The Story of Kevin’s Way, from Roy Samuelson, Founder and CEO
I still find it tricky to be in the conversation about audio description which is a service that was created by blind people for blind people. and now the service of Kevin’s Way makes conversations even tricker. But my bias as a sighted person slowly disintegrates with every conversation as I learn more. Those countless conversations with blind and sighted people about Kevin’s Way provide a different nuanced perspective.
Kevin started that connection and those conversations.
My conversations with Kevin forged the inspiration of the start of these conversations. Every time I’ve mentioned my fear of using Kevin’s name in a way that might be construed as manipulative or disingenuous, or, worse, inspiration porn, I’m reminded of why his name carries such weight in the business. Our brand “Kevin’s Way” honors his legacy.
And this name Kevin’s Way honors our relationship, too. He was my anchor, my mentor, and my friend who I loved.
He’d smile and shake his head at hearing that I’m sure, then turn on some Casey Kasem top 40, knowing we’d share more text messages, phone calls, and conversations about all this.
She told me about the morning that Kevin’s Elementary school bus never showed, and she had to take him on the Atlanta commuter train.
She said she held his hand as they boarded. She sat next to him on an adjacent seat. If he had ever had eyes, he’d’ve rolled them.
At the closest stop to the school, he stood up.
“Kevin, you want me to take you to school?”
He took out his cane and smiled, shaking his head. “Mother, you can stay on.”
He walked off the train, but his mom couldn’t resist. He started down the sidewalk. And she followed quietly, concerned for his safety.
She said Kevin walked, and she walked.
Kevin stopped at every red light, and made his way to the school. (I still hear her laughing, as she recalled that time when he was 5 years old — He ran down the stairs to his ham and cheese sandwich, she taking her time. That’s how he’d do. He can get around.)
At the school, she saw the teacher open the door for him. “Kevin, I see your mother!”
“Yeah, I know. I smelled her cologne.”
He got around so good, and it made me feel good he was doing stuff. I couldn’t baby him. I let him play with kids. He fell down and got back up. Everyone said his mama let him do that.
Ain’t nothing gonna hold him back.
As an adult, he traveled from Atlanta to Jackson.
He would go and come, and visit his friend.
And she said he tried to keep stuff from her. He didn’t want her to know anything about it.
A year before he died, she knew something was wrong. He was having problems. Something was going on. The only thing holding him back – his ankles started swelling. He gotta check that out.
About two years ago, Kevin contacted me via a Facebook private message, writing “I am constantly spreading the word about how blind people watch movies, and I love your narration of that. If there’s ever anything that I can do to help with the cause, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Thank you again for everything that you do.”
My narration for audio description wasn’t known by many, and I was reaching out wherever I could, talking about it. Here was someone responding. It wasn’t a bot. Wow, he’s real. It felt great to connect with someone.
I offered to pass along any suggestions or feedback to my coworkers. He wrote that he had heard my voice hundreds of times over the last few seasons. He was curious about the whole process.
As the exchanges continued, and grew longer in each of our responses, we talked about dating, and he mentioned being on a date that stood him up. With truth and humor, he said “I don’t know if he walked out because I was blind, too tall, black, or gay – and he needed to run back into the closet.”
A lot of times when he met sighted people, it didn’t go well.
He told me “Today, a waitress went up to his table and meekly said ‘Knock, knock.’ I just want to order a burger – was I supposed to say – ‘Who’s there?’”
Another time, as he was walking, a sighted person grabbed his shoulder without asking, screaming “I’m a Christian, not a crook!”
Almost weekly he had incidents with Uber drivers standing him up, or grilling him about his blindness. Sometimes bus people would hold his hand and pray over him so he could get his sight. He would laugh about it sometimes, and other times I could almost hear him shake his head.
And he heard me and listened to my work stories; I shared my own challenges, and he gave feedback or a welcomed listening ear. As his role as just an audience to an advocate, he was sharing more with me.
We started a Facebook group discussion together. He lead that group with a quiet leadership. I would run ideas by him, and he would share what worked and what didn’t work.
We would talk about how some shows worked great, and why others didn’t. Those conversations were hours long! We started to find some similarities, some core elements, and that gave us a nice short hand to make our conversations easier.
“Ugh, Roy, the writing. Why are there so many prepositions together in that sentence that takes forever?”
Or “Kevin – what do you think about that narrator?” And he’d say “I didn’t – I was totally into the story.” “Got it – the way she read the script, you were immersed in the story.” YES! He shouted, and I could hear him laugh and exhale.
“Roy. If I have to turn my volume up and down any more times in this show…” “Kevin, I know, that show needs a sound engineer.”
“Kevin! Did you hear the audio description on that new show?”
Then there would be a long pause. “Nooooooo…” it was a guttural, do-not-mess-with-me tone. His fists clenching his phone.
And how movies should pass “…from cinema to streaming?” I asked. “YES!” He shouted. And he turned on some Annie Lennox music.
We talked about connecting audio description audiences with the entertainment industry. “An awards show! Or Oscars for audio description! What about the Emmys, Roy, can you do that? I’ll come to the parties. Have Snapple and Gummi Bears at your house, please.”
We discussed what could we do to start connecting? What organizations could we reach? How could they work together? I found myself using my headset to my phone more often so I could pace around my room, our shared energy pulsing between the long distance connection.
We kept talking on our unlimited phone plans. Our text messages had no character limit. And even more messages.
When I read those Facebook messages on my laptop, I swipe vertically. It takes me back in time, the scroll bar of our chats shrinking, as the beginning never quite seems to reach the top. The block responses of my blue and his white longer and wider.
She said Sunday morning he played his music. That was his time. His mother didn’t mess with him.
She said she was sad when she found him.
I found out on Facebook where we met. Several close friends of his sent a private message asking to connect with me. I was so used to reaching him when I had something important to share that my first thought was to call him and tell him I’m so sorry.
I had spent months and weeks working on this business that would accomplish and find a solution to the challenges that we had spent years talking about – and was close to announcing it on a keynote speech for the American Council of the Blind. But I couldn’t seem to come up with a name for it. Now, I thought of combining his Junteenth birthday and his initials as a name, but it sounded like a license plate.
That’s when my business advisor offered a simple title for now – a placeholder – that told the story of what the business would be. He suggested that blind people would come up with the best name.
So the name “Kevin’s Way” as a placeholder will work for now.