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.

Quality and Zen

Did you ever think that the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, was about quality?

While transferring my bookmarks from my Opera or Firefox browsers to my bookmarks, I came across the XIO ideas toolbox. Many of the links in my browsers are old, and I cannot remember why I bookmarked them in the first place. As usual, I investigated this link to see what it was all about. One of the ideas in the toolbox set my braincells into high gear. Gumptionology 101.

Wow. The article shows how the author, Robert Pirsig, discusses quality in Zen. This is what I consider “a sign”. I never read the book when it first came out, despite good friends raving about it. I put it on my Christmas wish-list a few years ago, trying to catch up on the books “one ought to read”. I keep it dusted while it waits its turn to be read. (Too many books are queued up to be read!) I also happen to be extremely curious about quality as it applies to work processes. I have recently read The Goal and It’s Not Luck because of this curiosity.

I think I need to pull Zen off the shelf and get it read now. Now I need to put that speed-reading course to good use!

PS Thanks to Tom Graves for the great XIO toolbox idea. Definitely worth emulating.