365 Days of Random

Random musings about nothing at all

Weekend Off

I took this past weekend off from writing because my BF and I were going out of town for a few days and the only ‘technology’ I really wanted around me was my Kindle so I could read my book and relax. This time missing 3 days wasn’t an accidental thing it was an explicit choice. And it was very much worth it. It’s been a very long time since I actually truly took a weekend off from technology. I loved it.

Friday night after work we met up with our friends and made the 2+ hour drive up to Deep Creek MD where the four of us had rented a house for the weekend. We arrived about 10:o0 pm and once we’d gotten settle promptly cracked open a few adult beverages and climbed into the hot tub to start off our weekend. It was wonderful. The weather was amazing, the company was fabulous. We went hiking, we grilled, we introduced my BF to the joys of S’Mores around the campfire, we played cards, read our books, enjoyed the peace and quiet and even watched a couple of movies while it was raining Sunday night. All in all it was a great time.

But the thing that I enjoyed the most I think was actually unplugging for a few days. I did take my phone with me but I left it up in our bedroom for the entire weekend. I checked it at night before going to bed but only to clear messages, I didn’t respond to anything until we got home last night. It was a great feeling to be not constantly tied to a device and feeling like I needed to be in constant ‘connection’ with everyone I know. It was more than enough for me to just spend the weekend enjoying the company of the three people I was physically spending time with. People don’t do that enough these days. We are constantly checking our phones or our computers to make sure we haven’t missed out on something important or even just something entertaining.

I struggle with the idea of constant connection. I think that in a lot of ways it’s great to be able to so easily reach out to people and to know what’s going on. But the constant stimulation doesn’t always leave time to think about and process things that you are experiencing. Rather than stepping back and absorbing things we’re just constantly flooding ourselves with inputs. It’s exhausting a lot of the time. It’s really really important to make a conscious effort every now and again to detach. To have the only connections you experience be the real life HUMAN connections that come from face to face conversation and interaction. It’s great that we CAN be in constant communication… but by no mean does that mean that we NEED to be in constant communication. Sometimes I think that if we spent more time talking to people about the FEW things that we’ve learned or discovered each day we’d actually discover that at the end of the day we’ve gathered more KNOWLEDGE and understanding than when all we do is be bombarded by constant information. Some times it’s just too much to process.

So, that’s why I fully completely unplugged this weekend and totally enjoyed my time with my BF and my friends. It was great and so much more relaxing than I’d expected. I think I will make a more conscious effort to disengage from technology more often.

September 6, 2011 Posted by | Fun & Entertainment, Random, Technology & Gadgets | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accessibility

I am sure that to a lot of you this topic may seem to come out of left field. But it’s something (in my work life) that I am very passionate about. I have been focused on the accessibility of our products for the last 3 years and have learned so much. It’s knowledge that I love to share with others who are just starting to think about the impact this has on software development. No, by accessibility I don’t mean ACCESS to the product, system, page, etc. Well… I guess to some extent that is what it’s about. What I am talking about is the ability for users with disabilities (visual, motor, hearing or cognitive impairments) to use and interact with technology – hardware, software, web sites, phones, anything really.

I am sure you’re wondering why this has come up as today’s topic. Well, it’s because it was the last thing I was focused on at work today. And that’s because I was expounding on the value of accessibility to a candidate I was interviewing. I had asked him about his knowledge and understanding of accessibility and his answer and subsequent questions lead me down a road of expressing just why it’s become such a big deal for me. Our candidate admitted (like so many do these days) to some decent ‘conceptual’ knowledge of accessibility but very little knowledge of practical application. He’d never really built systems or sites that needed to be all that accessible. His further comments and questions were around his personal struggle to see where people’s passion for accessibility comes from. He has a friend that is very very interested and passionate about the subject. But he (our candidate) cannot figure out why – he doesn’t have a disability and he doesn’t have anyone in his life that has a disability or impairment. For Zach (our candidate) he got the ‘concepts’ but lacked the ‘why it matters’ feeling.

My response was that passion for this subject hits you like a freight train the first time you have a real hones to god personal experience with it. And by that I don’t mean some form of disability befalls you. What I am referring to is an opportunity to be touched by someone who DOES have some form of disability and yet is just as capable of accessing and using technology as you are. The problem isn’t in the fact that they have a disability, it’s in the fact that the TECHNOLOGY doesn’t consider this disability or challenge when they are developing it. They think solely about the person that can SEE the screen, HEAR the text and MOVE the mouse. There are a million different degrees of disability and all face different challenges when using technology. There is absolutely no reason at all why the technology should be something that is a barrier or road block to knowledge or success. During this conversation I shared my personal tipping point around accessibility. It changed the way I think and feel about building software. I challenge everyone out there who builds software, hardware or any form of technology to seek out opportunities to meet and interact with people classified as having ‘disabilities’. I guarantee it will change your perspective.

Here is my story. Last year I attending the annual meeting for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). I attended this meeting because my company was accepting an award for work we’d done in developing accessible technology. Throughout the day I listened to many Blind speakers share stories of their experiences. There were two in particular that stuck with me and made a huge impact. One was a 70ish year old gentleman who’d been blind his entire life and was an auto-mechanic. He had actually been a safety inspector for Ford and GM for years and he had built cars from nothing his entire life. He had learned to tell apart the parts by the way the felt and sounded. The second was a 30 something guy who was in his last year of residency at Medical School. He was studying to become a Psychiatrist but, as you know, to do this you have to undergo EVERYTHING that medical school entails. Surgery, Gross Anatomy, Diagnosis techniques, hospital rotations, the whole bit. This guy had done it all – he learned to identify muscles, tendons, tissue, nerves and bones by how they felt. He could diagnose a patient by listening to the sounds their body made and the way they moved. All his other senses where heightened to the point where not having his sight didn’t matter – he SAW everything that mattered. Listening to these two speakers, and seeing the students the NFB was awarding scholarships to that night and learning what they wanted to study was one of the most awe inspiring experiences I’ve ever had. It blew me away.

We talk about ‘accessibility’ being a categorization for people with disabilities – that’s a very polite way of saying it of course – but if we’re honest about it – many times people with ‘disabilities’ are no more or less capable of accomplishing anything than those of us without a disability. Frankly, I’d wager that a good percentage of them have had to step up in ways we never had and are better for it. A term I heard that day in Dallas (at the NFB meeting) has stuck with me ever since. These folks are not disabled, they are DIFFERENTLY-abled.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | Accessibility, User Experience | , , , , | Leave a comment