Friday, October 17, 2008

You never know till you ask

Tēnā koutou katoa - Greetings to you all
image: Wellington's Big Red Double-Decker by Mike Wood.

One morning in 2002, I took the bus to work as usual. I’d seated myself next to a man who was fingering a strange looking laptop. No sooner had I realised that the lap-top had no screen, when a bus inspector entered the vehicle and announced, “All tickets please!”

The inspector walked past, checking tickets as he went. But the man sitting beside me was still holding up his ticket. It clicked with me that this lap-topper was blind.

“He’s checked your ticket,” I said. He smiled and nodded without looking up. Steven was congenitally blind. His job involved working with the Foundation for the Blind in Wellington. The odd lap-top, with its strange toothed keyboard, was in fact a Braille computer.

Blind to the technology:

Here was I, an elearning teacher. But I hadn’t given much thought to how the blind might access the technology that was so much my bread and butter.

I thought Steven had been typing a letter. He told me he could use his lap-top for that. In fact, he had been reading a novel. We swapped email addresses when I spoke of a free speaking web-reader that a colleague of mine had found on the Net that same week. It must have been among the first of its type - an early version of WeMedia Talking Browser.

Steven was excitedly interested. At that time, the web reading technology he used at work was so expensive; he could not afford to purchase it for his own use at home.

A useful link:

We kept in touch by email. Steven was careful to let me know that the link I flicked him was useful. He’d found that installation was easy, and getting to know the idiosyncrasies of the software wasn’t too difficult. WeMedia was a helpful tool for reading the Net.

Some weeks later we met again on the same bus route. While we chatted, I asked which novel he had been reading that morning. “I’m recalibrating my computer map today”, he explained. I hadn’t noticed that clipped to his shoulder, next the window, was a small device, the size of a bulky mobile phone.

“According to my GPS receiver, we should be at the Riddiford Street intersection”, he said with a smile. And we were. He had been synchronising his map by checking it against the GPS signal.

Steven explained how his computer map had saved the day only a few weeks before. He and his wife had been travelling by car up north. They'd got lost. Within a few minutes, Steven switched on his lap-top and found precisely where they were, using his map and GPS receiver.

( 1 ) << - related posts

Ka kite anō - Catch ya later


Sue Waters said...

That is an amazing story and I hadn't thought about how people with visual impairments might be using technology. Sounds like you have formed a nice friendship.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Sue!

It's been a while now, and unfortunately, the following year I lost all my personal email addresses off the server at work. Steven's was among them. At that time I didn't have a PC at home (I am a late starter with technology :-).

I sometimes see Steven on the bus - usually sitting next to an occupied seat in a packed bus. Before we lost touch, we had several chance conversations like the ones I described here. I hope to get a chance to talk with him again some time.

One of the things he spoke of was the thin white cane he used. He preferred that to other technologies, and dogs - something about relating better to the spacial feel of the cane. He preferred the auditory and tactual feedback as it made him feel more in touch with his environment.

Steven teaches people who are sight impaired. He was not unlike another sight impaired man I met at a wedding - I've forgotten his name - who weaves tartan for a living!

This gent taught blind people arts and crafts. Unlike Steven, he was sighted as a child, but had learned to cope with his disability as it worsened over the years.

He told me that his advantage was that he had embraced what he needed to learn and adapt to, when his blindness was at its early stages.

Apparently this can be a real problem for many who get depressed about their worsening condition. It diminishes what incentive they may have to learn what's needed, at times when they have partial sight. For them, blindness can then become a major handicap compared to someone like Steven, who has never been able to see.

But only recently I've been learning about how the sight impaired find it difficult to read some blogs.

It made me think about how difficult it must be for so many people to share the companionship and learning that comes with using Web2.0 and the Net.

Ka kite

Sarah Stewart said...

How serendipitous that you've written about blindness and I have blogged about deafness. It's good to be reminded about how one can use web 2.0 to work with people who have different communication challenges to myself.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Sarah.

This is the power of coincidence I guess, and coincidences do happen - often. In my case, there were lots of themes going through my head about people who were disadvantaged - as you probably had also in your mind - associated with Blog Action Day 2008.

I first learnt of this (Blog Action) through Skellie's post
. And it was fortuitous that I'd already been looking at ideas to do with accessibility of the Net by the sight impaired.

But I'd also had an unfortunate conversation with Christy Tucker, one that almost put me off writing the post.

I decided to put it up anyway. Soon after that, I RSSed onto your post on the hearing impaired and just had to leave a comment to answer your call.

Thanks for dropping by - I really appreciate your support.

Ka kite

Ken Stewart said...

Ken, greetings and salutations. I must say, I enjoyed this read quite a bit. My mother and aunt were handicapped - in the traditional sense of the word (I suppose).

My mother was confined to a wheelchair while my aunt as blind. However, neither allowed their so-called handicaps to allow them to be stopped.

My aunt went everywhere and did everything she could, as did my mother. They were both an inspiration to me - once I realized that they had overcome tall adversities in order to participate "normally" in society. You see, they had always had their handicaps - virtually since birth - due to some rather tragic circumstances. However, I never knew them to be any differently, and to their testament, they never asked to be treated differently - never asked for hand-outs.

So it was, I grew up with 2 very strong role-models - living examples - of the fact you can do just about anything you set your mind to.

Great post, and thank you for allowing me a brief stroll down memory lane.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Ken!

I'm glad you liked this post. It's good to have iconic people in your life like your mother and you aunt. I too had those - not my mother, but I had a severely disabled aunt and an uncle who was likewise disabled.

My poor arthritic aunt was very kind. She gave heavily to charity and would help others to overcome their disabilities, some of whom were less disabled than she was!

She always claimed that, "the extent of the disability is no measure of the handicap."

Get that!

"The extent of the disability is no measure of the handicap."

It took me a long time to figure that one out :-)

Ka kite