Research Bulletin, January 2021

Hello everyone, and a Happy New Year

Thank you everyone for your kind comments about these research bulletins, a year old next month, and on the calendars.

It was only a few weeks ago when we were sending cards wishing each other a better year in 2021 … seems a slow start, to be honest.

1. A BBC2 documentary early next week

On Tuesday 19 January, 9pm, BBC2, (and Weds 11.30pm) there is the broadcasting of the documentary "Silenced: the Hidden Story of Disabled Britain". Look out for some interviews with the likes of Alia Hassan, John Evans and Jane Campbell. I assisted in the background with some research. I’m told disabled people encouraged the producers to also interview people in the north of England … we’ll see.

2. Ian Stanton

By some good chance someone asked me in December what songs I might have from Ian’s recordings, which got me searching some old home-made CDs to find some cover versions he had recorded, including one of "Fairytale in New York". It was lovely to be able to circulate it, a true gift.

3. Handwriting, 83 full pages of

There are some jobs you just put to the bottom of the pile. In 2016 I was sorting through the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People’s archive boxes in a storage unit in east Manchester. The collection had grown over the years, and with it had grown a combination of spreadsheets and some loose handwritten sheets listing the contents. Eighty-three sheets, which I didn’t really want to type up. Again, an enquiry from a friend took me back to these lists. The spreadsheet has details of about 5000 items (rows) in the archive, and the loose sheets probably has another 2000 or so.

The use of AI (artificial intelligence) to recognise handwriting has got better in recent years. My hope was to find a program which would process all the pages at once, but after some emails to academics in the USA I had to make new plan. There is some very good stuff out there, but it has been purchased by private companies. One academic had written an interesting paper, but couldn’t help me because the commercial funders of the research forbade it. For example, consider how companies such as Ancestry can process so many millions of handwritten certificates of birth, marriage and death.

Eventually I found a phone app called "Handwriting Recognizer" which performs quite well. Most OCR (optical character recognition) programs only work with typewritten and computer-printed characters. There is also ICR (intelligent character recognition) and HCR (handwritten character recognition) which can process handwriting, some better than others. The app I used allows three free pages a day, then $1.49 a month for unlimited use. But it does still mean taking 83 photographs, processing each one, and then emailing the result to add to a document. Most research is basically admin but dressed up to feel better.

So I’m now in the process of correction a 120-page Word document which is maybe 70% correct at the moment.

The final product is maybe best called a list of the archive, because a catalogue would have more details. However, it can be very helpful in narrowing down which box to look in for a photograph or a magazine half-remembered. I also like just to browse these types of lists, but that’s me.

4. Access All Areas

This month a book has been published, written by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder, on diversity in the TV industry in particular. I saw there interview on Channel 4 News and was impressed that LH knew the statistics on how many (so few!) disabled people are currently employed behind the scenes. I’ve written a review of the book, please follow this link:

https://tonybaldwinson.com/2021/01/13/access-all-areas-a-book-review/

Stay safe, April or May onwards should be better,

Tony

For earlier editions of this bulletin please see –
https://tonybaldwinson.com/research-bulletins/

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