As we're in our third year of this NSF project, we have the amazing Bernard Drax (aka Draxter) developing what promises to be a fascinating documentary. Catch a peek of the work in progress!
Our very own iSkye Silverweb was recently featured as a Linden Endowment of the Arts (LEA) artist with her exhibition, "The colors of loss and healing." The moving tribute to her bird evoked emotions from many individuals who visited the build. For instance one visitor wrote in the guest book, "My home of 18 years. It doesn't even have to be a "being" to be deeply loved and lost. The home where I lived and raised my daughter, I lost in December. Roots feel torn out of the ground, cherished environs gone, only memories left. I miss it so." Another wrote, "To my mother AAA, you will always be my light, and to my sister BBB, I will never forget you. I love both of you so much. My soul has an unfillable hole since you've both left." Another tribute explained, "Dear Mom. There isn't a single day that passes that I don't still think of you. I miss you like crazy but at the same time I always feel your presence around me. Knowing that you were worried that I would be ok should anything ever happen to you I only have 2 things to say... Tell Dad I love and miss him and just know that I am fine, you raised me right so no need to worry."
As a collaborative project, another Ethnographian, Secret Rage produced the video. Please take a minute to watch what creative minds can do in this space and how they find comfort and healing in beautifully artistic ways in Second Life.
During our past two gatherings at Ethnographia, an idea blossomed and is now coming to life. Special thanks to Shyla (the SUPER gecko!) for driving this concept and to the wonderful team around her who will help make it happen. Please read Shyla's story and invitation:
Our Six CENTs
The Day CENT Happened:
I was late…again. Story of my life. I love to be busy and engaged. I had promised I would come and talk about social stuff we might do at Ethnographia Island. I promised that a week or two ago, or somewhere around then. Who knows – my virtual world moves sometimes at the speed of light. What I do know, the journey is worth the anxiety, angst and understanding that growth, change and learning always create for me.
So, late, I finally got to where I was supposed to be and as the group discussed a co-operative holiday build I pondered the idea with anxiety. I’m a business owner…I don’t have time to do a co-operative build in December. If you’re not a business owner in the Virtual World, you probably have no idea how busy I am right now…and what I need…what I really need…is folks who understand that.
Then, it popped out, just like that! “I want to organize the disabled business people of Second Life. Because we need a group.”
In most any other place the response would likely be, “That’s cool!”, or “Go for it!”, or “How would that look?”, or “Good luck with that”. But I am not in those places. I am sitting on top of a mountain with two researchers who are regularly amazed by the folks they study, a Yosemite holiday tree named Jadyn, a ‘dinkie’ human named Mousie, a big “tiny” Gator named Daisy and a human named iSkye. They are all with me, a dinkie gecko.
From there it rolls, fast. Concerns are raised, criteria put forth and support offered. The energy feels as if it has been pressurized for years. In its release, we talk about the challenges and benefits of being a business owner in the virtual world. We discuss the potential pitfalls of a group. We share some of our bad experiences and we share our hopes for the future.
We share visions of how a group might work, what it might do. We want a democracy, transparency, inclusion, compensation.
After an hour some of us must go now, and the rest of us, as business folks, must go soon. Before we do, we receive a great gift: Virtual Land on Ethnographia Island. We are offered several parcels and we elect not for the ‘top of the line, your eyes can’t miss it spot’ but the one more likely to be there over the longer haul – a stable spot for a concrete organization. This gift assures us we have ‘massive fans’ and these fans charge us to move forward.
We confirm a mission statement, dedicate the land, form a group, take a picture and decide we must have a ground breaking. Then we congratulate ourselves, thank each other and depart.
The birth of CENT is complete. Capable Entrepreneurs Nurturing Talent (CENT) lives.
Its mission is to be an organization of virtual world business owners who demonstrate the virtual world is a place of possibility for persons with disabilities. Through CENT, we will network and share strategies for success. We will bridge communities to promote positive imagery, consideration of consumer needs and civic standards to create a more inclusive world for all.
It’s a mouthful, and if I thought my months of prior contemplations constituted work, I know as I stand at this barren plot today, the musings were play. The work begins now.
But I am not alone. There is a tree and a dinkie and a gator. Together we are six CENTs with two massive fans. The question is, can we turn six CENTs into a viable organization that works to the benefit of its members and the community to which it belongs?
The Days Before CENT Happened:
This year I purchased some mainland, opened two stores and engaged in earning some linden through providing services. What I realized quickly was I had no idea what I was doing and I needed to learn or it would get expensive fast!
What I also knew as a person with a disability is some of the models others have created will require modification to work for me. I’m creative, I’m working to be successful – there can be no barrier so great that I can’t finagle a concept to work for me in some way.
I know, too, from my virtual travels, there are successful business owners with disabilities in the virtual world –lots of them. They are busy, busy, busy people. Many have left the disabled community they may have once affiliated with to support their business efforts…many never belonged to a disabled community at all.
They figured out how to do this – so I can figure it out too. It’s kind of a mantra of mine. Another one I’ve acquired since disability is, “Things take longer for you now girl, so deal with it or sort it, but don’t go loopy over it!”
I wondered why there was not an organization for business people like me, with challenges that make similar real world endeavors impossible. Maybe there was one at one time. I don’t know. If someone knows, I hope they tell me – all I knew is there isn’t one now. Not here. Not in Second Life.
So began the chatter. I would ask people how they felt about a business group and they would tell me why it would or would not work, why they might or might not support it. Overall there was support, but the structure was critical and the message was as well.
I did this for months, chattering here and there and having people tell me to add them to the list should the group ever come to be.
Then I met someone in another virtual world who suggested we secluded folks of Second Life were falling behind. My first reaction was to debate this statement, but inside I knew it was true. Second Life is already so structured it’s hard to do ‘new’ things here. Many have called ‘dibs’ already and they can, at times, band together in an effort to ensure their status and dominance – which serves mostly to constrict and limit horizons.
I knew, whatever was to happen, it needed to be free. Because I live in the states, my first concept of this was a democracy – but that short chat with the other virtual world made me realize it was more. It had to be interworldly. Many businesses exist in multiple virtual worlds, and an organization that serves the business community in only one virtual world would never suffice.
So when I began to work on a mission statement, when I began to work with others on the edits, I was pretty firm that Second Life could not be mentioned. Not that we would ‘bug out’ into all the worlds at once, but we needed the freedom to do so. I didn’t want an early Mission statement to limit the group to one grid – it didn’t make sense for us who already hop grids and conduct business in multiple worlds.
Then I broached it with someone I was a bit closer to, someone with whom I had actually worked on a project with, and she was the first person open to doing more than just discussing the idea. Jaydn was willing to bounce ideas around, provide feedback, help edit and provide encouragement. Over the course of several more weeks, the vision of a business group for people with disabilities took the most solid form it had thus far.
With Jadyn’s help we had a name, CENT (Capable Entrepreneurs Nurturing Talent) and a mission statement. We had ideas about structure and values and concepts of funding and growth. There was really just one thing left – to launch.
And that happened that Friday on the mountain. I can’t do a co-operative build in December, there is simply no way – and I knew most everyone like me on this mountain, who has a business, is in the same boat, and we need to come together and explain why this is, and that we are not being difficult or uncooperative when we don’t always say, “Yes,” we are simply responsible to our business as well as our community and we need a balance somehow for both and a way to help others understand and…
And then the conversation in my head came out in voice, “I want to organize the disabled business people of Second Life. Because we need a group.”
What Will Happen To CENT Now:
Yes, we entrepreneurs work – it is how we earn our living and become self-sufficient. It’s not a dirty word, but it does imply a pay-off. I believe this concept is critical to CENTs success.
The vision is an organization of Capable Entrepreneurs, who define Capable as they so choose. Business people aligned with the idea that we serve ourselves best if we are as self-sufficient as possible.
With CENT, we can organize ourselves so we can readily identify member scripters, builders, idea generators, marketers, and so on. Not so we can ask each other for favors, but so that we can share ideas and engage each other in business; offering compensation both parties can agree on and benefit from.
Finally, as a group we know others gave their time to use, freely and without question, as they were able. In so doing, they gave us the gift of success. We wish to pass this on, to Nurture Talent of those who wish to give this self-sufficient way of life a try. Some gave time in the way of encouragement, others via online tutorials or manuals and others with one-on-one training. None gave us all their time, but they gave some – and as our skills grow and we become more adept at running our businesses successfully, we wish to emulate those who helped us, as good citizens, offering what we can while still sustaining the businesses we build.
In this way we can further grow the disabled business community and give, from what I can see, one of the greatest gifts of all – an opportunity to see ourselves in a positive way, a successful way, as self-sufficient individuals participating in the virtual world as a whole, with a viable voice that is worth hearing and a message which demonstrates inclusiveness is good, solid business for everyone.
Hopefully, someday, this will be CENTs legacy: We came together, worked together, helped each other and demonstrated how capable we all are.
For today, CENT is here, it is free to join and wants to hear your voice, help support your goals and offer hope to those who might follow us into business in the virtual worlds. We’d be honored to have you join us.
On Thursday, September 1, Shyla the Super Gecko led a bunch of us on a simply amazing guided tour of her building on Ethnographia Island. We encourage you to visit it yourself (link), not least because the building continues to grow and transform as Shyla works on it. Below is the text of Shyla’s tour—including not only a detailed description of her creation, but some fascinating and insightful thoughts about disability, virtual worlds, and inclusion.
When I was first approached about Ethnographia Island I thought, “What can I do? I don’t build, I write.” I remember contacting Tom and Tredi saying I was okay with participating, but I’m more a writer than a builder.
It didn’t seem to bother them at all. They encouraged me and for months I put a dock on a plot and it sat with a few poems I had written. Little by little I added more. But a poem on a prim, well… if it can be seen it can be read, but if it can’t be seen – it’s just another barrier.
At some point I realized I can’t change the world, but in Second Life I don’t have to—I just have to figure out how to create accessible things. Poems on prims that the blind can read or hear, poems in audio that the deaf can read, and what about poetry that anyone can read or hear and experience!
I learned from an organization called Virtual Ability, Inc. how to create presentations which allowed me to present in text and voice simultaneously while providing a slide presentation. So why couldn’t I take it a step further with creative expression?
My goal, via my exhibit at Ethnographia Island, is to create a multi-sensory exhibit which is accessible to anyone. I wish I could say I have succeeded, but I’m not there yet. But let's start with what multi-sensory means in a techie virtual world like Second Life.
Here at Ethnographia Island, we are a community of creators with disabilities. We don’t always discuss our disabilities amongst ourselves. And I don’t know what everyone’s disabilities are here on Ethnographia Island.
For many of us, being a virtual world allows us to leave our disabilities behind. If real life requires we use assistive devices to move around, we can choose to wear such devices in the virtual world, or not. We can appear as we do in real life, or we can appear, well, as I do. As a gecko. Or any one of an infinite number of ways.
But some disabilities come to the virtual world. Sensory disabilities, such as low hearing or deafness and low visibility or blindness. Our virtual world includes sounds; some areas are voice-driven more than text-driven. And without question our virtual world is high in visual content and graphics.
I have been appreciative of all I have learned from those with hearing and visual impairments in Second Life. But mostly I have learned they face many of the same barriers in Second Life as they do in real life. And there is one more added “barrier’ here. Whereas in real life, many governments realize the importance of ensuring everyone’s ability to participate equally in society, Linden Lab does not view that as their—or anyone’s—inherent responsibility. So Second Life is a great experiment, to see if we can learn to live together under some very limited constructs.
What this means for some members of our community is several things, some of which we have been able to have share at Ethnographia’s chat sessions. There are those who don’t believe blind or deaf people participate in virtual worlds. They assume, incorrectly, they would not bother with it due to the high audio and graphical content.
Some think avatars which indicate they are deaf or blind are “role playing” even when they are providing this information in an area not designated for roleplaying. So the request for text or assistance in identifying an object goes unheeded.
On top of this, are the myriad issues created by creators themselves. As you walk through this display, please note that every object (I hope) is named. If you right-click on any object in this display and look under the General tab in the Name field, there will be a description of what you clicked.
Some are simple and short, like “Wall.” This allows a visually impaired member of our community to use a screen reader to determine what they are near or interacting with.
There are no special characters. Text readers read each and every special character letter by letter. Second Life is full of what are called “gestures” which contain numerous special characters. Some even type out images in characters such as hyphens and slashes. Now imagine you can’t see the gesture on the screen, but instead you listen to it being spoken character by character, with no detail of the spacing or ability to see the image created. And there is no way today for visually impaired folks to turn these gestures off!
People who are at risk of seizures or have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can turn off particle effects as a safety precaution, but visually impaired people are stuck listening to every single character of a gesture. There’s a sub-point here. Linden Lab says they are not in the business of addressing assistive needs, but they allow particles to be turned off. Sometimes the decisions can appear inconsistent. I know turning off particle effects can also reduce lag. But turning off gestures might be desirable by many more than just people with disabilities.
But I digress...My installation includes poetry I have written in Second Life. Some relates to my real life, but all was written here. Each panel is named with the poem title, and each can be clicked for a notecard, which a screen reader can convert to voice for visually impaired users.
I changed my user name to “Shyla the Super Gecko” recently because it provides a textual concept of my visual image in Second Life. I appear in Second Life as a gecko with a cape—a Super Gecko. I go by the name Shyla. So my user name is concise and, though it does not describe everything about me, it provides significantly more context than just “Shyla.”
To get to the second floor, you walk a ramp, which also has a poem on it. The ramp is also a way of saying to those with physical disability that I know they are part of my community, and they are welcome here.
Even though physically disabled persons can easily traverse most anything in Second Life, as a physically disabled person myself, I do feel a sense of warmth when I see someone has used ramps and not stairs, or at a minimum provided an alternative to stairs that would accommodate me in real life. It tells me they know I exist and I am a part of their building consideration. At a deeper level it reminds me I am part of the “tribe,” a part of the “whole.” I wasn’t forgotten. It feels like getting a hug, even when no one is there.
All of these poems are provided visually via text and imagery. There is no music assigned to them. But if I had provided music, I would have provided a footnote on each panel and notecard describing the music selection and providing a description of its meter, or how it might make me move. People who are deaf may or may have never heard music, but some ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters add rhythm to their sign language. This adds a visual component that adds to the interpretation. Here is an example of a music video with ASL.
The signer provides ASL, lip reading movement as well as moving the rhythm. As the music crescendos, the interpreters’ movement becomes more pronounced. All of this works together to convey the words, the tone, the emotional feeling and overall impact of the song.
We can add the same sort of information if music is provided with a build. If we have a nature area, we can advise there are birds chirping by having text appear in nearby chat (which text readers will read) which says “the birds chirp pleasantly.”
A camping area with bears could provide a simple script to post in nearby chat which says something simple and fun, like “Bear grunts! Please ensure your food is stored properly!”
This takes nothing from the audible experience, while making it more inclusive for our friends who cannot hear.
The second floor of my build takes the concept to the next level (which is not fully achieved). The idea here is to provide the poems via audio, text and a 3D visual experience. This would fulfill the idea of full “immersion” into a poem. If you have all your senses, you can use them all. If any are lacking, the experience is still fulfilling because it provides multiple ways of experiencing the poem. By including object names, notecards, audio voice of the poem being read (not available yet), an ability to walk around or on the poetry in context, well, you get the idea.
There are some serious constraints adding audio to Second Life. I can record to YouTube and provide audio on a prim, but it is a bit “iffy” at times. You can upload sound bits, but when I do it, it sounds very bumpy. Inevitably, it will require the talent of others to assist me further.
In between I have other projects. Right now I am experimenting with uploading sound prims to provide audio cues to blind persons who wish to drive in Second Life. This is an easier project sound wise, as the sound cues are very short; not the length of a full poem. Second Life allows the upload of sound bits less than ten seconds quite well.
The audio cues for driving will be very short. “Left-45,” which indicates the road is turning to the left at a 45-degree angle. The next part will be to determine how much before the curve to put the audio prim.
Sadly, although this is a wonderful idea, the current text viewer we have, Radegast, requires its users to be in 3D mode to drive a vehicle. The 3D mode makes the car sounds very loud, so the ability to hear the prims are limited. It’s an experiment. We will see how it works, if at all.
I hope this has provided some insight as to where virtual worlds can take the concept of “full accessibility” and “accessible immersion” through multi-sensory builds which heighten the experience not just for PWD, but for non-sensory deprived users as well.
I hope the things I don't know yet, that I don't understand yet, or which I didn't convey well, I hope people will share with me, with all of us. I know what it feels like to not feel fully included—I really think we have all been there from time to time. And if we think about that place, why would we ever create anything that would seem out-of-bounds or inaccessible to anyone?
So I am open to hearing what can make things feel more inclusive. All this poetry here, all of it is about feelings. More important than money, more important than shiny things, even more important than flies (for a gecko)—are feelings.
Knowing the feeling of being “considered,” being “valued” because we exist, not because we are a majority or profitable or some other silly measure of value—because we “are.” Thinking in those terms about those around us is a bloody good kick in the pants!
p.s. I wish to especially thank all those who have taken time to help me learn: Virtual Ability, Dreams, Ethnographia Island, Builder’s Brewery and so, so many individuals who took me aside and shared tips—they are too numerous to mention, but each helped to make my build possible. There’s a part of each of them in my installation.
As we continue to gather and learn from one another at Ethnographia Island, we recently had the pleasure to meet in a swamp. And this wasn't any swamp -- it's the home of Daisy the Gator. Daisy's tiny alligator avatar belongs to Elinor Caiman Sands, an author and painter in the UK whose work is taking on an intriguing life in Second Life. She can often be found in her small home in the swamp as a quiet place that she says helps her focus on her writing.
Elinor is a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). A full list of her published fiction is available on her website at https://ecaimansands.com/. She's bringing one of her most recent works, "Europa Spring" to life in a build on Ethnographia II. Please stop in to explore it! (SLurl: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Ethnographia%20II/215/195/27). In her swamp, you can also find her artwork, both amongst the trees and inside her cozy house. Of her art, Elinor/Daisy says, "Daisy's paintings reflect her love of all creatures and her anti-speciest outlook on life. So there are many animal paintings. But she'll try her claw at depicting anything, and has been exhibited in the United Kingdom and has sold many of the original versions of her little artworks to collectors all over the world."
To get another glimpse into the talents of Elinor (our Daisy), below is a recent blog post reflecting her insights about representation of people with disabilities. You can read more on her blog at https://ecaimansands.com/the-bog/.
The Paralympics opening ceremony took place last night and I began this morning by tweeting my favourite part: Amy Purdy’s interesting, elegant and thought-provoking dancing with a robot routine. Forget my novel-in-progress. The cyborgs are already here!
But then I started looking through everyone else’s tweets and honestly, I wish I hadn’t bothered. The most tweeted part certainly wasn’t the robot dance; indeed I didn’t spot one tweet about that. It wasn’t the dances by the blind couple or the hair raising flying-wheelchair-through-flaming-ring stunt either. It wasn’t the lighting of the torch. It wasn’t even the booing of the Brazilian President. No, it was the part where torch bearer Marcia Malsar fell on her ass.
The excuse given for endlessly retweeting Marcia’s mishap is that it illustrates “courage” and “determination.” But to my mind celebrating a disabled person for falling on her ass, even if she did climb back to her feet and eventually completea short walk–something most people can do easily (though not me I might add)–is merely patronizing. There’s even a word for it: “inspiration porn.” Worse, these kinds of attitudes are potentially damaging as they place unreasonable demands on disabled people. Overly celebrating ordinary daily functions like walking not only infantilize adult disabled people but are even more dangerous for children. Kids are already liable to lose much of their childhoods in physiotherapy rooms or being surgically altered because over-eager parents and medical staff want to “fix” them to fit some kind of imaginary norm; when you add the emotional element of “inspirational child overcoming their disability” to the mix, the poor kid is doomed. So when they should be sitting in classrooms getting an education or out playing with other kids getting socialized with the rest of humanity, they’re shut away being encouraged to take one more agonizing step than they managed yesterday.
I suspect Marcia falls on her ass a lot. Get used to it! That’s just how she gets around, nothing inspirational about it. It’s also notable that all those tweets omit why Marcia was chosen as a torch bearer in the first place. According to a couple of British newspapers she was the first Brazilian paralympian to win a gold medal. She won it in 1984 in the 200m when clearly she was a lot younger and presumably didn’t fall down. Although I’m the first to admit I’m something of an agnostic when it comes to many competitive disability sports, in fact that I’m an agnostic towards the idea of all commercialized competitive sports, I’d still be a lot less dismayed by the human race’s attitude to disability if Marcia was simply recognized for her wobbly sprint back then rather than for falling down and dropping the torch yesterday.
iSkye Silverweb has been Deaf since birth. Her first language is American Sign Language (ASL), but she is fluent in English and somewhat so in Spanish. She relies heavily on text to communicate in Second Life.
From the time she was five years old, iSkye had a hearing aid which bolstered her residual hearing. This allowed her to hear music and some speech, and she learned to speak with a lot of intensive speech therapy. However, in adulthood she suddenly lost her hearing, to the point that her hearing aid became useless. As a result, she is now completely deaf.
Art is not iSkye's profession, but it has been her saving grace. Writing, drawing, and 3D creation have brought her through many difficult moments, and allowed her a voice in visual form. That creative expression is perfectly on display at her build in Ethnographia, entitled “Muffled Sounds of Summer.” As she recently explained when showing her display to the Ethnographia community on August 15, 2016, the design is an attempt to illustrate what it was like to be a deaf child at a family function.
The build features a larger-than-life picnic table with a little girl who sits under it reading a book. It represents an autobiography based on a memory of iSkye's from when she was a child. At family summer picnics, she could be seen with at least one book close at hand, usually sitting under a tree or somewhere near the adults, reading. She could not understand the conversations of the adults; often it was just background noise mixed in with radio sounds and occasional shouts of kids playing their games. When visiting her build, be sure to use your camera and look up. You might even fly up onto the picnic table. Look for the captions that appear and fade, which symbolizes what she could hear. These animated captions wonderfully represent what “hearing” was like for her.
On the picnic table sits a radio emitting musical notes that float and fade into the sky. iSkye explained, “I could feel the vibrations of the music on those wood floors so I loved to dance with others there… it's really about that invisible wall that you experience when you don't hear well.” Another perspective you can gain from wandering through her build comes from discovering a mouse under the table. She noted “that was kind of one of the details you notice when you're a little kid on the ground… mice, ants. I sat under a tree and watched a whole colony of ants doing their usual foraging and bringing home food after a long trek. You notice more things on a different level because you're not so busy listening and talking. I had fun putting bread crumbs out for the ants. They were amazing, picking up these HUGE crumb pieces and carrying them off home, and while I enjoyed those experiences, I couldn't really share them with anyone else. They were too busy doing their social things like baseball, grownup chatting, etc.
While you may find yourself feeling rather small as you explore iSkye’s build, that is not by accident! She said “there was always a bit of the attitude that the things I had to say, or share, were not as significant or something. I'd get the facial expression equivalent of a pat on the head... anyone know what I mean? A sort of patronizing, 'very nice, dear' that just made me go even quieter. I dove deeper into my books. At least I wasn't missing any conversations in those!”
Another subtle feature of the build is that each of the people is in silhouette. iSkye explains that she designed it that way because “they were sort of less real to me than the ants and mice and my books...” She is also quick to add, “I hope nobody got the sense I was having a pity party—just this made clear the invisibleness of not hearing well.”
iSkye is certainly not invisible in Second Life. She has been a volunteer leader with Virtual Ability (her home community), and has been also been actively involved with BURN2 and Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education. Thank you, iSkye, for being a part of the Ethnographia community as well!