Joshua Miele is passionate about his work in science. While he had aspirations of studying space and astrophysics, he realized there was a lot he could be doing with his skillset to help the world around him — specifically those who are visually impaired or blind, like him.
“I realized that there were lots of people who could do physics, but there weren’t as many people who could make meaningful contributions to the technology that blind people use to do all the things that we want to do.”
(Note: This video is equipped with audio description.)
Meet Joshua Miele: blind scientist
Narrator: Meet Joshua, blind scientist. A white man in a dress shirt and jeans in his home studio. The door propped open on a sunny day. On his table, an electric keyboard, soundboard, and computers. He works with small electronic objects. Text on screen: “Joshua Miele.” He brushes fingers across the length of a laptop keyboard as he types.
Joshua Miele: It always seemed to me that blind people would benefit from having access to maps.
Narrator: Text: “He is an inventor who innovates assistive technology.” He uses a braille reader on the table.
Joshua: One of my first projects as a postdoc was to develop an automated tool for producing tactile street maps. I would take that technology to conferences. I expected people to love it.
Narrator: Tactile street maps with line drawings, text, braille, and raised dots indicating landscaping and streets.
Joshua: I did not expect so many people to cry when they saw their first map.
Narrator: Josh’s phone rests in his palm.
Joshua: So we hear that buzzing noise. That tells you that the GPS is kind of poor. Now, it’s quiet. But if I rotate this —
GPS Voice: The Fourth Street Company, 760 feet, Curtis street. The Fourth Street company —
Joshua: So The Fourth Street Company. If I —
GPS Voice: 150 feet, 1271 Delaware Street.
Joshua: Audio description is an accessibility tool for blind people to get access to video. It’s like the converse of caption. Description is an audio channel that describes what’s happening on the screen. So I’ve created something called YouDescribe, which is a free online platform that lets anybody add their own audio description to any YouTube video.
Narrator: Sample video of a barista.
YouDescribe Voice: The man hits the portafilter against the counter to remove any remaining coffee grounds. He then places it into a machine, which grinds and dispenses the coffee beans.
Narrator: Josh strolls on the UC Berkeley campus using a white cane. He has burn scars over much of his face and curly brown hair.
Josh: I grew up in a sighted world, and I came to Berkeley, and I was immediately sort of connected to a community of blind people.
Narrator: Text on screen: “Josh became active in Berkeley’s blind student study center.”
Josh: It was made very clear to me that it was not called the Blind Student Study Center, it was called “the cave.” This is where I first started to connect with this underground blind culture. So this is the entrance to the classroom side of Moffitt Library, or at least it used to be the classroom side of the Moffitt Library.
Narrator: In a shaded vestibule by the front doors.
Josh: It does look like a cave, doesn’t it? Sounds like a cave.
Narrator: At home.
Josh: People really sort of would challenge each other’s beliefs and expectations. I found my people. Physics was something that I really loved. I wanted to be a space scientist. I wanted to study planetary physics and astrophysics and build spacecraft. I ultimately realized that there were lots of people who could do physics, but there weren’t as many people who could make meaningful contributions to the technology that blind people use to do all the things that we want to do.
Narrator: Sweeping views of buildings on campus and lush green trees and lawns. Produced by Reid Davenport. Producer, Josh long. Senior Producer, Javi Zubizarreta. Logos for Move Mountains and Grotto Network. Josh in his studio. Text: “Subscribe.”
GSP Voice: The Fourth Street Company, 760 feet, Curtis Street. The Fourth Street Company —
Josh: So The Fourth Street Company. If I —
GSP Voice: 150 feet, 1271 Delaware Street.