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    Posted June 13, 2009 by
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    Stories from Second Life

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    Helen Keller Day


    Sometimes I read about things that people do in SL that move me to tears, and to be honest some of the good work people do in-world astounds me.   SL is a place that people join to have fun and I’m sure that is the intention of 99 per cent of the people who first take those tentative steps to enrol.  It’s only as time goes by that you realise that lots of those people go on to be involved in serious projects that benefit so many people in real life.



    I was recently contacted by a lady called Catsifthe Cuttita who asked me if I would be interested in covering an event that is coming up shortly in SL.   She told me that she was helping out with ‘Helen Keller Day (disabilities and the connection with SL/real life) and I was instantly interested to hear what this was all about.  As I am sure you are already aware, Helen Keller (June 27, 1880-June 1, 1968), was the first deaf/blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree and was depicted in the film ‘The Miracle Worker’ which also featured Helen’s teacher Annie Sullivan.  Ann had managed to break through Helen’s isolation and communicate with her, allowing Helen to take her rightful place in society.



    I was unaware until I read the press release by the organisers of Helen Keller Day, that people with disabilities make up approximately 20 per cent of the SL population.  The organisers state that ‘Deaf and hearing impaired people can be unwittingly excluded from voice chats, and people who are blind or visually impaired still face massive challenges in being able to use the highly visual 3D environment at all –  Which is why Helen Keller Day is coming to Second Life, Saturday, June 27th.  It’s a day that is set aside for 24 solid hours of information, education, exploration of employment opportunities, arts and entertainment, and social engagement, at the four The Ye, Olde, Supporte, Faire islands.  There will be vendors, employers, presentations, and mainly… fun.’



    I went over to meet the team behind the project, who are Saxet Uralia, Willow Halfpint, Polgara Paine, Louise Later, Joliel Magic and Catsifthe Cuttia.  Linden Labs Education and Healthcare Developer, Pathfinder Linden is also someone who has given the event his support, but was not on line when I went to meet the others.  Willow told me that ‘Pathfinder and Linden Labs have been so helpful.’



    Pathfinder will be a guest speaker on the day, along with Keller Johnson Thomspon who is the real life great grandniece of Helen Keller.



    Louise, who is partially sighted in real life, arrived with a guide dog (called Max), I had not been aware that guide dogs existed in SL. Jolie, who is completely blind in real life, had a stick with her.  There are three things in SL, the guide dog, the stick and a ring, which can assist sight impaired people.  Louise explained to me that the dog (and it’s a similar system with the stick and the ring) ‘is assistive technology developed by our team’ she added ‘virtual helping hands.’   Saxet said ‘the power is Max Voice Plus, that reads the SL interface to the person who is blind or visually impaired.’  Indeed they are unveiling a new ‘Max’ at the event, the dog is the creation of Nogad Ay and Charles Mountain, and it is a brilliant idea!



    Regarding the event itself, Willow told me ‘there (are) some of the best acts SL has to offer from all over the world’ she continued ‘the DJs we are having most are DJs in RL or pros been doing it for well over 1 year’ she added ‘and the singers / comedians and such are mind blowing.’  Willow teaches SL in SL and brings business and education from real life to SL. Saxet teaches real life courses in SL.  Saxet said ‘if we don't embrace making SL and virtual worlds accessible we increasingly alienate the disabled in business and education.’ Willow was the first person to make a multi language info centre in Hyles.



    Louise told me  ‘Jolie is the first person who is completely blind, to use the standard Second Life™ interface using the Max Assistive Technology.’  Jolie said ‘I would like SL to be an environment that facilitated people who are blind getting together and expressing themselves without having to drive somewhere.’  Louise added ‘and all the digital media still needs to have the programming so that it can be read aloud by screen readers.’  Little things would make so much difference, Jolie said ‘It would be nice to have a magic mirror that told the blind person what they were wearing for example.’



    Virtual environments such as Second Life are such an ideal tool for people with disabilities, people who are housebound can meet and socialise with people from all around the world, likewise with people who cannot walk or get around, they can find the freedom virtually to walk run and fly.  Probably the most difficult disabilities to overcome in SL are blindness and deafness because of the very visual interface and sound powered system, but this group of wonderful people plan to change all this, whilst making the rest of us aware of just what people with such impairments have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.



    Give them your support, and go and have a great time too, at the Helen Keller Day Event on the 27 June.  Many thanks to Cat, Saxet, Willow, Louise, Jolie,  and Polgara for this interview and the very best of luck for the future.



    The Ye, Olde, Supporte, Faire sims.  ((http://slurl.com/secondlife/Faire/20/222/38)

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