SENSE 2.0 – Back to blogging

Hello again! I am back to writing and posting thoughts on science education as a non-sighted experience. I didn’t give up on it after my first try in July last summer but had to take a bit of break. In any case, I am not the “giving up things” kind of person. I eventually want to, and also have been told a few times that I should, write a book. On what theme, in what language I haven’t quite decided yet, but it is on the to do list. So blogging is a sense (not that SENSE), is a trial to have a feel what writing feels like. 
I liked it when started SENSe 1.0, but always spent too much time thinking on how to phrase my thoughts. Amount of time which made most post a bit artificial, they were not too spontaneous. So now, in this new addition, I’ll try to think less while writing, and simply project my chain of thoughts from that particular day or week. Of course that does not mean I will write all kind of rubbish without thinking but surely you get what I mean. If not, comments or the “unfollow” option is there for you.
Also, since the last blogpost, I’ve got a new machine to type on, which makes reading and writing, as well as posting more convenient, so that should help delivering my messages, questions, comments, insights to various aspects on education and sight loss. What didn’t help on the other hand, is that during the past half year, my way of seeing fundamental science and its teaching and researching has changed. Not only that but just as well, my understanding of what I could do with my life, how I could make real change, help others if they need it or how we could benefit the most from academic research and the dirtier commercial, business world has changed a lot. Thus, I thought I need to clear things in my mind first, only than write about them. Beyond all, I explored and learnt about new fields of science, new ideas I never heard of before, which all made me highly passionate about those. It isn’t a secret, I am talking about sensory substitution and tangible computing mainly. But more about these in a more specific post.
Now I am only writing to say hello again and get back to writing. I know there used to be a being we call Jesus in a particular language, in a particular culture and religion, and it only took him to get back on track in 3 days, and not 7 months or so as I happen to do, but hey ho, at the end it is Easter! Hence SENSE is back.
With varying regularity I am going to share some thoughts, some progress around our R&D projects, thoughts on other people’s work in context of science education and sight, PR work, business work, our new services and products, websites, news and anything else that might interest me. 
Take care.


Inclusive vs. Assistive Technology

The work to do the past couple of days forced me to put blogging aside for a moment, but now I shall grab the virtual pen again.
As I was editing a document the other day, I came across a larger paragraph discussing the needs, developments and existence of inclusive and assistive technology. What caught my attention after a while is the use of the forth mention phrases as synonyms . The document was actually written by somebody I know for a long time, fairly well I would say, i.e. myself.
Rethinking the whole concept and having a year more experience compared to the amount of insight I had 12 months ago, I would not use inclusive and assistive technology as anything that substitutes the other.
Probably there is an official definition of both terms, however I have never been a big fan of definitions. It is very subjective in my view how we define things, at least how we do so when it comes to concepts as such. I don’t necessarily have the same view on mathematical definitions for instance. Astronomy on the other hand might serve as a better illustration, since there has been some ongoing debate in the past, and presumably in the presence as well to some extend, on how to define stars, planets. What defines these sky objects? A star is what shines, something that has its own energy source, its size, radiative spectrum?  These days there should be a consistent picture but it was not always as clear.
Analogously, most certainly there is disagreement as of what classifies as IT or AT. In my personal view, I would say, assistive technology is an aid tool developed to assist people with special needs, to enable them to fulfill given tasks, roles. However, these technologies are exclusively made for the disabled community with no intention to serve abled people.
On the contrary my definition of inclusive technology is a gadget that is developed for the general public, keeping in mind the needs of all the individuals, let it be age specific, educational background specific, economic status, disability, nationality and so forth.
The best example for inclusive tech is again Apple’s products. It is difficult to avoid mentioning Apple when it comes to accessibility of modern technology. Although thinking about the digital era is always a good source of reference point, I could stick to the example of a chess board. Even though specially made boards are available for visually impaired, I never would think of using one. I am using the same wooden chess board since I was about 6 or so, and sighted. The pieces are very distinct, easy to move on the dark and light grid. Similar examples could be generated looking at kitchen facilities but I assume I made the point clear. The counter example on the other hand and a disappointing drawback of assistive technology is the set of “accessible version” of websites. Sometimes developers have the good will to help but no knowledge of what they really should be doing. Hence when they completed their web content for example, which turns out not to be useable with a TTS as a matter of fact,  these blessed people set up a brand new page with high contrast colours, larger font size, less graphics etc. Needless to say, this approach couldn’t be more harmful then anything else. As already said, and as I will keep protesting the idea, we have the technology and knowledge to make perfectly accessible websites, inclusive ones so to speak. All we would have to do is to follow carefully written guidelines such as, the WCAG 2.0
Of course, I am generalising now as some countries, typically western European and American states, do better than others. Worht mentioning though that we can not blame everything on developers. Most of the time they would be happy to help, only if they knew how, if they knew such guidelines existed. Thus, it is our responsibility to reach out, to educate. We don’t only want to develop new techniques and tools, utilities but also teach other how to apply these. No knowledge worth a penny if we don’t share it.