Sightless Works

Last updated: May 30, 2016

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Working with technical communication means keeping our minds open to the diversity of our audience "out there" in the real world. This is especially the case when we spice things up with accessibility.

There are many stories that expand our horizon and make us rethink our attitudes. The New York Times posted such a story today called "In Blindness, a Bold New Artistic Vision".

The article tells the story of John Bramblitt, an artist, who gained a new "artistic vision" after he lost his vision over a 20-year period. The story is interesting, but there were two comments from Mr. Bramblitt that carry special value for this writer.

'I didn’t so much lose my sight as I lost my freedom,' he said. 'I was trapped in my own head.'

How often do we, as writers, find ourselves trapped in one point of view, unable to find the release of that new angle that leads us to new ideas and new growth? I am not comparing blindness to writer's block. I feel this statement carries the idea of technical communication without consideration for the barriers that prevent our readers or users from fully enjoying (or enjoying at all!) the fruits of our work. That is being trapped and missing out on the creative and exciting challenge of providing universal access to our work.

As for being a blind person or having epilepsy, John Bramblitt says it's "just another aspect of who I am." This is the second – subtle – comment that struck me as notable. How often are people with disabilities identified as exceptions, outsiders, outliers – and difficult to fit in our equations or perceptions? The disabilities are a part of those people and something that should be factored into our work naturally and without a fuss: captioning, alternate formats, testing (for usability and accessibility), web standards, and so on.

Was that reading too much into these comments? How do you interpret them? Express your opinion in the comment box! See more of his work.

PS You can view John Bramblitt's works at Sightless Works or visit his website, which includes a link to his blog.

PPS Thanks to @AFB1921 for bringing the New York Times article to our attention.

Persistent Memory in Cats is Created by Doing, Not by Seeing

Last updated: March 5, 2015

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Cats remember where their paws have been. Researchers from the Department of Physiology at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, report that cats can create memories of their environment without having to rely on vision. Stepping over and touching a physical obstacle with their forelegs creates a memory of the obstacle that persists for up to 10 minutes even after the obstacle is removed. Just seeing the obstacle does not appear to create a memory. The study found that visual memory lasts only a few seconds.

A cat's physical obstacle memory.
A cat's physical obstacle memory.

Keir G. Pearson studies the science of walking (the neurobiology of locomotion). For over 20 years, his test subjects included mice, cockroaches, locusts, humans, and felines. He is studying how animals learn to navigate complex environments, especially when they're moving around. His research has practical applications ranging from treating spinal cord injuries to building robots. "I'm interested in the general problem of how we remember the location of objects relative to the body as we move," Pearson says.

Over a 2-year period, Pearson compared cats' working memory of their recent movements with their visual memory and found that cats remember better with their bodies than with their eyes.

We put an obstacle in front of them and we stopped the cats after they stepped over it with their front legs, but not their back legs. We found that, even many minutes later, the cat would step high with their back legs, even though we had taken away the obstacle.

Pearson with his cat obstacle.
Keir Pearson with his cat obstacle. Credit: ExpressNews Staff, Univ. of Alberta
Felines' memories may in fact be longer but "many minutes" translates into about 10 minutes for the purpose of their experiments. Ten minutes is the maximum length of time Pearson and his fellow researcher David A. McVea were able to distract the animals, usually with a bowl of food.

To compare this working memory to the cat's visual memory, the researchers repeated the experiment, allowing the animals to see the obstacle (a small wooden block) but stopped them from moving forward before they made their first step over the obstacle.

The action of moving the front legs provided the information about the obstacle and the mechanism to establish a longer-term memory. The surprising thing to us was how short visual memory was. We thought it would last longer than a few seconds.

Similar research by Pearson's colleagues on other quadripeds such as dogs and horses, mirrored his results with cats exactly.

It's like driving; if you're a passenger, you really don't remember much about the trip, or the route, but if you've actually driven the car, you'll probably remember much better, and much longer.

Related Links

Adaptive Content Processing conference – ACP08 – Deadline extension!

Last updated: March 3, 2015

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The following is from the European Accessible Information Network (EUAIN) project.

In view of the fact that for many people the summer holiday has just ended and in order to give everyone a chance to participate in the ACP08 conference, the conference organizers have decided to extend the deadline for the submission of thematic sessions, papers, and presentations. If you would like to propose a paper or presentation, you should initially submit an abstract of your paper/presentation outlining the areas you intend to cover. This abstract should be a maximum of two pages and can be mailed to the conference organiser: email hidden; JavaScript is required

The new dates for the conference are as follows:
12 September 2008: Deadline for proposals for thematic sessions
12 September 2008: Deadline for papers and presentation submissions
19 September 2008: Notification of acceptance for papers and presentations
01 November: Final date for registration and payment

An updated version of the conference programme will be available from their website next week:

Contact: Sabine Schotel

**Please note new name and email address**

DEDICON (formerly FNB Nederland)
Molenpad 2
1016 GM Amsterdam
The Netherlands
Tel: 0031 486 486 294
Fax: 0031 20 6208459


FNB is the new umbrella organisation for the libraries for the blind in the Netherlands. The organisation is responsible for delivering information (text, music, drawings etc) for print-impaired people. SVB – Dutch Library for Print Handicapped Students and Professionals – has merged with CGL and NLBB to form one larger organisation.

The European Accessible Information Network (EUAIN) project was established in 2004 by Dedicon when a core group of organisations involved in accessible content production came together on a European level to seek greater clarity and systematisation for this field. This was made possible through European Commission support under the 6th Framework Programme.