More Tech Matters
Whenever I walk through a door in a public place I instinctively look over my shoulder to see if anyone is behind me. If so, I miss half a beat in my step, allow my arm to fully extend to hold the door open for them. By the time my missing half beat has caught up and my arm is at full stretch, the person behind me is at the door and has no need to complete the odious task of pushing it open themselves. It is no trouble really, but then not all heroes wear capes.
On one occasion, when looking over my shoulder, I noticed a lady in a wheelchair was following through the door. I immediately sprung into action. The half beat was replaced with a full beat, I spun on my heel and stopped, sporting the best smile I could muster as I held open the door. She sailed through with no trouble and as she went by, she said to me, "Thank you, young man; I wish everyone was as kind as you"
My first impression? Me?; Young?! I am knocking forty so being called young is becoming more of a novelty these days; but this was quickly followed by me wondering what she meant when she said she wished everyone was as kind as me? Perhaps some of us live in a bubble but I like to think that even the worst of society would complete the relatively simple task of holding the door open for a disabled person. The sad reality is that this is not the case.
I happened to do a little digging on Google and, the results were interesting but unsurprising, and whilst holding a door for someone is only a small part of day-to-day life, it is reflective of a wider issue. Reading through the articles, I found that when it comes to general politeness, there is a 50/50 split in society.
I found countless stories of the amazing side of our communities, but also became more aware of the flip side and lack of tolerance and care. Now, we can all relate to having bad days and it is ok to feel low and to go about your day without lifting your head to greet or acknowledge anyone.. However, each time that a mobility scooter or wheelchair user, or an elderly person approaches you on the pavement they won’t know whether you will smile or grimace, step aside to make way for them or make them go around you, or even if you will hold the door open for them or just let it close behind you.
It is not simply a question of etiquette either. A 2011 study called ‘Etiquette and Effort’ by Joseph P Santamaria and David A Rosenbaum of Pennsylvania State University stated:
Holding a door open for another person, reflects the door holder’s expectation that the person for whom he or she holds the door shares the belief that the total effort expended by the two of them will be less than the summed efforts of the two individuals acting on their own.
Pushing a door open isn’t so easy if you are in a wheelchair
The simple act of waiting for perhaps no more than twenty seconds makes a difference; a bigger difference as it happens than I first realised. As it turns out, according to the aforementioned study, I was doing it for both of us, that is to say, if we all help each other out individual workloads will be reduced. And who doesn’t love less work!? However, I don’t think it ends there. I believe that if you are a nice person then the nod of acknowledgement or a simple “thanks” is a nice payoff for what is a simple task to an able-bodied person and that the positive feeling goes two ways. A small act of kindness can make you both feel better, if only for a short while on a bad day.
Kindness is a language the deaf
can hear and the blind can see.
So how does this coincide with technology? Let’s explore this a little more.
Are you a writer, Tweeter, Instagrammer, Facebooker or blogger?? If so then you may be inadvertently shutting virtual doors all over those various platforms.
Let me explain. When a blind or visually impaired person uses the internet, he or she has to use accessible technology in order to listen to what is on the screen. When they come across a picture, they are pretty much told the title of the image in question. In order to give you an example of the frustrations faced by the visually impaired, let’s play a short game. I am going to think of three pictures and give you three words. You have to guess what the pictures are. Here we go…
- image 23
How did you get on? Did you guess it? No? Did you ask someone to help you guess? How did they do? In reality, how could you or anyone you ask guess; the words are simply just the default file names associated with the picture. The computers that are reading to our visually impaired friends have no idea what the images look like so in the absence of something called metadata, the computer can only read out a file name which is often useless and infuriating, especially if the image has a big role to play in a post.
The solution to this is gloriously simple. Take Twitter, for example. If you head to the Settings cog > General > Accessibility > Turn on the “compose image descriptions” button, then whenever you post an image on the site, you will be given the chance to describe it.. Had I have done this to the three descriptions from our little game above, they would have read as:
- “A blue volvo x40 car with a flat tyre.”
- “A tall oak tree covered in green leaves.”
- “The Paralympic games stadium with crowds cheering behind a red running track.”
Metadata (Data about data ie text describing an image) can help enormously and you should now be able to see how this can help on a wider scale. . This tool and others are available on Twitter and if you are a regular user of Facebook then you can head over to their accessibility page here: https://www.facebook.com/help/accessibility
Finally, let’s take a look at blog posts. I am using the popular processor Microsoft Word to write this piece and at the end I will click on “Review” followed by “Check Accessibility”. This will check the whole document for me, checking for things like blank spaces. Spell check can do this I hear you say, but imagine that you are listening to this post via a text reader; as the audio plays every sentence could potentially end with the words, “blank blank blank blank”….. and for the listener, it would soon get very boring and lose its flow and meaning. The Check Accessibility button tidies all that up for you thus allowing for a seamless narrative for the person listening to the article.
So go on be a hero, hold those online doors open for everybody, check your posts and articles accessibility and describe those images. Whatever software or social media platform you are using be sure to check out the accessibility features.
Do it for someone else as one day you will hope someone does it for you.