Blindness: A different type of insight for Patrick Lafayette

Patrick at console for album launch

“To do something for yourself is one of the greatest things you could ever do. Now, I can express myself! I have so much that I’ve always wanted to express… I’m like a volcano; I’m like Pelee or Mount Etna: I’m about ready to erupt!”

Patrick Lafayette wearing a black shirt and sunglasses

So begins the soulful voice of Patrick Lafayette, veteran radio broadcaster and singer, in a promotional video for Apple’s visual impairment assistive technology. In the video we see him soothing his radio audience, enjoying a meal with his family, and working his magic as a radio broadcaster. Patrick’s feature in this short production represents a confluence of some key elements in his inspiring and impactful life thus far: an unmatched talent in radio broadcasting, the mastery of technology in his personal and professional life, and a lifelong desire to share what he learns to uplift others.

It all started at the age of 12 with an eye injury during a “stickball” (cricket) game. Fearing further damage and in light of the ensuing eye trauma, his parents restricted his movement outside the home, even to the point of pulling him out of school. During this time, he became very acquainted with radio and filled his time calling in to radio programs, winning competition after competition until the stations banned him from participating.

At the age of 16 a few years later, a detached retina from a diving incident resulted in further vision loss. Local doctors operated to no avail and eight months later, a consultation with New York State Medical Centre doctors confirmed his devastating new reality: total vision loss. He now faced a choice between remaining in New York to do rehabilitation and returning to Jamaica, where he would have to start over as a blind person. His parents made the difficult decision to let him stay in New York, where he was rehabilitated, earned his GED, and completed a bachelor’s degree in communication arts. He returned to Jamaica in 1983 to intern with Radio Jamaica, an experience that would cast him into the role of industry gamechanger.

“I have had the experience where a track was about to…end and I just reached into my pack for another disc, and it was the perfect fit.”

It was in these early internship days that Patrick’s raw talent for broadcasting started showing itself. Originally assigned to Radio Jamaica’s (FM department) 12am-5am slot – the “safe” one should there be any mishaps – Patrick’s fresh new style soon forced management to move him to the prime 3pm-6pm slot. He was resonating with the young audience through the unheard elements of rapping, mixing, scratching, DJing, etc. He was also introducing listeners to foreign artists and different music styles and attracting a steady flow of sponsorship. This moved Radio Jamaica to shift its focus from AM (then the primary source of information) to FM and in turn, precipitated the complete change of Jamaica’s musical landscape.

Over time, Patrick solidified his name in Jamaican radio through work with several radio stations, two of which he co-founded (KLAS FM in 1989 and Kool FM in 2001). He performed in various functions including announcer, engineer, creative director, show host, and operations coordinator. He produced audio content for over 50 stations in Europe and the US, the Jamaican government, and VP Records, the largest independent reggae label in the world. 

Further evidence of his creativity was the single-handed production of the audio book series Mas Joe – The Christmas Adventure, a humorous story of Santa’s elves saving Christmas, of which the effects and all 11 character voices were done by him.

In 2005 he resigned as station manager at Kool 97 FM to start his own production company, Twin Audio Network.

In 2014, Patrick started Chris Mix Radio, an internet radio station named for his brother Chris who had passed away in 2013. Chris Mix Radio “feed[s] Jamaica with diaspora information” through music and audio biographies of prominent Jamaican artists that Patrick has met through his work. The station forms part of the Worldwide Radio Network, a network he created with other radio broadcasters around the world and in which the stations carry each other’s signals for maximum reach.

“If I get the tools and …. access, I can compete…”

Patrick is the true embodiment of this phrase, from his natural love of technology to his competence in exploiting it as a life-changing force. Truly pivotal was his introduction to Job Access With Speech (JAWS), the screen-reading technology that allowed him to access the internet and communicate with others: he could now fully move in the online world. He built his own computer and bulletin board system (BBS) and in a short break from broadcasting, qualified himself and gained experience as an IT professional. He worked as a computer analyst at Communications Associates (Miami – 1990-1992) and then completed certifications in WordPerfect and Lotus. As a senior analyst at Chuckles Resort in Negril, Jamaica, he established the company network, organized the reservation system, and conducted staff training.

Even more critical to his personal and professional success, however, was his discovery of mobile phone assistive technology like voiceover, first on the Nokia phone and then later on the I-Phone. He dug in and mastered apps like Tap Tap See to optimize daily living and Logic Pro to enhance his recording projects, all the while unwittingly catching the attention of a certain tech giant. He was duly surprised when, in 2017, Apple approached him to feature in a brief promotional video to be aired on Global Accessibility Day that year. The “Like a Volcano” video formed the inspiration for his own album Volcano (launched in 2019), a collaboration with other visually impaired musicians around the world. For yet another Apple event, he demonstrated his use of the I-Phone and Anchor, an accessible app for creating podcasts and doing broadcasting projects, and debuted a song from the Volcano album. For Global Accessibility Day in 2019, he was flown to Apple Park to perform some of his music.

“As soon as I get it, I give it.”

In the true style of a groundbreaker, Patrick has always valued giving back to his beloved Jamaica. He feels responsible for sharing the knowledge he’s gained, and this is exactly what he did with each new technology tool he learned. As soon as he had mastered JAWS, he returned to Jamaica to offer free classes through the Society for the Blind. He returned again on successive occasions to teach on Nokia voiceover, I-Phone technology, and podcasting tools. Several now very prominent Jamaicans attended his classes and others have been inspired to start their own podcasts. With such a track record, Patrick can comfortably claim responsibility for increasing Android and I-Phone usership in Jamaica.

In addition to his work instructing persons with visual impairment, Patrick has been involved with the boards of numerous local organizations representing other disabilities, taught students with combined disabilities how to use computer apps at the Abilities Foundation (Kingston, Jamaica), and mentored people in the computer industry. Understanding the destructive effects of prejudice and alienation, he has also helped to develop counselling programs to help children affected by HIV/AIDS to reestablish their lives.

“…blindness is not the end of your life…it’s a gift from God: you get a different kind of insight.”

Patrick’s life has been a testimony to the fact that while it is understandably difficult to accept a disability at any age, the achievement of dreams and wonders awaits whoever will step out and go for   it. He did this very thing at a young age by daring to see past his blindness to develop and share his talent. He embraced the uniqueness of his perspective to blaze trails and used the resources available to change mindsets. It was quite fitting, then, for the True Tribute Organization (New York) in 2018 to recognize him for his contribution to Jamaican culture and music; above all else, it confirmed that “the whole idea is to employ, integrate, and give access [and that]….once we get the access, we can rock!”