Listen to the Voices of Technical Communication

Yes, you can now listen to technical communication. More specifically, you can listen to podcasts about technical communication at Tech Writer Voices. Tom Johnson is the creative force behind these podcasts. (Thank you, Tom!)

I love the idea of listening to technical communication topics. I have piles of books and articles and magazines that cover many of of these topics. They can keep me busy for days and weeks and months. But the time! That’s where these podcasts prove their value to me. I can listen to them during my daily trip to and from work. From the time I go out my front door until I sit down at my desk at work, I can listen to about 25 minutes worth of podcast. If I used the same time period for reading, I could read about 4 minutes on the Metro and 8-10 minutes on the train. I have been known to read on the walk from the train to the office, but that is only possible with easy-to-handle books – and not on a rainy day! The podcasts are a relaxing way to spend my journey.

The podcasts are not a simple diversion. They are packed with nutritional value for your brain cells! Tom has selected good topics that I am interested in right now. There are also topics that have nothing to do with my daily work. I will listen to most of them anyway.

Why? Because I believe that is what a good technical communicator should do. Keeping up to date with new trends and technology is also common sense, even if from a distance. It keeps you prepared and ready for what your manager or customer might throw on your desk one day. It helps you to plan for the future, whether the future is just around the corner or several years away. In fact, you can hear more reasons from Emma Hamer in one of Tom’s podcasts: How to Increase Collaboration and Performance. I found this one so interesting that I listened to it twice!

For example, Emma Hamer proposes the radical idea of holding performance reviews many times during the year! The idea makes perfect sense as she explains it. I am going to suggest the idea at my workplace. She has several other great ideas, some may even be radical to your way of thinking. Your brain cells will definitely get some exercise.

Do stop by Tech Writer Voices and see what Tom has lined up for your listening and learning pleasure, including links to even more podcasts. Wikipedia can help you on your way if podcast is a new term for you.

Can your map talk to you?

Google maps can.

T.V. Raman has written about the alternate textual interface in this article. Text interfaces work well screen readers or Braille displays. People who are blind or who have low-vision are not the only ones who benefit from this alternate interface. Users might have a non-graphic interface – or be in a hurry. Try viewing graphic rich sites using a modem. Your patience might wear thin! Text-based pages are a lifesaver in those situations.

Remember, providing alternate versions in some way or another increases the accessibility of your site, as this article explains.

Dialogue in the Dark

For about one hour, a walking stick was my very best friend. This realization came to me as I sat in utter darkness at the end of an amazing experience, clinging to that walking stick. Elisabeth was another trusted friend. She was my guide for the Dialogue in the Dark experience. (The site is in Danish only, but you can get an English-language tour at the museum.)

What is the experience? For about one hour, you are in complete darkness. Your only assistance is in the form of the walking stick and the person who is your guide throughout the tour. You experience walking through a park and on a busy sidewalk. Do you know how scary standing on a sidewalk can be when you cannot see? The exhibit has plenty of sounds to recreate the noise of a city sidewalk. At the end of the tour, you visit a cafĂ© – still in the dark – where you can buy something to eat and drink. I managed to carry cake, hot coffee, and my walking stick over to a table and bench and not spill or stumble. I long to see so many people participate in this experience. I wish that all politicians would try it, too. Do they really know anything about their blind voters? Excuse the bad pun, but this is a real eye-opening experience for people who have vision.

The tours take up to 8 people, but I was fortunate to have only one other companion on my tour. Quite luxurious. Even so, we found it difficult to hear instructions if the person talking spoke with her head turned away from us. With the street sounds, it was simply unpleasant.

My tour companion works with a blind man. She came on the tour to see his perspective on the world. Showing that perspective is what the exhibit is all about. I would like to think that no one leaves the exhibit untouched or unmoved. Our guide said that the school classes that came did expand their knowledge after a trip through the exhibit. I would like to think that all visitors leave with increased understanding and tolerance, and not just for blind people. I would hope they can extend the experience in their minds to other situations, such as navigating a sidewalk in a wheelchair.

I was so moved after the experience that I had trouble speaking with the guides outside the exhibit area. I felt like I was about to cry. I was simply overwhelmed because my thoughts began to move beyond the confines of the exhibit. Politics and finances entered into my mind. I thought about signals at traffic lights, building construction, and even websites. I began to envision the entire day of a blind person, or anyone with any kind of disability. When local or national politicians make decisions not to fund projects that will provide universal accessibility, do they understand the consequences? I can only hope that they will visit the exhibit and expand their knowledge about the issues that concern people with various disabilities. And perhaps have a better foundation for making decisions about these topics in the future.

This dialogue took place in Copenhagen at the Danish science museum called Experimentarium. The idea for the exhibit comes from Germany. Find out whether the exhibit is available in your country by visiting the German site where you will find tour information.

This is not a “to-do” item. It is more like a “must-do” item.