In this episode of Inform & Connect, Melody Goodspeed chats with Gabby Mendonca, blindness advocate and student.
Gabby is a senior at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, studying communications in digital media. Growing up, she didn’t have anyone in the blind community to look up too for guidance. With this in mind, she started her own YouTube channel to connect with others like her—blind individuals needing to know they are not alone. Gabby thrives on sharing her journey as a college student, navigating her passion alongside her sighted peers.
“I am proud to be a blind young woman breaking down barriers,” Gabby says. “We all have the ability to create and own our dreams.”
“Gabby is a brilliant and passionate student and reminds us all that we all have the power to make positive change at any stage of life,” said Melody Goodspeed, AFB Major Gifts Specialist. “She is always thinking of ways to connect her peers in moving the needle to inclusion through her passion through digital media.”
Melody: “…It's really exciting. Our special guest today is Gabby. I'm so excited to have her. Gabby is the true staple for me of focusing on leadership. I love it so much because her story really, really inspires me. This girl really knows how to network and I love it. Gabby, welcome. We're so happy to have you.
Gabby: Thank you so much, Melody and Susan for having me on today. I'm really excited to sit here and chat with you guys.
Melody: We are very excited to chat with you, too. Gabby, what I really want to get to, there's so much here that you have accomplished. There's a lot of things in this world that is challenging, let's just be completely honest, for our blind and vision community when it comes to accessibility.
One of the things that when you and I first met and then talking is your passion for others is so incredible. Again, you're a senior in college, which is totally exciting. The reason why you're in social communication and digital media and your passion coming from wanting to elevate others, because you felt lonely growing up and didn't have a mentor. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Gabby: Of course. I lost my sight as a baby and then it was a very big shift for everybody, not just myself. From my mom who was, and still is a single parent. For me, I didn't understand what this was. I didn't know how to adjust to a different lifestyle where I was and I don't remember ever seeing anything before I lost my sight.
For me, my mom started getting involved in different agencies and she was like, "I want to know how I can help my child out and what can I do to help myself to understand?" She signed up for different agencies. She got involved and then enrolled me in different programs.
Luckily through those programs it was really good because I did get to meet a lot of other blind people. To me, I always felt like there wasn't one person that I really knew growing up that was advocating for the community, or that was trying to just talk, speak out about issues surrounding all of the stigmas.
For me, back in 2014, I created a YouTube channel. Then I was at the time I was like, "Whatever, this is just a YouTube channel. I don't know what I'm going to do with it. It's just here." Then last year I was like, "Oh, okay, well, it made me go back to thinking about the people that I wanted to see growing up in the blind community."
I was like, "Let me start actually uploading things." Now in my channel, there's a lot of content that I put out talking about my experiences with blindness and talking about my stories and sharing those moments with people that I also collaborate with.
It's been really good to see how many other people in the blind community have reached out to me and said, "Hey, thank you for sharing this story. I really felt like I connected with it."
Melody: Yes, I thought that was so awesome. I know you and I have talked that you are the youngest of three siblings in the house that don't have side issues. Just the fact that you're working together as a unit to get you where you are.
When you started hearing those stories from other people, is that what made you decide I want to go into digital media and communications as a career?
Gabby: It was really interesting because my junior year of high school, I had a TBI for those four years growing up, I had a TBI. I am very into music and I went to a performing arts high school. My junior year this is the point where everybody's like, "Oh, what am I going to do for college?" I really did feel discouraged.
I was like, "Well, maybe music is all that I can do. My TVI was like, "You're really good at socializing with people. You're really good at holding a conversation and speaking out about things. Try looking into communications." I took her advice on that.
When I came to apply for school, I was like, "Well, they have digital media, which is something that I like. I've always been interested in being on radio and doing radio broadcasting." Luckily, I found a school that did fit what I was looking for. It's been really fun to just go to different events and connect with people that are in that field. I hope that answered your question. I'm sorry.
Melody: It did, totally. I love it. It's just like you think you that, and then you went and you found, and you went and networked and had that people are seeing things in you. Obviously you're, you're being a leader by doing that. You and I have talked and you didn't get into details. I'm really excited to hear about this, but you've had internships. Can you tell us about that experience?
Gabby: I had an internship. I think my first one was probably the one that I did not fully enjoy because I didn't gain any knowledge from it. My second one that I did was really nice to be a part of a team that was all about leadership and helping each other out. I was working as assistant team curator for art gallery.
Even though that's not necessarily for my major, but I was still able to gain the communication skills and learn how to work in an office setting with people. Just gaining those skills through other internships. I've had one that wasn't very, very good. Well, I actually applied for this one and I was faced with a lot of discrimination when I was trying to apply for that one.
Melody: Can you tell us about when you were getting the internships? How did you find out about them?
Gabby: I found out about certain internships through Visions or through my commission counselor, but the one that I did where I was a teen curator, I found out about that one through a program called City Access. I worked there for a year. Then in terms of other internships, it was just through my college's career office that I had found out about.
Melody: That's awesome. When you were going to your college career's office, do you feel as though you have the same opportunity as your sighted peers?
Gabby: That's a good question. I don't think that I did because in the blind community, we are all faced with so much all these stereotypes and the stigmas and the misconceptions. I think for me, luckily, the woman who was in charge of the career center is really great. I worked really, really well with her.
To me, my sighted peers can just walk into an interview and know on the spot, whether or not they're going to get the job. Now, we can do that too, a blind person. For us, when you walk in and you have your guide dog, or you have your cane, the first thing they're seeing is your disability.
For me, it was always a matter of speaking with the career advisor and saying, "Well, I have this interview. I'm feeling a little nervous about it because of XYZ, and because of past internships." It's always harder to know whether or not we're going to get that internship.
I want to add that this is a big part of the reason why a lot of people in the blind community turn back to working for organizations that are meant for the blind community, because they are rejected and turned down from the jobs that they were originally trying to apply for.
Melody: Follow their passions. I'm so glad that you brought that up because here at AFB, education is definitely, and we want to create systemic change with all of these. We've talked about these are real issues.
I know that through what you've been doing since 2014 with your YouTube channel have also talked about your peers, as in the blind community, that haven't had as much success in finding internships, which are critical to have those jobs skills when you enter the workforce, which you're going to be doing.
When you graduate this year, which I know is going to be great, but can you talk to us about what you've seen? There needs to be a level of systemic change.
Gabby: For sure. For me, I have always tried to learn about different things. Melody, I told you this I'm always finding a new passion and trying to learn about something new. There are a lot of people that I've come across who, they may not know much about a specific thing.
Let's say it's assistive technology or mobility training, but they try their best to educate themselves and tell themselves, "You need to learn this." There are people who I found have struggled a little bit more because prior to entering the workforce or prior to even entering school, they have not been given the chance to get the training that they need, such as assistive technology or O and M skills.
I think that makes it harder. It's like a domino effect. It's like you go in and you're like, "Okay, I want to apply for this job and I'm passionate about XYZ." Then it's hard when you are turned down because of something that you may or may not have control over.
Some of us can get the assistive technology training and all these other things and other people in the community just sometimes can't get those things.
Melody: No, I agree. What I'm hearing the underlining tone here is that we, as individuals have to be advocates for ourselves, which is what you have done. You're taking a step further by modeling that. Now, when you've come into situations like when you were applying for internships or anything really.
Let's talk about that. When you're advocating and you're talking about these things, these real live issues on your YouTube channel, which I've watched. How does that make you feel? It's like you're very empowering.
Gabby: It's empowering. It really is to be able to know that you can use your voice to make a change and to bring awareness to something that's important to you. I will say there are times where yes, advocacy is amazing. I think it's a tool that everybody should try to understand a little bit more.
There are times where it is really hard because there can be times where you're advocating and you're using your voice, and you're trying to do all these things, but the people that you may be going to talk about those issues aren't helping.
That makes it harder because then you're like, "Okay, well, why am I putting in so much effort and I'm not getting anything reciprocated back? It's 50/50 route.
Melody: Exactly. I mean, I know from the networking I've seen you do, and even the people and things that you've shown me in the time we've known each other have been incredible. The fact that you do love doing new things. That's another thing that I think that when we have the stigma, we talk about blindness.
You and I have talked about this, that we both are fearless and going out and just trying it. Just giving it a go because that's what you have to do. That's what everybody has and it's almost a sense of being holding. There is an element of holding yourself back because of our own fears.
What would you say to our audience about that? That might be scared of taking a plunge and doing something that they're passionate about because you brought up such a beautiful point. Not to turn back. Once you're faced with adversity, it's finding that other angle. It's what we are so creative and positive-thinkers. You have maneuvered beautifully.
Gabby: Thank you. I honestly would say that it's a matter of stepping out of your own comfort zone. For me, that took a while to even know how to do that. Beginning with my channel, that was the biggest step for me, because I didn't do anything like that before. Yes, I'm a very social person. I'm very outgoing.
Taking that first step is always the hardest. I think once you know that you're passionate about something and it's something that you wholeheartedly feel is a topic and something that you want to see happen or a change that you want to make. The only thing that would say is it's a matter of finding your voice and figuring out the way that you can bring about that change into the world and to help educate people.
I'm happy that with my YouTube channel, I've been able to bring awareness and educate so many people. Just figuring out what platform you can use to advocate on behalf of something that you're passionate about, and it's going to be scary. At times you may doubt yourself, because again, it's going to be hard when you're constantly saying something over and over again and nothing's happening.
You never know how many people are out there that are listening to your words or reading, even if you have a blog. So many people find different outlets to, to bring that awareness. Even if it's one person, that one person can go on to spread that news or that change that they want to see happen to the next person.
Melody: That is well-said, girl. Very well said. Before we get moving into the Q and A, thank you for that so much. Why don't you tell us what do you want to do after college? What is it that you want to move your career into? What are your dreams?
Gabby: I have so much that I want to do. I would say the few things that I have wanted to, this quarantine has really given me the chance to look into what I am really passionate about. Those things are the performing arts such as acting. I love, love, love acting. I had an amazing acting professor throughout college.
I had her for two classes and continuing on with communications. Even just finding a way to be a public speaker, because that's something that I love doing, too. I would say those are the three things, even with radio broadcasting. Communications, there's so many things you can cover with that.
Melody: That is awesome. Gabby, I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to be seeing a lot of you as you navigate this, because you've given back to us so much already. You're right, when it comes to social media sometimes feel so one-sided like, you think your voice is just going into the ether, but it's really not.
Well, I want to thank you so much. Can you tell us how people could get in touch with you if they wanted to do so before we move into Q and A?
Gabby: Of course. My Instagram or my Twitter, they're both the same. It's I-T-S-S_G_. Then my YouTube channel where you can email me, it's just Gabriella with two L's Mendocena. That's my last name. I don't know. I figure out, how do I write this out for people?
Melody: It's okay, well, we have it in the advertiser entail. It's good. I know you're so incredibly open to being like, "Let's just try this." If stigma people have questions and I love how the fact that even you I've seen you help people like, "Let's get together and put this on our YouTube channel. Let's figure this out."
I just love it. Gabby, thank you so much for having us here with us today. This has been incredible. You're a true leader. You've really taught me that you can be a leader at any level of your life. I think that sometimes we put so much limitations and all of us do.
What it is we can do, but together with one voice, we can make a difference. I just want to thank you so much. We're going to move into the Q&A portion now. Thank you, sweetie, for being here with us today. This has been incredible.
Gabby: Thank you.
Susan: We have lots of questions. Our first question Gabby is from Libby Thall. Libby says, "Thanks for what you do. Do you have any tips for YouTubers?"
Gabby: Honestly, again, it's about finding those topics, but the thing that I have found that's really helped me to stay consistent on YouTube because you're working with an algorithm is creating ideas. Having a list that you can always refer back to because at some point you're going to get low on ideas.
Making sure that the list is ongoing and that you're always finding new ideas to talk about. I would say that's pretty much, the biggest thing it's just staying consistent. Figuring out a good schedule that works for you, for your channel.
Melody: I'm going to have to do that. Thanks for the question, Libby.
Susan: We're going to do a follow-up to that question now from Alexa, "Which one of your YouTube videos is your favorite?"
Melody: Good one.
Gabby: I can't. Hello?
Gabby: I don't know what happened. I think I lost-
Susan: Did we glitch? I'll repeat it. This question is from our friend Alexa, and she says, "Which one of your YouTube videos is your favorite?"
Gabby: That's so hard. Wow. I don't remember. I never really thought about this before. For me, it's really hard to choose because I like sitting in front of the camera and chatting for however long I have to speak about, but I would honestly say one of my favorites has to be the one that I did where I show people how I pick out my outfits as a blind person. That was really fun to show.
Melody: That was awesome and a good one for Alexa too, our fashion designer.
Susan: Our next question is from Stephanie. "Gabby, I've heard your beautiful voice. Can you give us a sample?"
Gabby: Let's see, what song should I sing? I'm trying to think. Sorry. [Sings.]
Melody: Oh my gosh.
Susan: Wow. Standing ovation.
Melody: Standing ovation. Gabby, that was beautiful. I'm in tears.
Susan: That was fantastic.
Melody: Thank you, sweetie.
Susan: We have another question from Roy. Roy says, "What do you wish that adults knew about student life?"
Gabby: Wow. The thing for me that I've noticed is that when things start to get harder in school, a lot of the time, my family and just people in general, don't seem to realize that it is not always easy to want to do everything that you're doing and still focus on your academics.
I think sometimes a lot of adults that at least I've interacted with have made it a lot harder for students to, in a way, catch a break. A lot of the time I hear a lot of people saying, "Oh, this person doesn't understand. I have more than just this thing going on." I would just say realizing that it is very stressful, even though a lot of them think that it's not stressful at all.
Susan: Another question, Gabby. "You seem to be wise beyond your years, and you have mentioned knowledge several times in this interview, a thirst for knowledge and seeking knowledge. Where does that come from?"
Gabby: I think it just comes from my family. I grew up knowing that I was going to be supported in whatever I was passionate in. Knowing that my brother who's my oldest brother, he has always pushed me to go for whatever I wanted and same with my mom.
She hears about all these different things that I'm doing and filming videos. I think it's just a matter of that support that I've been given and the freedom that I've been given to just do whatever it is that I want to do to create my own happiness.
Susan: I love that, create your own happiness.
Melody: I do, too. We all need to put that on our signature create your own happiness.
Susan: Back to you, Melody.
Melody: Oh gosh, you guys. Gabby, I don't know what to say, except for this has been so incredibly beautiful and amazing. You are wise beyond your years. I just want to thank you so much for being here today. Is there anything else you wanted to add that you wanted to tell us today? Any motivation you want to add that, although that was a really good mic drop there? I don't know if I can go on.
Gabby: I would just say that I struggled a lot with self-love and self-care. This is something I talked to Melody a lot about. I've just find that if you have people in your corner that do love you and care for you, and are there to support you through all of those things, you'll find that you will be able to create.
Again, it goes back to creating your own happiness and finding control over the things that you can do for yourself. I think self-love is a very tricky thing. If that's something that you may be struggling with, do whatever you need to do to figure out how to help yourself.
Create a peaceful, healthy, happy life for yourself. I am only 21, but it's sad to say that I still am a person that's constantly doubting myself, regardless of all the cool things that I would say I've done.
Melody: The thing here, girl, is you turn it around and you keep going. We all, we all struggle with that one. We're all in that same arena. Thank you so much for reminding us that and reminding us that, that we all have leadership qualities within us, no matter where we are in our lives. We all need to create our own happiness and we can do that.
Melody: We're better together in creating a life with no limits. For people that are blind or vision impaired, we are one voice and we are living our passions. I just have to say this been an amazing afternoon. Thank you so much for being here with us.
I hope that all of you have a great rest of your Wednesday and take care. We can't wait to see you next week. Gabby again, thank you so much for everything you've done for us today.
Gabby: Thank you.
Melody: Bye guys.