Philosophical dilemma of very creative people with disabilities

Suppose you are wheelchair bound, but if you invest two hours a day for two years in physiotherapy, you will be able to walk with a cane. Or you are deaf and are offered a cochlear implant followed by two hours a day of auditory practice (time includes also transportation from your home to the center and back) for several months afterward.

On the other hand, you have a big idea which can benefit immensely the mankind but needs your undivided attention for the next few years. This could be a big invention such as an inexpensive means of reaching the space, a book exposing a profound and breakthrough philosophical theory, or political action to liberate a group of 30 million oppressed people.

Or simply study in an university until you earn a Ph.D.; or build a successful startup which makes millionaires of you and three of your associates, and solves the problem of financing housing for tens of other people.

What should you choose? Spend the time overcoming your disability, or achieve something big using your abilities?

My own answer – later.

כותרת:  דילמה פילוסופית של אנשים יצירתיים מאוד עם מוגבלויות

נניח שהינך מרותק לכסא גלגלים, אבל אם תשקיע שעתיים ביום במשך שנתיים בפיזיותרפיה, תוכל ללכת בעזרת מקל הליכה. או הינך חרש ומציעים לך שתל קוכליארי שידרוש ממך אימוני שמיעה במשך שעתיים כל יום (הזמן כולל גם תחבורה מביתך למרכז ובחזרה) במשך חודשים רבים לאחר ניתוח ההשתלה.

מצד שני, יש לך רעיון אדיר שיכול להביא תועלת אדירה לאנושות אבל דורש את תשומת ליבך הבלעדית במשך השנים הבאות. זו יכולה להיות המצאה גדולה כמו דרך זולה להגיע לחלל, ספר שחושף תיאוריה פילוסופית מעמיקה ופורצת דרך, או פעילות פוליטית כדי לשחרר קבוצה של 30 מיליון בני אדם מדוכאים.

או פשוט ללמוד באוניברסיטה עד קבלת תואר ד”ר; או הקמת חברת הזנק מצליחה שתהפוך אותך ושלושה משותפיך למיליונרים, ופותרת את בעית מימון הדיור של עשרות אנשים אחרים.

במה עליך לבחור? להשקיע את זמנך בהתגברות על מוגבלותך, או בהשגת הישג יוצא מגדר הרגיל תוך ניצול היכולות שלך?

התשובה האישית שלי – אחר כך.

Lack of accessibility kills people (or: why I am not using the Israeli train system now)

Few days ago, Shmuel Katz, an hearing-impaired and sight-impaired man, was killed by the train in Tel Aviv.
He boarded the wrong train, and when trying to leave it in haste, he was trapped at the train’s door and was killed.

The root cause for his death is insufficient accessibility of train related information to people with hearing and sight impairments. Information about the destination of the current train in a platform is not always displayed, and announcements over the public address system are, of course, not heard by hearing impaired people.

The problem of the announcements is the reason why I stopped using the train until further notice.

My parents live in Jerusalem, not far from the Malacha train station in southwest Jerusalem.
When the train line to Jerusalem was reopened, I made frequent use of it to travel from Petah Tikva to Jerusalem and back. Since the reason for trips was to visit family rather than business or work, I did not mind the schedule problems of the train.

However, one day I read in the newspaper that due to schedule problems, the management canceled the stops in Bnei Berak, Petah Tikva and Rosh Hayin in a train run passing through Petah Tikva. The cancellations were announced in the public address system. This incident was newsworthy, because the passengers, who expected to leave the train in the canceled stops, blocked the train’s doors open and prevented it from leaving the station it was in Tel Aviv. The train run was canceled.

If I were on that train, I’d not have a clue about the happening, and would have risked finding myself in Hod Hasharon instead of my destination – Petah Tikva – and since there are no convenient bus lines from the Kfar Sava-Hod Hasharon train station to “my” train station, I would have wasted several hours getting back to my car parked in the Petah Tikva train station.

Therefore I decided to go back to using my car to visit my parents in Jerusalem, until the train becomes 100% accessible to hearing impaired people, and the management demonstrates more scheduling responsibility.

Trying to get information about the observatory in Mitzpe Ramon

While trying to collect information about the star observatory in Mitzpe Ramon, for a possible visit there, I found the Hebrew Astropedia Web site at http://astroclub.tau.ac.il/astropedia/The_Wise_Observatory.html.

Then I found that I cannot scroll the page horizontally or vertically (I use the Mozilla 1.7.8 Web browser under GNU/Linux, Debian Sarge distribution).

I wrote a complaint to the address provided by them (astroclub strudel wise.tau.ac.il) suggesting that they use the W3C validator at http://validator.w3.org/.

I am not holding my breath for them to accept my friendly, free and concerned advice.

UPDATE:
Yiftah from Astro Club replied. They really want to make the Web site FireFox-compatible. However, they do not have the resources to pay someone to modify the Web site accordingly, so volunteer work will be very much appreciated.
If you can do the following, please contact astroclub strudel wise.tau.ac.il and offer your help:

  • Modify the CSS definitions to make them W3C compliant and ensure that the Web site is standards-compliant (of course).
  • Develop a (free and) faster Javascript implementation of the menu.
  • Modify the CSS definitions to make them W3C compliant.
  • Define the printing style (currently it is not defined, so the Web pages look terrible when printed).

15797

After all, to my big surprise, I won a prize in the August Penguin 4 prize drawing near the end of the event. I already own a copy of the book which I won, so I was given another (and much thinner) book instead.

This event marked the real end of my first year as the Accessibility Coordinator of Hamakor.

The story starts with the AP3 (August Penguin 3) prize drawing a year ago. I had a prize drawing ticket number. There was a drawing. Someone won. All announcements were made using vibrating air molecules. No one was charged with the task of writing down the winning numbers. So I had no way to know whether my number won. After AP3 I wrote about this, and the response was that I was right – there was an accessibility problem in AP3.

ladypine asked me if I am willing to volunteer to work on improving accessibility. I accepted the job and took over the title “Accessibility Coordinator”. During the year which elapsed since then, I gave two lectures about accessibility in Linux (in Haifux and in Telux lecture No. 28). I owe thanks to Ori Idan, for his help in filling in the blindness relevant information.

As preparations for AP4 (August Penguin 4) started, I became more involved. The first order of business was to ensure that the chosen location is accessible to people with mobility impairment. The Israel Accessibility Web site was helpful with this. I appreciate the cooperation, which I got from Limor Ben-Yossef. She let me know which locations are being considered, so that I could check for information about their accessibility.

After a location was selected, it was time to consider accessibility for blind and hearing impaired people. Blind people need a copy of presentations in their own Braille-enabled PCs. However, no one requested assistance with this.

Hearing impaired people need one of few accessibility provisions: Wireless microphone for HOH (hard-of-hearing), typist (notetaker) with laptop and projector and/or Sign Language interpreter for the deaf. I publicized a call for interested people in a forum of HOH and deaf people asking anyone, who wants to come to AP4, to let me know about this. I got zero responses. So I needed to arrange for accessibility only for myself.

Here again I got cooperation. I took upon myself to book a notetaker. I indicated that neither projector nor Sign Language interpreter are needed. AP4 organizers agreed to let the notetaker enter without payment. I asked to reserve a cluster of 5 chairs for the notetaker and four hearing-impaired people. Again, no problems.

Few days before the event, I publicized a call for interested hearing impaired people, with intention of asking for a projector and screen at the last moment, should there be more demand. I received one response.

In AP4 itself, the decision to bring extension electrical cord paid off. I got electrical power for the laptop from a socket several meters away from where we sat. One of the workers secured the cord to the floor using maskingtape. Initially, there was a problem with a desk. However it was solved by our using the Geeks’ desk until they needed it during the AP Trivia Contest.

Until lunch break, the notetaker served two hearing-impaired people – me and another person, whose name is not disclosed here due to privacy considrations. At lunch he left the event and until the end I was the sole beneficiary of this accessibility provision. It proved to be adequate for the event, as evidenced by the fact that I could contribute an audience answer to one of the Trivia Contest questions (another way to determine the bandwidth of snails vs. Bezeq ADSL links).

I noticed that the organizers were thoughtful to put a big screen with status information in the Exhibitors’ and APCHI contest hall. The big screen alternated between the APCHI contest participants’ status and the most up-to-date schedule of the AP4 lectures. The screen was useful as another accessibility measure for the hearing impaired, as in AP3 I had another rant about not knowing when will the current lecture end. I assume that the screen was helpful also to all participants and to the event organizers, who needed not be bothered by participants wandering on the halls and asking for starting time and subject of the next lecture.

When the prize drawing began, ladypine made a point of ensuring that the notetaker does type down the numbers of winning cards. When my card’s number came up, I at first stared with unbelief. It is so Douglas Addamsish to win a drawing the very first time after a drawing, which was inaccessible to me.

What is 15797? It was my winning number.

Will work ethic and a plan get you anywhere you want in the galaxy?

My Exploitative employers vs. lazy employees piece prompted someone to comment in private that there is a catch: Just because
some disabled people are good enough to compete with able bodied workers does not mean that everybody can.

My position is that as long as someone has enough of work ethic, he (or she) can always find something to do, which other people would not do. They might learn faster to do his job and eventually do it better than him, but they are busy with some other job, and do not have the time to master his job. So eventually he gains experience and does the job better than anyone, who might try to replace him after only a brief training.

However, there is a real problem: people with disabilities often get stuck with dead-end jobs, with no built-in career path or prospects for promotion to a better-paying job. What can someone, who knows to work, do then?

  1. Set aside time for his own advancement by ensuring that his current job does not demand more than a normal workday per day.
  2. Form an idea what kind of job and income he wants.
  3. At his free time, study something, which may help him do his dream job.
  4. Volunteer for tasks in either his workplace or for a nonprofit serving his community. The tasks are to be such that they demonstrate his ability to handle a more responsible position. Of course, he needs to perform those tasks well.
  5. Be willing to do some tasks, which are within his ability to do, and which other people hate to do.
  6. Be familiar with the political situation in his workplace.
  7. Establish a network of contacts who will tell him about job openings in other places. Even if he does not switch places, the information will put him at better bargaining position at his current place of employment.

Of course, people do not learn on their own the above advice. How do we reach out to the people with disabilities, who are desperate, are unemployed and do not know how to work and how to make work get them the kind of satisfaction from life that they deserve? How do we point out successful role models to them?

This problem is complicated by the fact that a specific plan, which works for someone, would not work for someone else. Each person needs his own plan, but not everyone seems to be able to plan ahead on his own.

Inaccessibility by fiat

A friend’s mother has passed away, and I attended the funeral. The deceased mother was to be buried in the new Netanya cemetery. When I entered the parking lot and parked my car, I noticed a sign saying that it is forbidden to drive cars into the cemetery, except for people with motor disabilities. And even their cars are allowed only until 12:00 noon. All this was in the name of “respecting the location and the feelings of other people”.

I wondered to myself what will do a wheelchair bound person, who needs to attend a funeral held at 13:30 (like the funeral which I attended).

Later I noticed that there is an old man, who has great difficulty walking, and who needed to use a walker.
During the funeral procession itself, I noticed that a car followed us. When we were near the burial place, the same old man went out of the car and walked slowly toward the burial place.

Turned out that he was the father of the deceased woman (my friend’s grandfather). He was allowed to enter the cemetery by car even though it was after 12:00.

Apparently, this time the Israeli custom of bending regulations saved accessibility.

SIUA 05 Exhibition – accessibility of seminars

In the past, when an event was held, such that parts of it were about deaf people, only those parts were made accessible to deaf people. For example, when there was a deaf-related item in a news programs in TV, only that part was subtitled. Other parts, not directly related to deaf people, remained inaccessible.

This week, the SIUA 05 Exhibition is being held. This exhibition exhibits assistive equipment for people having all kinds of disabilities. One day (today) was designated as the Hearing Day.

During the SIUA 05 Exhibition, there are also some conferences and workshops.

Originally, only the conference scheduled for today was planned to be accessible to deaf people.

However, I was interested in another conference (held yesterday) – “Healthy Mind in Active Body”, because of a panel about “Accessible Community”.

A week ago, I inquired at the organizers of the exhibition whether this conference will be accessible to deaf people. The answer was – No. Only the conference to be held on Hearing Day will be accessible to people with hearing impairment. I CC’ed Bekol about this.

I do not know if and how much cord pulling and arguments were held behind my back, but few days later I was informed that a Sign Language interpreter will be available for the conference, which I wanted to attend. I wrote back, informing when I plan to come there (I did not plan to be there all day).

I arrived at the designated hour, and was delighted to find that they booked Sign Language interpreter for the entire day, in case other deaf people would be interested as well. The interpreter told me that he was informed ahead of time that someone is due to come at the hour which I said, but he enjoyed listening to the conference starting from the morning.

I came. I sat through the relevant part. I had an opportunity to speak as well (the interpreter translated my “deaf accent” into standard Hebrew). When it finished, I went away with the relaxed and content feeling that a person with disability has when he has been in a place, whose accessibility is adequate for him.

Hopefully, next year they’ll announce ahead of time that all conferences, workshops and seminars will be accessible on demand. I hope that in the standard brochure about the exhibition, they’ll also give instructions how to ask for accessibility.