Thursday, May 31, 2012

USA Today profiles Blind Movie Critic Tommy Edison

from USA Today:

Tommy Edison (pictured) knows you've got questions about blind people — because people have been asking him those questions all his life.

Like: Do you see stuff in your dreams?

And: How do you count your paper money?

And: Do you think you could hit a golf ball?

Actually, that last one was a question Edison had and decided to answer, along with the others, in a online video series he calls "The Tommy Edison Experience." The videos are shot and edited by his buddy Ben Churchill, a documentary filmmaker, and share a website with a series called "Blind Film Critic."

Yes, a blind guy reviews movies. In fact, Edison — who works as a traffic reporter for a Connecticut radio station — became mildly famous for his pithy reviews about a year ago. His web traffic spiked after master critic Roger Ebert mentioned him online, Edison says.

With the attention, came the questions —starting with how a blind man can appreciate movies.

 "I like strong characters in a good story and I like a few laughs," Edison says in a phone interview.

Lots of dialogue helps. But in between going to movies and reporting on traffic tie-ups (using police scanners and calls from listeners), Edison is just a regular forty-something guy who has been blind since birth. The point of the "experience" videos, he says, is "to show sighted people how I live and how I do things," educate a bit and have some fun. So Edison has answered questions about his:

•Dreams: "I don't see in my dreams. It's all smell, sound, taste and touch," he says.

•Money: In one video, he buys a beer and has to ask the cashier to name the bills as he takes his change so he can line them up in order. Every blind person needs a system, he explains, because U.S. paper currency is not differentiated in a way blind people can detect (though it soon will be, say advocacy groups for the blind).
•Golf game: It's pretty good - for a blind guy. (He hits a ball after a few lessons).

•Travel style: He's an able-bodied guy, but has to explain to an airport employee (repeatedly, with impressive good humor and politeness) that he doesn't need a wheelchair to get through a terminal.

•Celebrity curiosity: If he could see three celebrities, he'd choose singer Tom Waits ("I've got to see the face that goes with that voice"); actress Angelina Jolie ("I keep hearing how beautiful she is") and Jay Leno ("the devil himself," says the Conan O'Brien fan). He's also curious about the Muppets. Edison doesn't speak for all blind people.

But it's nice to have someone out there answering the kinds of questions many blind people get all the time, says Eric Bridges, director of advocacy at American Council of the Blind.

"People are naturally curious," he says. "And humor is the greatest device to sort of cut the tension and put people at ease."

The videos seem "very positive and informative," says Chris Danielsen, director of public relations at the National Federation of the Blind.

Social media creates opportunities for many blind people "to get our own stories out," he says.

 For Edison, that means sharing his reviews of Cabin in the Woods and The Hunger Games (he didn't love either) and answering the question: "Can you open your eyes?"

The answer, as he demonstrates in one video, is yes, he can. "Next time," he promises, "I'm going to show you how I perform surgery."