Reflecting on Blindness Awareness Month: An Interview with Natalie Trevonne
October is Blindness Awareness Month, and to celebrate, we interviewed the incredible Natalie Trevonne. Natalie is a dancer, actress, model, writer, and fashion accessibility consultant, exemplifying excellence in the arts as well as advocacy. We got the exciting chance to talk to her about her experiences as a blind person as well as her work! As we move forward into the rest of the year, we want to continue to emphasize the importance of accessibility and empowerment for different conditions and communities -- year-round, not just one month a year. Thank you again, Natalie, for your time and insight!
Please tell us a bit about yourself! What are you working on right now, and what is something you've done that you're especially proud of?
My name is Natalie and I’m a dancer, actress, model, writer, and a fashion accessibility consultant. I think something that I’m super proud of this year is my film for the Easter seals disability film challenge. We were nominated for three awards this year: Best Director, Best Actor and Best Film. I was honored to be awarded with Best Actor for 2021! I am currently working as a marketing and outreach coordinator for BIT and I really love how we help to place professionals with disabilities at Fortune 500 companies.
How did you get started with acting, dancing, and modeling?
I actually got involved with acting unintentionally. I wanted to be more acclimated with the blind community so I joined a blind theater thinking it would be a good hobby. I ended up being really good at it and being scouted for a commercial. After I auditioned, I was called back for the commercial. The casting director thought it would be a good idea for me to get an agent.
That same year, which I think was around 2017, I also joined a dance team called the Blind Dance Company, directed by professional choreographer Hydeia Mohammed. I danced with them for about two years and really enjoyed it. That experience taught me that I was still able to dance as a blind person and I ended up really mastering the learned by touch technique. After I finished dancing with them, I joined the Infinite Flow Dance Company. Infinite Flow is an inclusive dance team with both non disabled and disabled dancers. We teach inclusion through dance and it’s such a freeing and rewarding experience.
I just recently started modeling. I think it kind of just grew out of my acting and I was able to sign with Zebedee this year. So I’m excited to see where my modeling takes me.
What are some of your favorite projects that you've been involved in?
I recently was just in a really cool project for Ability in Progress. There is a video out on YouTube right now by a really cool composer called Don and I got to dance in the video. The whole video was about five super talented disabled creatives, and just focused on our creativity versus our disability. It was such an awesome experience to get to be a featured dancer in this project and I hope that people really see us and not who society assumes we are.
Have you encountered any accessibility issues in your industries? What has that been like, and what has helped you work through those?
I encounter accessibility issues daily. I think it’s beyond just the industry that I work in and has more to do with the lack of accessibility within our society in general. The world wasn’t built for us, and so every day we’re problem solving to try to fit in a space that doesn’t think we’re important. So as an advocate, I’ve really been focusing on raising awareness about what allies and our peers can do to help us incorporate accessibility into our daily routines. So, for example, I talk a lot about alternative text on my social media where I just encourage people to add image descriptions on photos. I think every little effort helps and so I think if we start in our own little circles, our efforts will start to pour into the industries that we’re involved with as well.
You provide accessibility consulting services for beauty and fashion brands. How did you get into this work? What does accessibility consulting usually entail on your end?
Melissa and I started accessibility consulting because of our podcast, Fashionably Tardy. We like to say that we’re bridging the gap between fashion and disability through storytelling. So because we had so many guests on our podcast within the fashion industry, we started to get questions about how they could be more accessible. Because of that, people started reaching out to us and saying, “OK, what needs to be done for your community to be able to use our products?” It just took off from there and we’ve been able to do quite a bit of consulting this year. It depends on the brand, so if it’s beauty, we usually talk more about how the design of the product can be more accessible to the blind community. If it’s a fashion brand with clothing, we talk more about the online accessibility features and whether or not the blind community can access their products independently.
Please tell us about your podcast! When does it launch?
So our podcast is called Fashionably Tardy. Like I mentioned before, our slogan is pretty much that we’re two blind chicks bridging the gap between fashion and the disability community by telling some amazing stories from some dope fashion creatives killing it in the game today. We’ve already launched. We’ve been out for a year now. Our podcast started in the summer of 2020 and we’re currently preparing for season three.
What are some common misconceptions around blindness that you often run into?
Wow, there are so many. We would be here all day if I talked about all the misconceptions. But I think one of the main ones is that we are helpless, and we just sit at home all day and do nothing. It’s basically that we need a babysitter all times of the day and if we’re ever seen out, people are always telling us that we’re “so brave.” It’s like people think of us as children, and so if they see us doing something that’s outside of their understanding of our community, then it’s instantly inspirational. I think that’s pretty much a common one amongst all disabilities but it’s pretty frustrating for those who are blind and low vision. You literally can’t walk outside by yourself without someone rushing to try to help you. The crazy part is that they don’t even ask you if you need help — they just grab you and walk around with you. That’s so unsafe and very confusing for the blind person. We’re literally trained on how to travel around by ourselves and do not need the distraction of people trying to tell us how to walk around independently.
What does blindness awareness mean to you?
To me, it means crushing all of the misconceptions and silly little stereotypes that society has put on our community for centuries. I think whenever a blind person does above and beyond what's expected, that’s blindness awareness. It’s kind of sad to say but that’s the reality of it. Anytime I step out of my house and do all the things that they say I can’t or shouldn’t do, I’m raising awareness. I’m proving them wrong with my actions and showing that I am a regular human being with real people problems and goals. I think people can’t help but respect that and so I would just encourage any blind person to do what they’ve always wanted to do, regardless of what restrictions the people around them put on them.