As host John Roche says, the history of disability runs in parallel with the history of humanity. Accessibility and inclusion are relatively new ideas, and Roche, who has cerebral palsy, knows how important sharing this history is for understanding the current world. He includes personal stories about moving between the able-bodied and disabled worlds, mentions religious leaders’ views on those with disabilities, and explores institutional biases in churches and hospitals. This podcast is focused on the history of disability from a Western perspective, but Roche balances it by researching other perspectives for a wider view. Disability, A Parallel History is not for the faint of heart – episodes contain language, both historical and modern, that listeners may find offensive. Furthermore, the history of disability includes segregation, sterilization, and murder. But, if listeners stay tuned, it ultimately is a story of innovation, determination, and love. Roche’s perspective is valuable, and each episode is incredibly interesting. If you’re looking for the history of disability you’ve never heard before, this podcast is for you. We were fortunate to talk with Roche about the podcast, how they differentiate from other podcasts, and their future plans in podcasting. See below for our full Q&A.
DISCOVER PODS: How’d you get into podcasting?
ROCHE: I started out by writing short stories. Mostly about funny little situations I’d found myself in or about interesting people I’ve crossed paths with. Then I heard David Sedaris and Jon Ronson read out their work, either on radio or in podcasts and I loved how their delivery really brought the story to life. I was like – ‘I want to do that with my stories’. I recorded myself reading my stories. Then I just got carried away and started adding sound effects, getting actors to read dialogue and roping my mate into writing music for them.Before I knew it my short stories had developed into audio dramas. I collected them all together under the name Yarn and that pretty much made up what you could call the first season of the podcast – standalone audio dramas.Since then, Yarn has evolved quite a bit. We’ve done lots of standalone documentaries on loads of different subjects and now we’re doing multi episode documentary miniseries. Our latest one is in three parts called ‘Disability, A Parallel History’.
DISCOVER PODS: Why should listeners tune in to Disability, A Parallel History. (A Yarn Miniseries)?
ROCHE: The newest miniseries is the one I’m most proud of so far. It’s an attempt to look at the concept of ‘Disability’ and ‘The Disabled’ and see how it’s tracked through history. We go from prehistoric times, intersect with the major events, civilisations and ideas but we view everything from the perspective of people with disabilities. For example, what was life like for a person with a disability in Ancient Rome, in Elizabethan England or in post WW2 America?
I haven’t seen a story told like that before so I thought I’d write it. Looking into history helps us understand current stereotypes and why a lot of infrastructure and services fail people with disabilities – our priorities today are a direct result of the attitudes of the past.It’s a super person subject to me too – I have Cerebral Palsy so as I was researching the project I was constantly imagining myself in those situations and some were pretty grim. So much so, that I couldn’t separate myself from the research, that’s when I started drawing parallels between my own life experiences and the historical events I explore – I’ve included those parallel autobiographical stories in the podcast. I hope it makes for a much more personal and intimate experience and it adds a bit of humour otherwise, a straight history of disability would be way too dark and bleak.
DISCOVER PODS: What kind of feedback have you heard from your listeners?
ROCHE: I still haven’t released all the episodes in this new season so haven’t heard much back from listeners yet. Lots of friends who have listened to the first couple of episodes have said they’ve learned lots – especially around the origins of words people with disabilities have been called throughout the years, like ‘idiot’ or ‘moron’ or even phrases like ‘rattle the cage’ or ‘playing the fool’ – once you know the dark origins of these terms, you’d probably think twice about using them in casual conversation. I’ve also heard that people like the autobiographical interludes, it grounds the story in reality.
DISCOVER PODS: Describe your recording set up?
ROCHE: Bedroom. Low lighting. Late at night. Glass of wine or whiskey.Sounds like I’m describing an evening of seduction ; ) hahahahaha
Nah, during the day it’s too loud and the bedroom has a low ceiling for better sound.If I’m recording actors, it’s during the day and wine is usually reserved until after we’ve finished recording. Recording is usually the quickest and easiest bit (as long as I can find the actors). The researching, writing and editing is where all the action is.
DISCOVER PODS: What equipment are you using?
ROCHE: Books and the internet. Yeti Mic. Macbook. GarageBand. My super-secret favourite sound effects library website. A music library by the name of Epidemic (unfortunate name in these times). Landr.com for mastering. Hosting by Anchor. Usually all in that order.
DISCOVER PODS: What’s the biggest challenge you face as an indie podcaster?
ROCHE: I bet it’s the same one every indie podcaster has – finding an audience! It’s sooooo hard. There are literally millions of podcasts out there. How do you get your podcast in front of people?
DISCOVER PODS: Where do you want to take your podcast?
ROCHE: I want to keep doing it for one. Hopefully get more listeners. Collaborate with more people – if anyone has a story to tell, I’m up for making it into something. The end product doesn’t even have to be a podcast – I’m currently working with an artist on adapting one of our stories into a graphic novel. I’m up for anything, if someone has an idea, throw it my way.
DISCOVER PODS: What other podcasts are you listening to now?
ROCHE: I’m Irish, our state broadcaster RTE, has one of the finest and longest running documentary series ever – called Documentary on One. Every week they come out with something amazing. It’s won like hundreds of awards!
I’m also listening to a new podcast by an English comedian and performance artist Kim Noble called Futile Attempts (at surviving tomorrow). Innovative and experimental storytelling – Genre bending, is that what you say? It’s awkward and funny.High Stool Stories – another Irish podcast. Irish people telling stories fit for the pub. They usually end badly and are very very funny.Third Coast Radio’s ReSound is always a good shout too. They have the most random stuff from all around the world on there. You might find an absolute gem of a story in one of their episodes (Ahem! A Yarn story was featured by them once- full disclosure)
DISCOVER PODS: Anything else you’d like to add?
ROCHE: All I’d say is if anyone listens to any of the Yarn episodes, I’d love to hear your feedback – What did you like? What was sh**t? But more importantly – What did you like?