Episode 48 – Unstoppable Empathy with Yonty Friesem

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In this episode, I have the pleasure of meeting and talking with Yonty Friesem. Yonty is an Associate Professor of communication and founding director of the MA in civic media at Columbia College Chicago. He was born in Israel and moved to the states as his career and vistas expanded.
You get to hear his own life story, but even more important, he will describe the concepts of Civic Media as well as what digital empathy is all about. He will tell us about his long run as a teacher and will tell us how he has worked and continues to work to break down the communication barriers. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Also, have you yet noticed that we are now releasing two episodes of Unstoppable Mindset each week? Yonty’s episode is the second one in our second week of two episodes a week. Now twice as much Unstoppable Mindset as before. You also can now find Unstoppable Mindset on Youtube. I hope you like the additions. Please let me know your thoughts, comments, and suggestions.
About the Guest:
Yonty Friesem is an Associate Professor of communication and founding director of the MA in civic media at Columbia College Chicago. Yonty provides professional development for media educators in their role as the Associate Director of the Media Education Lab. Their publications in academic and professional journals include the theory of empathic dialogs via media Yonty calls digital empathy, evaluation of various civic media programs, and explorations of implementing digital and media literacy in schools.
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 an 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

UM Intro/Outro  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
You are listening to another episode of unstoppable mindset. Welcome on board. Glad you’re here with us. Today we are having the opportunity to chat with Yonty Friesem and Yonty is a very knowledgeable person on inclusion and equity and diversity. He understands a lot about accessibility, and we’re going to get into why and what that’s all about as well as a lot of other things about him as we go forward. So Yonty welcome aboard unstoppable mindset.
Yonty Friesem  01:51
Thank you. My pleasure.
Michael Hingson  01:53
So why don’t you start a little bit by telling us just about yourself. Oh, wow. I know it started at a log cabin in Illinois, right?
Yonty Friesem  02:03
Yeah. So from an accent you can see that, you know, I’m not local, to say the least I grew up in Israel. Until my 30s, when I looked to have a PhD, to support media educators after being an educator myself and feeling that there’s not enough support. And then I came to Temple University, then moved to University of Rhode Island, I followed my advisor, Dr. Renee hops, to learn about media education and media literacy. And from there, I got, you know, different jobs. And now I met Columbia College, Chicago, just got tenure and promoted to associate professor, and very happy to be able to found the MA in civic media, the MA in strategic communication, and the bachelor in communication, as I’m working with other educators and supporting in different initiatives. So that’s basically my background.
Michael Hingson  03:03
Ma is Master of Arts. Yes. Uh huh. So, you, you have been doing this a little bit and certainly gotten a little bit of expertise and knowledge about the whole process. How did you get into dealing at all with the whole concept of universal design when it comes to media and dealing with accessibility and some of the issues surrounding that?
Yonty Friesem  03:30
So during my PhD program, I was working in Rhode Island, and I met a dear friend called Janine Chartier, who is the CEO of art equity now, but it was VSA arts, Rhode Island, the Rhode Island branch from the Kennedy sponsored by the Kennedy Center. And as we work together on having students who have a variety of disability, getting art education, and from my, you know, expertise, media education, she introduced me to Universal Design for Learning as part of the work and also since we were asked to provide professional development for educators. And so that goes back to like, almost 10 years ago, when we did that, and start to work together to figure it out, how to help students but also how to help educators to understand how to implement it.
Michael Hingson  04:36
So can you tell us a little bit about a little bit more about what Universal Design means or, or dealing with accessibility when it comes to filming and fine arts and so on?
Yonty Friesem  04:50
Sure. So, Universal Design for Learning is the equivalent of universal design meaning you design for accessible ability, but then it’s really to apply for a variety of needs. And to accommodate that. So when it comes to learning, the idea is to look at the way that the mind is a little bit, you know, different in each one of us and our wiring is different. So we might have a disability, like I have ADHD. And so my mind look and learn differently than somebody else. And also ADHD, there’s such a variety of it. So the idea of universal design for learning has three basic things, which is always offer multiple ways of engaging with your students, multiple ways of perception of the information and multiple ways of expressing that you learn that knowledge. And so understanding that framework, which is again, very general, and there’s more specifics, that helps you really address all your students. So when we’re talking about media education in my field, that means engagement in a variety of ways, a variety of media. So even if I’m, for example, I was a film teacher in high school, back in 2001. But it doesn’t mean that I only engage with films or videos, I also use podcasts, I also use drawing, I use different ways to engage the students different tactics of engagement. And in perception, it’s a show the same information in different ways. So that can be you know, back then I was projecting on the wall, I could draw on the wall, there were different, like ways that I would do it. And then the last thing is different way of expression. So we’re used to like there is an exam. Everybody is writing on paper. But what about offering different ways. So if I’m a media educator, maybe some of my students and I’ve been doing it at Columbia College Chicago for several years now in advocating for other faculty to do the same. I give my students the questions, and they choose how to answer them as long as they actually answer them. So they can record themselves. They can write, they can take pictures and do a photo essay. So it’s they can deliver a PowerPoint, it doesn’t matter as long as they actually answer and show me that they are knowledgeable about what I’m asking them.
Michael Hingson  07:30
Did you or do you have today, much involvement with outside of learning disabilities and so on persons with physical disabilities like blindness or, or other physical type disabilities?
Yonty Friesem  07:44
At the college, we have an ASL program. So we do have students who also are hard hearing or need interpretation, or are deaf. And I didn’t encounter so far blind students in my four and a half years at Columbia College, but we had different disabilities that people came and because I’m using the Universal Design for Learning and very close to the office of disability, I’m working on always different ways to have students be able to share their knowledge, their learning, and also learn in the way that will be customized to the learning type, if we can call it that way.
Michael Hingson  08:32
Yeah. Well, I think for, for blind people, were, in part probably a little bit later than some to discovering, and becoming more involved in some kinds of, of artistic things. But it is happening. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you are colleagues, at some point, start to get more blind people, for example, in programs interested in learning more about art and learning more about even doing film and other kinds of work. Traditionally, in acting, for example, people who portray blind people have not been blind people. And now, the the world of blind people, the organized blind movements, for example, are starting to say, there really needs to be more of us doing it, let us do it. So it I’m sure will help shape a different image over time.
Yonty Friesem  09:35
And I really hope so because like, for example, this program of civic media that I founded at Columbia College Chicago, would really benefit what we’re trying to do is get as many voices and different voices to come and create media for the greater good and to help the community that they’re interested in. So as we have you know, people who are working on different disabilities, working with indigenous people working with have black community, for example, in south and west of Chicago, it would be amazing to have somebody who would like to work on art with blind people and see how that can be spread, because I know that we can learn a lot from it. So I really hope that, you know, that will happen soon.
Michael Hingson  10:20
I suspect it will very much be a two way learning Street, which is okay, too.
Yonty Friesem  10:26
And that’s how we work. Exactly.
Michael Hingson  10:30
So you have however, done a lot of work with people in terms of learning disabilities, and so on. So how, how has that all worked? What are some of your experiences in the challenges that you’ve faced?
Yonty Friesem  10:42
I mean, that goes back to like, 20 years ago. You know, I was 23 years old, when I was I say, thrown into the classroom. Not exactly, but I was hired two days before the first day of school. And I was putting like, 39 hours per week teaching, ninth 10th 11th and 12th grade, high school students, media. And that specific school was in a very tough neighborhood, in the center, like near Tel Aviv. And the kids were really struggling personally, you know, family wise learning. And most of them were not diagnosed with whatever was there. You know, disability, if it was emotional, if it was physical, neurological, or whatever it was. So I’m 23 year old, don’t have too much experience in teaching was then asked to be there. And that was my kind of bootcamp to like, really listening and understanding and seeing that what I perceive as something is not necessarily the same for the other. And so really, by committing to being with them, listening, seeing what’s going on, checking with them, and just being them and showing care. Because that’s really the the emotional, like way of connection. As an educator, that’s what creates the trust, to then build learning, there’s not going to be learning if there’s no engagement. And that’s the first thing of Universal Design for Learning. You need to engage, have the trust, and then go together as the state’s two way learning. It’s never just the educator, teaching the students. So that was like the beginning of my journey to really understand that I need to be humble, and I don’t know what other people are going through, and I need to listen to what’s going on. And then you know, as negotiate, what can we do together? How can we get there together?
Michael Hingson  12:49
And I would presume that you had some successes, especially once you learned that it’s all about establishing a rapport. It’s all about gaining trust. And and also on, you’re in probably doing some learning to trust.
Yonty Friesem  13:04
Yeah. Oh, yeah. goes both ways. Yes. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I mean, going back to that, you know, initial experience that was very, you know, crucial for me, the students were assured that I was the one to blame for their teacher who left, which obviously had nothing to do with it. But, um, I was there and I was just there, like, with whatever they needed in the editing room in the filming. And I was there to support, they were throwing things at me, they were like spitting in the class. They were, you know, slurs and like, it was very, very tough. But I, they couldn’t get rid of me in the sense of, they were trying different tactics to see like, you know, oh, to make me leave. But the fact that they saw me staying there and wanting to help them genuinely, that earn their trust, and that was tough. That was, you know, several months that took to earn. But once I earned that, that’s for life. I’m still, you know, in contact with some of them. Some of them became filmmakers. And it’s, it was gratifying in the long run. Yeah. And like every educator, it takes time to see the fruits of your harvest. So long, but yeah, that’s like how, how it worked with a lot of work on my part to show that I’m really genuinely there and I don’t think I’m superior or no better than them.
Michael Hingson  14:33
Wow. So you, you were thrust into it what they must have liked or had a great liking for the previous teacher? Oh, yeah.
Yonty Friesem  14:41
Yeah. Because they’re like, you know, since they arrived, so yeah, it was tough.
Michael Hingson  14:51
Well, of course, when you have a beloved teacher and then someone else comes in, yeah, it is a it is always a challenge and It is all about trying to get people to understand. I’m sure that there were some who just refuse to, to open up and recognize that there was value in a new teacher.
Yonty Friesem  15:14
I mean, eventually they did. It was really like a bravery test, or I don’t know what to call it kind of how much will I endure? And the fact that I did was something for them to say, Oh, okay. So I guess he, you know, he wants to be here. He cares about us. He wants to actually here and help us to have our opinions shared. And they would make film about their experiences and things. And so my help was crucial for them to get their message across.
Michael Hingson  15:45
When did you know that you had really broken through to them?
Yonty Friesem  15:50
When the I didn’t have to call it misbehavior, but the interruption really, really wind down. And it goes, I’m saying it took several months, like six months. So that was very tough. But as I saw that they, you know, started to come happily to the class, they would share with me more personal things that were going on. And we’re really focusing on the work and not being disruptive. That’s where I saw the change.
Michael Hingson  16:18
And then they started becoming engaged. Yeah. So you still you say you still are in touch with some of them, which is always cool.
Yonty Friesem  16:29
Yeah, you know, it’s now like 20 years of like, connection and, and seeing, you know, their family, their kids their career. So it’s, it’s very gratifying to hear and, and some of them still, like, it was amazing to hear that they’re still like joking the group of friends, how they will torture me. So they knew that they were torturing me. That was part of it. Yeah.
Michael Hingson  16:56
Do some of them still come and seek any input or advice from you? Or
Yonty Friesem  17:01
sometimes? Yeah, here and there. Again, I mean, I have a whole ocean and half of the globe like distance. So it’s not like I can see them, like personally one on one. But yes, you know, there is social media, there is emails, so yes, definitely. There are different things that they’re you know, making movie and asking, like, what do I think And here and there, so it’s very gratifying.
Michael Hingson  17:25
That’s as cool as it gets. I, I understand that whole experience and that concept? Well, I remember, my sophomore geometry teacher did herbal Shimer. And I became friends, when I was a sophomore. And in reality, we still communicate to this day. And that’s been quite a long time now since 1965. So it is, it is a lot of fun when you have a teacher that lasts and does well and that you still get to talk with and actually become a friend with. It’s it’s a it’s a jewel in life. Yeah. Yeah. So I understand that from some of our discussions that you’ve done some work with foster children. And that kind of got you on the road to a little bit of dealing with accessibility and so on. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Yonty Friesem  18:18
Sure. So it’s not like there’s no foster care system in Israel. But it’s very different. And I was never encountering that when I was in Israel. But when I came to the states to do my PhD, the first semester at the University of Rhode Island, because of my background as an educator and working with special, I was like a special educator, homeroom teacher, basically in Israel. So I had a lot of experience, I was approached to be part of a project called first Star Academy. And that’s, it’s a Hollywood base, nonprofit organization that helps across the country, foster youth, to help them get into college. The research have been shown from 2011, that if you’re in foster care, no matter your race, religion, gender, you’re less likely to graduate from college. Like that’s the most like horrible factor that will prevent you basically so what the organization is doing is supporting high school students to be more familiar with university settings, and academically and also emotionally support them so that they can go to college. So as part of that, I was asked to be in charge of the media classes, which would be basically the fun part, the less academic, it’s not the math of the language and language arts But as such I worked on, you know, applying UDL, applying universal design for learning and applying all the strategy that I’ve learned in Israel to work with the foster kids, it was a very different setting because it was in the university, it was a summer camp of more than a month when they lived on campus, I also lived on campus as a student. So we basically lived in the same place saw each other on a daily basis. And we worked at the University Academic Library, which is like, you know, astonishing, like to make movies and stuff. And it was, like one of the most transforming experience that I had. In the US. It was just amazing to work with all the different. I mean, they’re not kids, they were teens. And now they’re grownups, because we’re talking about 10 years ago, was the first time I started. So you know, they’re now like getting to their late 20s. So it was really interesting to see and to learn, because as I did before, I was focusing on listening. And since I’m really not familiar with the foster care system, I heard a lot of stories that I didn’t know of, and didn’t know how things works from their perspective. And that’s where we decided that part of media literacy education is to know your target audience and to purposefully create a message in whatever media you choose. And so what we decided to do, because there was a lot of anger, frustration, because they wanted to see their families or their siblings and, and they were looking at their social worker as like the gatekeeper in a way. So what we decided to do was, okay, let’s have your social worker, be your target audience. And let’s create media that you think will communicate your social worker, what you want. So in the beginning, it was bashing the social worker saying, You don’t understand it’s like, and then as we talked with them, we said, Okay, we did some empathy exercises, if you would get this kind of message, would you listen, if somebody is bashing you and telling you you don’t understand and they said, No. So maybe we should change that narrative to really get to the point that you’re trying to make. So some did he pop music, some did websites, some did videos, some did podcast, and it was really amazing to see the transformation. And also, one of the thing that I later on, published about, or with my colleagues, was the feedback. Because being kind of, you know, I’m calling it victim of art school. But
Yonty Friesem  22:40
I did four years of film school. And you know, my teachers thought that it’s like part of their job, to criticize the work and basically give what they saw as constructive criticism, but actually was just bashing my work and saying, I don’t know anything, and I should listen to them, because they’re the experts. And so since then, I really don’t buy this thing of constructive criticism. I think criticism is criticism. You think it’s constructive, but it’s not. So I’m working on on empathic feedback. And that seems to work as we go along. Because we needed to tweak some stuff that we thought would be empathic, but we’re not empathic and they taught us what is the right sequence that feels and, you know, as they came back, like, even the fourth year, they were see me and they say, oh, let’s do the the empathic feedback. And let’s, you know, and knowing how to receive that feedback from really a caring and compassionate way to make it better, but not just to bash and feel that I’m the instructor superior, and I know more. So that was a long answer.
Michael Hingson  23:41
Can you give me no, it’s fine. But now you, you have me curious about a couple of different things. And I want to do this one first. So tell me a little bit more about empathic feedback as opposed to what some people would call constructive criticism, what you are calling constructive criticism, which necessarily, isn’t really constructive, but a lot of criticism. So can you give me an example of the difference?
Yonty Friesem  24:08
So I love to tell that story with which happened to a sense, all of us in the camp with the foster youth didn’t know too much. So we did our own research, of kind of trying to understand but research is one thing and then actually, you know, being in the encounter with the teens is different. So we came up with we were looking like what would be an efficient feedback. And we saw that there is something called the sandwich feedback. I don’t know if you know that. So that’s basically the bread is the positive, then you put the negative and then you put the positive. And we thought that would be brilliant. That will be you know, kind of sugarcoating, and that will work and they’ll you know, be very happy about and so we tried to implement it and it was a disaster because they saw our bullshit like they knew That, like, we’re not really saying the positive positives, just sugarcoating, as I said it was actually the negative part. And they were like, Okay, what’s the negative? And I was like, okay, that’s not working. And some of them like, one of the stories that I don’t like to tell it’s horrible story. But it demonstrates how horrible it was. A student was so afraid of receiving that feedback, the positive, negative positive, that the second before he was supposed to be in front of the class and receiving the feedback, he pressed on the delete button that deleted the whole website, he worked for a month. And that said, the whole work was gone, because he couldn’t handle like the feedback, which, again, was not really feedback was criticism. Right. So that’s, that’s the sandwich feedback, which, you know, there was a lot of research about it afterwards, when I looked at, like, delving more into it, how uneffective it is, and how the students can read between the lines, that again, it’s really the negative there. So what we did is we changed that part. And what we decided to do and why I call it empathic is to two things. One is all the statements, there’s four statements, all the statements, start with AI. And that helps will for the person who’s listening, because if you start and stating, using, I think I love, I wonder, I see, you hear that, okay, it’s you, it’s your perspective. So that statement, starting with an eye, put it in perspective of like, okay, I can receive it or not, but that’s your bias. It’s your assumption. It’s your, like, way of looking. So that was one thing that we change, that it’s not just your editing doesn’t work? No, I think or I don’t see what’s working here or something like that. So that was changed. Number one. The second was this four parts that evolved during the years as we got get feedback from them about what works and what doesn’t work. So the sequence goes as to noting, I saw, I heard, I felt I you know, you just give a summary of what was your own experience, kind of an observation of what was the experience of consuming that media, then you move to a praise. I loved how you and you need to be detailed, because if I say to you, Hi, love the music of your video, it’s not helpful for you, you’re like, Okay, what does it mean you love. But if I say I love the music, because it made me feel such and such at this moment, I was so stressed. And then I heard the music. And maybe that’s helpful to see if it’s really the effect that I wanted to make or not. So that’s the second thing like a praise, basically. The third thing is a suggestion, from my own perspective. If I were you, I would do this and this and this. So by framing it that way, it’s just a suggestion. And I might not get exactly to why you want to do it and how you want to do it. But that’s how I suggest doing it. And you can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. And the last thing ends with a question a wonder of like, I wonder, like, what did you do here? Why did you do this, and I don’t understand this. And this, how that so that it creates this kind of dialogue with the other person. That was significantly different because it created really a conversation, a dialogue from a genuine place, and not a bashing. Like I’m trying to show my power and that I’m smarter than the other person I’m giving the feedback to.
Michael Hingson  28:40
And the reality is, it seems to me that what you’re saying and describing is valuable for anyone who deals with anyone else and making suggestions that goes far beyond film school. Needless to say, Oh,
Yonty Friesem  29:01
for sure. Right? Very difficult to implement it. But yes, that’s definitely an I’m a, I was introduced to nonviolent communication. That was a major basis for that. And now I’m teaching a class of nonviolent communication at the college and also working with other educators to use that because that’s really based on empathy. Marshall Rosenberg, the late Marshall Rosenberg, colleagues, language of life, of like really communicating with the person because you really want to communicate with the other human beings.
Michael Hingson  29:39
Well, so you you now tweaked another, another question. You say it’s very difficult to implement why?
Yonty Friesem  29:48
Because we’re human beings. And there’s always struggles and things and, and we have our own needs, and it’s very difficult to find the balancing act. Between verbalize what is our needs, and understanding that it might not always work with somebody else needs and our emotions, like, you know, we’re emotional beings. So it’s not like our needs don’t matter, they matter. But we need to understand that we’re working in a society with other people. So it needs to be somewhere a compromise and a wheel to work together to figure it out, which a lot of our structures, especially education are very oppressive. If you think about it, you know, the fact that I’m as an educator needs to give grades, that puts me in a position of power, that puts me in a position that I need to evaluate by a grade the students. And so I found different strategy to overcome that, to really go back to a dialogue place, but the system is built in a very difficult, challenging way that doesn’t really is about the need and the human being,
Michael Hingson  30:58
we become so much involved with power and authority. And we don’t always learn easily, how to take people where they are. And maybe there’s a place where we believe that they need to go. But we don’t generally like to look at people where they are, they should be like us, or they’re useless. And we we teach that as a society. And that’s one of the things I think we have to get over.
Yonty Friesem  31:31
Yeah, it’s, it’s very sad. And obviously, the technology is amazing. The way it’s like advancing, but the premise of social media has been really the counter like social media is putting us in connection, but very toxic connection. There is positive connection in many ways. But Twitter, Facebook, tik, Tok, Snapchat, Instagram, they’re not designed for dialogue. They’re designed for Amplifying Voices in one way, but not reciprocally. And there are efforts like minds, which is social media that is built on dialogue.
Michael Hingson  32:18
How does that work?
Yonty Friesem  32:21
It works in a way that you post and then it’s it’s part of for like, conversation threads between people like, Twitter does have an option to reply, and then somebody can reply to you. But the fact that it’s replying reply, you cannot add it and you, you basically have only now more characters, but 100 2001, it’s double now. But it doesn’t really allow for a conversation. And so if you’re talking about the conversation that is not like so clubhouse, for example, is a converse and audio conversation. So you really can talk with between people in the room at real time, or you can listen to the recording, but they’re not really participate, but minds trying asynchronously to have that with posting that people can post like thoughtful, like, read it in a way have it in some capacity and more dialogical way of structure.
Michael Hingson  33:23
What about LinkedIn?
Yonty Friesem  33:26
Yeah, I mean, LinkedIn, you know, there’s not so much restriction like, Twitter. But I see it very similar to like Facebook and Twitter in that sense, you know, people are sharing their, whatever message they want to share. And people can like and can add to it. Like usually it’s a sentence. And sometimes you get into like, a whole thread of one, say something and then going back and forth. And, but it doesn’t really seem like it’s like a genuine like dialogue. But it’s, it’s a little bit better, but very, very problematic. And I want to go back to what you were saying, because that’s the whole basis of both inclusion and accessibility is understanding the other person in front of you as a human being. Right, and they have needs and emotions exactly like you. And so how we can work together. And that doesn’t seem to be the general notion like if you’re working in your community, yes, people might be more inclusive in their small community. But at the larger once you get to political debate, or you get a little bit out of your comfort zone, always like it’s a retrieving to like safeguard and kind of like, I need my needs to be met. And I’m not listening.
Michael Hingson  34:48
When you and I first began communicating course, we did that through LinkedIn and I sent you a message and you responded. And then I gave me more information about the podcast. And very frankly, what I was working toward was what we finally did, which was to have a real live real time conversation. I, I think email is lovely. I think social media has some places, some versions of it more than others. But there’s nothing like having a conversation.
Yonty Friesem  35:24
Right, and you didn’t put like a post on my wall or my, you did it like as a private message. So, you know, you’re respected, like privacy and looked for engagement as basically like a hook here. Like, let’s continue a conversation on another platform. So that was kind of like the jump. So yes, in that sense, it works. I’m getting a lot of, you know, different connection through Twitter, through LinkedIn. But I think what social media promised us in the early 2000 was, you know, to make the world a better place to connect better. And what we can see now is that it’s not working that well, because of the economical kind of structure, the business model of those social media. And we can see the whole debate now with Elon Musk, like buying Twitter, and people who are afraid people who are for it, and the whole discussion about monetizing tweets and stuff. So it goes back to that part that social media is monetized. And it’s a business. And it’s really not about making the world a better place. It is about connecting people, but I’m not sure connecting the way that I would like or see that that was the premise of connecting that way.
Michael Hingson  36:41
I’m not sure we’re really connecting. There. There are interaction somewhat, but really connecting and really getting to know people on on any of the social media platforms isn’t anywhere near the level of getting to really understand and interact with someone that you get when you have a direct real communication. And none of the platforms including email, for that matter, do it. Texting doesn’t do it. Yes, you can text and you can respond, your send, and maybe because texting is a little bit more, especially with the younger generation, real time, they might say, well, but we are connecting, but we’re still missing the real conversation, and all the nuances of that, that you get when you’re interacting with a person in real time directly.
Yonty Friesem  37:39
Yeah, definitely, that’s, you know, we can see that that there is sometimes the illusion of reality. But understanding that social media has its own boundaries, and the person you communicate with, you see just the image of the person, and they might tweet or post or share or put a tick tock video in the middle of something else that’s going on and not seeing the larger picture. Because like when we’re now engaged in a dialogue, like obviously, you know, the frame of the Zoom now is showing just part of the room I’m in. And there’s a lot of other things that are happening around here. But still, there is something that is more genuine and more realistic than the social media that is really like a Mealy kind of thing of my life that people are sharing and other people are sure to interpret it as such or such. Or you can see so many times when people misinterpret messages, and then it becomes like a huge like, fuming like
Michael Hingson  38:43
Twitter rage. Yeah. You said something earlier, I wanted to ask about you said that. Some of the educational things like dealing with foster children and dealing with children in class is somewhat different in Israel than it is here. How are they different?
Yonty Friesem  39:03
Well, I mean, you know, surely, it’s, I’ll give you one example. When I the first class I taught and that was not, you know, it was I had my first class in undergraduate that I taught at University of Rhode Island in the spring of 2012. So 10 years ago, exactly. I was teaching a film class had six students, and then the first class I’m going in and you know, I’m sharing some stuff we like, do things and then I’m teaching something and then I’m asking questions, and then nobody raised their hand. Nobody answered. Nobody likes silence. I’m like, Okay, so I’m trying a different question. Nothing like so I you know, after that class, very frustrated, go back to like American friends and asking them is my accent so horrible, like, what’s going on? Like, they don’t understand what I’m asking them and They’re telling me no, they’re just like, shy and are like worry about getting the wrong answer. So I said, okay, and then the next time I come, and then I asked them to write their answer, let them time to edit their written answer, and then they read it. So then suddenly, I got more engagement in Israel, I wouldn’t be able to say a word in class, like the students thinks they know much better, and they need to like talk, they need to argue with the teacher, which I was used to that. So coming to a place that is more respectful, and more kind of, you know, listening, I was like, wow, okay. That’s very different. So that’s really like one anecdotal example. But obviously, there’s a lot of cultural differences being in the Middle East, you know, warmer country, warmer temperament. And being in a constant state of safety issues. creates like a lot of differences versus, you know, there is a lot of safety issue here in the US, but it affects different students differently. And culturally, there’s a little bit, you know, more kind of, like, listening. I think practices than in Israel,
Michael Hingson  41:21
you think that there was? Or is more fear in Israel? And that that makes a difference? Do you think fear is is a part of it? And I don’t know that it is, it’s just something that
Yonty Friesem  41:34
I would read the opposite, like, and it might be because of the the trauma, the collective trauma that is happening in Israel is that, you know, it’s one of the happiest place, which you would like really, like, how can that be, but people understand that they’re in constant threat, and you just learn to live with it, like, in the late 90s, when there are buses that were, you know, like, bombed, like, in the center of Tel Aviv, the day after one bus was bombed, I took the same line with the same path, because it’s like, okay, you know, if I’m going to be blown up, I’m going to be blown up, I don’t have control over that, I’m not going to let the terrorist decide for me, what is going to be my life pattern, and I’m just going to, you know, so it is something that is in the psyche of the daily, but not like as overtly. So there’s really no fear in that sense. I mean, it’s very depressed, like, in some level, but I think in the US, there’s more fear about the authority, fear of like being wrong of like, so the engagement is different. Like there is something in Israel that is more in your face, kind of whatever happens, like you’ll know, if somebody likes you, or don’t like you, in the US, you might not know that, which is very European culture, in that sense of like, people not always sharing what they think about you. But in Israel, there’s no problem, you know, very quickly, for good or bad. So it’s very different culturally. And it’s not one is better than the other. It’s just very, very different. And it takes time to to adjust to it.
Michael Hingson  43:14
Is it a self confidence to a degree kind of thing?
Yonty Friesem  43:19
chutzpah? Yeah, I guess there’s something to that the Sabra kind of you know, that the symbol of the Israeli, like, pointy, kind of from the outside, but very soft from the inside. So, yeah, that might be part of it.
Michael Hingson  43:36
So universal design, learning, obviously, is very important to you. Why is that?
Yonty Friesem  43:42
Because they think that when I reflect to my own learning, I see how that could have been helpful. Like when I started to not being so good in math, when I had the tension issues as an adolescent. And again, I was diagnosed with ADHD only a year and a half ago. So it’s not like my whole life. I knew I had ADHD, I assume that most likely I have it. But it was really with the pandemic that I was like, in such stress that I said, Okay, let’s see what’s going on, neurologically. And so, I see universal design for learning as a way to really engage all students and best practices of education. And I, I see how my own self like early self would benefit from that. It took me nine years to finish my bachelor degree. I didn’t finish a PhD in a foreign language, basically, successfully, but it took a huge toll. And if I would have known if my teacher would have used that, I know it would be much easier. And I know I have a lot of privilege that I’m, you know, coming to as a learner. And most of the students I’m encountering don’t have that privilege. And so that undermined even more toward the learning. And if we want to look at the better, good, the, you know, the greater good and the better society, we need to do a lot of work in education to really reach everybody that’s not going to solve our social issues, that needs to be legislation funding that there needs infrastructure, for a lot of things that needs to happen. Education is not the only solution. But in my area of education, I think Universal Design for Learning is a necessity to really address every student in the class and not doing what I hate, which is the bell curve of saying, well, we’ll go to the middle. So the excellent students will take care of themselves. And the bad students, that’s collateral damage, it’s okay, no, it’s not okay. Like we need to reach every student’s, and there are ways of doing that.
Michael Hingson  45:51
You certainly seem to typify the concept that as a teacher, you also do need to be a learner, which we’ve talked about, and that you are better for the fact that you regard yourself as a learner just as much as your students are.
Yonty Friesem  46:08
Yeah, I mean, again, it’s, you know, there is this kind of the sage on the stage and the guide on the side. So I definitely see myself as the guide on the side that also learn from them. Because it goes back to what I talked before, if I have all the knowledge, and my students are waiting for me to pour information to them. I’m just exercising oppression. And I’m just keeping the system as is. It’s not like I don’t have knowledge to share, but they also have very valuable knowledge for me that they can share. And if we really experienced this dialogue, it’s like, I don’t know if you know, Steven Covey The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. So, um, one of his elements is synergy. And what he says about synergy is, once you experience that, you want to go back to that, because that’s a type of collaboration that is so addictive, that you understand that that’s how a real collaboration should work. And that’s the same thing, if students will experience a genuine reciprocal relationship, they’ll want to go back to that, and they’ll be kind of, you know, pass it forward, kind of do it and make the world a better place in that sense. So that’s why I’m such a big advocate of that, because that’s the relationship I want to have when I going to my primary care physician, when I’m calling my healthcare and fighting with them, and not getting somebody who’s reading the script, and not really listening to what I’m asking because they have a script. And there’s only five scenarios there. And my scenario doesn’t exist there. So they cannot help me. So the whole system has that. And if we start to break that, that’s the way to really bring more inclusion and accessibility and understanding that it’s not like there’s only five script because the algorithm or the designer of the algorithm decided on that, because that’s what they knew. It’s like, let’s bring everybody to the conversation. Let’s be open and listen to what’s happening. Because each one has a unique story, unique circumstances that might challenge what you think that you know, or the practices that you do.
Michael Hingson  48:30
You raise a really interesting and relevant point that all too often today in healthcare, they want you to fit into a certain mold. And it’s not just healthcare, but I know my wife is a paraplegic and has been in a chair her entire life, but a lot of her needs and a lot of the kinds of things that she needs to deal with don’t fit the same mold as an amputee or a person who becomes paralyzed later in life. And we find that the healthcare system doesn’t really understand that all that well. Or, for me as a as a blind person, I’ve gone and visited with a number of ophthalmologists who have absolutely no knowledge of how to deal with a person who is blind. And I’ve experienced some major challenges because I don’t fit their view, both from a standpoint of competence as a as a person who happens to be blind and able to do things much less that my eyes have, have not become a part of me in terms of the way I function, other than when they aren’t doing right like conjunctivitis or other things like that. And healthcare just doesn’t always like it when some of us don’t fit the The mold that we think that people should be fitting in. And I know that’s just as true in education, it’s certainly true with a lot of different kinds of companies and bosses and so on. leadership styles sort of go the same way. And if we can’t really learn to grow with the people that we work with, and understand them, then we’re the ones that are going to lose out in the end.
Yonty Friesem  50:24
Yeah. And that goes to politicians with their own constituents that they’re listening to. But what about the people who are part of their, like, grid that maybe not vote for them? And are they listening? And are they? And what kind of legislation is happening? Right? And sure, the whole debate Yes, like who? There is so much research? So um, research of algorithm of oppression, for example, about it’s not the algorithm that is racist or oppressive, but somebody needed to design it. Right. So when you talk about the health care for your wife, like, Who’s the person who created those policies? Have they ever talked to somebody who would be impacted? In that sense? Do they understand the scope? And it’s so vast in health care, that you can’t really do that? So like, how can we make mechanism that will be a little bit more open to a variety of different narratives, different story different needs, that the person who was in charge may have not encountered? Or seeing?
Michael Hingson  51:27
Yeah, exactly. Right. And, you know, the, the ultimate thing is that it’s important to always try to learn things I know, for me, for the last 20 years, as you may know, I have been a keynote speaker, a public speaker, and I travel the world and talk about September 11, I talk about my experiences, I talk about lessons we should learn, and so on. But even through all of that, anyone who talks to me about that, and my career, as a keynote speaker, will hear me say, if I don’t come away from any event, I attend, learning more than I hope that I’m able to impart to the people who are listening to me, if I don’t learn more, then I haven’t done a good job. Because all of those people have things to teach me. And it’s one of the reasons that when I speak, I like to go early. I’d like to spend time with people at the event. Because I will learn more, the more I get to dialogue with them. So I don’t like to just go and speak and leave. I like to go early if I can. And I like to definitely interact. And it’s the only way to really get the best flavor for what you’re doing.
Yonty Friesem  52:49
Yeah, I’m with you there.
Michael Hingson  52:53
So it makes for an interesting, interesting world. So you’ve talked about the concept of civic media? When did you hear about that? And tell me more about it.
Yonty Friesem  53:07
I mean, it’s a pretty new concept started in 2006, by Henry Jenkins, then was at MIT now is that USC. And, you know, academics like to put concepts and different definitions and his definition evolved. In the beginning, it was any media that increase civic engagement. But that doesn’t tell you much. So 2011, he revisited and kind of was a little bit more elaborative about how it should be more inclusive. How should it fight oppression. And we have at Columbia College, Chicago, the only MA in civic media, which is a big pride of me that we were able to do that and letting me lead that curriculum wise. And so our program is fully online, which is also something that is important for part of fighting oppression and accessibility, in the sense of like, having people from around the world joining that program and being able to experiencing it. So when I’m talking about the program, I’m explaining that people are making media to drive social change in a very specific community. Going back to what I said about target audience, you need to really be specific and there is an amazing TED talk that I love to have my students listen to. And it’s you want to help question mark, shut up and listen, exclamation mark. And it’s a great video that really set the tone of the program that is about listening to the community. And the students in my program will be the media experts, but they’re not the experts of the community, their ex roots in community engagement. So what we really focusing on is having the students learn nonviolent communication, listening skills, and how to leverage the media knowledge that they’re learning into really doing those practices to help the community figure out together, what are the media based solution for that. So it can be urban planning, it can be solution journalism, it can be media arts can be documentary filmmaking, podcasting. So there is a variety of things. Your podcast is civic media, you’re spreading through the podcast, the ideas of accessibility of inclusion, you’re bringing voices and variety of voices to talk about those issues so that people can connect, learn from and then go and explore it. So this is a civic media project. And we have such a variety of project, we have a student who is now working at NPR, after graduating a student who is directing a film festival with indigenous youth, in New Mexico, we have somebody who is a communication manager for Autism Awareness network, you know, and the list goes on and on. So it’s, it’s great to have the opportunity to have this kind of program that is so unique in addressing social issue through media, and it’s so interdisciplinary and out of the box that people are like, What are you doing there. But it’s very exciting to see the results and to see what the amazing work that our students are doing.
Michael Hingson  56:40
You find that when people are making films, or podcasts or whatever, that the better ones are the ones who also listen to their own work or observe their own work as they’re doing it or afterward. And then, as I like to say, become their own best or worst critic.
Yonty Friesem  57:06
So I’ll give you one example that I think is one of the highlights of me as a media civic media educator. Last year, one of our students decided to do a photo essay as a caregiver to a person with disability. And they decided to do it together as a dialogue. So my student is a photographer, a photo journalist. And the person she was caring for, is a communication specialist, and has her own company now media for accessibility called Craig crap, which is awesome. And what they did is they took the pictures that shows the daily work of a caregiver, very statically, very intimate. But that was a dialogue, they took 1000s of pictures. And then together, they decided, like, you know that besides the framing, which one to include, which one not to include, and once they posted it, they also added a dialogue between them, so that you read the dialogue. And you can also look at the images. And now they’re going to have a gallery and it was published in disability accessibility blog. So this is really a genuine like, when you’re in a dialogue, it goes back to what we’ve discussed in the last hour, right? Civic media is about civic civil dialogue, using media media is just the conduit to it. But it’s real human to human engagement. And that’s, that’s the core of it.
Michael Hingson  58:51
How do you find that civic media is making a difference in terms of accessibility and inclusion?
Yonty Friesem  58:58
So again, I mean, there’s a lot of different ways. If it’s by you know, infographic, using social media, to campaign awareness, having people be more inclusive, with the work that you’re doing in the company that you’re working with, you know, having websites be more accessible and the fact that their standards and people understand that that’s something that they need. That’s how civic media can bring an awareness having just the button to see like, ABA, I don’t need that. But to see that there is a button there. Off accessibility, that’s part of awareness. That’s part of the service that different civic media, practitioners are doing to bring more awareness of inclusion of accessibility.
Michael Hingson  59:54
And that makes perfect sense. It’s all about having something that’s visible however, It’s visible, but having something that’s visible, that people can see can interact with. And that specifically sends the message. I’m here to help, as we’re discussing here, deal with accessibility and inclusion.
Yonty Friesem  1:00:16
Yeah, I mean, take the example of closed caption. So closed caption was an accessibility requirement with a ADA. But once it started to be implemented in bars, like, you know, the music could be in a crazy volume or the TV might have been very far away. But there’s a closed caption. So that helps everybody to read it, right. So it started with accessibility and actually gave accessibility to many more people they intended to. And that’s something that people now are used to, but they were not used to having those closed caption. And in the beginning, people were like, What is this thing, but now it’s all accepted. So those are the things that need to be more instituted. And seeing, and this is the fight of civic media to bring those inclusive practices into all media use.
Michael Hingson  1:01:07
Well, here’s a thought. And then we’ve been doing this an hour. So we’ll have to wrap up here soon. But here’s an observation that I’ve had, of late over the last few years, we’ve seen many television advertisements in commercials. And the commercials have music, a lot of visual information going on the screen, and no dialogue, which systematically incorrect and absolutely categorically leaves out a segment of the population. And it seems like that’s an increasing trend where we’re going backwards in the sense that getting to the point where it’s all about what you see, and who cares about what you hear. And I think that’s a problem that somehow we need to teach people that they’re creating rather than being truly inclusive.
Yonty Friesem  1:02:06
And that goes back to what I said about the genuine, like work. And if somebody who has that experience, and you know, having a blind person coming to learn civic media, and then advocate and learn how to do those things, that’s why we need a variety and diverse people with diverse background, because that’s where people bring this perspective that hasn’t been seen, understood or accepted by others. But that’s, that’s the fight. That’s basically what needs to happen to be more inclusive. Yeah,
Michael Hingson  1:02:44
somehow, we have to convince Elon Musk that he needs to make the passenger side of Tesla’s a little bit more inclusive, because people who are blind can interact with the radio, they can interact with anything on their side, it’s all touchscreen. But he’s not alone in that auto automobile manufacturers have been moving that way again, and it is it’s all about dialogue. And recognizing that if you’re going to truly be inclusive, then you have to look at areas of the population that you’re not necessarily familiar with.
Yonty Friesem  1:03:17
And the only way of making it work is what’s called participatory action research, which is not you, you know, like the kind of sociologists come and observes the others, but actually, a research by dialogue by doing it together and searching it together. What are the solutions? What are the problems and how to do it? That’s the only way and in tech companies or other like healthcare, this is not the practices, you just hire like a research company, you ask them what to do the research. And that’s it, you don’t do a genuine participatory action research to really reach all the audience genuinely that you want to serve.
Michael Hingson  1:03:58
And that makes perfect sense. Well, I want to thank you for being with us today on unstoppable mindset, you’re certainly helping society in a lot of ways hopefully become more unstoppable. And I mean that in a very serious way, if people want to reach out to you and contact you or learn more about all the things we’ve been talking about, how might they do that?
Yonty Friesem  1:04:20
So I’m Twitter addict, with all what I said about Twitter. And there you go. You’re at yo and Ty on Twitter. But you can find also me on LinkedIn on Columbia College Chicago, website and the media education lab. So there is multiple ways of connecting me since I’m using universal design to contact me because I want to connect and I want to diversify as much as I can. All the people that I’m encountering some I always welcome people to connect with me and thank you so much, Michael for this lovely hour and let You know, talk about all my passion. So it’s a lot of fun, don’t have that a lot of opportunities.
Michael Hingson  1:05:05
And I liked the way you do sound passionate, and that’s great. And I want to thank you Yachty for being here as well. If people want to learn more, hopefully they will reach out to you. They can also reach out to us and I can help connect. But I really appreciate all of you listening in and Yonty for you being here. If people wish to reach out to me, they can email me Michaelhi M I C H A E L H I at accessibe  A C C E S S I B E.com. So feel free to email you can also go to Michael hingson.com/podcast. That’s w w w.m i c h a l h i n g s o n .com/podcast. And of course, as I always ask people to do, if you will have you liked what you heard, please give us a five star rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. We appreciate it. And Yanty will as well. Yeah, we’ll make sure that you know about it right.
Yonty Friesem  1:06:05
Thank you so much. We yes will spread the word. Well, thank
Michael Hingson  1:06:08
you and Michael, thanks for being with us on unstoppable mindset
UM Intro/Outro  1:06:18
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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