I was lucky enough to get along to the first social media surgery in Huddersfield last night – an offshoot of the wildly successful one’s started in Birmingham by Nick Booth. What happened was that I was in Leeds to speak this morning at NextGen09 in a panel with Brian Condon and so naturally yesterday morning I tweeted that I was going to be up in Leeds if anyone wanted to meetup.
One of the people who replied was Tim Difford who said he was going to something called #huddsms, which following a little trail I found out was the Surgery.
When I got to Leeds, it quickly became clear that getting on wifi or even getting a phone signal was going to be difficult around the Royal Armouries where the conference was taking place, so I thought I’d pop down to Huddersfield (only 20 minutes & £4.70 return on the train) and see how I could help.
The Media Centre is in the middle of the town an easy little walk down the hill from the station and I presented myself, my credentials and my willingness to help with anything that was going. I’m really glad I went. It was brilliant and there was a lovely buzz about the place.
I managed to squeeze in a coffee before I was introduced to my first (and as it turned out only) “patient”. David Quarmby is Chair of the Kirklees Visual Impairment Network (KVIN) committee and he wanted to know how social media might be useful to him and his colleagues in engaging with the 4,000 or so people in Kirklees who are registered as having a Visual Impairment.
I was immediately humbled by David’s determination to use the web regardless of his disability. He uses the JAWS screen reader to guide him around each page. This means that his experience of the web is of a tinny voice rapidly reading out link titles and button text – which can either be overwhelming because of the sheer amount of information squeezed on pages designed to be seen, not read, or else mystifyingly silent because important screen elements are hidden within graphics or whizzy bits of ajax which the screen reader stumbles over.
Nonetheless we pressed on, trying to see what a wordpress dashboard “looks like” through the screen reader. It turns out that you can find the elements of the Quick Press form that’s now included in wordpress.com and probably with some tweaking that may be useful. However, it still seemed difficult, surely someone must have done this before. I put out a tweet to ask for help – asking whether anyone had experience of blogging tools for people with visual impairments. In the meantime Tim Difford joined us for a bit to try out other possibilities, thinking about podcasting for example.
While we were talking about audioboo, phoneboo and ipadio, I had a flash of inspiration. Tim was explaining how simple some of these services are, so that you as a user are just making a phone call and when you’ve finished, you have, automatically, a podcast that could be shared through an RSS feed to a widget on your site.
This is what cleared the neural pathways for me – how about using posterous.com as a blog for KVIN which gets populated simply by David sending it e-mails, with attachments for the multimedia elements – everyone has e-mail and David, no doubt has an e-mail client that is optimised for his use – we all breathed a sigh of relief and had a cup of tea.
Meanwhile my twitterstream was generously sharing thoughts on the subject as predicted by the third of Dave Snowden’s Knowledge Management principles. Since the moment has passed somewhat, I haven’t, and I’m not going to, follow up all of these in detail, but if you’re interested, I hope you find a summary here useful.
@jobsworth pointed me at @dnwallace who keeps a blog called Lifekludger: “On it you’ll find information about ideas, devices, methods and custom uses for ‘everyday stuff’ that could be used to adapt, build, kludge, hack or make things work for people living with disability, as well as links and opinion on useful existing devices.”
@cataspanglish pointed to @alisonvsmith who immediately popped up with her blog Pesky People which “aims to profile the lack of proper access by Disabled and Deaf people on the web, inform, complain, campaign.”
@ipadio reminded us of it’s own applicability
All good stuff and I’ll be pointing David in the direction of this summary.
Photo credit: Tim Difford