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“A mixed breed. Mostly white and dark brown fur. Short-haired cat with light blue eyes. She has a naturally furrowed brow and frown, making her appear grumpy. She’s laying in someone’s lap, belly up, and her head is cradled in the person’s hand. And it looks like she’s looking up at her owner, totally pissed.”
Most of us have probably never had to so vividly describe the appearance of Grumpy Cat, the celebrity feline (née Tardar Sauce), who became an internet sensation and the subject of some of the most iconic memes in history. But for blind and visually impaired people, many of whom won’t instinctively know the visual details of Grumpy Cat, descriptions are essential to allow them to enjoy memes. These viral images have become such important cultural touchpoints—but they are a highly visual medium, leaving some members of society excluded.
“I really, deeply believe that memes are important, and that blind people should be able to enjoy them and use them to enhance their social and cultural credibility,” says Will Butler, VP of community at Be My Eyes, a company that connects blind people with sighted volunteers when they need visual assistance. “This is how people communicate.”
To that end, Butler has started a new podcast, Say My Meme, which literally describes some of the internet’s most famous memes for a blind audience. On the show, his cohost, Caroline Desrosiers, describes them to Butler, who is legally blind, meaning he gets the same experience as the audience in hearing about many of them for the first time. “Millions and millions of blind people and people with low vision [are] just not participating in this whole cultural expression,” Butler says. “So, when she describes it to me, I feel like I’m being let in on a whole new slice of culture.” He says that, just a few weeks into the show, he’s been able to have more dynamic conversations with friends because can now reference memes."