Cute Puppies and Mental Health

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Aww. A topic about cute puppies on campus can draw the attention of many people. However, these puppies are on the MIT campus for a serious reason: mental health.

What are puppies and mental health doing on our site? Well, whether or not you have a soft spot for puppies, mental health is an issue that deserves our attention. Our Accessible Techcomm site looks at topics on technical communication with a special focus on accessibility and usability. Technical communication is a career, and as with any career, stress can rear its head along the way. That is one aspect of mental health and wellbeing. Job seekers can also have mental health issues in their portfolio that should cause no concern for future employers and colleagues. Therefore, mental health topics are perfectly legitimate topics to discuss in our community. We like talking about topics such as alt text, but thinking holistically, as I think we should, our well-being and mental health is also just as important to consider in the daily life of a technical communicator. Discussing these sensitive topics raises awareness and understanding about the issues and prejudices.

Think Beyond the Label works to educate businesses and job seekers with disabilities about making a more inclusive workforce and to create opportunities for taking action to do so. One of the faces of disability is mental health.

  • If you are an employer, are you educating yourself about being inclusive and welcoming employees with mental health issues?
  • If you are a job seeker, are you educating yourself about how to present your mental health issues to future employers?
  • If you are in a workplace, are you welcoming and inclusive toward colleagues with mental health issues?

True, there are many types of mental health issues, but anecdotally, I have had techcomm colleagues who were bipolar and I’ve heard tales of stress and depression caused by the job or by life, which was impacting the job. These are things that are happening in our techcomm world right now. We should not be afraid to talk about these issues so that we can provide support where possible and work together to eliminate those stress-causing work situations. The fact that both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) have sites dedicated to mental health ought to make us stop with the shaming and the stigmas and start with the healing and supporting.

No, I didn’t forget the puppies. What I really like about the puppies is that a high-profile place that is full of stress – an institution of higher education – acknowledges the need to do something to raise awareness and educate the community about mental health.

For the full story about the MIT Puppy Lab, read the article, MIT Puppy Lab to open during National Mental Health Awareness Month.

You can always expect tweets from @accesstechcomm on mental health now and then. The topic is not going away any time soon!

Weekend Gazette – Link Collection for March 14

We present to you a menu of tidbits collected in recent days that are too short for blog posts and sometimes too long for a tweet (when we want to add clarifying comments). Headings provide a light grouping to help you skim the offerings. Bon appétit!

Techie Stuff

The Mono Accessibility project "enables many Windows applications to be fully accessible on Linux. " Oh, they're looking for people to help write code, documentation, or bug swatting. Consider joining their team.

Talking about the Mono Accessibility project brings us to "Moonlight". Moonlight was an open source implementation of Silverlight!! Intrigued? Read more in this article about Moonlight.

Game On

Here is a list of several European initiatives concerning gaming and people with disabilities.

  • The Game On Project – A European initiative on "using Game Based Learning to develop basic, personal and work sustainability skills in prisoners, those at risk of offending and ex-offenders, including those with disabilities."
  • The GOAL-Net project (paper is available in the Proceedings of the 5th European Conference on Games Based Learning, page 529) – "The project will support participants in training and further training activities, in the acquisition and the use of knowledge, skills and qualifications to facilitate personal development, employability and participation in the European Labour Market." This project is now completed; you can download the software and other resources at this site. [No longer available as of March 2015.]
  • "Design of Serious Games for Students with Intellectual Disability" (the GOET project) by Cecilia Sik Lanyi and David Joseph Brown, March 2010 is a paper given at the India HCI 2010/ Interaction Design & International Development 2010 (IHCI). "We have designed and developed around 10 serious games under the EU Leonardo Transfer of Innovation Project: Game On Extra Time (GOET) project. The project supports people with learning disabilities and additional sensory impairments in getting and keeping a job by helping them to learn, via games-based learning; skills that will help them in their working day."

Project RECALL in Europe is a slight variation on a gaming project. It "combines location based services with games based learning approaches." RECALL "has been developed to meet a need identified from years of research in working with user groups of people with learning disabilities and their teachers/trainers. This research has shown that on leaving compulsory education, people with learning disabilities, who have previously been provided with transport to allow them to access community activity, suddenly become excluded from lifelong learning and community activity because of their lack of independent travel skills." RECALL is still in its early stages, but it is definitely worth monitoring.

Reflections, Musings, and Ponderings

Sandi Wassmer shares her thoughts on "Inclusivity may be taking over, but it isn't leaving accessibility behind". Inclusivity versus accessibility–is there a difference? [Unfortunately, her website is no longer active as of January 2020.] The article includes a link to her presentation at the London Web Standards in February.

"Accessibility isn't just about disabilities, it's about varying degrees of ability to access content." That's a great quote from the article "Moving forward is holding us back". Computer monitors might be getting bigger, but what about those teeny tiny mobile devices?

@sarahebourne benefits from accessible websites when using her Kindle for the Web. She wrote an excellent review of using Accessible Twitter on her Kindle. [Unfortunately, her website is no longer available as of May 15, 2014.]

Help, I Need Somebody

Don't ever assume that the entire world using the emergency number that you use in your country. Wikipedia lists emergency telephone numbers from around the world; only Australia and New Zealand make reference to TTY phone numbers (devices used by deaf people). Apparently, emergency numbers for deaf people are often special numbers. The three-digit national emergency numbers are generally not usable by deaf people, which means they need to know and memorize a different number.

The page for the deaf and hard of hearing from the West Yorkshire Police (UK) site lists an 11-digit number where you can send a text message – but all messages must be prefixed with "999". That's a lot to remember in an emergency!

The Australian emergency call service uses Triple Zero (000) for their main emergency number if you need urgent help from police, fire, or ambulance services.

  • You can call 000 from any fixed or mobile phone and certain VoIP and satellite services. You can also call 000 from any quot;handheld" satellite phone. You can call 000 using the Emergency+ app on your smartphone. One advantage of using the Emergency+ app to call 000 is that if you don't know your exact location, the app will use the GPS on your smartphone to help you to give emergency services your location.
  • 106 can only be used with a teletypewriter (TTY) or a device for the deaf or who have a hearing or speech impairment – not for use from a mobile phone. You cannot access 106 by SMS. You can also ask the National Relay Service (NRS) for a captioned relay, internet relay, SMS relay, video relay, or voice relay call to be transferred to Triple Zero if you need emergency help from police, fire, or an ambulance service.
  • 112 can only be dialed on a mobile phone.
  • You cannot contact 000 or 112 by text message.

Now (March 2010), New Zealand is making the headlines because they are the first country in the world where deaf people can send a text to the national emergency number, 111 (179 KB .pdf). When you think about it, it is rather amazing that we haven't gotten much farther in the year 2010.

Stereotypes Revisited

"Talk" is a video that "portrays a society in which non-disabled people are a pitied minority and disabled people lead full and active lives." The following links are subtitled and signed (BSL, I believe): Talk, Part 1 (5 min. 40 sec.) and Talk, Part 2 (5 min. 7 sec.)

"Talk" is a great video to watch, but if you are in a hurry, try this 35-second video showing "able-bodied people trying to live in a world made for those with disabilities".

Nicolas Steenhout (@vavroom) compared some advertising from the late 90s to current ads by the Canadian Paralympics Committee. His blog post about "Awesome Ads Presenting The Disabled In A Different Light" is a must-read. The captions for the ads means those who cannot see the pictures can still follow the story – an example for others to follow (hint, hint). See the presentation "Slides for Accessibility Presentation at LCA2010 Business Miniconf: Accessibility and FOSS" (.pdf) [Ed note: Unfortunately no longer available as of 28 March 2020. ]

Merinda Epstein uses cartoons to present issues around mental health services in a "humorous, satirical, or ironical manner". These are not captioned, but I am sure a volunteer would be welcome to offer their captioning services.

Quotes for the Week

@sarahebourne wrote a tweet recently that is definitely worth repeating here:

Accessibility is not about "being nice to the blind." It's about avoiding restrictions that arbitrarily exclude people.

@mattmay sent a great comment from the current South-by-Southwest gathering in Austin, Texas. It was too long to re-tweet, but I had to share it.

Touch-centric apps are a HUGE trend at #sxswi. In case you were wondering what accessibility experts will be fixing in 5yrs. #TouchHolyGrail

Link Contributors

This post was glued together with links or inspiration from many people. They are listed with their Twitter names.