Kelly MacDonald loves to laugh. He loves sports and is a good listener. He was born with the genetic disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) and since childhood, was told his vision would not improve. He learned Braille and gets around with a cane. Kelly’s effervescent persona can be experienced on Canada’s Accessible Media, Inc. With his co-host, Ramya Amuthan, he thrills his audience for two hours on weekdays, from 2:00 pm EST with bouts of humour, educational episodes, health, lifestyle and entertainment pieces during his daily audio show, Kelly and Company broadcasted on AMI-audio.
His conversation with Mélange
MÉLANGE: Tell us a bit about yourself
Kelly: I’m Kelly MacDonald, host of Kelly and Company. I have been a producer for two decades at Accessible Media Inc. I went into radio because I wanted to be the kind of person that could get a job at a mainstream radio station, proving that disabled people do get those kinds of jobs.
MÉLANGE: What is the show “Blind Sighted” that you are/were a part of?
Kelly: It’s a TV show that followed me going to amazing places and meeting amazing people. One week I’ll be drinking Ice Wine in Niagara and the next week I’ll be at the Canadian International Auto Show looking at super cars. I’m willing to try most things and it feels like it is my duty to take as many opportunities as I can in life and to try to do what people watching would say geez, I’d like to do that. I’ve had the ability to have those opportunities and I hold that very dear, because I know so many people in my world aren’t able to do that, whether they can see you or not.
Blind Sighted went on for a fun-filled 3 Seasons. A lot of the things I did were very challenging. For a sighted person, it would be fine but for a blind person it would be hard. But I didn’t think that. Instead, I thought oh my goodness, I need to spend more time in the gymnasium, or I need to figure certain things out more, rather than thinking being blind is the issue.
That is what we wanted to make people who could see, understand, and what I felt was, I didn’t have to be good at everything. Now, there are times I certainly don’t want to embarrass myself constantly on TV or make it a farce either, because there are blind people who certainly can navigate this, or can climb that and can do all sorts of great, amazing things that they are really good at that they work hard to do, extreme sports kinds of things, or mountain climbing, for instance. There are blind people surfing out there. There are so many different things. So, Blind Sighted was Kelly’s experiences.
MÉLANGE: What is Kelly and Company?
Kelly: Kelly and Company on AMI Audio is awesome. The goal is to discuss topics directly affecting the blind community but also arts, entertainment and lifestyle, in a conversational, relaxed atmosphere. We appreciate that people are taking two hours out of their day to listen to us, so we try to inject some entertainment into their lives where we can, and as of October 31st, 2020, we celebrated four years on the air which is humbling.
Kelly and Company is a conversation in which you’re included. We sit back and try to try to make it as easy going as possible. We love to laugh on the show and we want to educate. But do we expect you to sit there for the full two hours? Not necessarily. But we hope you’ll come back 15 minutes later and see what else we’re talking about.
MÉLANGE: What are your thoughts on social media?
Kelly: We’re all working on being more aware. I love what social media does, because I think people get to learn about things they may not have otherwise heard about.
You have a chance to see more stuff presented, more people are talking to you from marginalized communities, and I like the interest shown in our Canadian culture, especially in the Aboriginal community. People have started to hear more, read more and see more of their beautiful art that’s out there and I find the same is happening with the disability community. The well-spoken, very well-educated ones that get out there and aren’t the hard hammer, complaining, but instead, they’re using that softer hammer of wonderful word choice, articulation and writing great articles so now I don’t feel that someone is smashing down doors to say, don’t treat us like that.
MÉLANGE: What assistive technology do you use?
Kelly: I use a screen reader called Jaws, and I have a cane to help me get around. I use my iPhone for pretty much everything. I’m not a whiz, but I frequently use Zoom and social media. I enjoy listening to other radio stations, podcasts and audiobooks also.
MÉLANGE: Do you see yourself as an inspiration to others?
Kelly: I would like to say that I’m here to let blind people know that I’m speaking for them. When I think about my career and what I’ve done for the inclusivity of blind people on TV it fills me with pride.
MÉLANGE: You have a theatre production company, isn’t that right?
Kelly: Yes. Out of Sight Productions. I have written plays, rented marvelous theatre spaces for both sighted and low/no sighted people to get involved with performances – and I was surprised every time with how well the performances turned out.
MÉLANGE: What was the inclusive message of this theatre company?
Kelly: Our message or goal was to run a theater troupe that gave priority to low vision and blind people. We wanted to make sure we were inclusive all around, and that we didn’t just put blind people on stage for them to play blind characters. Not only did we have to convince sighted people that blind people can do theater, we also had to convince blind people that, sure, you could do it!
We worked endlessly to find a balance between being inclusive, respecting people’s comfort zones and supporting those who wanted to develop their confidence. And I feel we did just that.