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Beacon Senior News

“See” the world with the Tactile Traveler

Aug 03, 2020 03:14PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

Nick Isenberg’s podcast, “The Tactile Traveler,” covers topics such as traveling the Independence Pass Braille Trail.

Nick Isenberg’s podcast guides the sight-impaired traveler

Even at age 77, nothing can come between Nick Isenberg and his lifelong passion for reporting the news. Not even total blindness.

In 2019, this Glenwood Springs-based journalist started producing a monthly podcast called “The Tactile Traveler,” taking both the sighted and sightless on adventures around the world—and, sometimes, just around the block.

With help from six contributing reporters from around the world—all of whom are blind—he’s guided listeners down picturesque mountain trails and taken them overseas to explore typhoon damage in the Philippines. These reporters also help him fulfill his mission of empowering blind and low-vision people with resources, and to help sighted friends see the world in a new way.

Not your typical travel podcast

When sighted people go places, they tend to base the quality of their experience on seeing mountains, landmarks or beautiful sunsets. But when blind people travel, everywhere looks the same.

Isenberg’s primary goal was to figure out new ways for blind people to experience travel. Then, through a philosophy class at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, he learned about another significant aspect of blindness to address—isolation.

“Even though it wasn’t my experience, what kept coming up was people saying ‘When I went blind, I didn’t leave my apartment for 10 years unless it was with a trusted friend,’” explained Isenberg, whose blindness began as a result of a medical error when he was an infant. 

Nick Isenberg

Nick Isenberg’s podcast, “The Tactile Traveler,” covers topics such as traveling the Independence Pass Braille Trail.

With this new insight and the desire to empower the blind, Isenberg formulated a plan for the types of stories he would cover.

At first, Isenberg considered a newspaper column before deciding that an audio program was the better choice. Isenberg approached Raleigh Burley of KDNK, Community Access Radio in Carbondale.

“He said ‘We’ll run it!’ Just like that!” Isenberg said. “They have been wonderful to work with.”

Wheels were set in motion, story ideas flew and KDNK’s Lucas Turner took on editing.

On July 28, 2019, the first Tactile Traveler podcast went online.

“A podcast is a radio-type program anyone can create and put on the internet,” Isenberg explained.

New episodes appear monthly. Long term, Isenberg is shooting for an hour-long, weekly NPR program.

“It’s as easy as googling The Tactile Traveler, clicking and listening to fascinating stories and adventures for all ages and physical abilities of blind people, by blind reporters,” he said.

Empowering blind people

Over the years, Isenberg has endured 15 eye surgeries, including a rejected third cornea transplant in 2011 when he walked out of the hospital legally blind. His right eye was removed in 1961, and his left was removed in April 2019. He now has two custom prosthetic eyes.

“I’d been a reporter for 50 years,” said Isenberg. “After my second eye was removed, I tried to decide what I could still do as a reporter.”

Used to the hustle of cranking out multiple stories a day in the past, Isenberg immersed himself in research. What he found was that there were no “meaningful” blind travel writers.

“It hit me like a flash,” said Isenberg. “I could be a travel writer for blind people and make things better for them.”

Isenberg believes iPhones are crucial to blind people, noting that they offer many helpful apps and have 24/7 tech support.

In one episode, Isenberg recommends Be My Eyes, an app for blind and low-vision people that he uses every day. Through the app, Isenberg can request volunteers from around the world to use the camera on his phone to help him find something he may have dropped or lost.

“If you don’t have an iPhone, you’re not allowed to go blind,” Isenberg chuckled.

Tactile Traveler podcast

Nick Isenberg in the studio with his podcast recording equipment.

Not all stories are just for blind or low-vision listeners. In March, Isenberg’s podcast featured a story specifically for sighted people titled, “Don’t grab a blind person.”

“I can’t walk more than a block from my house without someone grabbing me,” said Isenberg. “People are uncomfortable because they think we don’t know what we’re doing. It’s a real serious problem.”

The episode included a story from an 80-year-old blind, female Denver reporter who was picked up, carried across the street by two men and deposited on the other side without them ever saying a word.

“She was terrified and had no idea what was going on,” said Isenberg. “People mean well, but they need to ask.”

You can listen to his podcasts online at www.kdnk.org/programs/tactile-traveler or on Apple Podcasts.

Topics featured on "The Tactile Traveler"

  • Visiting your legislature and how to lobby
  • Blind tennis
  • Tips on enjoying a restaurant
  • Tony Giles: the most famous blind traveler who has been to 141 countries to date
  • How to identify your suitcase at the airport
  • Traveling via Greyhound and Amtrak
  • Traversing cobblestone streets
  • Internet dating safety
  • Taking a blind former mechanic to an auto show
  • Participating in walking and running events
  • Tactile experience of a post-Maroon Creek avalanche
  • National Federation of the Blind’s “drive” to get self-driving cars for the blind
  • Riding the historic Denver trolley
  • The Braille Trail on Independence Pass
  • A blind survivor of Philippine typhoons
  • Helpful iPhone apps