Joe Strechay has the kind of career many people dream about: working in the entertainment business. His job? Making sure that blindness is represented accurately, especially by actors who are sighted.
Born with retinitis pigmentosa, Joe later developed cataracts and has been legally blind since he was 19. He’s always been interested in media and entertainment, but for years much of his work centered around helping people who are blind or low vision. He worked for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and the Florida Commission of Blind Services, where he oversaw the statewide transition program. Joe also worked for American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) when they were the stewards of CareerConnect, often writing about representations of blindness in film and entertainment.
“I watched all these films about disability and blindness, and I never felt like it represented me,” Joe says. “Because I was writing about entertainment, both critiquing it and giving input, I started interviewing some prominent people.”
This first led to documentaries asking Joe for help connecting with people who are blind or low vision. Then he was asked to work on three episodes of a USA Network show that was introducing a character who was blind, helping the sighted actor understand how a person who is blind moves through the world.
A breakout opportunity
While he was still working for AFB, Joe landed a consulting job helping a sighted actor portray the title character, who is blind, in Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. Joe flew all around the country working with the actor, Charlie Cox, who played Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil.
“I helped Charlie and the child actor who played young Matt Murdock, as well as some background performers,” Joe says, describing actors who play roles in group scenes. He also made videos of himself to show how a blind person might move or respond in a scene.
“Charlie was so detailed – he modeled things that I didn’t even know I did,” Joe says. “So, the movements of Matt Murdock are often based on my movements in life.”
Before he knew it, Joe was contacted about another show: The OA on Netflix, and worked on season one with Brit Marling. She was not only the lead character, who is blind in some scenes, but was also the show’s creator and executive producer.
“Each actor is different in how they prepare, and I’ve learned so much from all of them,” Joe says. “Brit and I spent hours walking around the streets of Jersey City or New York while she wore a sleep shade – which I also did with Charlie – but Brit also wanted to learn braille, which I started teaching her.”
Fun fact: The white canes ordered for the show didn’t arrive in time, so the white canes in The OA are actually Joe’s own canes.
A whole new world
Since becoming a full-time entertainment consultant, Joe is frequently contacted to work on projects, but only chooses those he feels represent him. One such show is See on Apple TV+, which is set in the distant future in a world where everyone is completely blind.
“No matter the show, I always ask first thing if the actors I’m working with will be blind or sighted,” Joe says. “With See, they told me they were committed to hiring a mix of actors with sight as well as those who are blind or low vision.”
For this show, Joe not only worked with actors – he helped the creators develop what the world of the show would be like and worked with the movement team, which he took charge of for the second and third seasons. The show started its first season with about 12 principal actors who are blind or low vision – including one stunt performer – and by the third and final season there were 15 actors who are blind or low vision, as well as many background actors.
Even for the actors who are low vision, Joe had to help them understand what it’s like being completely blind – especially in a world where sight is an unknown concept.
“People who are low vision still rely on their residual vision, which they couldn’t do in the show,” he explains. “And unlike many people who are blind in the real world, there was no concept of eye contact, so I worked with all of the actors at some level.”
People with other disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, were among the background actors, and people who are blind or low vision also worked behind the scenes including in the props department. Many of the show’s background actors who are blind or low vision became advisors behind the scenes, thanks to Joe, who also helped educate the crew on working with people who are blind or low vision. And for seasons two and three, Joe was part of the casting team.
He’s extremely proud of the show’s commitment to inclusion, and that it resulted in some significant breakthroughs for actors who are blind going on to major roles in film and TV.
With See’s production having ended, Joe is working on some proposals of his own and other projects, such as the upcoming All the Light We Cannot See for Netflix, in which two of the principal actors are blind in real life.
“I’m passionate about the work I get to do with the film world,” Joe says. “Shows like See and All the Light We Cannot See show the world what’s possible.”
Joe has even more to share about his career experiences. Join the APH ConnectCenter for a Career Conversation on December 15th at 6 PM Eastern as we interview Joe and provide time for the audience’s career-related questions! Register here.