Nefertiti currently works as an Assistive Technology Trainer for the New York Public Library’s Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, where she provides one-on-one technology coaching, creates programming, and facilitates group workshops on a range of tech topics for the blind and visually impaired community in both English and Spanish.
As a bilingual Latina-American, Nefertiti brings a wealth of cultural and social competency to her narrating, writing, and quality control work. She is passionate about audio description and is a fervent supporter of the arts, committed to bringing about an inclusive society in which culture is a shared space for all.
Nefertiti starred in the film Magical Thinking, was featured in the acclaimed Blind Date Documentary short, and is a highly-regarded subject matter expert on cultural accessibility in New York City, consulting for such institutions as Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern Art, the Poster House Museum. Most recently, PRI’s the World highlighted her work with Montclair University students in partnership with Repertorio Español as being the first to provide live Spanish-language audio description for any theater on or off Broadway.
Follow Nefertiti on Twitter at @NefMatOli.
Melody Goodspeed: Recording. Hey, everybody. This is Melody Goodspeed. Welcome to the American Foundation for the Blind Informant Connect Podcast. We are so excited to have you here today. We're going to be talking about such a fun subject, and I really want to get down in this one. And I think you guys are really going to enjoy it. Our special guest that we have with us today is Nefertiti Matos Olivares. It is so good to have you today. And I am so sorry, Nefertiti, how are you?
Nefertiti Matos: I'm well, thank you for having me I'm excited to be here.
Melody Goodspeed: I have apologizing because I know my she's such [inaudible] can you say it because I can't do it justice?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, sure, I'm Nefertiti Matos Olivares.
Melody Goodspeed: I can't do that and it sounds so beautiful. I'm so excited.
Nefertiti Matos: You did fine.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh, thank you my dear, thank you. Well, today, Nefertiti before we get in, we're going to be talking about description with an emphasis on writing, but before we do, can you tell us a little bit about us to get a little bit of background?
Nefertiti Matos: Sure thing. Well, I'm Nefertiti. I live and work and play and build my life in New York City. I am somebody who identifies as blind and I work for the New York Public Library as an assistive technology instructor. I also do a lot of what I playfully call side hustles in the accessibility space consulting for different organizations, I don't know Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, NYU Ability Lab. I mean, there's a lot of involvement that I have and that I'm proud to offer my expertise to, everything again within the accessibility space that is where my passion lies.
Nefertiti Matos: And most recently, in addition to bringing a voice of the blind consumer to these cultural spaces, I've taken to audio description, not just as an avid consumer, but also as a very passionate provider, what does that mean? That just means that in addition to being somebody who is forever looking at TV shows and movies and going to Broadway plays, etc, I am now also really interested in and making headway in the space of being a provider of audio description, everything from the quality control to the narration, to even the writing, so that's a little bit about me.
Melody Goodspeed: I love it, there's so much there. And what I heard a lot of was I know that the space of being in disability was advocacy is must be a really huge driving force?
Nefertiti Matos: Absolutely. As somebody who's been in the disability space pretty much all my life since I was three or four when I had a brain tumor, it was removed, affected my optic nerve and bloop, I joined the community. There has always been this emphasis on trying to find my particular niche. As a kid, you don't really, well, I'll speak for myself, I did not really pay that much attention to it, but as I became more aware of my surroundings and how this world just wasn't made for me, that I had to make my own space and sometimes claw my space into this world. I was sort of forced into advocacy, which I think is the story for a lot of us. It's not something that I chose for myself, it's something that I was placed into and then decided to very consciously embrace so that I could make it better for me and for others, hopefully too.
Melody Goodspeed: No, that totally relates to everything you said all the way down to very similarly losing my eyesight in sort of a similar fashion. So you do, I mean, there's a definite place. I mean, we're living in a world that is I think believe 90 to 95% visual, right? And finding that niche. But talking about finding your niche, it definitely gives you a sense of, and I can hear it in your voice, a sense of purpose, but also a sense of pride and being able to really share your own personal story and then pride believe in as we all do no matter our situation, that when we do that we elevate other people to either step up or join us, right?
Nefertiti Matos: Absolutely. I mean, that is the goal, I'll be honest with you, Melody. There were a number of years that due to internalized ableism and stigma, I was pretty ashamed. I did not use a cane, I had very little to do with the community, I didn't really like myself. And somewhere along the line, that began to change, it was a very slow, arduous, painful process, but it was one that I wouldn't change because now years later you said it perfectly, there is pride. There is a sense of belonging to this community that is amongst the most highly educated and demotivated and just strong you have to be. And just to be someone who's going about life like anyone else, but also that hopefully can be an example to others as well of you can make something of yourself as well, you don't have to buy into the false and sorrowful story of your disabled, so stay at home and just play it safe for, no, not necessarily. We are human beings, we are here to experience and whatever that may mean for you, do that thing. I don't know how better to say it.
Melody Goodspeed: No, it's go in, get it done, I mean, you have to, you do, you really have to. And I love that because I think it really dovetails nicely into our topic here as to why it's so important. And when we are doing that, we're bringing so much creativity, positive energy, innovation, whatever you want to call it. And when we flip that script, right? And say, you know what? I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to stand for this. And I think that moving forward, just is going to elevate everybody, inclusion is just a very powerful tool and it needs to definitely be extended out to the disability community. So thank you for that. Now you and I have talked earlier, we're both avid lovers of audio description and I just want to talk about the writing piece today because I would love to hear if you could share with us your views on the writing piece and any work that you have done and how you got into it?
Nefertiti Matos: Sure. Well, I'll tell you that for me, at this point, audio description, sort of flipping that script as you put it from being a consumer to being a provider is a relatively recent conscious decision on my part. I noticed that in addition to being a very artsy person in my own way, there wasn't a lot of conversation happening around blind folks in this space, it's happening more and more now. There are proponents in the community, both sighted and blind who are very vocal about this is a medium by blind people, for blind people, blind people need to be part of the conversation and part of the work literally being employed in this space. So I'm really happy to hear that more and more every day.
Nefertiti Matos: But I noticed that I was hearing it more about folks doing quality control, these are the people who come in and once the script is written through their blindness lens lend their expertise and correct this, or modify that, tweak this a little bit, tighten up over here, that kind of thing, a very valuable and necessary skillset. I was also noticing a lot of or a number I should say of narrators who are themselves blind, but I wasn't really hearing much about people writing.
Nefertiti Matos: And then I had the really good fortune of connecting with Roy Samuelson, who I think you and I are both very big fans of. I was fortunate enough to impress him to a point where he came to me and offered me a really, I think fortuitous and life changing if I may be so dramatic opportunity to write the script for a documentary about George Floyd told from the perspective of a director who lived in Minnesota and-
Melody Goodspeed: Our buddy Steven Letnes?
Nefertiti Matos: Yes, yes. Steven Letnes, has he been on this podcast?
Melody Goodspeed: He has.
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, well, thank you to Steven who went to Roy who came to me, it's whole beautiful network, it's gorgeous network of super talented, open-minded just leaders in this space that made this happen. And I just happened to be the really fortunate person who was approached and I was a little nervous about it first, full disclosure. And I even questioned myself, there's that internalized ableism coming out where is can I really take this and do it justice? And I did some soul searching and decided that, yes, why not me? If Roy thinks that I could do it, then there must be a reason for that, there's professionalism that comes into this.
Melody Goodspeed: Right.
Nefertiti Matos: So I decided that I was going to go for it, and it's been a really transformative experience for me, that has been my first project and to date, the most meaningful writing project that I have been a part of. And it's a documentary that's gone on to the festival scene and did exceedingly well at Dances with Films and has continued. I don't know how much more I'm able to say, so I will stop there. But I do think that we will see big things come from this documentary. And hopefully sooner, rather than later, the audio described version will be out for the public to consume, I'm really excited for that to happen.
Melody Goodspeed: I'm excited to see your work.
Nefertiti Matos: I just want to say that this was a project that Roy spearheaded as our project leader, but everyone else involved in the audio description aspect of it was blind, is blind, right? So there's me, the blind writer, we have the blind QC person, Serena Gilbert, we have the blind narrator, Thomas Reed, magnificent, and we have the blind engineer, Byron Lee. So it was just such an empowering group of people to be a part of telling the story of such a sea change that this George Floyd situation has brought upon this nation and indeed around the world. So it's just really quite an experience all around.
Melody Goodspeed: It is. And also when we did have Steven Letnes on and he's directed the film who is also blind and it's just the composer and Thomas Reid too, he actually has done. We just put out a video for us, our workforce development program and Thomas is narrating that, and he's also been on our podcast so this is just so beautiful to me right now. But we're really in the thick of really bringing up issues and we're doing it all together. But I really, I love what you brought that all to the point. And one of the things that you and I have also discussed is you brought a really good point of saying you heard a lot about quality control, which is huge, right? We have to definite quality control and then also being a blind narrator. And you didn't hear so much about the writing, how do you think that is?
Nefertiti Matos: Quite simply. I think because audio description is a medium that up until this point has been produced. Let me start the again, can we scratch that?
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah.
Nefertiti Matos: Okay. If I may be so blunt, Melody, I think that we don't really hear about blind people writing audio description because the stigma, the perception that is out there is that you need to have sight in order to describe visual elements, right? I mean, this idea of, well, if you can't see what's going on, how are you going to write it? It's a legit question. But then I think another legit question is, well, just because you can see, it doesn't mean that you're a good writer? I don't think so.
Melody Goodspeed: And it also doesn't mean that there's not a work around.
Nefertiti Matos: Correct. I think if there's something that we as people with disabilities, blind people in particular, know is how to find workarounds. It seems like almost my entire life is about finding workarounds and not because I want them, but because I have to, because this world, it isn't built with someone like me in mind. And so in order for me to be a successful person, never mind a blind person, but just a successful person who happens to be blind, I have to find those workarounds, I have to tap into the community and say, how are you doing this? How are you doing that? When it comes to audio description and writing though there was really no one that I knew at the time to ask. So I just sort of had to go about doing it in my own way and it worked out.
Melody Goodspeed: Can you tell us about how your work around, because this is the part that I'm really want to get out there for people?
Nefertiti Matos: Sure thing. So in the case of the George Floyd documentary, Five Days for George Floyd, it was stipulated in my, I guess I could call it a work contract, that's not exactly what we called it, let me give a little quick thought of how to say that. Okay. As it relates to the George Floyd documentary, when I was approached by Roy to write this and I gave it some thought, and then I came back and I said, okay, I accept, I decided to bring in a trusted someone in my life who really knows how to describe to me what's going on, but not in a way where she's interpreting for me or writing things out for me literally.
Melody Goodspeed: I love how you talked about we work arounds and such. Can you talk to me what you learned about when during the writing process, the passion you found or what key takeaways you found from really immersing in yourself that you've been unchartered before speak, quite honest?
Nefertiti Matos: For me, the number one thing was how challenging it is to fit in a certain number of syllables within a certain number of seconds and things of that sort. And because in the case of the George Floyd documentary, it being such powerful imagery and some really my gosh emotional sounds and just the power of this thing, I cannot overstate it enough. I found myself really needing to dig deep for the exact words that I wanted and not shying away from really speaking to the color of people's skin and sensitive subjects like that.
Nefertiti Matos: As a person of color myself and this being such a racially heavy load in just the public consciousness, but the documentary itself and the writing, I really, oh, my gosh, there was a lot of soul searching on my part, there was a lot of emotionality that came to the fore. And I was able to luckily channel it and put that in my writing, but again, with certain restrictions, right? So that was particularly challenging, but also really rewarding because I had to come up with some really sort of pack a punch kind of sentences and not run on like I'm doing right now.
Nefertiti Matos: And just crafting this script that kept the spirit and the direction of the director at the forefront, keeping his message and what he was trying to convey also within the script that I was writing. And again, just the artistry that goes into crafting something, when you really care about it, I learned a lot from that experience. And I hope that in the future, I come to all writing projects with such passion because it really influences, I think in a really positive raw real way the quality of the script it sounds.
Melody Goodspeed: No, I agree. And you not only were you what a project to be working on, because you are dealing with like you stated such heavy emotion and those misperceptions of so many things and there's a lot there. So hats off to you in learning that, because you definitely have to get the right, you're painting a picture with words, that's how I describe audio description to people, you are painting that picture to get the full picture, and I love that.
Melody Goodspeed: I was having this conversation with a friend of mine who is also blind and I really just wanted to try to rewrite a commercial, just to try it out, right? To start saying that we need audio description in other places. But I'm bringing this up because I found that and talking a friend of mine just how are you even doing that? Because there's no way we can be writers. And I found that to be kind of, it took me back because I didn't expect that, right? From someone who you would say peers with, right? So have you had that experience when you tell someone that you have written?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, my goodness, yes. Boy, have I ever [inaudible].
Melody Goodspeed: It's your back right, makes you pause for second.
Nefertiti Matos: For me, it made me pause more at the veracity of the naysayers. Not so much that there would be, I was expecting it from sighted people, no offense sighted people. But I was not expecting it as much as I got from blind people themselves. When it was announced on Facebook that we were an all blind team doing this audio description, the reactions were very positive, overwhelmingly positive, I would say. But there were those who right away questioned, oh, really the blind writer, what the writer is blind too. There was no sort of shaking of the head or what double takes for the QC or the narrator, or even the engineer. But as soon as they said and written by blind professional, that sort of woke up this hornets nest of [inaudible].
Melody Goodspeed: I can't hear her. Is it me?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, my gosh, are you there?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Nefertiti Matos: Hello? Oh, I'm so sorry about that, I got a phone call I thought my do not disturb was on.
Melody Goodspeed: Sorry, no worries.
Nefertiti Matos: Hopefully that does not happen again. So let's see. Where was I?
Melody Goodspeed: The Hornets nest.
Nefertiti Matos: Thank you. Okay. So it unleashes Hornets nest of people asking how, how, how, how, how, but also just outright saying no way, no, not going to happen, how is this even something that's out there? You need to be able to see, to be able to write what you're seeing. There's no way that a blind person can do this without ever stopping to think that as we've already established, Melody, just because you can see doesn't mean you can write and just because you can write a word strung along with a couple more doesn't mean that makes you any good, right? This takes artistry, this takes skill, it takes craft.
Nefertiti Matos: And I was getting it from all sides for a while and what hurt the most was precisely what you've highlighted here, getting it from blind people themselves. It's not, oh, wow, really, you're doing that? Well, I'm really curious as to know how, but just the fact that you're doing it, that's really awesome, good for you. No, it was right away, how are you doing it with this thick layer of skepticism and just outright, you're crazy. I don't know how can that even? That is a painful thing because, again, it just speaks to the internalized ableism. Ableism is alive and well, but to know that it's within us, within our own community, if you will, is a painful thing and not something that I expected to get so much of.
Nefertiti Matos: I mean, I'm grateful for every experience that I have in this life, I feel like not to get too metaphysical or whatever, but it does make us stronger, it does teach us about ourselves and it does help us guard against other people or gives us something to learn or whatever it is. So I really have learned a lot from this experience, but I got to say it has been with a certain level of awakening, if you will, as to how people view themselves within the context of something that, again, audio description for blind people by blind people and yet what blind people can't do it. It's not so much that we can't, I think we need to be asking why not? Why aren't we? We always say this, why are we in 2021 and this is still such a shock to folks, right? Let's normalize, let's normalize ability rather than focusing on the diss part of it, right? Not being too corny.
Melody Goodspeed: But it's the truth, it definitely is the truth. And the point that we've been talking for, I think we've already hit 20 minutes, but the point that I want to bring home here before we go to a question and answer is the fact that I think you made a good point, it's to try to look back and think, okay, when you've accomplished something and I think this is for everybody, and it's like, the negative response is to flip it and just say it is really kind of hit it, it's what that person is actually thinking of their own capabilities, I think. I think it triggers something and thinking why I can't figure that out, so I don't even know how it's possible. And that is as something that I think also too, that comes along with creativity with having to find work arounds is also having that open mindset and also mapping it out in a way that's authentic to you?
Nefertiti Matos: Beautifully said.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, thank you so much. But thanks for having this conversation with me because this stuff it needs to be known. And I think that everybody all need to find out what is our unique gift inside and move from there? And you've done that displayed this so well. So thank you so much.
Nefertiti Matos: Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.
Melody Goodspeed: No, I'm excited. Now it's great, we're going to get to some questions really quick here. I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to our AFB's manager of public relations, Mackin who always has fun questions for us, which it's one of my favorite parts too.
John: Thank you, Melody. And a pleasure to have you here, Nefertiti.
Nefertiti Matos: Hi, John. Thank you so much.
John: Let's jump right in. What do people misunderstand about you the most?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, my goodness. Well, that's a loaded question. Some people think that I'm the sweetest thing ever and some people think that I'm just this attitudey New Yorker, and to those people, I say both are true, it really depends on you.
Melody Goodspeed: I love that answer, it needs to be on a shirt.
Nefertiti Matos: That's my cheeky answer.
Melody Goodspeed: I like it. I love it, actually.
John: Okay. We'll, jump into something a little bit less loaded. Nefertiti, if you could have coffee with any historical figure, who would you choose?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, my goodness. Well, first of all, please let it be like a pumpkin spice coffee, it is that season. I would like to have some coffee with... Well, John, this might need to be edited. I would like to have coffee with, I'd say, I'm stuck, there's so many people.
John: We'll make a one time allowance where you can name your top three coffee guests, how's that?
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, my goodness. Okay, now it's a party. All right. I would like to have coffee with Abraham Lincoln, with Harriet Tubman and with Gandhi.
Melody Goodspeed: That would be the best pumpkin spice latte conversation ever.
Nefertiti Matos: OMG, what a hodgepodge.
Melody Goodspeed: Join in that one, I'm going to be an observer. Love it.
John: Well, that's interesting because that tells me two things, it tells me that you, I mean, A, there's the justice and social justice angle to those guests. And also it almost suggests that you might be some sort of history buff. So that brings me to my next question, name three books that have impacted you and they can be any kinds of books, nonfiction, novels, what have you?
Melody Goodspeed: Comic.
Nefertiti: Okay, that'll be easier in a sense. Although I am a voracious reader, but I would say the first book very formative in my life was The Outsiders by S.E Hinton. I remember reading that book when I was nine years old and it really woke up some, some things in me and my nine year old self that I was too young to understand at the time, but that I now know to have been familiarity. These were some white boys in Oklahoma, and I was this brown girl in New York City. And yet our lives were eerily parallel by way of classism and feeling like outsiders and poverty and disadvantage and all sorts of things. So that was a huge book in my life. I would say the Color Purple, To Kill a Mockingbird. I mean, stop me here, you said three, there are so many books.
John: I very much enjoy all three of those two, and it's funny, I actually also own the movie versions of all three. I'm sure that you're aware, Nefertiti, always found this fascinating S.E Hinton was only 16 when she wrote it.
Nefertiti Matos: That's right. I think she wrote it as a English class project, like essay kind of thing, pretty amazing.
Melody Goodspeed: And is amazing.
Nefertiti Matos: Yeah.
John: Pony Boy Curtis.
Nefertiti Matos: Pony Boy Curtis. [crosstalk] Soda Pop, and oh, my gosh, all those boys.
John: Oh, Dally.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes.
Nefertiti Matos: Yep. I heard that. They were the first white boys I ever fell in love with, I just want say.
Melody Goodspeed: Love it.
John: I know that my girlfriend was a renowned Rob Lowe fan, he's up in that mix too. And he was soda pop, right? I think he was soda pop?
Nefertiti Matos: Yes, I think that's right.
John: Okay. This is going back a little bit, Nefertiti, here's one, I'm going to call this one semi loaded, but I'm dying to hear what your answer would be. If you could go back and give your 18-year old self one piece of advice, what would that be?
Nefertiti Matos: 18-year old self it gets better, it gets better, that would be my advice. Hang in their kid, you're confused and you're lost and you're hurting, but it gets better, you will be more than okay.
Melody Goodspeed: Oh, my gosh. I love that, that is my track moment right there and it also needs to be on a t-shirt. I hope we have someone listening who makes t-shirts because we have really two crime partners here for this notes.
Nefertiti Matos: Add some braille to that.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, braille inclusion, we're all about inclusion makes the dream work. Nefertiti, thank you so much. John, thank you so much. I now feel I need to go read The Outsiders again.
Nefertiti Matos: Please do.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, I was definitely a Ralph Macho fan, I'm not going to lie. Well, thanks for joining us, everybody. We're so glad to see you today. Go pick up those books if you want to learn more about audio description or want to learn any more or talk or follow our dear friend Nefertiti here. How could they get ahold of you?
Nefertiti Matos: Sure thing. So I'm on Twitter @nefmatoli, that's the first three letters of my names. N-E-F-M-A-T-O-L-I. And same goes for Gmail email@example.com, if you'd like to email me. And hopefully I'll hear from people.
Melody Goodspeed: I think you will, this was amazing. Thank you so much for being here for us today. Thank you, John.
Nefertiti Matos: Thank you so much, this is a really great conversation.
Melody Goodspeed: Thank you. Yes, it was. And for everybody, if you want to see what AFB is up to you, the American Foundation for the Blind, you just need to visit our site at A as an apple, F as in Frank, B as in boy.org. And you can always check out what we're doing on social media as well. Take care and have an amazing, amazing day.
John: Nefertiti, stay gold.
Nefertiti Matos: John, absolute, stay gold.
John: Thank you again.
Nefertiti Matos: Love it.
Nefertiti Matos: Oh, brilliant.