there was not much else to do but read. And I kind of stayed on this books and storytelling and marketing path my whole life.
Michael Hingson ** 04:51
Now, where are you from? Originally?
Carla Birnberg ** 04:55
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shout out to the Steelers. Yes, I’m a Pittsburgh girl at heart, even though I’ve not lived there and maybe 30 years.
Michael Hingson ** 05:04
Oh, that’s okay. There are people in New York who say the Dodgers will someday move back to Brooklyn and stinky white. Sure that’s going to happen. Of course now with Shohei Otani, I don’t think they can afford to move back to Brooklyn. So that’s another story. But yeah, but you never know. It isn’t gonna happen. They’re gonna stay out here. But anyway, that’s cool. So you, you, you love to be creative. I interviewed. Well, I keep saying that I shouldn’t. I had a conversation with a gentleman yesterday. And his name is Wolf born, he changed his name to wolf born, his middle name was born. In honor of his father, Max Born who was a very famous physicist. He had the name of wolf. He was a nickname, his original name was Randall, Born ready for this? Newton John. He’s, he’s in Australia. So who do you think so? Who do you think his aunt was?
Carla Birnberg ** 06:11
Olivia? This thing now, I loved Olivia Newton John’s talk
Michael Hingson ** 06:17
about a guy who comes from a really creative family. And he, he’s, he’s, he calls himself a corporate shaman, because he really wants to help organizations and people, people especially move closer to nature and understand that nature has a lot to it can do to guide us and teach us and, and so he really is heavily involved in that. But that
Carla Birnberg ** 06:43
is fascinating. And I’m, I’m with him in terms of, I’m not myself, this is why I don’t move back to Pennsylvania. Because of the cold. I need to be immersed in nature every day, preferably barefoot in the grass. It helps me ground myself, so I can show up for other people. He
Michael Hingson ** 07:02
would say, though, that there is time to deal with cold as well, because we we race around so much that we’re we way too hot. And so the result is that we don’t really deal with nature. We don’t tune into nature, which goes in cycles. And we ought to do more of that.
Carla Birnberg ** 07:20
Oh, I’m such a believer. And I just kind of emerged from wintering with Michael, I thought I invented but clearly I did not. When we fall back to we spring forward, I really tried to get still and plan for what’s coming next both at work and personally.
Michael Hingson ** 07:41
Yeah, well, I, I learned a long time ago that I’m not going to worry about spring ahead and falling back. Frankly, what I do is go to bed an hour earlier when it is spring. And that way, I come right out adjusted to the time anyway. And as far as falling back, I won’t stay up an hour later. I like to get the extra hour asleep. So I’m good. And
Carla Birnberg ** 08:11
you know, that is I think the Kenyan my team. That’s the biggest that’s the most challenging time of year when we fall back. I’m further so when I’m it’s 8am. For me, they’re done. It’s 5pm for them. I like when we spring forward, because I get that extra hour where they’re in the office, they have to adjust a lot to my USA schedule.
Michael Hingson ** 08:34
Yeah, well, I do a lot of work, of course, with excessive B. And the thing about excessive B is that they just switched yesterday night, I guess to daylight saving time. Oh. So they’ve so it’s been a challenge because some of the scheduling hasn’t always been coordinated very well. Microsoft hasn’t really done some of the things that it was supposed to do.
Carla Birnberg ** 09:09
So I can guess that night before the Sunday before the first Monday after we sprung forward. I was like Carla, you’ve been doing this for years, but let’s focus. Okay, so 8am Do we need to switch this out? Look didn’t change the meeting time. Like you said, it’s on us.
Yeah, literally cope. We did.
Carla Birnberg ** 09:28
That’s because we’re resilient and we’re creative.
Michael Hingson ** 09:30
So what did you do once you left college? Well, I’m before you said your degree in college was what in right in writing English English literature. Yeah,
Carla Birnberg ** 09:42
you know, it seemed like a really good idea. I have a daughter who’s 18 and my liberal arts degree has been great for cocktail conversation, and it’s a lovely degree, but I wasn’t really ready to do much after with it after graduation. So I as one does work In an outdoor store, I loved climbing and hiking, and I worked there probably for a year. And my mother, God bless her Jewish intellectual parents came into the store one day and said, Guess what? You’re going to graduate school. Now, I’m not paying for this, but it’s time to get doing something else. And so I got my master’s degree in Educational Counseling. Okay, I use it every day. And I don’t use it at all. It’s one of those, it’s been very helpful, but I’ve not used it in a traditional fashion.
Michael Hingson ** 10:31
Fair. I understand and empathize a lot, I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics. But wow, circumstances, ended up having me go in different directions. But I would never regret the times. And all that I learned in physics, the details, the kinds of things I learned some of the more basic life lessons like pay attention to details that are so important. And there’s some examples of that in terms of why it’s important in physics. But for me, I took it more to heart in a general way. And really work to pay attention to details, more of us ought to do that and observe what goes on around us, and learn to recognize what is working, what’s not working, do really pay attention to the details to find out if the details are going the way we expect. And if they’re not, why not? Because it might very well be that they have something to teach us. That’s
Carla Birnberg ** 11:30
a really, phenomenally interesting takeaway from a physics degree I wouldn’t have thought of. And you’re right. That’s a skill we all need. Because we need to know when to pivot when to change what we’re doing. And if we’re going too fast, we don’t even notice. Right?
Michael Hingson ** 11:47
So you’ve got a master’s in education. Yeah.
Carla Birnberg ** 11:53
And then what, and then I moved for a job, I was very excited, I packed up my car, I’m going to Chapel Hill, North Carolina for a job, I get to Chapel Hill, and welcome, but there’s no job anymore. So again, if it and this kind of took me, I don’t really believe we get off our path because everything comes together. But I ended up becoming and if you knew me in my childhood, this shocks, everybody actually straight up through college, a personal trainer, and not athletic at all. And I ended up opening a personal training studio, but with that using them it was master’s in education with an emphasis on counseling. So those counseling skills, yes, I did need the fitness knowledge. But the counseling skills really helped make me successful as a personal trainer. And then I sold my training studio moved to Austin, and became a big online, personal brand all sort of by accident.
Michael Hingson ** 12:56
Why personal trainer, what what got you to do that?
Carla Birnberg ** 13:02
Back then I probably would have said because I love paying my rent and my bills. And it seemed like something I could do to make some money. But I know myself and what comes easy to me, I’m not a good teacher of I could never have taught the clarinet came very easy to me. I could have taught math because I struggled with it. I’m not naturally someone who’s very adept with fitness, terrible hand eye coordination. And yet I knew when I started lifting weights briefly in college, for women, leaving much more than men, it’s where we can find our voice. It’s where we can discover our power. And so after that happened for me, I kind of wanted to proselytize or evangelize and share that with girls, mostly University of Chapel Hill, undergrads and women in the area. I believe in it’s so much teaching us to be strong and take up space and speak up. It’s really where I found my voice.
Michael Hingson ** 14:05
Why didn’t you stay with it, though? You sold it eventually and move to Austin,
Carla Birnberg ** 14:09
sold it and move to Austin and no more brick and mortar for me ever. I mean, I
Carla Birnberg ** 14:18
it was great. But
Carla Birnberg ** 14:22
I knew there was a way and I figured it out sort of with another with group of. We call ourselves the OG bloggers across the United States. How could we give away what we were passionate about what our knowledge was in what our skill set was really for free on the internet. So I was working at the Austin American Statesman by day writing features working in their education department, and a blogger by night until the blogging by night got so big that I left the statesman and made that full time.
Michael Hingson ** 14:55
Ended up getting out of the newspaper business. none
Carla Birnberg ** 14:58
too soon to my chagrin. I mean, I’m sad that it’s kind of dying off. Yeah.
Michael Hingson ** 15:03
Yeah, I think it’ll be a sad day if we lose newspapers. I
Carla Birnberg ** 15:10
absolutely agree. I mean, that’s some of my best memories of being a family growing up this Sunday, New York Times the local Pittsburgh paper.
Michael Hingson ** 15:21
So, you, you really got into blogging and what were you blogging about? Or what were you doing?
Carla Birnberg ** 15:29
It’s that master’s degree. It was personal development and fitness, but not prescriptive, not go to the gym and lift this weight and do it this way. It was more, what’s your language of encouragement? A few iterations back? What’s your why? How do we get to the gym? How do we commit to fitness? How do we figure out why this is even important to us so we can achieve the goals that we’ve set for ourselves. Okay,
Michael Hingson ** 15:55
well, going back even a little bit further and deeper. Why Austin? Ah, this
Carla Birnberg ** 16:01
marriage came down. Yes. And you know, it is I love the city. It’s changed a lot. But I’m still not one of those. And there are many of them now. Just old Austin was better. And as we’ve grown, it’s changed. And I love it just as much. I’ve been here 24 years. Long time. Hmm. Yes. And I have no plans to leave yet until unless they priced me out, then maybe?
Michael Hingson ** 16:26
Well, so. So you got into blogging and all that. And that’s a good thing. But as you pointed out, needing incomes and so on, so how did all that work for you?
Carla Birnberg ** 16:44
So Well, I mean, I gratitude. There’s I read somewhere once and I’m sure someone famous said it, and I should quote them, but I can’t remember who if you woke up tomorrow with only what you were grateful for today. What would that look like? And I have such a gratitude practice kind of framed around that. And I was very lucky financially with the blogging got in at the beginning worked with some big big names Phila Birkenstock Wonderful Pistachios, Sears, who I think is no more worked with Venus Williams and really made it into a lucrative and enjoyable and impactful I could help people career until everyone became an influencer. And I read that landscape and thought it might be time to get out.
Michael Hingson ** 17:36
So the idea was, they were sort of sponsoring you, or they were paying you to write blogs for them. That’s
Carla Birnberg ** 17:42
it, you know, they would come I mean, this was back in Paleozoic Era, like 2006. Let’s say when I started, they would come with Okay, we have $35,000, what can you do for us? How many videos how many posts? Will you write, and we can put it on our website, Sears Venus Williams Birkenstock? Can you do print advertisement for us, though it was before everyone was an influencer? Where I get it. If I were the brand, I would think I’m going to pay 50 Different UT students $50 Each and see what I get versus these big paychecks to the original influencers? Yeah.
Michael Hingson ** 18:24
So you did that. And, and again, at some point, it sounds like you pivoted into what?
Carla Birnberg ** 18:34
Wow, let’s go back to March 2020. It was before then that I read the landscape. You know, I had some podcasts that I hosted. So I know how hard you work. And I had written a book. And at that point, I was working with Venus. She blurbed, the cover of my book, and I thought, Where do I go from here? I was doing LIVESTRONG with a big website at the time, some content creation for them. And I was just in that moment of what should my next be when the world sort of started looking like it was changing. I had already been in conversations with a startup in Austin and Nairobi about doing some marketing for them, potentially just fractional short term CMO. And I thought I don’t know what’s happening here. COVID And I’m gonna do this because I don’t think it’s the time to work the gig economy even though I don’t know what’s happening. And I mean, again, gratitude said yes, took the leap had never done anything like this. I’d done the marketing I’d never worked globally and just thought, I’m gonna give this a shot. And I mean, it is no understatement to say it is the best Yes, I’ve ever said second to working with dentists. It’s the best death I’ve ever said.
Michael Hingson ** 19:50
Why is that?
Carla Birnberg ** 19:54
It has changed my life. I mean, I traveled a lot as a child. My dad was a professor So he would take his sabbatical in. He did it twice in London. So I lived in Oxford and I’ve been exposed to the world but not, not in this consistent way. And the backdrop of my entire life I’m Jewish, but I’m not religious is Tikun Olam, which means repair the world. And really, it’s we can’t fix everything. So let’s take our little tiny corner and try to fix it up as best we can. And I’d watched my parents do that. And I done some volunteering, but this global experience and given me an opportunity to really take my gifts and use them in a different way and meet so many different people. And it’s just shifted my life perspective. And I’m so grateful.
Michael Hingson ** 20:48
Well, yeah, so tell me more about kind of what you did and what you’re doing. Now. I’m assuming it’s all related.
Carla Birnberg ** 20:57
It is the short version with the startup as with many startups, our whole goal was to eventually have the entire C suite team moved to Kenya, after about two and a half years. That’s what happened. And I can tell you, I could have looked for a totally different job at that point, not gotten up at four in the morning. But gratitude spiritual practice, I just really felt that my work in Africa wasn’t done. And I shifted to our foundation and became I was the head of culture and inclusion with the for profit startup, and moved kind of back to marketing on some level and became the chief storyteller, for next step Foundation.
Michael Hingson ** 21:44
And the next step foundation. Sounds pretty fascinating. Tell me more about that, if you would,
Carla Birnberg ** 21:49
we focus on helping the historically and it gets back to semantics, you and I had a really great pre interview chat about that the historically excluded I now do not love the word marginalized, mostly from my, my project persons with disabilities, but the whole foundation, it’s women and youth and persons with disabilities by we recruit them, we assess what they need, we accommodate whatever their needs are. Maybe this is a young woman who has no digital skills, maybe this young man needs a screen reader. And then we train them. And unlike many nonprofits in the Global South, we don’t just train, we then transition them into the job and support them in the job, after mentorship, kind of making sure that they have everything they need, so that they can be successful and feel successful. It’s not all about the career. It’s also about feeling really good about the work that they’re doing.
Michael Hingson ** 22:55
So where does the next step foundation function primarily?
Carla Birnberg ** 22:59
It is mainly in Nairobi. So it’s yes, it’s been a big shift, when I was with the for profit entity, there are probably 17 of us in the States. Now there to go around noon, it can feel like a ghost town. I love my team, because they’ll stay up late for me. But mostly in Nairobi, we have a small office here.
Michael Hingson ** 23:26
And so tell me a little bit more about about what you do. And we definitely can have the discussion here that we had ahead of time. And I’ll let you kind of lead that as to where you’d like it to go. But tell me a little bit more about what what you actually do now and and kind of how all that works.
Carla Birnberg ** 23:46
I’m so it’s such perfect timing for us to talk. You know, I started chief storyteller, this is great. I got to help with some marketing language. That was fun. And my favorite aspect of the job, which is not my new project is helping to create the impact narratives of our participants. Because I mean, it’s almost like a puzzle where I interview them. And then I get snippets half of the time, it’s in Swahili, so I pull in other team members to translate and kind of get that opportunity to weave it into a story. And our focus at the foundation is ethical storytelling. I have nothing to do with the story. My perspective doesn’t matter. And in addition to that, and I know that the participants and people with whom I’ve worked at Next Step sort of chuckle, but we always ask for vigorous and consistent consent. So if I write a fantasy story, and he says, yep, here’s my story. Yes, he’s my picture. He approves everything. I put it on LinkedIn. And then I want to share it on Twitter. I’m going back to him, because it’s really important to us as a foundation and me as chief storage Heller, at any time, a Fontas could say, You know what, I’m kind of over it. I don’t want you to share my story anymore of going from x and acquiring my disability and then doing this and getting this job. And we would say, okay, so I love that facet of my job, the storyteller, and yet I had a little gap of time. And that’s how this new project was created. The one that you and I have spoken about. And can I transition into that? Yes, you are excited. Okay. It’s, I’m so thrilled we just finished our pilot program. It’s called oo p li, which means secondary and key Swahili.
Michael Hingson ** 25:39
And how do you spell that? Up?
Carla Birnberg ** 25:41
i Li. Okay, great. I know I actually had on my appealing necklace. And then I’ve no idea why I thought I would be a grown up and take it off. Because I’d like to wear it in the community. So people say, hey, Carla, actually, I have a keychain. They’ll say, hey, Carla, what is your necklace? What is your pili? And then I whip out my keychain, Michael with the QR code on the back. And I’m like, Thank you for asking, here’s the website and how you can give me money. very appealing means secondary. And we thought I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if we went into these special schools in Kenya, which is their way of defining the schools that are created only for persons with disabilities, typically, very segregated schools for the blind schools for the deaf, there are some which are for all disabilities. And there are some which they also call integrated, which means for people who do not have a disability and those with disabilities, the plan was to go into these schools and meet material needs, build perimeter walls, give them new desks, supply hot water heaters, things that are very important and that I thought, this is the answer we went to visit. And I suddenly it dawned on the entire team. This is great, giving physical items. But this is all for something many, many NGOs are already doing. They’ll come in, every Oprah gets a new desk, they’ll come in, we will paint and build new hospitals, what we would call dormitories. So I met with our team who went to joy town, this is where we did our pilot there all the antics, persons with disabilities and said, Okay, a lot of people are meeting this need for the physical items. What else is in need? That is even more pressing. And this is when the conversation began around what I was aware of, I thought through doing the impact storytelling, I was not aware of the deep degree. And we started talking about the stigma around being a person with a disability and Kenya, the stigma from childhood, the discrimination as they grew older, and the more we talk as a team, the more we realized, it’s therapy. It’s counselors with disabilities going into these special schools, and doing group therapy with students with disabilities to give them that psychosocial support needed, filling the gaps with what they might already be getting at school. So they build their self confidence. So when they graduate, and finally graduate, I know I’m excited, an equal rate as their non disabled peers, they can thrive, they can get their jobs because they process this past trauma.
Michael Hingson ** 28:50
So in general, how our disability is treated in Kenya, as opposed to in the US or in East Africa in general, how are how are they treated differently? Or are they treated differently? Or do you think that there are a lot of similarities? I
Carla Birnberg ** 29:06
would be the first to say that I am not. I’m, as not evidenced in this moment. I’m a listener more than a talker. So I’ve had an interesting conversation about this with friends with disabilities in the States. I would still say that the stigma is tremendous. We’ve come a little bit further here. I’ve written the stories of a lot of my team members and the pressure on their parents after they were born to leave the baby at the hospital to euthanize the baby. Because there’s still that fear in the villages not so much in Nairobi, that the child has a curse. The family is now curse. They hide the children away frequently. I remember one student was talking about how her mother had tried to To kill her, and the assumption I came from was, Oh, that’s very sad, you know, she was a baby, and she was probably 13 or 14, no, this had happened last spring break from school, there’s so much shame and fear that I just don’t see here.
Michael Hingson ** 30:21
Or at least hear, it may be covered up more, but there’s still a lot of it. We still hear of, oh, say blind parents who want to who have a child, and the courts want to take them the child away, or their ballot battles around that, or parents who just shelter their children with disabilities and don’t let them explore. So I had to write, I think, I think it may be that, that the hiding is more sophisticated in some ways. But I think to a very large degree, it’s still there. And I think that it is because of what you said, it’s the fear. And what we don’t realize collectively, as a society, is that disability shouldn’t mean a lack of ability, as, as I tell people, and then they say, well, but disability starts with dis. And I said, Yeah, and so does disciple, and so does discern. So what are you saying? You know, the the fact is that dis isn’t the issue. It’s the perception, it’s the fear. It’s the prejudice, that we all need to overcome, and get to the point where we truly recognize that what disability is, is a characteristic that every single person has, except that it manifests itself differently for different people.
Carla Birnberg ** 31:53
Yes, I mean, my past four and a half years have been like a PhD, and I don’t know what it would be, but I have been so educated by my team. And what you said made me think of a couple of things. One is my go to I couldn’t do anything without her. Mariam and degla. She’s my up Lee everything campus liaison. She has said repeatedly, you know, my parents she has cerebral palsy hadn’t just been her mother and her grandmother, go, you’re like any other child? No, we’re not going to make accommodations for you, she said always says to me, I would not have come as far as they didn’t shelter me. And that she credits that to her success in life.
Michael Hingson ** 32:38
Yeah, and actually, there are differences between accommodations. And yes, you’re right sheltering. But I know what you’re saying. And the reality is that we we make accommodations for sighted people all the time, right? We have lights in our buildings so that people can see where to walk, we have your right, we have a coffee machine so that people can get coffee or tea or hot chocolate or something, even though it’s touchscreen nowadays, so it’s not even accessible for everyone. We have so many different things that we offer. But we like it to be more one sided. We don’t recognize that those are just as much accommodations as providing a screen reader for providing a ramp.
Carla Birnberg ** 33:27
And curb cut effect I had not heard of until four years ago. We use them all the time, the captions, all of it. And yet we avail ourselves of things that aren’t created for us.
Michael Hingson ** 33:42
Right? The reality is that we all have gifts, and we all have things that we don’t do as well as other people. And it is it is so unfortunate that we haven’t even in this country taken the leap to really understand that.
Carla Birnberg ** 34:04
No, and I think I see that much more clearly. Now, I see that much more clearly not doing the work in East Africa. I do. You know, I think and I was thinking about this earlier, and I almost reached out to you by email, and then I thought now you’re such a brilliant man, I’m gonna corner you And wouldn’t you think that our therapists so we always use counselors with disabilities, first of all, so that the students see the counselor and think that’s pretty amazing. I could do that. I had never I didn’t dream that was possible. But also they have shared lived experience. If we’d had a counselor, even Kenyan go into his run this group therapy group who didn’t have a disability, they would waste two or three sessions trying to explain to him or her, this is what it’s like being me in Kenya. So he went in and thought okay, we are going to To practice affirmations using a mirror, this is going to be very interesting, the students might need some help bolstering their self esteem and coming up with the affirmations. I’m on it. She was surprised. And again, woman with a disability, that most of the students in therapy groups were completely unable to look in the mirror, because they had kind of integrated all of the negativity that had come at them from their families from the village. They couldn’t even look at themselves in the mirror. And even she was shocked by that. And I’m really curious, your thoughts on is that unique to Kenya and that vast amount of negativity and stigma around having a disability? Or do you think that might be paralleled in the USA?
Michael Hingson ** 35:47
Well, I think there is a fair amount of it in the USA. I’ve not heard of anybody who said that they can’t look at themselves in the middle. Except for vampires, but. But I do seriously think that there are a lot of similarities. So I’ve told the story a few times on unstoppable mindset. But I did a talk a few years ago, it was a hybrid talk. And I talked about disabilities. And I talked about the fact that for blind people. In reality, the term visually impaired is one of the most disgusting things that people can say to describe us, even though it’s what the so called experts in the field created years ago, but visually impaired is a problem for a couple of reasons. One, visually, we’re not different simply because we’re blind to lose your eyesight, it doesn’t mean that you’re visually different. So that’s a problem. But the bigger issue is impaired. Why am I being at all compared with person with eyesight? Why is it that I have to be considered impaired simply because I don’t see if you want to talk about vision? I think I got lots of vision, I just don’t see good. Like, I’d love to tell people. Don’t I talk? Well, anyway. So I think that the term visually impaired is a problem. And I mentioned that in my talk. And I also said, the better terminology is blind and low vision. A lot of people hate blind, but you know what, that’s what I am. And I happen to be physically blind. And there are a lot of idiots out there who are mentally blind, and we won’t go there.
Carla Birnberg ** 37:30
We won’t go encountered a lot.
Michael Hingson ** 37:32
But But anyway, so the the issue with the talk is I gave this talk. And then I opened it for questions. And people could in the audience, ask questions, or people could call in and this one woman called in, and she said, I am visually impaired. And that’s all there is to it. And I said, No, you’re not, you’re blind. No, I have I just I have some eyesight, then you’re low vision. No, I’m visually impaired. See, the problem is all too often we buy into it. And we don’t understand how that kind of language continuing to be promulgated around, contributes to the view that people have about us. I love that phrase buy
Carla Birnberg ** 38:18
into it. That’s it, I
Michael Hingson ** 38:20
am not impaired. And if I’m going to talk about being impaired, even though your disability is covered up so much, because you have access to electric lights, just have a power failure and see what you do, you immediately look for a smartphone or a flashlight so that you can get light back, because Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb for you. You like dependent people. But the bottom line is it still is only covering up your disability. Disability is a characteristic that we all have every single person on the planet. And it only manifests itself differently depending on what your gifts are and what your gifts are not.
Carla Birnberg ** 39:03
Okay, super interesting. And well, I’m sure I should have thought about this. But 54 and a half, I hadn’t really thought about it much because I’ve never broken anything. And I’m just getting to this point. But again, Mary and my right hand woman will frequently say, in high school, I advocated for youth students with disabilities and people who had temporary disabilities. And that’s a pretty big refrain from her. And the more she said it the more I’ve thought, oh, yeah, everyone is going to experience some sort of something, whether it’s breaking your leg, whether it’s becoming low vision, better phrase,
Michael Hingson ** 39:44
or, or whether you suddenly lose power and you can’t see what you’re doing. And that’s my point. Yeah, no, that’s my point is that the reality is the disability is there anyway. Yeah, but we do work. And right At least so to offset disabilities that limit us like a lack of light, it’s okay, I have no problem with the fact that we have light bulbs, we have so many different mechanisms and ways of producing light for people. But be honest with yourself, it still is a disability, because the time can come when you don’t have access to it, the time can come that a person who happens to be blind, might be somewhere and not have access to information that we would like to have access to and ought to have access to. Yeah, and only over more time, will society recognize that it has to provide information to us in in ways that work for everyone, I have a favorite example, I’m not gonna really not be able to describe this very well. But I’m going to try. There’s a TV commercial that goes on out here. And the commercial starts out with this woman saying, you know, dad had this. And I don’t want you to get it either. You have to really take care of yourself and take care of this right now. Because if you don’t, it is going to run your life. And I know that you’re one of these, you don’t really like anyone telling you what to do. Well, that’s the end of the commercial. And I don’t know what goes on. There is absolutely nothing. And I don’t know whether you’ve seen that commercial earlier. But there is nothing that says what that commercial is about. Now, someone this morning, I talked with someone who told me that it has to do with some sort of medical thing. And but But even she couldn’t remember exactly what it was because there is not a single verbal cue in that commercial telling you what it’s about. Much less making it accessible to be Yeah, yeah. And the reality is that, as we all know, many times people don’t sit in front of their TV during commercials, they look away or they get up and they go to the bathroom or whatever. It is such a poorly designed commercial because of that. And, and it’s unfortunate. But somebody figured, well, we don’t need to worry about it other than people being able to see it, and they’ll see it and they’ll get it. No, they won’t. Because it’s all too often that people don’t watch the screen. And as I said this morning, the person I asked who I regard as an extremely observant person couldn’t even tell me what company that commercial was about.
Carla Birnberg ** 42:45
Oh, interesting. And you’re right, the world’s not, it’s not set up accessively. In many instances, it’s
Michael Hingson ** 42:53
not set up. Well, accessively or inclusively, we are much less inclusive than we ought to be that commercial could have been created in a much different way to provide information to everyone. But they didn’t. And it’s so unfortunate. So it shows in some senses, although I think we’ve made progress in this country. It also shows how far we have not come because that kind of thing still exists.
Yes. Yes.
Carla Birnberg ** 43:29
I mean, I’ve thought so much about this, since we set the date for the podcast and just every day at work that my perspective doesn’t matter. It’s been interesting to me to see. There’s a feels like there’s a big differential as far as the trauma, outgrowth of being a person with disability. But other than that, that’s really the only major difference. And that’s what made us think, okay, we need to focus on mitigating this trauma so that the students can be successful.
Michael Hingson ** 44:00
Well, there’s a lot of merit to having role models. And when you bring people in, who are true role models, it makes a lot of sense to do that. And I think there’s a lot of precedent for that. So having counselors having people who come from the same kind of environment that they come from, is very relevant. I spoke in Japan, back in 2012. Well, it was the publisher of thunder dog. My book in Japanese brought me over for two weeks. And one of the things that I learned there was that if you are a blind person, I don’t know if it’s changed since then. But if you’re a blind person, you are not allowed to sign a contract. Period. You can’t see a contract period. How am I asked this Someone who was in the insurance industry why? And his response essentially was was it should be very obvious because you could be cheated. And I said, Oh, so you’re telling me that no sighted people in Japan are ever cheated when it comes to signing contracts? Oh, exactly. Even though today, there is technology that allows me to fully read contracts. Right? All right, with that time, the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the mobile KNFB. Reader Mobile, although it hadn’t come out in Japanese yet, but it has since. But the reality is, again, it’s the prejudice. For many years, the Gallup polling organization and surveying people’s fears, said that one of the top five fears that people had was going blind, not even disabilities, but losing eyesight, because that’s for her that because that’s what we emphasize eyesight. But it’s not the way it ought to be. Over time, it will change. And I firmly believe that we will see a day when television commercials like the one I described earlier will be not tolerated. But I think we’re not anywhere near there yet. Somebody once said to me, I look forward to the day when we don’t have to even use the word accessible, because it’s just such an automatic thing, that everything is included for everyone.
That’s it.
Carla Birnberg ** 46:34
That’s it. And I don’t know if you know who Judy human is. I’ve been okay. But we both became really far. In her lifetime. And I don’t know, I’m curious, your thoughts? Will we get there? I mean, I know we’re trying to in Kenya, where companies hire these, again, like which they are persons with disabilities, they’re trained, they’re brilliant, they’re ready to go, and they just start work and everything they need isn’t an accommodation. It’s just the way the office is. And I hope we get there here.
Michael Hingson ** 47:15
Yeah, I think we will. But I do think that the way the world is now we have to legislate it, because attitude only we’re not there. You know, one of the big discussions in the world has been the internet. And many people have not made their websites accessible. Yeah, hence the need for companies like excessive be. Yeah, but but people have said, well, but we we don’t need to do it because the internet came along, after the ADA. So the ADA covers physical things, but it doesn’t cover the internet, because it’s just the way it is. Well, yeah. The reality is is not what the ADEA says it doesn’t talk about specifically and only physical places of business. And finally, in 2022, the Department of Justice, II dicted, if you will, that the internet is covered under Title, two of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and website should be made, accessible and inclusive. Yeah, but even so
Michael Hingson ** 48:30
a lot of well, most website owners don’t pay attention to it, they think it’s too expensive. But again, hence companies like accessibility and what access to be brings. But also, the the other aspect of it is that most people just don’t even know they don’t think about it. It doesn’t need to be expensive to make the internet or your website accessible or inclusive. But it’s also the right thing to do, because it covers more than just blindness. And the fact is that there’s so many different kinds of disabilities that are affected by not having full access to the internet. And it’s easy enough to do. And there are procedures and guidelines that describe exactly what needs to be done and how to do it. If people would just do it. That’s it
Carla Birnberg ** 49:24
and people don’t. Five years ago, I was people like and it’s no better do better. I sent to a big social media person the other day. I love your I don’t know, we’re calling them exes, your tweets, but you never use alt text on your picture. And he said, I don’t even know what that is. Yeah. And so I thought it’s what you said that sometimes people are lazy websites and as people think it’d be too expensive. Sometimes they just don’t think
Michael Hingson ** 49:54
some people just don’t know. Yes, it we don’t teach it In computer science schools very much like we should. I’m involved with an organization that is creating its website. And they went out and got bids from two local places to make the website up and running to get it up and running and operational. And I said, as as part of a discussion, and what are they doing regarding accessibility? Oh, they say that they know how to do that. And I said, Tell me more about that. Well, one of the companies said, Well, the fact is that it isn’t the website design that has to be addressed. The person with a screen reader has to make the accommodations and make the modifications to work on the website.
Oh, that’s not what we want to hear. Well, oh, that is so wrong. Oh, my God, and so neither ms on them.
Michael Hingson ** 50:55
Yeah. And so accessible is going to be the the product that they use, rightly so because the company, the website owner doesn’t have a lot of money. But it will be possible to make the website accessible. And we found another company that will do the job for the same price or less than any of the other companies. And it will include accessibility. And they will actually use accessibility, because it’s such a great product to use for making this kind of thing happen. But the reality is, the the original people who were looking at getting the website quotes, also were clueless. And they were ready to buy into well, it’s got to be the sky with the screen reader just got to fix it. Until they learned, we don’t teach it yet. We don’t teach real inclusion yet, as a part of what we do, and it’s something that we really need to look at. We’ll get there. You’re
Carla Birnberg ** 51:57
right, you’re right. And it’s people like me who I’m not doing any sort of web design. But I launched a substack. I was late to that party, and I wanted to make it accessible. So I always have a voiceover. And a bunch of readers have said to me, that super me that you read it. I’m like, well, it is super neat, but it’s for accessibility. And like, oh, I don’t even think about that. So I think it’s the lay people, we need to start spreading the word. And I don’t know how we do that, except for leading by example, practice living
Michael Hingson ** 52:27
by example, writing more articles, including disabilities in the conversation. And all too often we don’t do that.
Carla Birnberg ** 52:35
And that’s why one of the biggest reasons why I love where I work, I’m taking the backseat. And when it was the for profit, I had a whole team of persons with disabilities who told me what was what and how things should be and what language to use. And I listened. And now same thing, I will look to marry him or Daniel or Terry or Becky, what do we need here? Why do we need it all make it happen? But you tell me I don’t have the lived experience?
Yeah. Well,
Michael Hingson ** 53:07
as I said, I think the most important thing we need to do is to really push the conversation to always involve disabilities. When you talk about diversity, you know, what is there? What is diversity to you?
Carla Birnberg ** 53:19
And, you know, I think I would have answered differently 10 years ago, but now it’s always inclusion. It’s well,
Michael Hingson ** 53:27
but that’s, that’s not diversity. Tell me what diversity is. And use your answer from 10 years ago. Okay.
Carla Birnberg ** 53:34
10 years ago, I would have thought it’s bringing persons of color into the conversation and not having everybody looked the same
Michael Hingson ** 53:43
race, gender, sexual orientation,
Carla Birnberg ** 53:46
and maybe not even sexual orientation, because I think I would have been 10 years ago. Yeah, would have been,
Michael Hingson ** 53:52
but three and four years ago, yeah. But today, race, gender, sexual orientation. Diversity is about difference. And we don’t include disabilities. We don’t include persons with disabilities or or
Carla Birnberg ** 54:11
we do with the foundation. And when you what are your thoughts on that? Well, I think
Michael Hingson ** 54:16
the issue is that that’s why I gave a speech entitled, moving from diversity to inclusion. You can’t be inclusive, if you are not bringing disabilities into it, like as part of the population. But but we’re, we’re inclusive of color and so on, but you’re not inclusive. You can’t get away with it if we don’t allow it. So we’re not going to let inclusion be screwed up, if you will, like we have allowed diversity to be screwed up and not including disabilities. And that’s what what we really need to do is to take that step of recognizing that we’re all part of the same planet And we all need to recognize that and it’s important to do that.
Carla Birnberg ** 55:06
And I know I mean, that’s kind of where my project fits into the greater umbrella of the foundation is. The youth with disabilities, students with disabilities weren’t graduating. And so the office landscapes weren’t inclusive or reflecting the true population. And we need to help the students graduate so that the foundation can step in and train them and job place them so that we’re inclusive. And the makeup of the officers look like the real makeup of society.
Michael Hingson ** 55:41
So what motivates you to get up in those, do those early morning or stay up for those late night phone calls?
Carla Birnberg ** 55:47
Oh, my gosh, thank goodness, I think this all the time, even if I didn’t get up early. I’m not late night. So thank goodness, I don’t work for a foundation in India. You know, I’m passionate, somewhat my Nespresso, which I love. But I’ve mentioned Mary Ann’s name a million times, Beth, what do goo I love my team. And I think when the alarm goes off at four, it’s noon, or it’s one o’clock, what’s going on? I just love it. It’s, I don’t know, it’s my why it’s that notion of, I’m not making huge difference in the world, somebody in the middle of Iowa has no idea who I am. But I’m making a tiny little impact, and I’m loving what I’m learning, and I’m loving every minute of it.
Michael Hingson ** 56:37
And that’s the important thing. You love it. You know, you love it. And you’re gonna continue to do it. If people want to reach out and learn more about the next step Foundation, or maybe become involved in some way, how can they do that?
Carla Birnberg ** 56:52
I would love it, I am up for a zoom anytime the best way to find me would be going to LinkedIn. And it’s U P I L I Upili. message us, I would love to chat. We’re always looking for insights for mental health professionals in the United States. Clearly, we’re always looking for donors, but just conversations around what we’re doing. And I’m always curious what other people are doing as well how they are making an impact.
Michael Hingson ** 57:23
So just search for U p i l i on LinkedIn. That’s
Carla Birnberg ** 57:28
right Upili, we have a website, it’s upili.org. But either of those two ways. You can find me. Okay,
Michael Hingson ** 57:35
and that’s and that’s all connected to the next step foundation.
Carla Birnberg ** 57:38
Yep, we’re a project underneath them. Cool.
Michael Hingson ** 57:41
Well, I hope people will reach out. I know that they’ve heard me say some of these same things before a number of times. But it’s great to hear the progress that you’re making and the things that you’re doing. And I really hope that we’re able to contribute to bringing progress, both in East Africa and that we through this conversation, we’ll get more people talking about it here in the US as well.
Carla Birnberg ** 58:10
Yes, and I always loved listening to you and talking to you. Because it gets me thinking in a different way to
Michael Hingson ** 58:15
well, we should do more of it than total, we can both learned to to get different perspectives. Well, I want to thank you for being here. And I want to thank all of you for and I want to thank you all for listening. We really appreciate it or watching if you’re on YouTube. But wherever you’re experiencing the podcast, we would really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating. We love those and we love your reviews. So please do that. If you’d like to reach out to me and have any questions or want to chat further about this, please feel free. You can reach me at Michaelhi at accessibe.com That’s m i c h a e l h i at accessiBe  A C C E S S I B E.com. Or you can go to our podcast page, which is www dot Michael hingson.com/podcast. And Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n.com/podcasts. So we’d love to hear from you. And if any of you, including you, Carla, have a thought of anyone who else we ought to have on as a guest love to hear from you. We are always looking for people who want to come on and tell stories and talk about interesting things. And even if we talk about some of the same things we’ve talked about before on the podcast, I don’t think it gets boring. And the more we do it, the more people will gain an understanding of it. So we sure look forward to hearing from you with ideas of guests and other people who want to be part of the podcast. So thank you very much and really appreciate your your involvement in that. But again, Carla, I want to thank you for being here and for taking the time to be with us today. Thank you so much for having me. It was so fun
Michael Hingson ** 1:00:07
You have been listening to the Unstoppable Mindset podcast. Thanks for dropping by. I hope that you’ll join us again next week, and in future weeks for upcoming episodes. To subscribe to our podcast and to learn about upcoming episodes, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com slash podcast. Michael Hingson is spelled m i c h a e l h i n g s o n. While you’re on the site., please use the form there to recommend people who we ought to interview in upcoming editions of the show. And also, we ask you and urge you to invite your friends to join us in the future. If you know of any one or any organization needing a speaker for an event, please email me at speaker at Michael hingson.com. I appreciate it very much. To learn more about the concept of blinded by fear, please visit www dot Michael hingson.com forward slash blinded by fear and while you’re there, feel free to pick up a copy of my free eBook entitled blinded by fear. The unstoppable mindset podcast is provided by access cast an initiative of accessiBe and is sponsored by accessiBe. Please visit www.accessibe.com . AccessiBe is spelled a c c e s s i b e. There you can learn all about how you can make your website inclusive for all persons with disabilities and how you can help make the internet fully inclusive by 2025. Thanks again for Listening. Please come back and visit us again next week.

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