Friday, September 19, 2008

Leading the blind

This morning on my way into work, I discovered that even if you can see it's difficult to lead the blind.

A man with a seeing-eye dog and a woman with a cane struggled to enter a subway station one block behind them, and I found myself at a loss of words trying to give directions. Needless to say: pointing did not help. After a painful amount of narrating, I was still unable to articulate distance in a way that wasn't reliant on the ability to see - landmarks and the phrase "halfway up the block" were meaningless to my companions.

After I led them to the station through the crowds of people exiting the Manhattan mall, I retrospectively cursed myself for the number of times I'd said "sight-laden" phrases such as, "Which train are you looking to catch?," "Let's watch for the light to turn red." and "You'll see the door on your right."

It was a awkward experience for me, one that pointed out the flaws in my own vocabulary and the fact that our language evolves to suit our average daily interactions, leaving us occasionally unprepared when faced with the need to approach things with a fresh pair of eyes.

I'd put a shout out here to my sightless fellow commuters, who mentioned their preference for Mac computers in casual conversation as we waited for the light, but sadly I don't know how accessible Blogger is to the vision impaired.

Internet accessibility standards for the disabled have been set by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, World Wide Web Consortium and the Americans with Disabilities Act, however these regulations do not require every company to adhere to them yet. We'll have to wait and see for all Internet software to catch up.

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