Making the airwaves accessible: APSU student drives upgrades to campus radio station
Clarksville, TN (10/25/2023) — Austin Peay State University student Joseph Brock is on a mission to make the campus radio station more accessible, putting his technical skills and passion for broadcasting to work to ensure visually impaired students can operate WAPX-FM.
Brock lost his own sight a decade ago due to complications from diabetes, so he knows firsthand what it takes to accomplish his goal. So far, the station has added bump dots to help students map out equipment by touch and set up an accessible keyboard for its TriCaster production console, which also has narration software installed.
"At first, I couldn't do anything in my radio class last semester," said Brock, a freshman sports communication major. "But once we figured it out and had a couple of trials and errors, we learned what worked best and how to move forward. I hope this will encourage someone in my position to see that Austin Peay is a school they can go to and excel at."
Brock worked with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) and the Department of Communication to implement accessibility solutions for the radio station. He hopes to eventually introduce himself to listeners with halftime and postgame analysis for Austin Peay's football games.
"One of the things that we instill in our students is self-advocacy because it's not just about the classroom," said SDRC Director Jamie McCrary. "Joseph is going to have his visual impairment long-term [he's] trying his hardest, and that was one of the things we discussed being vulnerable and asking for help is not easy. But he's willing to be his best advocate."
Brock's commitment was born from a strong desire to become a sports broadcaster after graduation. He can visualize every play of a football game and frequently calls into his favorite station - 104.5 The Zone - to share his thoughts.
"I've been into sports since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," he said. "I used to keep this set of 30 spiral notebooks, one for every NFL team at the time. I would keep so many stats in there for each player and team, and I did the same for college football. I always had a heavy sports background and played football since I was a little kid, so I've always been immersed in sports."
Through his studies at Austin Peay, Brock is building a solid foundation in broadcasting while learning new skills to further his career goals. He aims to work for 104.5 The Zone and plans to launch two podcasts from his home studio: one focused on sports analysis (Blind Leading the Blind Sports) and another on religion (Blind Faith).
"I think Joseph has made great connections with radio companies here in town, and radio is not going away," McCrary said. "That's a skill set that could be marketable anywhere, especially when you're talking about sports. He's got the voice and the talent for it, and he's here in school to gain that knowledge base."
Brock's studies have largely focused on general education so far, but he is eager to get more involved in hands-on production classes.
"I had the Broadcast Technology and Operations class last semester, so I got my hands on the TriCaster and other equipment on the production side," he said. "That was a lot of fun, so I'm trying to decide whether to be on the radio or behind the scenes in production, switching from camera to camera."
David Ellison, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, taught the class, which is split into eight weeks of audio production and eight weeks of working behind cameras as technical directors.
At first, Ellison was worried about teaching a student with a visual impairment how to run a camera or produce video. Through conversations with Brock and the SDRC, he refocused his perspective on achieving learning outcomes rather than having each student work through projects the same way.
"We were both able to educate each other for the benefit of any students that will come in behind Joseph with a similar disability," Ellison said. "That's what I loved about this whole process last semester with him, that we could both learn. I may have taught him how to do some technical AV stuff, but he taught me how to educate a person with a visual impairment."
Brock adapted quickly to audio production and worked closely with Ellison and the SDRC to develop solutions for the class's visual aspects.
"The most important thing is having accessibility where the equipment will talk to me and let me know what I'm doing," Brock said. "There are different programs out there, and the main one I use is called JAWS (Job Access With Speech) I can still use a laptop, but instead of clicking with a mouse, I use keyboard commands. It's the same thing with the voiceover features on phones and tablets."
The TriCaster's narration software works similarly to JAWS, but Brock said it only helped around half the time. However, he and Ellison found a solution through a combination of earbuds for the narration and an accessible keyboard for the console.
"We discovered we could set up a keyboard with the TriCaster," Ellison said. "Normally, it has a control surface that is not user-friendly for someone who is visually impaired. But we figured out all the keyboard shortcuts, and I was able to give him a PDF so he could study them. When we plug that keyboard in, Joseph can, in essence, technical direct a show with a producer behind him."
Ellison said the experience helped prepare him to assist future students with visual impairments, and that he is excited to see what Brock will accomplish in the years to come.
"Professor Ellison said he's never had a blind student come through, so it's almost like I'm a trailblazer," Brock said. "What if there's another student who comes through after I graduate who wants to do the same thing? I don't want them to deal with the same struggles I had to, and I want to leave the program better than when I found it."