March 22, 2021

Utilizing Language to Communicate on a Deeper Level with Lateef McCleod

Utilizing Language to Communicate on a Deeper Level with Lateef McCleod

Utilizing Language to Communicate on a Deeper Level with Lateef McCleod

Writer, poet, and podcaster Lateef McCleod joins the show for this episode to talk about communicating with the written word as a person with a disability. As an AAC user, Lateef has a unique life experience and perspective to share with our community. In addition to his own writing projects, he is also a contributor to the upcoming Xceptional Leaders book and he discusses what that process was like with Mai Ling Chan as well.

Contact Mai Ling: MLC at

Contact James: James at



Introduction Audio 00:00

In second grade, I decided I wanted to become an author. And in middle school, I started writing poetry.


Mai Ling 00:13

Welcome to exceptional leaders with Mai Ling and Martin, where we give you front row access to intimate conversations that are shaping the way the world is supporting people with disabilities. If it's happening, it's being shared here. I'm Mai Ling


Martyn 00:25

And I am Martyn Sibley. And today we're going to be chatting about Lateef McLeod (, and his interesting story. But before we get to that March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month. And so naturally, we really want to celebrate that month. Obviously, it's a significant part of the disability community in terms of the number. I don't have a number to have. But I know just in a general awareness that many of my friends at school and university and work life have got cerebral palsy. So yeah, we just thought we'd have a bit of a chat around this awareness month. So, I mean, for you Mai Ling how is cerebral palsy or people with cerebral palsy been involved in your world in the past.


Mai Ling 01:06

I meant, believably so Martin, I'm really blessed to have had so many projects and opportunities to work with people who have the diagnosis of cerebral palsy, and I think it's just been an absolute joy to share their thoughts, their personalities, their worldview, and definitely their lived experiences through these different projects. One of them is for ,oh my gosh, I think like 10 months straight, I did Facebook Lives through Cognixion and so if you go to my Cognixion Facebook page, you'll see every Wednesday morning, I had a 15 minute interview. And through those, I was able to interview a number of people who used their AAC device a 100% to communicate. So, some of their responses were prerecorded, and some were spontaneous, which meant that oftentimes, we needed to just save space and give them the time to be able to select their choices, you know, on their devices. But oh, Martyn, the conversations were wonderful, fun, entertaining, you know, just enlightening, and just absolutely amazing. And then I've also like, we have interviewed people for the podcast.


Martyn 02:11

Absolutely. And I think it's also something to talk about that these awareness raising days. So, I think when this recording goes out, where we're sort of getting pretty much towards the 25th, which I believe is the absolute official date around cerebral palsy awareness. And I think it also is the month of March. But today, as we're recording, it, is International Women's Day. So I want to give a massive shout out to you Mai Ling, my Podcast wife, as we always say now, and so  I would say that that broader point is that, you know, it's so important to have that recognition for different parts of the our beautiful, diverse world. And I know in terms of like different disabilities and awareness days, I've got spinal muscular atrophy. And I think that's September, there's a week. So it's gonna be impossible to shout out every single kind of health condition on the podcast, but it's almost just a nice time for us to acknowledge all those different kinds of days and weeks and months that gets celebrated and the fact that so many different people with all that diversity and value, and awesomeness, so yeah, I think it's called on the cerebral palsy fun. And it's nice to have these awareness days in general, what do you think?


Mai Ling 03:26

Absolutely. Is there an International Men's Day?


Martyn 03:29

I don't know, yeah. This is a rabbit hole. Like I don't think there is. And I guess it comes back to that sort of, when you're looking at diversity and inclusion, it's given more airtime and oxygen to the sort of things where there's not full equity in society. And so, if some people or men have asked that question on Twitter get proper, like, trolled for, saying it. And others are like, well, if there's a women's day, shouldn't there be a Men's Day, too. And so, it's an interesting one as well. Right?


Mai Ling 04:04

Yes. And then the new terms like nonbinary


Martyn 04:07

Yeah, yeah, I was, you know, with Purple Goat (, and I was gonna kind of give a couple of little as a talking point, a bit of an update at Purple Goat, but obviously, the main thing with Purple Goat is around sort of business and marketing and advertising, with disability. But what's really, you know, struck me is the actually the things we're trying to get businesses to understand and the barriers to kind of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion are similar to disability to gender, to ethnicity, or there is strands of diversity inclusion. It's ultimately around this awareness raising and educational topics, but it's, um, it's certainly a trend. This topic is a lot of discussion in the business world, but there's a lot of different opinions on what the best way forward is with them as well.


Mai Ling 04:58

Excellent, and I'm so glad that you are at the helm of this, doing it on a really big scale with Purple Goat and bringing it to their awareness, because that's what happens it trickles down into marketing into advertising into TV shows, you know, all of the vocabulary that we use. So, thank you, Martyn for being such a pioneer and visionary in the space.


Martyn 05:18

Thank you, Mai Ling., And yeah, I see I have mentioned to you earlier, like, it's still, every day's a school day, you know, I'm learning a lot. And when our team of five and the team are learning every day, and you know, we're, we're getting new challenges posed from businesses, and we're getting creative and working with different influencers. And that was something I was going to link back to cerebral palsy Awareness Month is that what we've done work with these sisters called the Cheetham. So if you go to Instagram ( and TikTok, and look up the Cheetham, that's like “C H E E T H A M”, and one of the sisters has cerebral palsy, and the other one doesn't have a disability, and they're like best friends and I think the non-disabled sister kind of does some of the care, that's the more formal care for the disabled sister, but on their actual influencer world that is so humorous and creative and amazing that it just comes back to that giving that platform and voice to disabled people to show that it's our difference and our talent really, and then connecting that with the different brands and businesses because it ultimately does help businesses win as well it's just kind of a fascinating journey, how we're joined in all these thoughts. And so yeah, it's kind of nice, kind of connecting all the dots of the awareness days, cerebral palsy and a little kind of side note of what we're up to at Purple Goat as well.


Mai Ling 06:46

Excellent, excellent. And so, you know, I want to give a little shout out to my people who are working with us on the next book that's coming out. It's called Becoming An Exceptional AAC Leader ( We're launching this book on March 30th. So please watch all of our social media channels because it is going to be available for free in the eBook PDF version. And then you can also do a pre order that day for the softcover I don't know about you, Martyn, but I always love having an actual book in my hands.


Martyn 07:10

Yeah, for sure. It's that they always say it's about the touch and the smell. It just that it can't beat that hard or that soft cover version. Absolutely agree with that as well. And yeah, I'm looking forward to reading it because obviously the last one I was involved in and this one, I'm going to be more of a setback passive consumer be looking forward to reading all the, the other parts of the book as well.


Mai Ling 07:33

O am so excited to share everyone's stories. You know, we have such a great range across the spectrum of people who are influencers, creators, supporters, parents, and then I'm going to spotlight five of the authors who also have cerebral palsy starting with Lydia Dawley ( She is an entrepreneur, she's an influencer. And she just created the NAD Pen "N A D P E N". And it's an amazing stylus that you can use to select on your tablet or phone. And it really helps with control and accuracy. So, I'm so excited for her. And then India Ochs is just an amazing national advocate. She also ran for political office recently in her town ( Tim Jin ( is an amazing person. He's on several corporate boards, and we call him like The Reluctant Advocate because he's always in the spotlight because he continues to keep doing amazing things. Krista Howard is, she's a really wonderful example of someone who really embraced AAC later in her life, and now she's educating and training and helping other people to embrace you know, AAC and what it can do for you. And then Lateef McLeod is our guest today. And he's an amazing activist and poet. He's published several books and he’s; he also has a podcast actually.


Martyn 08:43

Cool. So, Mai Ling, that might be the perfect time to get stuck into the actual interview. I think, let's see if he uses an assistive speech device. Is that right, Mai Ling?


Mai Ling 08:54

Yes, he does.


Martyn 08:55

So yeah, I think it's gonna be good for everyone listening to, as you say, it's one of the authors of your upcoming book and yeah, just generally a really cool story to share with everyone and it's a perfect fit for the cerebral palsy Awareness Month. So, shall we get to it?


Mai Ling 09:11

Yes, I'm so excited to share him with everyone. I am really excited to have Latif McLeod today as my interview guest. He is also joining me on my second book, Becoming an Exceptional AAC leader. It's an anthology, and it is created with 14 other coauthors who are just amazing leaders in the AAC space. But Lateef is also already a published author. He published his first poetry book, A Declaration of A Body of Love( And he's also writing a novel called The Third Eye is Crying. Lateef has been an amazing leader in AAC. And I am really excited to share him and his story. Welcome Lateef.


Lateef McLeod 09:58

Thank you. I also published a second book of poetry entitled Whispers of Krip Love Shouts of Krip Revolution ( last year.


Mai Ling 10:08

Love that and so how did you become involved in this very creative space of writing?


Lateef McLeod 10:14

Well, in second grade, I decided I wanted to become an author. And in middle school, I started writing poetry. Before that I was writing short stories.


Mai Ling 10:25

That's beautiful Lateef. And I hate I have to ask you; I hope it's not stepping over the line. But how were you able to express yourself that young and so early? I am on zoom right now, with Lateef and he just had this big smile across his face.


Lateef McLeod 10:40

I guess I just had a talent for it. And I enjoyed creating stories and expressing myself.


Mai Ling 10:49

Beautiful, this is the area that I love, which is language. And so I have to ask, did you have enough access with your devices or with whatever strategies and tools you had, at that point at that age, to be able to access the vocabulary to really represent your thoughts? You know, that is something that we struggle with as speech language pathologists, Lateef we don't want the people that we support to be stuck in noun town. And we're talking about poetry. You know, this is just a total, the other level of vocabulary.


Lateef McLeod 11:21

I felt that I did. When I got my first AAC device The Touch Talker, instead of using the stored instant phrases with the icon combination, I used to type everything out because I wanted to be unique in my expression and say exactly what I wanted, even though I wasn't the greatest speller as a child.


Mai Ling 11:43

Love that. Yes. And that is exactly what we need to do is to be able to say what we want to say and it's unique and not any stored phrases, right? Lateef, I love your story. I know that you have a BA in English from Berkeley and an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. An MFA? I don't even want to pretend I know what that is. Can you please expand on that?


Introduction 12:06

It is a master’s in fine arts.


Mai Ling 12:09

Wonderful. And then when I do a Google search review, I see that you are contributing blogger to Can you expand on that a little bit for us?


Lateef McLeod 12:20

Yes, I wrote three articles on the Huffington Post on a variety of subjects. I have not been able to publish more articles on there since I am in grad school and doing other things.


Mai Ling 12:33

Wow. What are you in grad school now for?


Lateef McLeod 12:38

At the Anthropology Department, at California Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco, pursuing doctorate.


Mai Ling 12:46

Well, so impressive. So soon you will be Dr. McLeod. How much longer do you have for your program?


Lateef McLeod 12:53

A few more years. I am conducting field research for my dissertation.


Mai Ling 12:59

Wonderful. Well, can't wait to read that. That is just wonderful work. Thank you so much for all that you're doing.


Mai Ling [Sponsor Ad] 13:06

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Martyn 13:57

Here is another great podcast serving the disability industry that you might enjoy.


Lateef McLeod Podcast Introduction 14:02

Black Disabled Men Talk( is a video slash audio space where black disabled men would finally come together and talk about real issues faced in their community. Within the podcast, Leroy Moore, Keith Jones, Ottis Smith and Lateef McLeod talk about politics and culture issues from black disabled felt perspective. Come listen to us as we break down politics of the day and talk about issues that matter to the black disability community. Check us out at or on your podcast player.


Mai Ling 14:38

Now let's get back to our amazing interview. In our book, Becoming an Exceptional AAC leader, you share about your experience with ISAAC, the International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication as the ISAAC chair for the lead committee, but I don't want to go too much into that but that is a wonderful example of all these other things that you are doing. I also see that you were involved in Hand in Hand, Domestic Employers Association. Are you still active now?


Lateef McLeod 15:08

Not as much, but I am still a member and still go to meetings sometime.


Mai Ling 15:14

So, because your calendar is so full, how do you make decisions on what you can get involved in? Especially things that are voluntary?


Lateef McLeod 15:23

Yes. Well, I get involved in things that I am passionate about. And if I have the time and energy,


Mai Ling 15:29

Yeah, we have to be really selective, I'm sure. Right. So, I do want to ask you, how did you decide to say yes to being a part of the anthology with us? I know that you said no first. So, I will tell our listener, that when I reached out, he was like, I'm very busy, I won't be able to do this. And I was like, What if we extend the writing time, and I let him know the other people that were involved? And I kind of begged and pleaded, but you finally did say yes, Lateef? So, what was it that made you say, Yes,


Lateef McLeod 15:58

I saw that it was a very important project. So, I saw the value in contributing and amplifying my voice and experience to the book.


Mai Ling 16:08

Thank you, Lateef. And you did such a wonderful job. When we first got together, you know, we talked about what was the mission of the book and the message. And we asked all of the writers to be honest and genuine and vulnerable. And that's very different from you know, most people's writing, especially for us in a certain profession, right. So, we have a professional voice, from you definitely have an academic approach. But then, you know, you also have the poetic ties. So, did you experience any uncomfortable myths or having to put yourself in a different perspective to be able to write your story, because it is more of like a memoir style?


Lateef McLeod 16:44

Not really, I liked the writing format. And I think I will use it later in some other writing projects.


Mai Ling 16:51

Wow, that's wonderful. I had a couple people who were just like, Oh, this was so hard, you know, and they really had to think about it and put themselves in the zone, you know, to write so I'm really excited for our listener to read your story and all of the other stories that are coming in the book, we're really so honored that of your lived experience. And I just want to know, at the end of it, I think like you have a much better picture of what all of the stories are like we just actually had a coauthor meeting. What do you think the real mission of the book is? I mean, from your point of view.


Lateef McLeod 17:42

To offer a first-person account of what it is like to be a part of this AAC community. So, to offer a first-person account of what it is like to be a part of this AAC community.


Mai Ling 18:47

You hit it exactly on the head, and it's where my heart was when I was thinking of putting this together. So, thank you so much like these. I am looking on your website right now. And I invite our listener to check it out. It is Latif H. McLeod, Are there any other places Lateef that you want us to connect with you on, so we can follow your work?


Lateef McLeod 19:10

Yes, I started a podcast with three other gentlemen. It is called Black Disabled Men Talk and you can find us on a podcast player or our website at 


Mai Ling 19:24

Fantastic. Can't wait to listen. Thank you so much Lateef, for joining us today. And I look forward to finding you on all your other channels too.


Lateef McLeod 19:33

Thank you for interviewing me.


Mai Ling 19:35

It was my absolute pleasure. Thanks so much for joining us for this episode, and I invite you to connect with me directly at We also want you to let us know what you think about the show, ideas and how we can continue to help you or referrals to a great guest through our Facebook group at Exceptional Leaders Podcast or email us at


Martyn 19:59

Yes, Mai Ling I totally agree to that I know we're both really mission driven people. And for me, it's always been this big mission to have a world that's fully inclusive for all people. And in the end, that's probably why we've bonded and come together, so well on this podcast, exceptional leaders podcast (, because we get to meet cool people, give them a platform to share their story and really just make such an impact in the disability world. I love it. Also, for everyone listening please do head over to This is the magazine that I co-founded about 10 years ago and we've got a free mailing list there for all the latest article news and discounts for the shop if that's your kind of thing. And definitely, definitely do get your copy of the Becoming an Exceptional Leader book. We want you to get as much information as you need and to be as successful as you can be.

Lateef McLeodProfile Photo

Lateef McLeod

Writer, Poet, Podcaster

Lateef McLeod is building his career as a writer and a scholar. He has earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. He is a fifth-year graduate student in the Anthropology and Social Change Doctoral program at California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. He published his first poetry book entitled A Declaration of A Body Of Love in 2010 chronicling his life as a black man with a disability and tackling various topics on family, dating, religion, spirituality, his national heritage and sexuality. He also published another poetry book entitled Whispers of Krip Love, Shouts of Krip Revolution in 2020. He currently is writing a novel tentatively entitled The Third Eye Is Crying. He was in the 2007 and 2016 annual theater performances of Sins Invalid and also their artist-in-residence performance in 2011 entitled Residence Alien. In 2019 he started a podcast entitled Black Disabled Men Talk
with co-hosts Leroy Moore, Keith Jones, and Ottis Smith.