WikiBlind User Group/Skylar Covich Interview 11Jan2021
On Monday, 11 January 2021, Dr Skylar Covich sat down for a Q&A with Dr Mel, Fiona, and Ben Fox at blindDANCE Film Studios
Video and details here
TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO:
Skylar: Wikipedia is a free Internet Encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Wikipedia gave me an outlet to feel like I was contributing to something really important. I'm Dr. Skylar Covich, user:Academic Challenger. I've been a Wikipedian since 2003. I'm really impressed with where Wikipedia is at right now with its level of content and tens of thousands of people have worked so hard to build this up ... and I say happy birthday to Wikipedia; 20 years of great work and many many more.
Mel: This is Dr. Mel ganus from Wiki SoCal/Wiki blind. I've been a Wikipedian since 2004 and I am so proud to be part of this movement, to be part of the future of human knowledge and how we are creating this incredible set of resources for the world. Happy birthday to everyone here. Thank you for all of the hours and intense energy that it's taken to build this amazing product, this amazing project.
Fiona: I'm Fiona. I really want to help with Wikipedia so that everyone can get their correct information, so it becomes a more reliable source. How do you get started helping with Wikipedia?
Skylar: I've been totally blind since birth. I was born in 1987. I have Leber's congenital amaurosis. I started in Wikipedia when I was in high school ... edited a lot throughout high school and college, and now I have a doctorate in political science I earned from UC Santa Barbara in 2017. And almost all of that was done using the Job Access with Speech software. I became an administrator, and then throughout the 2000s, like throughout the whole time I was in high school and in college, I was really involved in writing articles. I've written about a thousand articles ... the initial content for a thousand articles, edited a lot to improve articles, and also was involved in reverting vandalism ... deleting junk pages where people try to make articles about their friends or their high School band, that sort of thing. There's criteria where articles like that could be deleted immediately. It is not as easy to create a new article as it used to be, for either good or bad articles.
Fiona: You've been on Wikipedia for a long time. Wow!
Skylar: Hehe, that's right.
Fiona: What are you doing with Wikipedia and WikiBlind now?
Skylar: What we would like to do is to provide trainings so that blind people can start editing ... and not only Wikipedia, but other Wiki projects as well. There's an effort to get Wikimedia Foundation to make it so people can provide feedback on articles even if they don't have time or expertise to edit them. I'm especially interested in the publicity, spreading the word about blind people and the free knowledge movement and providing some trainings to anyone who's interested.
Fiona: What are your hopes for the future of human knowledge?
Skylar: We've come a long way in the past 20 years. It is possible to find information ... the basic facts and even a lot of theories, about many of the important people throughout the world, whether it's a world leader or a musician or someone from the past. We also get people to expand their Horizons more and realize that there's so much that they don't know ... and nobody's going to be able to know everything, but that's not what we're asking. We want people to be well-rounded and realize what a diverse big world is out there.
Fiona: I'm a new Wikipedian and member of WikiBlind, So what should I learn to do?
Skylar: Yeah. It's a good question. It really depends on your specific interests, but I think it is also good, from the content perspective, to know where you think Wikipedia is lacking and whatever you think could be improved. Maybe finding the references to add, correcting typing issues, maybe talking with people on the talk page and try to get a consensus if people are disagreeing about what should be in the article. There are so many opportunities out there ... in the community. So yeah, just looking at some articles and trying to figure out for yourself where that is for you. There's really so much to look into, and it's not all about the really controversial or political stuff. There's so much about art and music which are about people expressing themselves.
Mel: the journey and the struggles and the meaningfulness. Why is it so important to contribute to Wikipedia?
Skylar: In the year or so after I started contributing, all of a sudden it got a huge amount of media attention, like from The New York Times, and it started to feel that I was a part of something really big. any topic's Wikipedia article is going to be the way that many people around the world are going to understand it. And that's a big responsibility, to be able to make that article the best that it can be. and hopefully you can meet very good people along the way who are working on that with you. Now when I was a teenager, I also got caught up in the adrenaline of some of the dispute resolution things, reverting vandalism, deleting junk pages. It was almost like an outlet for relieving stress, the way that some people would play video games, or all kinds of other things that people do to relieve stress.
Mel: What do you want to be doing in these coming years with Wiki blind and just your activism and your own world's?
Skylar: I'm hoping to be a mentor to other blind people who are interested in contributing. I definitely hope to continue to improve articles myself. And to be an advocate for accessibility, to get more involved with relations with the Wikimedia foundation that runs the site, to make some accessibility improvements. We want to hear more from people who are more involved on the ground right now in Wikipedia as well.
Mel: Do you have any favorite stories from your journey through the Wikipedia stuff, like a particular story that really stuck with you?
Skylar: Yeah. Yeah, there are a lot. but one of my favorites was ... Prime Minister of Mongolia, back in 2006, there were two editors who were editing his article and one wanted ... to paint him in a really positive light as much as possible and one wanted to paint him in a really negative light. So I was a freshman in college ... major in political science ... and didn't really have any particular expertise about Mongolia, but I was able to come up with a version that was relatively acceptable to both editors, and also calm them down a bit. They were each accusing each other of being on the opposite side of the Mongolian government. One even said that the other was actually the son of the person being edited, but had no evidence for that. There were a few times when I stepped into things like that, and now looking back, ... I'm surprised that they accepted my input ... I had no real expertise on Mongolia. one person said that ... you're so intent on the facts, like making sure the facts are right, like who was in power when and who's not, that you haven't actually looked at what they've actually done with their power. and that was a really interesting Insight that has kept with me as I've moved on ... got into academia ... continued with a lot of my work. I'm working with the American foundation for the Blind and various Lighthouse groups and others to spread the word that Wikipedia is accessible to the blind, but there are some things that we would like for the foundation to do to make things even more accessible. AFB has been great to partner with, they run the Helen Keller archives, and it'll be interesting to see if there's more we can contribute from there. I think Helen Keller has a pretty large article already, but there's definitely more that could be said about her and some of the other people who were in her life, or were involved in her work, or in the generations before hers and after hers. That content partnership will be good, And we look forward to AFB spreading the word about us so that people can come to us and learn more. I'm really impressed with AFB's priorities on employment and education for the Blind and assistance with people who have vision loss, maybe at different times in their lives, and we look forward to continuing to work with them.
Ben: Happy birthday Wikipedia! My name is Ben Fox and I love the free information that you bring and I'm a big fan of WikiBlind. Here's to 20 more years and a hundred more after that.
Mel: Happy birthday Wikipedians! We're looking forward to celebrating another 20 years with you in Wiki Wonderland.
Skylar: Happy birthday Wikipedia! We're celebrating 20 years in Wiki Wonderland.
Fiona: Happy Birthday to Wikipedia! Celebrating 20 years and Wiki Wonderland.