Travel to China with Dr. Eric Henry

At a time when many of us are missing international travel, the next Faculty Author Series event might help fill that void.

On March 25 at noon, travel via Zoom to Shenyang, China, with Dr. Eric Henry, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Dr. Henry will discuss his new book, The Future Conditional, and his twelve years of research on the globalization of the English language.

In particular, the book explores why and how English has become so important in China, and what effect this fascination with learning English has had on Shenyang, the largest city in China’s Northeast.

“I taught English in China after my masters as a way to learn Mandarin and make a bit of money,” explains Dr. Henry. “Everyone wanted to talk about English and treated me as an expert. I started to wonder, why is it a national project to teach everyone English? Why is it such an important part of people’s lives, even for people who don’t need it?”

While this phenomenon is often studied from a linguistics lens, Dr. Henry’s approach is from an anthropological perspective. What does learning English mean to Chinese speakers? What does the ability to speak English represent in contemporary China? How has English become a lucrative commodity?

Dr. Henry also notes that there are lots of types of English in China, including words and phrases that are unfamiliar to native English speakers. According to Dr. Henry, this raises questions about how languages evolve within cultures, and which “versions” are considered “right”: “Correctness is really the result of perspective, position, and authority”.

The Future Conditional will be available through the SMU Library later this year, and is currently available for pre-order.

Register for this event.

Furthering Digital Accessibility: 3 Tips for Making your Content More Accessible

This is a guest post by Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D, a Fulbright Canada 2020-2021 Scholar and Research Chair, who is here at Saint Mary’s from the University of Tennessee at Martin studying digital accessibility.

Inaccessible computer output = a brick wall.

Brick wall.
Brick wall. Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Let’s talk about students (or any computer users) who experience inaccessible computer output. It must be frustrating that so many others have no idea what it’s like to encounter these barriers. However, just because someone doesn’t have a visual disability doesn’t mean they can’t empathize. Like running into a brick wall you can’t get through, encountering inaccessible computer output is just as “blocking”. Unfortunately, people are often unaware of Digital Accessibility issues and the implications therein for everyone, especially students.

So, I suggest that EVERYONE become familiar with the ‘ins and outs’ of Digital Accessibility. Ask yourselves a couple of simple questions about your own computing experiences:

  • How do you feel when a given web page won’t load?
  • Do you like trying to decipher tiny print on a too-busy document page or webpage?
  • What about those occasional documents that have margins that are lost, and a portion of the print isn’t even visible?
  • And what about those sometimes-so-intricate graphics that just plain don’t make sense – and there is no accompanying legend or explanation?

ANYONE can experience “disability” at one point or another- have you ever broken your wrist on your “good side,” and tried to use your computer with one hand, especially the wrong hand? The point is to start learning about how we can all produce accessible computer output so that everyone, regardless of their disability, can participate.

I will be “kicking off” the Smithers Centre’s “Accessibility Week” March 22 – 26. Here are just a few tips from the material I will cover that will help you make your content- any content- more accessible:

  1. Make “Alt text” a habit: a computer user with visual disabilities needs documents to be created accessibly. You need to use alternative text (“alt text”) to describe any images or graphics you might include in your document – the screen reader they use won’t recognize an image, but it will be able to read the descriptive alt text. 
  2.  Use your LMS’s accessibility features: an LMS, or Learning Management System (at Saint Mary’s, it is D2L’s Brightspace) will provide a prompt to add alternative text to any image that is added. The LMS also provides tips and tricks to the student user with a disability in using the LMS and computer applications. Every Learning Management Systems has an arm that addresses accessibility—D2L’s is the Accessibility Interest Group and anyone can join it (https://www.d2l.com/blog/gaad-the-important-story-of-d2ls-accessibility-interest-group/).  Access and Equity in Online Learning (https://www.d2l.com/blog/access-and-equity-in-online-learning/) is an article that talks about D2L’s commitment to accessibility in education.
  3. Use the “Styles” menu (in word-processing applications like Word). By using the Styles when formatting a document’s headings, the creator of that document makes it easy for the student using a screen reader to skim through a given document as a sighted reader does. Otherwise, without accessibly-formatted heading, the user will have to read entirely through a document to see what is next, instead of being able to skim the headings.

Although a lot of accessibility tips apply to visual impairments, many of the tips and tricks of creating accessible computer output work for more than one kind of disability. For instance, using clear headings contributes to an organized lesson page, and helps someone with a learning disability. Being sure that a video has an accompanying transcript and/or closed captioning or subtitles gives everyone an alternative way of accessing the information (I like to listen to a pdf reader read my work literature while I am driving).

In fact, that’s really what it’s all about: when providing information, give the learner different ways of accessing the information. Web Accessibility, the umbrella for all digital accessibility guidelines, has been called the “wheelchair ramp on the Internet” – think of how often you have used those wheelchair ramps for something other than a wheelchair!

International Women’s Day Event: A Faculty Author Talk with Dr. Rohini Bannerjee & editor Christina Myers

Looking for a way to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow? We’ve got you covered!

Our next Faculty Author Series event is set for 12 pm on Monday, March 8, where Dr. Rohini Bannerjee and editor Christina Myers will unpack Big: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies.

Described asa collection of personal and intimate experiences of plus size women, non-binary and trans people in a society obsessed with thinness,” these short stories invite readers to question- “and ultimately reconsider- our collective and individual obsession with women’s bodies.”

“When I saw the call for it, I kept thinking “they’re not going to accept it’”, says Dr. Rohini Bannerjee, whose short story, “Barbara Streisand or Bust!”, appears in the collection. Dr. Bannerjee describes herself as having always been a “secret writer” despite her initial focus on science; her family has always been influenced by art and culture, including listening to ghazals in Urdu, a form of Persian poetry, and her father would write down couplets or shayaris, reflecting on life and philosophy, and share them with her. Dr. Bannerjee “wrote in her head instead”, noting: “I always found solace in writing”.

As for choosing the title for her short story, Dr. Bannerjee, who dreamt of being an opera singer, loved Streisand as a kid, “I remember taking my mother’s hairbrush and singing like Barbara, a mega superstar who herself struggled with imposter syndrome.”

Dr. Bannerjee describes the collection as a “celebration of body shapes” that brings out into the open the very real “struggle between honouring your body as it is in its present state, and loving and improving your body so it serves you in the best way possible.”

“International women’s day is all about choice: exercising our right to choose how to be the best versions of ourselves. “

Big is available through the SMU Library, or at https://caitlin-press.com/our-books/big/

Furthering Digital Accessibility: Exploring Pathways to Reaching Full Awareness

We are honoured to feature a guest post by Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D, a Fulbright Canada 2020-2021 Scholar and Research Chair, who is here at Saint Mary’s from the University of Tennessee at Martin studying digital accessibility.

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Why does it matter if my computing output is accessible?

The answer is, of course, “because it does.”

What I am about to talk about is a screen reader, an assistive technology device that assists users who have visual disabilities. The device reads out the content of the given article or document. Suppose you are reading an article – but your vision is impaired, so you are relying on the screen reader to read the content of the article. All of sudden, the screen reader gives you an empty phrase, “graphic, graphic” – this means that there is a graphic in the article. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see – or hear – what that graphic is all about? So it matters that the person putting out that article on a computer did not know to add “alt text” – or “alternate text” – a simple description of that graphic. If that graphic was important to the content of the article, then the “reader,” or in this case, the listener, has encountered a barrier to the content of the article. Is that fair? Not to mention, is that inconvenient??

But there is more:

How do you feel, when you are in the middle of a project that relies on a good connection to the Web and your connection slows down, or worse yet, goes out completely? Well, imagine what such interruption to progress is like when it is not just temporary but always? So making sure that computer output is accessible to all users is like assuring a smooth, reliable connection to the Web.

And even more:

How often do you scan quickly through a document that you need to read, glancing through headings to see what it is all about, telling yourself that you will get back to reading the entire document? Those headings are really convenient, aren’t they! Well, again, a screen reader can be programmed so the user can skip through the heading as a sighted reader does – if, that is, those headings have been formatted accessibly as the document was created. If they are not, the user hears “there are no headings…; no headings….” The only other choice for the hapless user is to have to listen all the way through the document instead of being able to skip through.  

There are numerous similar situations that can present “barriers” to the user, and I will talk about these situations as I explore Digital Accessibility. This is my topic for my activities related to the Fulbright Canada Scholar award that I am in Halifax to complete as Research Chair at St. Mary’s University. Fortunately, the word is getting out: more and more computer applications provide timely tools for providing accessibility. In an online Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard, for instance, anytime a user adds an image, the prompt for alt text appears. Many word processors are programmed to provide prompts for creating accessible content. Your campus instructional technology office is committed to helping faculty produce accessible online materials.

The bottom line is – that’s OKAY if you don’t know! We weren’t born knowing these things. But you need to know, and this knowledge is readily available.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but there is legislation out there that mandates that we make accessibility be a priority- particularly in information technology, including online learning and teaching. It doesn’t have to be difficult, but if planned from the beginning of a project, computer output, including your course materials, can be perfectly accessible.

Five significant items from the Lynn Jones collection

Did you know that the Saint Mary’s University Archives is home to the Lynn Jones African-Canadian & Diaspora Heritage Collection? The Lynn Jones Collection documents the lives of Lynn, her family, and over 50 years of African, African Diasporic and African-Nova Scotian heritage and history.

We’re honoured to start our new blog by highlighting five items from the Lynn Jones Collection that speak to the history, lived experience, and activism of African Nova Scotians, at home and abroad.

  1. Campaign Poster for Nelson Mandela (1994). Lynn Jones travelled to South Africa as a Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) election observer for the South African election which saw Nelson Mandela elected President as the country’s first black head of state, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. 
  1. Cover of First Edition of GRASP Periodical (1970). GRASP was a publication of the Black United Front. Also known as The Black United Front of Nova Scotia or simply BUF, it was founded in 1965 by Burnley “Rocky” Jones among others. 
  1. Article on History of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children (Charles Saunders, Daily News, 1996). In the 2010s the home came under fire when many former residents came forward with allegations of abuse they experienced during their time at the home, which ended in a class action lawsuit, and an apology from the Premier of Nova Scotia. 
  1. Flyer “Save the North End CEC” (1996). When the federal government announced they were closing the Canadian Employment Centre in the North End of Halifax, a group of activists including Lynn Jones fought against the decision, which they felt would have a negative affect on the local community. This included a media campaign, protests, and occupation of the offices. 
  1. Soldier’s Service Book for Victor Herbard Jones, uncle of Lynn Jones (1940). These books contained details of wage payments from the army, as well as training, vaccination and other related records. 

For more information on the collection, visit https://www.smu.ca/academics/archives/lynn-jones-african-canadian-collection