New episodes of the Penny Forward podcast will return on September 12th. In the meantime, we're rerunning some of our most popular episodes from season 1. We hope you enjoy this interview with Jo Elizabeth Pinto. Joe was born three months too early and lost her vision due to Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). Blindness didn’t stop her from reading, though, and from the time she figured out that words could be written down and reread, she knew she wanted to be an author. Her first novel, “The Bright Side of Darkness”, won two first-place Next Generation Independent Book awards and three awards from the Colorado Independent Publishers Association in 2016. When she isn’t writing, she works as a Braille proofreader and lives with her husband and daughter in Brighton, CO.
To learn more about Jo and her books, visit https://brightsideauthor.com
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Male Announcer: Welcome to the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families, and friends who share an interest in financial independence. Join us now, as we meet people like us, who are working towards their own success.
Chris: My guest today is Jo Elizabeth Pinto. She has two college degrees. She is a mother, a freelance braille proofreader, and a three-time author. She's going to tell us what it was like to do all of these things as a blind person. Jo, thanks for being here.
Jo: Thanks for having me on your show.
Chris: So, you're a pretty smart lady. You've got a couple of college degrees, and I know you're a mother, and an author, and a freelancer, let's start out with college. Tell me about what college was like, and getting your degrees, and what you did after that.
Jo: Well, I had two very different college experiences. And part of that was that the first time I went, I was right out of high school, and the second time I went, I was a non-traditional student in my thirties, and the other big difference was that computers hit the world and took the world by storm between the time that I went to college. So, the first time, computers were not a thing. And the second time, they were. So, the first time I went, I had to hire readers, go to the library, teach them how to use the card catalog, use cassette tapes, typewriters, braille writers, note cards, the whole thing. And the second time, I did none of that. I just looked up what I needed on the internet, copied and pasted, typed up a draft, edited it, printed it out, turned in a paper. So the second trip through college was a walk in the park compared to the first one. Between the fact that I was 30 years old, 32 years old, whatever I was, and knew how to manage my time, and the fact that I didn't have to go through all that rigmarole with readers and the library and all that, it was a way different experience.
Chris: Was college a good experience for you, either time?
Jo: I learned a lot. I grew up the first time. I learned a lot of social skills and moving away from home, and meeting people, and that kind of thing. I wouldn't trade it. I learned a lot of practical skills. I met a lot of great people the second time. I had a job in college in a computer lab teaching disabled people how to use adaptive technology. I gained a lot of work experience. But I did not find employment after college either time in the fields I studied for. So as a tool to gain employment, no. But as a life skill, yes.
Chris: What were the fields that you studied for and what were you hoping to be?
Jo: Well, the first time, I studied social work, and the second time, I studied non-profit management. I wanted to be a grant writer. The first time was 1990 and 1992 I graduated, the ADA had just past, and discrimination was brutal, and overt. And it was not gonna happen. I was told by one place, "Honey, we don't hire people with disabilities, we serve them." And the second time was in 2004 that I graduated, and discrimination had gone underground, but it was still there nonetheless. And I wanted to be a grant writer, and a lot of places, once they saw that I was disabled, wanted me to write grants, and take the money out of the grants if they were successful, kind of like a commission, which is unethical in the field of grant writing. You're supposed to get paid up front, usually by the hour, but they seemed to think that since I drew disability, or they assumed I drew disability, that I would just write grants because I was kind-hearted or noble or something, and theirs was a good cause, so I couldn't make a living that way.
Jo: And so I decided to get my certification as a braille proofreader, and start freelancing from home. And I've been doing that since 2005, and I have written a few grants because I wanted to, but not as a profession the way I had envisioned myself doing.
Chris: Are you disappointed in the way things turned out, or are you happy with the way things are now?
Jo: Oh, I'm content. It's worked out. I had a daughter, which I had not expected to do, and I could freelance, and stay at home with her. And I've written some books, and I have a good life. It's been a little more difficult financially than I had hoped, but there's no point in being bitter about things.
Chris: Tell me about freelancing. What is it like to do that and how do you find work?
Jo: At the end of the course for proofreading, there was a list of different places that produced braille. And it was very out of date, but I wrote to every single place on that list from the biggest braille production houses in the country to little volunteer groups in church basements, most of which did not exist anymore. But I spent hours, and probably a couple hundred dollars in postage, and wrote to everywhere in the country. And most of those letters came back "return to sender," but I got probably a half a dozen, maybe ten, clients out of that list that were interested. And I started proofreading for those people, and then word of mouth after that spread, and I've had work ever since. So it's a matter of self starting, and self discipline, getting your work done on time, and being as good as your word. It's a matter of not letting other things distract you, because believe me, there's always something you could be doing instead of meeting your deadlines. It's a matter of keeping good records, because if you end up with an audit, which I did because of social security, everything turned out fine, but sometimes they can stick their nose in the middle of things, and you better have your ;i's dotted and your T's crossed. Because they wanted all the records back to the day that I got disability, and had been working, and that was, from 2011 to 2006, three hundred pages of paperwork, so it's a matter of keeping good records and having everything straight. There's a lot involved. You can't just decide to start reading braille one day and tell people you're gonna proofread. You have to know what you're all about.
Chris: Does it get easier as time goes on?
Jo: Yes, if you follow what you're doing and stay keeping good records and stay disciplined to keep doing it every day, but it's repetitive. So you have to kind of keep at the grind. You get a lot of math books and a lot of history books, and you're reading the constitution fifty times, and fractions, and geometry, and, so it pays the bills, but you have to be willing to keep at it. It's not glamorous. Sometimes you get a novel or a cookbook or something fun sprinkled in there, but it's like any other job. It's day after day.
Chris: So I'm curious, what is the most interesting thing that you've had to proofread?
Jo: Interesting. Well, I've read some kids' books, like young adult books. I read "The Body" by Steven King. I read a lab manual about dissecting cats. That was interesting. I read "Night" by Ally Wisel, about the holocaust, that was interesting. Depends on how you define "interesting" I guess.
Chris: And what is maybe the most boring thing you've ever had to read?
Jo: Well, I'm a history buff, but I've read a lot of American history books, and it gets tiring after a while. You see another history book come in and you say, "Really? I think I'm gonna need a big cup of coffee for this one." Or you see another geometry book come in and you think, "Oh, how about something new?"
Chris: Has the demand for braille, do you think, increased or decreased since you started?
Jo: It was steady until Covid, and now I have practically no work at all, because most of the braille in this country used to be produced by little old ladies hunched over Perkins braillers. And then two things happened. Computers made it a possibility to transcribe braille automatically, and then most of the braille started being produced by prison labor. So they would scan books and then transcribe them by computer, emboss them and package them up and send them to me and other proofreaders. And then Covid hit, and it became rampant in the prisons. And all braille production pretty much ground to a halt. So there's been no braille production since last March. And the blind students are pretty much either not getting braille or they are using last year's books. Or older books.
Jo: Which is concerning.
Chris: That is concerning. Did you read braille as a child?
Jo: To be a proofreader, you have to have read braille by touch. They only employ people who read braille with their fingers. But I have no business ... Pretty much none. I work a little bit with people who don't use prison labor, but that's hardly anybody.
Chris: Do you have other business areas that you have found to pick up the slack or has it been pretty tough?
Jo: Pretty much my books have picked up the slack, but my husband is still working, thank God, and I still have my disability, so we're getting by, but we're not doing too much extra.
Chris: Let's talk about your books. When did you get into writing, and how did you get to the point of publishing your first book?
Jo: I've wanted to write since I was a little girl. I remember when it happened. And my dad was sitting on the couch with me and my sister. I don't think I had started school yet. So I was ... I don't know, what? Four? Five? And he was reading a book about Astiola the Indian chief in Florida keeping his Seminal tribe there when the government was fighting the Indian wars. And we got to the end of the story, and I remember being sad that it was over. And he said, "You don't have to be sad, we can turn the book around and start over." And I thought, "Wow! That's amazing." And I knew right then that I wanted to make stories like that. And so I remember, when I learned how to write on the perkins brailler, writing things down. Little things, from the time I could write. And so I always wrote. And then my first book started as a short story in a high school English class, which was amateurly written. Teenagers don't really know how to write, but they try. And so I wrote the story and got an A, and the characters really captivated me at the time. I just imagined them and they came to life. And so I wrote the story, and I couldn't quite just pitch it in the trash, and so I put it in a scrapbook, and didn't quite forget about it. It's kind of like old friends. So, then in the 90's, when old Dos based computers were beginning to be a thing, I wanted to learn how to use a word processor, which was WordPerfect. It was basically a glorified typewriter. I needed a chunk of text to work on, and so I got that old story out and typed it into the computer. And I thought, "This is bad. I'm surprised I got an A." But the characters were as alive as they had ever been. And so I started moving text around, and deleting and editing and adding and just playing with it, and it got better. Because that's what happens. So I showed this story to my husband at the time, and he said, "You can't leave it like that! What happens to those kids?" And so I thought, "What if." You know? "What if it was a tragic story" at the time? It was about some kids in the projects and their lives, and it ended sadly. And I thought, "What if someone cared about those kids?" And we were living in a rough neighborhood, and we had lived in an even worse one. And we were kind of the go to adults at that time, 'cause a lot of the other ones were either working double shifts at the meat packing plant or being crazy, and their kids were in need of support. And we were disabled and not working, because my husband was very ill. And so we had been the go to adults. And we cared about a lot of kids. We served breakfast, and patched up skinned knees, and helped with homework, and gave out relationship advice, and all sorts of stuff. And so I thought, "What if these kids had someone who cared about them, and how would their lives be different?" So I went on writing the book on that premis. And life happened, and I picked it up and put it down, and messed with it and left it alone, and years went by, and finally, I had tried to shop it around and a couple agents had been interested, but it hadn't gone anywhere, and then, my mother died of cancer very suddenly in 2014. And I kind of got a kick in the butt from Fate, or God, or whoever. We don't know how long we have on this planet. You know, days, years, we don't know. And so, I decided to self-publish. And that's not to be taken lightly. I had learned my craft, and I had edited, and I had gotten a professional edit, and so it's not just something you do because you decide to do it one day. You really have to put some effort into a project before you just go throw it out there on Amazon. And so I got a friend who knew how to make a book, and we got together and put it on Amazon, and then the whole world opened up. Because it was marketting time. And that's another story. But in 2015, I put my novel out onto Amazon, "The Bright Side of Darkness," and it's done pretty well.
Chris: Tell me about what it took to get that to take off and start selling once you published. cause I imagine a lot of people put stuff out there on Amazon and it goes nowhere.
Jo: Well, if you just put a book on amazon and leave it there, it's not gonna do anything. Because there are gazillions of books on Amazon. I think it's like a million books a year or something. Don't quote me on that because I don't remember, but a lot of them. And if you just let it sit there, it will sit there. But you have to market. I built a facebook page with a friend of mine who knew how to do that, and got an author website eventually, and got a goodreads site, and I started making sure my book appeared on blog posts, and looked around for other blogs to share it on, and made sure it got on to Twitter, and there's a lot that you have to do in marketing. I had local book signings, and made sure that it had a presence in my home town, and just made sure that it got out there and had a presence. And that way, I mean it's still small, but it has a chance to be out there, and five years out, it's holding its own. It took a learning curve. It's not the most fun part of the writing business. I mean I'd like to hole up and not worry about it, but it's part of the job.
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Chris: What did it feel like when you made that first sale?
Jo: Wow. It's amazing. And you open the box and you have a book, and you know that it's yours, and it's just ... Wow. I don't even know ... I mean I've wanted to do that since I was a kid. It's almost 6 years now. And it's still, when somebody buys, especially in person, it's like, "Wow! Somebody wants to hear what I have to say. I hope they enjoy it."
Chris: So at what point did you know, then, that you were going to go on and write a second book?
Jo: I was content for a long time. And then, I ... The second book is non fiction, and it came about because I had a child, and I had had some struggles with people who didn't think blind mothers, particularly, could parent, and then one too many times, I heard about blind mothers who got their babies taken away from them, particularly at the hospital but sometimes later, because people didn't think they were safe. And I had contributed to those "how we change diapers" and "how we dispense medicine" and all that kind of pamphlets and stuff, and they weren't cutting it. They weren't going far enough. And so I thought, "What if I write a book that's more humorous and lighthearted, but it shows that we all have the same kind of parenting adventures as sighted parents?" And it makes people laugh, but it educates them at the same time. It shows them that blindness may change a few logistics, but it really doesn't change the essence of what it means to be a family. And so I wrote a book called, "Daddy Won't Let Mom Drive the Car; True Tales of Parenting in the Dark." And the point of that book was that it was supposed to be for teachers and legislators and nurses, and social workers and doctors and those kind of people. And so far, I have not achieved as much of that goal as I had hoped. It's been well received by parents and grandparents and that kind of crowd as a humorous read and a fun gift type book and that, but I would like to see it get more into the hands of the crowd that could change blind equality in the field of parenting. There are still forty-three states that do not have "right to parent" laws for the disabled, which is that your child cannot be taken away on the grounds of disability in a custody dispute, or at birth, or whatever. So I still have high hopes for that book.
Chris: Was getting that out the door an easier process than "The Bright Side?"
Jo: Yes. Because I knew how to do it. It was easier because I had a lot of the material written because I had written it for facebook posts and different things about my daughter, and all I had to do was gather up the material that was already done, so it only took a matter of months instead of years, and I just had to gather up the material and get it into the format, and then publish it. And I knew how to do it. I just hope, for every one who buys it and enjoys it as a fun read, I wish that they would also buy one for a teacher or a nurse or someone they know who could use it powerfully to change people's minds.
Chris: Did having two books out there instead of one help sales of both of them? Did they feed off of each other?
Jo: Well, sometimes, because people who had enjoyed my first one got my second one, and then sometimes they recommended my first one to other people who asked about it. So sometimes that did help, but they were quite different books from each other. So, sometimes. But I published the first one under J.E. Pinto, and the second one, since it was such a different kind of book, I used my full name, Jo Elizabeth Pinto. So, sometimes, ... and the first time I had had this silly idea that I was going to be J.E. Pinto kind of an anonymous person and I was gonna be all online and kind of a recluse and not be too out there because I was ... I had a hard time at my ... not my first book signing, but my second one, where people just wanted to focus on me being blind and they wanted to ask questions about that, and I didn't get to be an author. I was just the blind person. And so I got frustrated by that and I didn't want to be out there as a blind person. And I had to get over that. Because after that, it was okay. I didn't have that experience again. But for a while, I wasn't gonna go out in public anymore. And so, then when I became Jo Elizabeth Pinto, I was fine with going out as a blind person, but I had had these plans to be J.E. Pinto for awhile and just be a mysterious online presence. But you can't do that. I've found out you can't do that and work it yourself. Because it doesn't work that way.
Chris: So people like Jo Elizabeth better than J.E.
Chris: They want to know the person.
Jo: They want to know the person and if I'm blind, so be it. But my first venture into the big bad world of signings was not very successful, and they wanted to know how I ate without getting food on my shirt, and all kinds of stupid stuff, and so I just had to rise above that.
Chris: Mhm. Well, things must have gone okay, 'cause you went on to write a third book.
Jo: Right. Right. And that book is called, "Apples of Gold, timely Advice when the World Doesn't Seem Lovely." And I wrote that to help myself as much as anybody else, but people, get focus on the blessings in the middle of difficult times, like pandemics. And that came out last October
Chris: How's that book been received?
Jo: Um, it's doing well. It just came out on Audible in January, which, it had hit some snags. I was hoping it would come out in time for Christmas, but it didn't, so it came out January eighth.
Chris: I'm curious about that. When you started publishing, did you have much of a presence in the blind community, and were your books available initially in braille or audio books or did that stuff come later?
Jo: I didn't really have a presence much in the blind community, but I always knew that I was going to get my books into accessible formats as soon as I could because that was important to me. I built up my facebook presence after my books came out, as a marketting tool. All I was gonna do was market my books on Facebook. I wasn't really interested in anything else. But that built up over time, because that's how Facebook is, but I put my first book on audible right away because that was the only accessible thing I really knew about. And then I found out that it could get on Bard, and my first book is available on Bard, "The Bright Side of Darkness" is, as of last summer. It's DBC 13147. It's also on bookshare. The other two are not yet. Bard is not taking new submissions right now because of Covid. They're moving pretty slowly because most people are not working at the libraries. They're still at home.
Chris: What did it take to get the books on audible?
Jo: That is an interesting process. You get to audition your own narrators, and so I had fun choosing who I wanted to narrate the books. I chose my first one, he was a kid that was working his way through acting school. And so he was less expensive, but he was perfect. And then the second one, I chose her for both of my other books, and she's been wonderful.
Chris: Have you had a chance to meet, or talk with, the narrators that have read your books?
Jo: I've gotten to talk with both of them on the internet. We haven't met in person because one lived in Seattle, I think he's moved abroad now somewhere, and the other one lives in Virginia. But she is just wonderful. We've talked off topic of books now, and she's done a friend of mine's books as well.
Chris: Do you have ideas for more books?
Jo: Um, I have a story coming out in an anthology this summer that is a recipe in a story about making tamales with my family when I was a kid. So I'm excited about that, and then we'll just have to see. I don't know. I'm not the greatest idea person. You know, some people have zillions of ideas swearling around in their head and they just have to pick one and settle on it. I'm not like that. Ideas are rare for me. When I get one, I grab it. Because I don't know when I'll get another one. So we'll have to wait and see.
Chris: Okay. So, do you think it was all, up till now, was it all worth it in the end?
Jo: Oh yeah. Oh, definitely. I think every life experience that we have teaches us something, and I was told when I was in middle school, by an author that I went to interview, that everything for a writer is material to write with. And when you write, you take a little bit from here and a little bit from there and a little bit from somewhere else, like a bird building a nest, and it turns into something beautiful. And I've found that to be true, because there's a lot of bits and pieces of my life in my books. Even the fiction book.
Chris: What would you say if you had one piece of advice to give to a blind person starting out and maybe not sure what they want to do, maybe not sure if they want to do anything, about how to keep going, or how to get going?
Jo: It's hard. Nothing is gonna be easy. And know going into it that it's going to be harder for you than it is for a lot of other people. That's just a fact. But nothing is wasted. If you put effort into your life, even on the hard days, remember that nothing is wasted. And education is something that can't be taken away from you. Even if it doesn't yield the results you want, or you think you want, it can't be taken away from you.
Chris: Any advice for parents?
Jo: You get a lot of advice about high expectations, and not accepting less than the best, and that's all great, but mixed in with all that, let your kids be normal. Let them make mistakes, and don't demand perfection from them all the time, any more than you would demand perfection from your sighted kids. I was twenty years old, and had just gotten married, and I spilled some koolade on the carpet, and my husband came in, and I was crying, and he said, "You blind people are too much." He said "Do you think you keep the paper towel companies and the stain remover companies in business all by yourselves?"
Chris: Wow. (Laugh.) I love that.
Jo: He said "Sighted people spill stuff too. We just don't tell you about it."
Chris: That's awesome. "Chuckle.) And were you eventually able to take that to heart?
Jo: Yes. It took me awhile, because I had grown up thinking I was the only one that spilled ever, anything.
Chris: Yeah. I can sure relate to that. I know this part is important to you. If there's a doctor or a nurse that is listening to this podcast and maybe is helping a new parent, what would you want to say to them?
Jo: It's okay if the blind parent doesn't have all the answers right now about everything that they're gonna know to do. Because would you expect a sighted parent to have all the answers if they're taking home their first baby? No. You wouldn't. So it's okay if a blind parent doesn't know. Because there are resources where that blind parent can find out. There are a lot of us who have done this before. So cut them some slack. Maybe tell them there are places they can go. The NFB, the ACB, tell them to go to the internet, the same as you would tell a sighted parent. But don't just jump to the conclusion that a blind person can't be a parent. It's 2020 for God's sake.
Chris: Sure is. Last I checked it's even 2021.
Jo: Well, yeah, guess now it's 2021. (Laugh.)
Chris: Well where can people learn about you and your books?
Jo: Go to
or facebook, "author J.E. Pinto."
Chris: Well, thank you so much. We're out of time, but this has been a very enjoyable talk. I really appreciate it. I love reading your posts on Facebook, I love reading your books, and I hope people will pick them up in print or audio or whatever works for them.
Jo: Or Kindle.
Chris: Or Kindle. Yeah. So thank you again.
Jo: Well, and thank you for having me.
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Chris: I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode and will tune in again next time, but before you go, ... During tax season, people often ask, "What is the most accessible way to do your taxes?" The most accessible way, if you can afford it, is to hand all the paper work to someone else and have them do it for you. If you're a more hands-on type of person, or you just don't feel like you can afford to pay someone to do the paperwork for you, then there are a number of online services available to you. You can try before you buy in pretty much all cases. They don't charge you any fees until you actually hit the button to file your tax return. I use turbotax and that's worked well for me, but I've heard good things about other online services as well. So my advice to you is to try one out. If you hit a roadblock, try another one. You have nothing to lose, 'cause they won't charge you until you're done.
Child Announcer: We hope you've enjoyed this week's episode of the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families and friends, who share an interest in financial independence. Visit
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