5.0132 Humanities Computing (2/116)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Mon, 10 Jun 91 17:56:18 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0132. Monday, 10 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 21:06:42 CDT (79 lines)
From: gary forsythe <gfgf@midway.uchicago.edu>
Subject: computing and equality

(2) Date: Fri, 7 Jun 1991 17:04:08 CDT (37 lines)
From: MJENSEN@CHARLIE.USD.EDU (Mary Brandt Jensen)
Subject: RE: 5.0127 Humanities Computing Pasts and Futures

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 21:06:42 CDT
From: gary forsythe <gfgf@midway.uchicago.edu>
Subject: computing and equality

I have been a subscriber to Humanist for about two months and have
finally decided to send this message, which is at least in part in
response to the earlier discussion on copyright and the current one
concerning the disappearance of humanist computing, but it is also a
clear departure in a new direction which, I hope, readers of Humanist
will find interesting.

The word 'equality' in the subject line of this message refers to the
great potential that computing networking has for placing blind people
on an equal footing with the rest of the world. I have been blind since
the age of eleven. I am now 38 years old and am a member in the
classics department at the University of Chicago. The story of my
college education is a rather typical one in terms of what a blind
person must undergo in order to obtain such an education. Since
virtually all academic writing is in a medium unusable for a blind
person (i.e., the printed word), blind people must spend extra time,
money, and effort to make these materials avaiflable for their use.
Braille is very bulky to store and is usually much more expensive to
purchase than conventional print books. For example, in the late 1970's
I purchased a braille text of the Greek New Testament for $180, and the
book was in 40 volumes. Recording agencies for the blind often require
that the student send them two copies of a book to be recorded. In
addition to the extra expense of buying two books in place of one, the
blind person must use his own time in coordinating this recording
service. Articles from journals pose even greater problems. Generally
speaking, a blind person makes these available for his or her use by
having a sighted person (a friend or someone for hire) read these
materials orally in the person's presence and/or on a tape recorder.
All this imposes burdens upon a blind person who is wanting to obtain a
decent education in order to become part of normal society. We wish to
become responsible tax-paying citizens just like everyone else.
Computers are beginning to help level the playing field for us, but
there is still very much to be done. You should know that I am typing
this message at my own computer at home. The computer is fitted with a
voice synthesizer, so that it produces audible speech as well as
displaying information on a screen. I purchased a modem a few months
ago with the explicit purpose of making new sources of information
available to me without the nasty inconveniences which I have just
outlined. You can see where this leading. Making information available
in an electronic medium will have the potential of empowering blind
people. Quite frankly, the current system of education is intolerably
ludicrous from a blind person's point of view. If it were imposed upon
the population at large, it would not be endured. There is some
government support, but much of the government's policy toward the blind
consists of the antiquated mentality, according to which blind persons
are given a form of social security, which in essence makes them
government sponsored mendicants. Different policies could, I think,
produce very different and positive results. For example, if the
congress of the United States passed a law obligating all book
publishers to make computer readable books available whenever they
published a print book, I could walk into a bookstore and buy a book on
disk, bring it home, put it in my computer, and read it myself without
the going through some elaborate process of making it available to me in
braille or on recorded tape, etc. Over the past few years the computer
and computer readable texts have begun to change the way that I work as
a scholar. Hitherto there were only a very small number of ancient
texts available to me in braille. I have begun to produce my own Latin
braille texts by having access to the Latin texts on the Packard
Humanities Institute cd-roms. I am also now receiving the Bryn Mawr
Classical Review as an e-journal. I can therefore read book reviews
without having to rely on someone else or to waste their time. All
these innovations have occurred just within the past few years, and I am
hopeful that things will get better, as electronic networking and
informational exchange increase. This is just the very beginning. Blind
people are just now beginning to realize the great potential that
computing networks can have. At this very early stage I am still in
many ways my own Gutenberg in that I have to produce my own Latin and
other texts, which requires time, money, and effort, but other things
are becoming readily accessible. In fact, there is a small outfit in
Missoula, Montana called Computer Books for the Blind. They are
building up a library of computer readable texts which they sell to
blind people. At the present time almost all of what they have are
computer manuals and related material, but they are interested in
acquiring anything of use.

In my own case humanist computing is just beginning and has already begun
to ease the burdens created by blindness and academia. I welcome any
responses to this too long message.

Gary Forsythe

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------46----
Date: Fri, 7 Jun 1991 17:04:08 CDT
From: MJENSEN@CHARLIE.USD.EDU (Mary Brandt Jensen)
Subject: RE: 5.0127 Humanities Computing Pasts and Futures

I am not a member of this list, but some of the messages get forwarded
to me.

I am here to tell you that computer support will never disappear. We
have been distributing computing out to the departments on this campus
for a couple of years now. What it means is that we the departments
get to come up with the money to buy what we need. They don't give
us any extra and no more comes down from computing services. In the
meantime, support is killing me. We grew from 4 PCs to over 60 in
about 4 years. We went from 2 applications to so many I can't count
them. I can't remember the last day everything worked, and the day
will never come when the users all know how to do what they want to
do. We will always have new users and old users will always think
up new applications. Its just getting harder to answer them because
as the users get more educated they think of harder questions to ask
of computer support. Since we are a law school, I guess we are more
humanities than science. And our users are not all that educated,
but they are heavy on communications. We'll see more and more complex
computing in our future and I'm willing to bet that in a hundred years
or more we will be in a network environment that looks something like
the one in the science fiction novel "Psion." We will be augmented
physically so we can absorb the mass amount of information coming over
the daily feed.

Mary Brandt Jensen
Director of the Law Library
University of South Dakota
(605) 677 6363
Fax (605) 677 5417