The Challenge


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Radiolab: Understanding Slow

I've become a new fan of the radio podcast Radiolab. A recent episode hit very close to home, with an empathy lesson focused on disability.
If you haven't heard of Radiolab, my first suggestion is to immediately download some of the podcasts. It's an incredible roundup of science, culture and human behavior – I'm a huge fan!

I listened to one podcast recently called "Slow" - see below to read the description of the episode. The podcast is roughly 15 minutes, and I encourage everyone to listen. 

A bit of background: When I chose to download this podcast, I was busy working with the OpenIDEO team to prepare this challenge, and I knew that we wanted to find ways for our community to empathize with the experience of living with a disability. This story was so compelling, so deeply moving, that I believe my own level of empathy and understanding was truly transformed. This story doesn't shy away from emotion (at one point I was literally crying in public as I listened!) but it's incredibly inspiring, thoughtful and heartfelt. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Radiolab's Slow:

Kohn Ashmore’s voice is arresting. It stopped his friend Andy Mills in his tracks the first time they met. But in this short about the power of friendship and familiarity, Andy explains that Kohn’s voice isn't the most striking thing about him at all.

When Andy first met Kohn, he saw a college freshman in a wheelchair who moved slow and talked slow. But it only took one conversation for Andy to realize that Kohn was also witty and observant. They clicked so effortlessly over lunch one day that Andy went ahead and asked an audacious question: why was Kohn so slow? Kohn told him that when he was 8-years-old, he was hit by a car. He was in a coma for five months, and when he finally woke up, he everything about him was slowed down ... except for his mind.

That lunch quickly led to deep discussions and lots of late nights spent joking around and playing music. But when Andy decided to interview Kohn on tape last summer, Kohn told him another story about himself that caught Andy completely off guard--and made Andy question what it means to be truly familiar with something ... like the sound of your own voice, or that of a friend.

Neurologist Orrin Devinsky joins us to answer some questions raised by Andy and Kohn’s story, and the band Hudson Branch helps us hear, and feel, the world through Kohn’s ears.

Mission #2 Explore through Empathy


Join the conversation and post a comment.

Katie Sue Ambellan

February 03, 2012, 00:38AM
Love Radiolab!

Vincent Cheng

January 28, 2012, 09:48AM
Thanks for sharing this deeply moving story Ashley.

In terms of perceiving your own spoken voice differently than how others hear it, I think people can understand this a bit if they've ever listened to their recorded voice. If you haven't, try it! You often sound quite differently than you think you do.

I had a variety of speech disorders before, enough so that even my parents had trouble understanding me, I was taken out of regular school classes for special ed, and saw specialists for treatment. During school, I actually experienced being tracked between special ed, general ed, & gifted programs at different times, depending on how I was evaluated.

For the most part, I have my speech under control now (even winning an Elevator Speech Competition), though once in awhile I discover that I'm lapsing, not because I really hear it myself, but because I notice someone's confused reaction, or they flat out tell me.

Sometimes, to actually identify and amend the issue, I need to iterate between recording my speech, playing it back, adjusting, and then trying again in a tedious process of trial & error.

Ashley Jablow

January 30, 2012, 17:15PM
Wow, Vincent - thanks for this description of your own speech development. I'm glad to hear that the podcast resonated with you and that you're joining us for this challenge. You have a lot of incredible personal experience to share with us! (and by the way, I totally agree with your point about listening to your recorded voice - I have done this and think I sound like a 7 year-old! :))
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