Re: Visually impaired technical writers

Subject: Re: Visually impaired technical writers
From: "Hutchings, Christa" <cwhutchings -at- HOMEWIRELESS -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 1998 15:22:30 -0400

Eric (and others)-

Please see my reply to Rowena Hart in which I mentioned that I had a
good friend and co-worker who was visually impaired (totally blind, with
a guide dog and everything). So I do have some first-hand knowledge of
these folks. And again, although this person was an awesome programmer
(the best we had, in fact) and an excellent writer, there is no way I
would hire her as a TW due to the very visual nature of the work that I
do (writing *and* document design, page layout, graphics, etc.). Yes, I
guess I could probably hire a visually impaired writer, but then I'd
also have to hire someone to do the other aspects of the job that this
person couldn't handle. And just for the record, I also wouldn't hire a
non-visually impaired person who couldn't (or wouldn't) do page layout,

Again, I apologize if I offended anyone.

Chris Welch-Hutchings
Senior Technical Writer
Home Wireless Networks, Inc.
mailto:cwhutchings -at- homewireless -dot- com

-----Original Message-----
From: Eric J. Ray [mailto:ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com]
Sent: Thursday, July 02, 1998 2:30 PM
To: Hutchings, Christa; TECHWR-L -at- LISTSERV -dot- OKSTATE -dot- EDU
Subject: Re: Visually impaired technical writers

At 01:52 PM 7/2/98 -0400, Hutchings, Christa wrote:
>However, TW is a very visually-oriented profession. It requires an
>lot of "looking" at stuff - inspecting products/applications
>reading specs, etc. Then you have other issues, such as page layout,

Chris' point about the visual orientation of technical communication
is well-taken, but I think the last bit, about

>illustrations, etc. to deal with. It seems to me that a visually
>impaired TW would require an awful lot of hand-holding and I wonder how
>many engineer/programmers are out there in geek-land that would be
>willing to patiently describe (over and over) exactly how their gizmo
>works. It's hard enough sometimes to get them to explain things to
>someone who can see and play with the gadget.

This is a little misplaced, at least in my experience. I've worked with
two blind programmer/engineers, both of whom were (through nature or
necessity or both, I don't know) infinitely better than I am at
remembering what was explained to them and cruising through
software programs requiring a mind-boggling number of
odd options, etc. I'd say that there are tradeoffs, but the
necessarily verbal, rather than visual, orientation of someone
who deals primarily with the written or spoken word might
have some real advantages for effective written communication.

The only handholding necessary in my interactions with
both of these guys was 1) repeatedly explaining commands
(them to me) and 2) reading an initial SCSI ID from the drive
in the pile of parts on the floor so that one of these guys
could rebuild the computer. I read it (once) to him,
he put the system together from there.

Both of these people are in "geek-land"--one is an
NT system admin and programmer for a large
international company, the other is a data
communications expert/network guru (and
UNIX sys admin). They're the SMEs that we as technical
writers GO TO for information.

Just by the way, I tried to call one of my blind
friends up the other day, but couldn't talk with him--he was
fifty feet in the air, installing a new ham radio antenna on
his tower. No, I wasn't surprised--I got over that when
he took a couple of days off a few years ago to reroof
his house.

Making assumptions about limitations of blind or visually
impaired people is a pretty slippery slope.


* Eric J. Ray, ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com,
* TECHWR-L Listowner, co-author _Mastering HTML 4.0_
* _HTML 4 for Dummies Quick Reference_, and others.
* RayComm, Inc., currently accepting contract inquiries.

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