|Talk ~ Sandbox ~ Contributions|
|Bringing||blind stuff (canes, braille labeller, frame & stylus, etc)|
|Village||Village:Hardware Hacking Area|
|Pronouns||🇺🇸🇬🇧 they/you, 🇷🇺 они/вы, 🇫🇷 iel/vous, 🇪🇸 elle/Ud., 🇯🇵 あの人/貴方, 🇨🇳 他/您|
Hi, I'm Sai (I'm mononymous); my handle is saizai pretty much everywhere; I'm non-binary/agender (so gender neutral pronouns etc).
I speak English, Russian, American Sign Language, French, & Spanish to at least conversational fluency, plus marginal Japanese, minimal Chinese, and barely-existent Arabic. N.b. I don't know British Sign Language (except the alphabet), and ASL/BSL aren't mutually intelligible.
Talk, workshops, & goalball
Take a walk with me through camp — blindfolded, with one of my guide canes — and sense the world like I do: using air currents, heat, sound, echolocation, ground texture, wind shadow, and more. It's a unique, permanent sensory upgrade you can still use when sighted.
Workshops are every day at 7pm (1 hour after sunset), possibly at ~8:30pm (depending on my stamina & voice), and by special arrangement, and last ~1–1.5 hours. They start at my tent, near the Hardware Hacking Area. It might be marked with a conlang flag.
I can handle 4 student participants + 4 assistants per workshop, plus up to 5 observers.
Assistants follow one student around for the entire workshop. I'll explain it at the outset and be supervising & teaching throughout; I just can't fully monitor 4 students on my own. Generally the job is to not interfere at all — but to monitor and correct a couple safety issues, help lead students to stimuli they may've missed, and keep everyone close enough together so I don't wear out my voice. I strongly encourage assistants to have first been a student, and students to act as an assistant for someone else in a subsequent session; both people will learn a lot more.
Observers are welcome to tag along for all or part of any workshop. You can ask questions when I'm not attending to a student. Feel free to sit or stand in the way or otherwise behave as usual; humans are part of obstacles found in the normal environment and part of what I teach. Just don't do anything to my students that I'd want you to not do to me (see below). If there're more than 5 observers currently present, just come back another time (or sign up to participate yourself).
1. Mandatory for all students & assistants:
- Sign up beforehand and provide feedback afterwards.
- Watch my talk first, preferably in person (but there's video also). You'll learn much more if we can focus on what I can't show in the talk.
- Have a negative COVID test in last 48h. LFTs will be available at the medical tent at your convenience for a minimal fee.
- Be totally sober.
- Pee & wash your hands first.
- Reserve at least 1 full hour, preferably 1.5. Doing a "shortened" version does not work well (I've tried); it is very fast-paced as is.
- Age 15+. If you're a minor, bring a responsible adult to act as your assistant (who's also signed up).
- Contact me in advance about any disability or other situation affecting your senses, mobility, stability, concentration, or sensory overload. I can accommodate most disabilities (and FWIW one of my best students ever used a manual wheelchair). Some may require special arrangements (e.g. slightly different paths for wheelchair users; hearing interpreter for deaf people; 1-on-1 for both), but most are just things I need to be aware of, and can fit in the regular workshop.
2. Strongly encouraged:
- Fill out the "for Science" section of signup & feedback forms.
- Find & bring someone to act as your assistant, preferably someone who's done my workshop before (and have them sign up); ask around camp or Twitter @EMFCamp #BlindNavigation. I'll try to arrange for assistants if you don't bring one.
- Have head uncovered, wear short sleeves, and thin shoes.
- Bring a full-coverage blindfold / sleep mask. I'll have a bunch of extras, but I can't re-sterilise them during camp.
- Act as an assistant after having done the workshop as participant. You'll learn a lot more than just the first time, and help others like someone else helped you.
My goal with this workshop is for you to have an experience that is as close as possible to an accurate taste of what being blind is really like — including the sensory input, orientation, identification, path-finding, etc. that I use every day. In fact, it's based directly on how I was taught myself, by a blind friend, over course of a few days — just greatly condensed and without most of the practical skills that you'd need to actually navigate on your own. One hour is not enough to teach you to get around without my help — but it is enough to teach you how to use senses you've probably never noticed before.
The workshop is fast-paced but very carefully incremental, along paths I've personally checked first. We start with literally just walking back and forth in a totally clear area; by the end, you'll have been able to do a lot more than you probably expect — including sensing and navigating the tents, guylines, roots, branches, ditches, crates of Mate, rough dirt, grass, gravel, people, robots, etc. that are throughout camp.
I want you to come out of the workshop with a feeling of empowerment and newly broadened senses, not fear or pity. It is normal to feel anxious due to disorientation in the first few minutes. Just pay attention to the things I point out; I promise that this changes once you understand different ways of orienting yourself. This is why I do not do "short" workshops — it takes time for you to acclimatise to a totally different way of perceiving the world, and one hour is about the minimum in which I can reliably bring people over that initial hump.
Everyone varies on what's easier for them to sense (e.g. echolocation, air pressure, heat, etc). Most people can perceive at least a bit of everything I show (though not 100%). For some things (like doorways & wall corners), almost everyone I've taught has minimal confidence that they even feel it at all — yet when I have them test it, they get it right anyway. A lot of these sensations are subtle. That's fine. Practice noticing the same things in the days and years after and you'll discover it becomes a lot more obvious and intuitive over time.
Although most people expect it to be an experience of sensory deprivation, blindness is actually an experience of sensory over-stimulation. If you start to feel overwhelmed, just tell me and I'll provide ways to lower the intensity.
It's normal to perceive a subtle stimulus as a sensory experience, but be confused about how to identify or interpret it. It'll probably require conscious processing to puzzle out. For most people (including me!), it requires years of experience before having the subjective shift from "I can tell there's a some sort of difference in the sound quality on my left vs my right" to "I hear a plastic wall at my 4 o'clock" (though some of my students have gotten this within an hour). That's fine; the idea is for you to get a realistic taste of the sensory experience, not to be able to navigate on your own. I'll help guide you to notice more than you did at first and think it through, and help you interpret things that simply require more experience.
I will let you walk into lots of different things (with your cane) without telling you first, if I'm confident that you can handle them and they're not actually dangerous. Allowing you to explore for yourself — and guiding you to notice and interpret stimuli you missed the first time — is a critical part of what makes this work. Walking into things is one of the primary orientation strategies, not a problem, and it's one of the primary purposes of a guide cane; if you watch me walking around camp, you'll notice that I do so all the time.
Caning out of sync or with a bad sweep range, or walking with abnormal gait, are pretty much the only parts that are a safety issue. You can't ingrain cane skills well enough in just an hour to be fully consistent, which is why correcting this is nearly the only way I will have assistants interrupt you, and why I spend the first several minutes just having you walk normally on a simple, straight path. It's also why I require that you be totally sober. So far, of ~130–150 students I've taught to date, only one has had any injury — a mild bruise due to caning out of sync that wasn't caught by their assistant (and I've revised things to help correct for that). However, nobody's perfect, and EMF is in a somewhat chaotic field. It's possible you might trip, walk into something in a way that's not intentional, or the like — which is why the signup form includes a liability waiver saying you won't sue me or EMF if you get hurt.
Bottom line: I can guarantee that you'll leave having learnt to perceive the world in ways that you never noticed before, and you won't get this kind of training from anyone else (unless you become blind yourself). And if you practice, you'll have permanently expanded senses, not just an abstract understanding. Ask anyone who's done my workshop before, or check out the (approved-to-be-public) feedback I've gotten so far — and please post your own comments on it publicly if you feel comfortable doing so.
I will need volunteers who can help:
- be my uke during the talk (i.e. safely take wrist/joint locks, takedown, etc; aikido, judo, or similar martial arts experience required)
- move through the talk audience with some special props (scooter would help but not required)
- set up & referee goalball (no experience required)
- make video of one of my workshops
You can see me, but I can't see you
I should be very easy to recognize, 'cause I should be the only person at EMF who has both a long white/red guide cane and a white/black/red walking cane.
I am light-blind — fully sighted in sufficiently dim environments, fully blind (or in significant pain) in sufficiently bright ones. I use a screen reader, braille, etc., when I'm outside or over pain tolerance, and (usually) usual sighted stuff when I'm not.
Unless there is no light source in my field of view, I probably can't see you. I might not know you're there even if you're looking at me, and may not realize that you're talking to me if you say something in my general direction unless you use my name. So, please talk.
My blindness limits my ability to add myself to conversations, discover neat people & things, etc — but I do like talking, making friends, learning and making new things, playing with robots, good board games (like Go), etc. just like any other hacker. So if you see me, please come up and introduce yourself, invite me to something, let me know about cool stuff in the area, or the like. Please say my name (Sai) so I know you're addressing me.
My website should give you a reasonable spread of potential topics of mutual interest. I'm always love to learn what I don't know I don't know, so if there's something that you think is interesting, please bring it up.
One exception: let's please talk about something other than blindness, unless it's in the context of my talk or workshops, or if you have related feedback or proposals. I don't want to be "token blind person", and the Q&As from my talk & workshops will probably saturate my tolerance for that particular topic.
I generally like hugs, skritches, etc., but always ask first. If you like such things too, please tell me explicitly, 'cause I'm probably not able to pick up on your body language cues.
For longer interactions, I would be more comfortable if I am in a darker environment (with no lights in my field of view) and sitting down.
Although I can use my phone while blind, it's fairly tedious and requires attention — I can't easily walk and read at the same time (let alone write). Expect me to check email, Twitter, etc. during camp only when I wake up and go to sleep, not during the day. If there's something that needs a same-day response, please call or tell me in person.
Blind courtesy tips
You do not need to get out of my way or the like when I'm walking around — and I prefer you don't. I can navigate around you just fine.
If you cough, talk, scuff your feet, or the like, it'll help me know you're there and walk around you. If you freeze up, I'll probably hit you in the foot with my guide cane. That doesn't bother me, and it doesn't hurt, but it might startle you. If I'm queuing behind you, I'll probably maintain gentle contact on your heel with my cane so I know when to move.
I can deal with almost all obstacles by myself, and walking into things is a feature, not a bug. However, please do tell me about:
- fragile or spillable objects at ground level that'd be damaged by being stepped on or hit with a cane (e.g. robots, non-empty bottles, silent toddlers); and
- objects with substantial projections above hip level, since I can miss them with my face before my cane (e.g. convex sculptures, guy lines, signs on posts, lorries with high undercarriage, tree branches).
Just address me saying what and where it is (e.g. "hey Sai, there's a signpost at your 2 o'clock") — not instructions (e.g. "go left").
If I'm asking directions, I strongly prefer a verbal description, or (with my consent) a map drawn on my back (where up means the direction I'm facing). If you're pointing out a specific nearby object for me to interact with (e.g. table, chair), just tap it a couple times with your hand so I can orient precisely. If I'm following you, I will probably do so by sound (just keep talking or scuff your feet); if I'm having sensory overload, I might ask to follow you by holding onto your arm / elbow, but that's rare.
Please do not:
- cut across me in front (you'll trip and tangle my cane)
- grab me or my cane, or move any of my things, without my express consent
- ... unless I'm about to actually hurt myself or someone else
- move things in my environment without telling me (it fucks with my object permanence)
- walk away without telling me (I'll end up talking to the air until I notice)
- expect me to notice visual cues (e.g. pointing) — I can detect some of these, but it takes effort, and my attention will be overburdened already